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On Poetry

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  236 ratings  ·  42 reviews
A collection of short essays and reflections on poetry from the acclaimed British poet Glyn Maxwell. These essays illustrates Maxwell’s poetic philosophy, that the greatest verse arises from a harmony of mind and body, and that poetic forms originate in human necessities – breath, heartbeat, footstep, posture. He speaks of his inspirations, his models, and takes us inside ...more
Hardcover, 160 pages
Published August 28th 2012 by Oberon Books (first published November 15th 2011)
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4.04  · 
Rating details
 ·  236 ratings  ·  42 reviews

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Jim Coughenour
Earlier this week I was reading Knausgaard:
poems never opened themselves to me, and that was because I had no "right" to them: they were not for me… they always said: Who do you think you are, coming in here? That was what Osip Mandelstam's poems said, that was what Ezra Pound's poems said, that was what Gottfried Benn's poems said, that was what Johannes Bobrowski's poems said. You had to earn the right to read them. How? It was simple, you opened a book, read, and if the poems opened themselve
Liam Guilar
Dec 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
There are so many books "About" poetry: how to read, how to write, what not to read, what fashions to follow: books that make ludicrous claims for the power of the poem,books to inoculate the idiot reader against the ideological viruses carried by this or that poem. Books about poetry outsell books of poems.

This one is magical. It does not hide the difficulty of writing a good poem or the pleasures of reading a good one. It gives good advice on both, but in a way that credits readers with enough
Zoe Mitchell
Nov 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book: clever, witty, moving and most of all inspiring. I'll feel less alone next time I sit down to write because of it. Recommended for anyone with a love of poetry as a writer and a reader and just the book to encourage a few more people to start reading it.
Jan 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This will probably be the best book I read this year. It's fantastic as a polemic, a meditation on teaching, and a celebration of writing and reading poetry. Maxwell does not hide his arguments in jargon or niceties. He comes right out with it: poetry is verse and ought to use meter or rhyme, preferably both. "Prose poetry" is merely prose written by poets. Line break and stanza break are at the heart of poetry. He has a deep love of the English language and its poetic tradition that is infectio ...more
Lauren Merkley
Jan 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Imbued with the same brevity and beauty of a poem, Maxwell's book gorgeously elevates his readers' understanding and appreciation of the hard-fought craft that is true poesie.
Timothy Urban
Aug 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
If you read this it will elevate you. Like finally having that inspiring English teacher you wish you'd had.
May 01, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A writing exercise from Glyn Maxwell:

"Take nine sheets of blank paper and pretend the following things about them:
That the first page is physically hurt by your every word.
That the second page is turned on by every syllable.
That every mark on the third page makes you remember more.
On the fourth, less, like dementia.
That God can only hear you if you're writing on the fifth page.
That only touching the sixth page are you hidden from God.
That every word you write on the seventh prolongs the time fro
Feb 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
What a delight to read: a book about poetry that inspires you, invigorates you and makes you laugh out loud.
It was like listening to your mad poetry tutor who thankfully has character and a sense of humour. Best of all it made me go back to reread poems I'd not read for years or look for ones I never have. It was beautifully lyrical about the whole business of reading it, writing and imagining it yet unflinching about the work and the discipline to producing those magical forms. Can't wait to re
Nov 07, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Totally different from anything I learned in school. In seven chapters, Glyn gives us a "modern" guide for writing poetry. Seven chapters on "white" -- "black" -- "form" -- "pulse" -- "chime" -- "space" -- and "time." He, the poet, explores his belief that the greatest verse arises from a harmony of mind and body. "The sound of form in poetry descended from song, molded by breath, is the sound of that creatures yearning to leave a mark. The meter says tick-tock. The rhyme says remember. The whit ...more
Kevin Lawrence
Dec 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
Worthy and serious observations about the necessary formal qualities of poetry get buried in a determinedly affable jocular/professorial tone addressing a recurring group of cloying workshop students. I dread the day someone writes a Woolf-like stream-of-conscious novel all exploring the "creative" dynamics of a workshop class. Ugh. The book culminates in a workshop-meets-Rime-of-the-Ancient-Mariner that is already soul-suckingly bad. On the bright side, the author quotes hid own play "After Tro ...more
Karen Douglass
Jan 28, 2014 rated it it was ok
The style is a bit strange, almost stream of consciousness;my biggest complaint is the heavy emphasis on formal poetry for much of the second half. I understand the historical value for poets to recognize and learn from the formalists, but I didn't expect this focus, given the relaxed approach to poetry at the opening.
Aug 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
A lovely series of essays on poetry. Each essay encompasses a particular aspect of poetry: from the black white of the page, to the grouping of words, the form, the spacing. I recommend this to everyone who wishes to learn more about poetry, enjoys reading poetry, and writers as well.
May 17, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2019
Huge disappointment!
Pointless, boring,
unrelated batch of Maxwell's " ice-breaking"
exercises for his poetry classes.
Not interested!
...pretty much a snooze fest.
Nov 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2013
What a wonderful book on poetry. Glyn Maxwell is that amazing rarity, a poetic critic of poetry. Love for his subject permeates each page: affection for his students (from the Dickinsonite to the postmodernist); poets like Yeats and Thomas; the white and black of poetry itself.
Maxwell is very interesting in his discussion of form and, of course, time. For him, time is what poetry is about; the line-breaks, the breaths, the shape of the poem on the page. And he's right, really. Poems must be sola
May 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry-drama
The first chapter left me feeling a little ambivalent. Wasn't the author just a little bit too jokey? Trying just that little bit too hard? Was the remainder of this short book going to be read with me biting my tongue at the rather annoying companion and guide?

But no, mid-way through the second chapter I had been won over and this book - part essay, part exploration, part sturdy defence of form and assault on historical amnesia - had me thoroughly in its thrall. Maxwell's style may not be for e
Dec 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
maxwell writes a beautiful book that revels in what makes poetry and what makes a poet. at times, the language gets a bit in the way of language. still, he never loses sight of the thing itself. worth visiting and revisiting.
Feb 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Accessible, unpretentious, enlightening. The explanation of an imaginary creative writing class was an unnecessary device though and became a bit repetitive.
Mugren Ohaly
Jan 14, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015, college-reading
A good book for anyone interested in writing, or even reading, poetry.
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As I read more and more poetry, I began toying with the idea of trying to write it as well. Not really knowing where to start though, I asked a friend of mine - who actually is a poet - if she could recommend some books that might help me. Glyn Maxwell's On Poetry was one of the first she suggested.

To be honest, I expected it to be on the dry and informational side, but it wound up pleasantly surprising me and actually being a lot of fun to read. I did not account for Maxwell's charisma and his
Joe Lyons
Sep 05, 2017 rated it liked it
I got this book from the library, to help relieve my dearth in understanding poetry. It was tough to understand the material in this book, but nonetheless, I learned some new things. Ask me in two years, how I know so much about poetry, and I'll tell you it started by reading this book.
Tom Phillips
Nov 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I write poetry myself. Mr. Maxwell probably would not give me good grades for my writing. But, I learned a lot from this great read. He is funny, knowledgeable, and incisive. Recommended for any poet-want-to-be.
Natalie Homer
What insights there are bury themselves in his strange style of writing, which is meandering yet also harsh at points. He makes a lot of “clever” moves, e.g. his faux workshop students and his witty little asides to the reader. Ultimately it became tiresome.
Feb 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Encountered ways of thinking about poetry I had not encountered before, as well as more familiar information about metric feet, etc - a fictional component (his students), in a very engaging voice. I've read a lot of books about poetry and this one is my new favorite.
Tommye Turner
Absolutely brilliant. An essential read for anyone who writes, wants to write, or even reads poetry. If you're a student, definitely read this!
Jan 22, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
The author seems to have some worthwhile insights about poetry but his high opinion of himself and poetry overwhelm everything else.
Mar 25, 2017 rated it liked it
A fun read. Mostly concerned with the authors personal aesthetic, but the book makes good points on why to appreciate meter and rhyme. The first two sections, "White" and "Black," are the strongest.
Katia N
May 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Wonderful little book about poetry. It is difficult to define its purpose - it is written in the form of very short loosely connected essays about English poetry, the theory of verse and how to write poems. But it would be probably too simplistic to define it like that - equally it is about our time and its influence on poetry. Also it introduced me to the English poetry. While reading i regretted a bit that i am not 19 year old student anymore to take it all in with the studious zeal:-) Only cr ...more
Jan 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
A pretty accessible description of what poetry is and how difficult it is to do it well--by a guy who has been there and knows something about how to do it. Occasionally very funny, occasionally trying too hard to be funny; but usually puts into words (with examples) things very difficult to explain. The book meanders and repeats, despite its carefully laid out sections (White, Black, Form, Pulse, Chime, Space, Time), as though a professor who really loves and knows poetry has decided to repeat ...more
I really enjoyed (and took notes on, and agreed with much of) the first 5 chapters. But 6 and 7 bored me, and both felt self-indulgent, so I ended this feeling disappointed. I could hear Maxwell's cleverness in his prose (okay), but the cleverness in his poetry was simply irritating. A mixed bag, but the first two chapters are superb ("White" and "Black").

2nd review: I read this again because I forgot I had read it already, and bought a copy. My overall former review stands, though I must say I
Dec 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have very mixed feelings about this book. The first three-quarters of this book blew me away. Every sentence arrested me with the delight of looking at something in a new brilliant, shining light. I was ready to make it my new poetry bible until I got to the last quarter of the book where it devolved into an argument of how free verse poetry is a silly pop writing trend and "formalized" poetry is the only poetry that will last the test of time. Hmm. Very questionable. Then the book devolved ev ...more
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Glyn Maxwell is a poet and playwright. He has also written novels, opera libretti, screenplay and criticism.

His nine volumes of poetry include The Breakage, Hide Now, and Pluto, all of which were shortlisted for either the Forward or T. S. Eliot Prizes, and The Nerve, which won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. He was one of the original ‘New Generation Poets’ in 1993, along with Simon Armitage,
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