Poetry Thursday: Glyn Maxwell

And now for something completely different ...

After a 2.5-hour commute (yik) to work, I was happy to arrive on campus this morning to attend a reading and conversation with poet Glyn Maxwell.

I haven’t read much of his poetry, but I’m always looking for new and interesting writers to read. From the poets.org Web site:

Most recently, he is the author of The Sugar Mile (Houghton Mifflin, 2005), an ambitious narrative collection that dramatizes several stories at once. According to the publisher, "The Sugar Mile juxtaposes two cities on the brink of irrevocable change. It begins when the poet steps into an uptown Manhattan bar a few days before September 11, 2001. He is confronted by
Joseph Stone, a barstool regular and fellow expatriate." Stone reminisces about September 7, 1940, "Black Saturday" in London, resulting in a humorous, suspenseful, and historical account as the brief intersection of characters' lives is acted out.

Other recent collections include The Nerve (2002), which won the 2004 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize; Time's Fool (2000), and The Boys at Twilight: Poems 1990-1995 (2000)—each of which was selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

A few thoughts on the reading:

  1. Glyn studied with Derek Walcott about 20 years ago. His work was influenced also by Robert Frost, W.H. Auden, and many U.S. playwrights.

  2. He spoke of the differences between U.S. and British creative writing students. Specifically, British students tend to be more reserved while American students talk back. (That got a laugh from the undergrads in the audience.)

  3. Glyn is drawn to “formal, lyrical, grateful poetry about things going on now.” When he started his career, he felt he was writing in a style no one else was writing in, so he was afraid he’d never get published. He says, “You can be lyrical and memorable without being nostalgic.” This is where the Auden influence kicks in.

  4. Known as a playwright as well as a poet, Glyn writes plays in verse (but I don’t think he meant verse plays). He hears dialogue in pentameter, and his lines are written in verse.

  5. On revision and longevity, he says, “it’s hard to disturb a good poem. I think I've written two or three of those that will last beyond my years.” And isn’t that what we all want—to write a poem that lives beyond us? Think about Frost or Dickinson and how many lines of poetry that come to mind.

  6. Poetry audiences are fickle. When no one claps or responds with an affirmative groan, it’s hard to tell if the words are washing over them or if they’re asleep. It may have been a bit of both with our undergraduate students. But they did ask thoughtful questions during the discussion period.

  7. Personally, I love discussions after readings because you can find out so much from talking to the author directly. And I think most of them really enjoy talking about their work.

  8. In general, it bothers me when people don’t walk up to thank the reader for coming. I mean, the poet is sharing a bit of his (or her) soul with you. The least you can do is say, “Thank you for coming. I enjoyed your work.”

  9. Poetry is such a solitary art that it’s nice to connect with others face to face. And it's nice to be able to relay this experience with the Poetry Thursday crowd!

  10. Lastly, a poem he read today.

The Weather Guy

Hurricane This is scaring us,
Hurricane That’s not far behind,
And we’re not turning our backs one second.
We look at the screen all day. We find

Hurricane This still flapping away
At the shirt of Tom the Weather Guy.
Canada throws an arm around him.
Hurricane That just bats an eye.

Hurricane This is whipping off
The Carolinas’ tablecloth:
Hurricane That, amused by this,
Is beating ocean into froth.

Hurricane This is playing wolf
To New York City’s clever pig;
Noah’s nailing down his roof
So when it comes it’s nothing big.

Hurricane This is burning out
Off Massachusetts: Hurricane That
Is disappointing Tom, who’d dreamt
Of half Virginia pounded flat.

And Hurricane This was called Renee.
And Hurricane That was Stan.
And Canada pats Tom’s shoulder now
As he hands us back to Bobbie-Anne,

Who asks about his weekend plans
Which are much the same as ours.
Maybe we’ll see him nosing out
Of a local brawl of cars,

And maybe he’ll give us the wave he gets
When the heat kicks in and how,
And it hits the heights he said it would
This far upstate by now.

More likely he’ll just speed away.
And I’d be shy of the love
Of those who have to live by what
I have to warn them of.

Copyright Glyn Maxwell


la vie en rose said…
thanks for introducing me to a new poet...
Catherine said…
It's always good to hear of a new poet - and to read your thoughtful comments. Also, Happy Belated Birthday!! (I was away at a funeral and haven't quite been keeping up)
twilightspider said…
Fascinating discussion - I've actually never been to a formal reading, but I think it may be time.
I can so relate to that poem- we have had our share of hurricanes here lately. It's always nice to discover a new poet- a new inspiration, really! Thanks, January!
January said…
Twilight Spider, yes, you absolutely should attend a literary reading if you can. Most college campuses have readings a few times a year.

I just get so much out of hearing a poet's motivations firsthand.

Good luck! Looking forward to reading about your poetry experience.
January said…
Catherine, thanks for stopping by. My sympathies.
split ends said…
I love the thought that maybe someday I'll be able to write something good, and that despite my clumsy fumbling with it, it will stay good. Everything I write right now seems fragile and weak; maybe I'll know it's good when it withstands my manipulations without showing signs of breaking.

Thanks for sharing someone new, and some of his work.
chiefbiscuit said…
I always enjoy reading the thoughts and impressions you write after going to hear a poet - thanks for taking the time to report back to us! You are right about going up to thank the person after the talk. So important - I am a little ashamed to say shyness often prevents me from doing just that - and, to be honest, downright ignorance and lack of kindness. Unlike you January. And loved your birthday piccies.
So sweet a reward for the hard work of getting in there today! Thank you for sharing someone new with me...
January - thanks for posting this. Sometimes out here in SF I miss getting a diversity of readers. I know we're in a hotbed - but it's all the same hotbed of people. I'd never even heard of this guy: and what an amazing poem!

As for things he said, I love this: "You can be lyrical and memorable without being nostalgic." I think it is a lesson for all meta-language poets nowadays. And I am always reminded of that stupid scene in Eddie and the Cruisers when Eddie says to the piano player: "words and music man, words and music." Well I feel: "content and craft, man, content and craft."

On a final note (shut up already!) I completely agree with the thanking. Completely.
jim said…
Wow, this is anti-prose-poetry, for sure--you're such a subversive one, January. And yes, cheer on everyone to go to readings, not just open mics. After a really good reading, I leave feeling absolutely language drunk.
Glad you posted this. I liked reading about him, his views and poetry.

Thanks for introducing me to a new poet and for sharing your thoughts on the reading! I love poetry readings.
Jone said…
Happy belated birthday. What a wonderful day to be born on. Thanks for the intro to the poet. Hope he shows up in Portland.
paris parfait said…
Ooh, a delicious introduction to this poet! Thank you so much! That is a terrific hurricane poem.
Fascinating post. Enjoyed being introduced to a new poet for me. One of my goals after my daughter goes off to college later this year, is to be able to attend more author or poet live readings/discussions.

I've been to formal readings of others and author signings and talks. They always leave me hungering for more because no matter whether I like the author or poet, it's incredible to hear and see the person behind the words.
Oh, and of course it's common courtesy to thank the speaker! You are "spot on." I wouldn't think not to.

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