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:
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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!
- 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