Friday, 1 January 2010

Poetry: Recommendations from 2009 (2 of 6) Glyn Maxwell 'Hide Now'

'Hide Now' by Glyn Maxwell

Glyn Maxwell is our least appreciated major poet: an odd thing to say about a writer who has picked up most of the major awards available to him, 'Hide Now' being shortlisted for both the Forward and T.S.Eliot Prizes, but true nevertheless. While Simon Armitage and Carol Ann Duffy have become national institutions, never out of the press, and now have an audience that goes beyond that available to most poets, nailed onto the national curriculum and guaranteeing sell-out crowds wherever they appear, Maxwell remains an outsider even as he picks up critical plaudits and can perform to an audience you can not only count, you know most of the names of; his crowd at the Port Eliot Festival numbered a dozen while outside thousands wandered the estate in search of literary inspiration; it didn't seem to bother him, it was the best poetry reading I've seen all year.

Why this neglect? Like Duffy and Armitage, he works in other disciplines with equal distinction: he has always written for the theatre as much as for the page and has ventured into novels, both in verse and prose. 'Hide Now' is Maxwell's first collection since 'The Nerve' in 2002, a collection that was well received but left me underwhelmed. This latest book, on the other hand, impresses from the first., but more than that - and Maxwell hasn't always managed this in the past - it both involves and moves.

'The Old Lad' is an object lesson in how to write rhyming couplets that deceive the reader into thinking he's not reading them. 'A Play of the Word' has more syntactical daring in its four pages than most poets manage in their entire oeuvres. 'Hometown Mystery Cycle' takes an idea I had for at least a pamphlet length sequence and delivers on it in under a hundred lines, saving me the bother. I could go on, but some people like to read reviews so they can make out they've read the book without having to bother - I want you to bother.

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