Poetry Notebook

Clive James

22 September 2016
256 pages


Clive James was one of our finest critics and best-loved cultural voices. He was also a prize-winning poet. Since he was first enthralled by the mysterious power of poetry, he has been a dedicated student. In fact, for him, poetry was nothing less than the occupation of a lifetime, and in this book Poetry Notebook, he presents a distillation of everything he learned about the art form that matters to him most.

With his customary wit, delightfully lucid prose style and wide-ranging knowledge, James explains the difference between the innocuous stuff that often passes for poetry and a real poem: the latter being a work of unity that insists on being heard entire and threatens never to leave the memory. A committed formalist and an astute commentator, he offers close and careful readings of individual poems and poets (from Shakespeare to Larkin, Keats to Pound), and in some case second readings or re-readings late in life – just to be sure he wasn't wrong the first time! Whether discussing technical details of metaphorical creativity or simply praising his five favourite collections of all time, he is never less than captivating.

The material was well worth collecting . . . entertaining . . . His hand has not lost its cunning
Clive James's Poetry Notebook reintroduced me to the intense pleasures of close reading. Although he has some hard - and funny - things to say about Ezra Pound, James is firmly committed to celebration. He reminds us that poetry is, or can be, "the most exciting thing in the world". And this is what literary criticism, and literary pedagogy, should aim for: not to add a further encrustation of complexity, but simply to instil the readerly habits of gratitude and awe
I read Clive James's Poetry Notebook standing by my poetry wall to save getting up and down, and my wall turned out to be just railings