Poetry Notebook: Reflections on the Intensity of Language, Clive James, 2014,
James, an Australian poet and literary critic, has compiled a wonderful group of essays originally written for Poetry, the TLS, the NYRB, and the Financial Times about poets, poetry, and language. With a wry sense of humor and great erudition, he writes affectionately about his favorites (some well known– Keats, Frost, Larkin, Moore, Wilbur, Auden, Bishop, Heaney, Yeats, and McNeice—- and many, especially the Australians, unknown to me, Stephen Edgar, Les Murray, Peter Porter and Michael Longley) and about those whose work he disdains. Citing his favorites (poem: Ode on Melancholy by Keats and criticism: Heaney’s The Redress of Poetry and Longley’s A Hundred Doors), his most incisive observation is that poetry doesn’t exist in ‘poetry’ or perhaps even in ‘poems’, but in ‘the quality of the moment’, Frost’s ‘sound of sense’—reality drastically rearranged to make your hair fizz! He cites his favorite five books of poetry: Yeats’ The Tower, Frost’s The Collected Poems, Auden’s Look Stranger, Wilbur’s Poems 1943-1956, and Larkin’s The Whitsun Weddings. He describes the touchstone of poetry being the ‘hammered phrase within the singable scheme.’ He is especially dismissive of those who are ignorant of form stating that you have to master form (which can ‘force’ a poet to find the right word) before you can write without it. This is a delightful and delicious book for any lover of poetry or literature.