On Poetry… Form

So back to Glyn Maxwell On Poetry (it’s been a while I know, but all sorts of other things have got in the way like seven books of Game of Thrones). He begins this chapter by saying “You master form, you master time.” Yes time again, that enduring preoccupation, and then two pages later: “You master form, you don’t master time.” Yes, also true.

This chapter is about the left margin, the centre-aligned poem, the length of line, indent and repetition (which is never repetition, each separate same word has different meaning in a poem; say “Never, never, never, never never” and see. There needs to be some way of affixing the poem in the whiteness and often the left margin is it — the “fixed string’ for the music (page 56). Continue reading “On Poetry… Form”

So onto… “Black”

Your encounter with a poem on the page (the black on the white) is like — or should be like — meeting a person, says Glyn Maxwell in the second chapter to On Poetry. And you should judge it just like you judge a person (Maxwell’s strong opinion is that if the poet doesn’t put something of themself onto the page, then what was the point, the point must be presence). But what follows next is somewhat surprising and gives you a whole new way of judging and weighing the poems you read and write.

Maxwell has four criteria (or “a word and four ways… of meeting, of meaning”, page 33): solar, lunar, musical and visual — you weren’t expecting that. Continue reading “So onto… “Black””

On Poetry — “White”

I’ve read only one chapter of this book and I’ve had to stop and take a breath and a break. I’ve never read anyone talk about poetry this way, and I’ve never been addressed (Glyn Maxwell brazenly talks to “you” — me!) like this before, as though I am a poet, a fellow poet, a reader of poetry, a person who breathes because of poetry, as though, of course, poetry is the stuff of life.

on-poetry-maxwellSo let’s start at the beginning: this little white book starts with a chapter called “White”. White the page, white the blankness, white the silence. Unlike musicians, says Glyn Maxwell, who write their lyrics against music, the poet writes against the whiteness, the emptiness, the space, the silence. Against this yawning nothingness is the movement of time, the poet  only masters time by mastering that whiteness, and poetry, says Maxwell, surprisingly, is all about the mastery of time (and he does a quick little march through the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries with three poems to prove it). “Poets are voices upon time,” he says (page 14). Continue reading “On Poetry — “White””