Glyn Maxwell covers a greater distance in a single line than most people do in a poem. Joseph Brodsky
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About Glyn Maxwell
Born in Welwyn Garden City, England, to Welsh parents in 1962, Glyn Maxwell was educated at Oxford University and Boston University, where he studied poetry and theatre with Derek Walcott. He moved to the USA in 1996, teaching first at Amherst College, Massachusetts, then at Columbia University and The New School in New York City. In 1997 he was awarded the E. M. Forster Award by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was Poetry Editor of the New Republic from 2001 –2007, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. His first three volumes of poetry, Tale of the Mayor’s Son (1990); Out of the Rain (1992, winner of a Somerset Maugham Award); and Rest for the Wicked (1995, shortlisted for both the Whitbread Poetry Award and the T.S. Eliot Prize) are collected in The Boys at Twilight: Poems 1900–1995 (2000). Four of his poetry collections have been short-listed for the T.S. Eliot Prize, and two have been short-listed for the Whitbread Poetry Prize; The Nerve (2002) also won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. His poetry has been anthologized widely.
Citing Robert Frost and W.H. Auden as influences, Maxwell writes confident, formally aware poetry that seeks out the natural rhythms within metrical organisation, following the measures of everyday speech. His approach lends itself as much to the short lyric as to the long narrative poem: The Sugar Mile (2005), a verse narrative set in a Manhattan bar a few days before September 11, 2001, incorporates an array of different voices and stories. Joseph Brodsky has praised his poetry with the observation that “Glyn Maxwell covers a greater distance in a single line that most people do in a poem.” Maxwell has also written a number of plays, many of which have been performed professionally, including Broken Journey (which was a Time Out Critics’ Choice), Anyroad and The Only Girl in the World. His recent theatre work includes The Lifeblood, a play about the last few days of Queen Mary’s life; his one-person show, Best Man’s Speech; and The Forever Waltz, which premiered in New York in 2005. His sequel to Twelfth Night – Masters Are You Mad? – was staged in 2012. He also writes libretti (recently for The Firework Maker’s Daughter, an opera based on Philip Pullman’s classic story), and fiction: his first novel, Blue Burneau (1994), was short-listed for the Whitbread First Novel Award. Moon Country (1996) is an account of his visit to Iceland with the poet Simon Armitage, tracing the travels of W.H. Auden and Louis MacNeice. His latest novel is The Girl Who Was Going to Die (2008).
Maxwell’s two most recent collections of poems are Hide Now (2008) and Pluto (2013), both of which were shortlisted for the Forward Poetry Prize. A Selected Poems: One Thousand Nights and Counting was published in 2011, and his poetry guide On Poetry (2012) was described by Adam Newey in The Guardian as “the best book about poetry I’ve ever read”, and sold out its first run within five days.
The five recordings hosted by the Poetry Archive emphasise Maxwell’s interest in stazaic patterning, and his commitment to form, whether invented or traditional. ‘The Byelaws’ echoes with ballardic music, but its rhymes and refrain build in service of a sardonic and bleakly pessimistic assessment of various relationships, from reader to lover, with its repeated assertion, ‘come my way, go yours’, positioning the figure of the poet as an essentially solitary documenter of human longing and interaction. Maxwell writes in On Poetry that a poem must conjure the presence of a speaking human, and the voice that recurs through this work seems to bring with it an entire atmosphere and world: a rueful, brooding, almost downbeat masculine narration, and behind it the roads and towns of modern Britain: here an uncertain, nocturnal place, at once sheltering and isolating. This poetry seem concerned with a sense of musical ‘rightness’, as alert to correspondences of sound as to the rhythms of life: when wedded to the accounts of a forty-ninth Christmas, or the spectacle of a dying animal, the abrupt coincidences of rhyme and assonance configure into a demonstrable vision of a world that is both fated and indifferent. This masterly command of a language which seems effortless in its picking up of the recognisable phrasings and ironies of experience, displaying them clearly and completely, makes Maxwell’s poems objects of fascination and sustained affect, appreciated equally for their songlike wisdom, darkly comic observation, and sense of foreboding.
Glyn Maxwell’s favourite poetry sayings:
Poets’ real biographies are like those of birds, almost identical – their real data are in the way they sound.
This recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 2 July 2013 at The Soundhouse and was produced by Anne Rosenfeld.