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Poetry Notebook 2006-2014 review – Clive James’s absorbing thoughts on verse

The great critic champions the poems that have given him most pleasure in this provocative collection of essays

Clive James is never po-faced about poetry. He writes with the buoyant, aphoristic panache that made his career and with a judgment refined by a lifetime of reading and thinking about poetry – and writing it (he has a new collection coming out this April). This sympathetic, absorbing and provocative book is a miscellany – most of its articles written for Chicago’s Poetry magazine. But there are unifying thoughts. One is that “poetry” is not what excites him – too baggy a word and covering a multitude of sins – it is the particular poem that matters, the hardest thing to write. He argues that we are living in a time when “almost everyone writes poetry but scarcely anyone can write a poem”. He is on the side of clarity (he hopes it is “forgivable to favour those poets who show signs of knowing what they are saying”) while noting how complicated simplicity can be.

Related: Clive James – a life in writing

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