The Fire of Joy edited by Clive James (Picador Poetry)

Tears in the Fence

This is presented as an anthology of poems, some 84, arranged chronologically, with extensive commentary, seen as suitable for memorising or reading aloud, in that sense a bit like Ted Hughes’By Heartcollection, although the Hughes is neither chronological nor offers comment on the poems. James variously and perhaps surprisingly eloquently gives about four or five paragraphs to each poem. This struck me as very refreshing. The book was indeed put together just after James’ death in 2019, and it is a most unusual effort. But I think we get out of it not just those often perceptive insights but a curious assortment of pickings from English literature from the metaphysics of the Renaissance on.

There are two forces of fascination, then;- the choice of poems, and of course how memorable they are, along with the commentary. James might be seemed to some as an Aussie philistine, and he…

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