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The Sugar Mile


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About the Author

An established and critically-acclaimed poet, novelist and playwright, Glyn Maxwell has previously won a Somerset Maugham award, received the E M Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and had three collections selected as New York Times Notable Books of the Year. He's also been shortlisted for the Whitbread, Forward and T S Eliot prizes.


After the lyric break of The Nerve (2002), Maxwell follows one ambitious if not altogether convincing book-length verse narrative (Time's Fool; 2000) with another, this time letting the story unfold through short poems. In September 2001, at an Irish pub in Manhattan, the poet meets a friendly bartender, Raul, and a sleepy old former Londoner, Joey, who delivered newspapers during the blitz. Most of the poems that follow are framed as Joey's recollections, and most use the voices of LondonersAchildren and adults, a grandmother, an air-raid wardenAduring September 1941. Joey gradually reveals the secrets that explain why he left London; Raul is given space to describe the life of the pub and hint that he will die in the Twin Towers attacks. Maxwell, who has been celebrated overseas for a decade as a witty English everyman, has been resident in the U.S. since the late '90s and serves as the New Republic's poetry editor. His formal technique is as strong as ever (especially in three fluent sestinas), and he still excels as a ventriloquist ("Will you still bring/ a paper to/ the ruins Joe?"), but the character development is thin. Maxwell implies, but never quite delivers, intellectual or psychological links between wartime London and post-9/11 New York; what's leftAthe melancholy of displaced EnglishmenAdoesn't quite let his new volume go the distance. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

This book-length verse narrative by the 43-year-old Maxwell (The Nerve) is one of the best of its kind that this reviewer has read recently by anyone of the poet's generation. A brilliant, beautifully crafted work by a literary master, it features poems that are always formal and attentive to the music of our daily conversation in a way that reminds us of dramatic narratives in Robert Frost's "North of Boston." But Maxwell extends this form of dramatic personae to broader, almost epic proportions. The poem begins in pre-9/11 New York City at a bar tended by a man who speaks in sestinas (beautifully and quite believably so, it must be noted). There, the poet meets a survivor of London's World War II "Black Saturday" bombings, who tells him a story filled with longing, childhood visions, and terror. The narrative flows with forceful, almost cinematic quality, with the poet always alert to the music of the phrase as well as the forces of the narrative as a whole. Above all, there is a supreme reason for Maxwell's formalism in these pages-not merely for the sake of dogma, as is unfortunately the case of many formal poets writing today, but because his formal verse represents Maxwell's own brand of humanism, where refrains and incantations are never just devices or maneuvers but always a vehicle that displays the depth and surprises of human pathos. This book will be read for years and years to come; highly recommended.-Ilya Kaminsky, writer in residence, Phillips Exeter Acad., NH Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

"Clearly the work of the major poet of his generation, boldly expanding the canvas and means of his art." --James Wood

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