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On Poetry

On Poetry

Glyn Maxwell

ISBN 9780674970823

Publication date: 11/21/2016

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“This is a book for anyone,” Glyn Maxwell declares of On Poetry. A guide to the writing of poetry and a defense of the art, it will be especially prized by writers and readers who wish to understand why and how poetic technique matters. When Maxwell states, “With rhyme what matters is the distance between rhymes” or “the line-break is punctuation,” he compresses into simple, memorable phrases a great deal of practical wisdom.

In seven chapters whose weird, gnomic titles announce the singularity of the book—“White,” “Black,” “Form,” “Pulse,” “Chime,” “Space,” and “Time”—the poet explores his belief that the greatest verse arises from a harmony of mind and body, and that poetic forms originate in human necessities: breath, heartbeat, footstep, posture. “The sound of form in poetry descended from song, molded by breath, is the sound of that creature yearning to leave a mark. The meter says tick-tock. The rhyme says remember. The whiteness says alone,” Maxwell writes. To illustrate his argument, he draws upon personal touchstones such as Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost. An experienced teacher, Maxwell also takes us inside the world of the creative writing class, where we learn from the experiences of four aspiring poets.

“You master form you master time,” Maxwell says. In this guide to the most ancient and sublime of the realms of literature, Maxwell shares his mastery with us.


  • Defiantly and exhilaratingly poetic… I like the urgency and stringency of Maxwell’s advice, and it should be useful to students coming to a poem, providing a set of keys to allow them entry… If the book is witty, and occasionally glib, it’s also profound… Arguing with this book is part of the joy of it: it’s provocative and opinionated and personal and urgent; by turns good-humored and intemperate; and full of earned advice on the writing and reading of poems.

    —Nick Laird, New York Review of Books


  • Long regarded as one of Britain’s major poets, Glyn Maxwell is the author of numerous books, including One Thousand Nights and Counting: Selected Poems (2011).

Book Details

  • 176 pages
  • Harvard University Press