Having achieved prominence in the U.K. for his deft arrangements of ordinary (often suburban) experience into elaborate (often Audenesque) stanzas, British poet Maxwell has lived and taught for the last few years in New England. Following 1999's U.S. debut The Breakage, last year saw the U.S. publication of the verse-novel Time's Fool and the selected collection The Boys at Twilight, with the novel garnering national reviews. This new collection applies Maxwell's fluent gifts to his recent years in America, with a particular focus on western and central Massachusetts. The poet moves from "the rough shape/ your life makes in your town," "out into Massachusetts" past "Massachusetts cows," a town fair, "whole biking dynasties" and the football rivalries of the Pioneer Valley. Several short lyrics simply present valley evenings, stone walls, sets of trees; those with more narrative content eulogize friends or present short tales, including one vignette about a child-sex sting. Maxwell often comes up empty on trying to hit payoff notes ("if time could hear/ it would hear silence"), but readers who seek variety in formal choices will be pleased (as in past volumes) by Maxwell's well-managed pentameters, speedy couplets and fluid syllabics: the especially accomplished final poem offers a set of deft off-rhymes, from "message" to "village" to "knowledge." (Sept. 1)
Forecast:Along with the concurrent paperback release of Boys and Time's Fool, this brief collection may prompt renewed attention to what's already a well-promoted career, furthered by Maxwell's frequent reviewing work. In a recent TLS review-essay, Maxwell combatively asserts that the recent American avant-garde "has achieved not one poem or line that is familiar to the public, produced not one book that is useful to the high schools, nor one poet who is read off campus...." He should find some sympathetic ears, along with passionate rebuttals.