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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry

The Breakage

Glyn Maxwell

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To purchase The Breakage

Title: The Breakage
Author: Glyn Maxwell
Genre: Poetry
Written: 1998
Length: 80 pages
Availability: The Breakage - US
The Breakage - UK

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Our Assessment:

B : decent, varied collection with some fine pieces

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian B- 21/11/1998 Robert Potts
The New Criterion A- 12/1999 William Logan
The New Republic A- 14/6/1999 Adam Kirsch
The NY Times Book Rev. A 18/7/1999 Andy Brumer
Poetry . 7/2000 F. D. Reeve
TLS . 27/11/1998 Tim Dooley

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus, but most were impressed.

  From the Reviews:
  • "There is almost none of the roaring humour of the earlier verse, except in a couple of competent but unremarkable amuses bouches, one of apology and one on jogging; what Maxwell has retained, less convincingly, are his distinctive tics of self-conscious diction and disrupted syntax. (...) In this collection, in a diction at once faux-naif and over-knowing, ellipsis sometimes makes it impossible to work out what is meant, and sometimes, give or take some sloppy grammar within the mangled syntax, one can work out what is meant but wonders why something so simple, even banal, is so complicatedly rendered." - Robert Potts, The Guardian

  • "The slyly reserved, good-natured poems in The Breakage don’t make a lot of fuss. They know their job of work and set out to finish it, but they’re often slightly private affairs, as if they weren’t all that keen on letting you know where they’re going. Their simplicity of diction and slightly bewildered, even childlike speakers are deceptive. (...) Maxwell writes in a meter sometimes like rough carpentry, a language often homely and well-worn. (...) The poems are often a little aloof, half warning the reader away -- it’s hard not to read them twice, and hard to understand them until you read them twice." - William Logan, The New Criterion

  • "The Breakage (...) shares with his earlier books a dexterity, a daring, and a wit that are very rare in poetry today; but it also goes beyond them toward a new tone, more somber and earnest. (...) (O)verall The Breakage is a very successful book, and a worthy advance on Maxwell's earlier work. Fine details can be found in just about every poem. Maxwell's greatest gift is to combine a quick and unexpected wit with a steadily beautiful lyricism." - Adam Kirsch, The New Republic

  • "Glyn Maxwell's poems present a sensibility and maturity that transcend his years (...), and also his time and place. (...) Maxwell (...) distinguishes himself with a host of dexterous and nimbly honed lines and images." - Andy Brumer, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The title poem, The Breakage, -- the first in the collection -- begins:

Someone broke our beautiful
     All-coloured window. They were saints
He broke, or she or it broke. They were
     Colours you can't get now.
       Here and elsewhere Glyn Maxwell hearkens back, looking to the old that is lost in the days of new. He does not retrieve it -- they are colours you can't get now -- but he revisits it, and imitates it. Perhaps a third of the volume is, for example, devoted to World War I, the shadows of Edward Thomas and Robrt Frost hanging over the verse. Formally, too, Maxwell looks to tradition: this is a book filled with rhyme, in couplets and more complex schemes. Maxwell does not get bogged down in any of this -- contemporary life and free verse are here in ample supply as well -- but it remains a notable presence.
       Letters to Edward Thomas is the longest section, fourteen poems in the form of letters to English poet Edward Thomas (1878-1917), a friend of Frost's. Thomas published Six Poems in 1916, under the pseudonym Edward Eastway, before getting himself killed in World War I. Maxwell pays effective homage to the man in these pieces. Like the other poems dealing with the Great War they paint a good picture of the absurdity of that war, and the bizarre dichotomy of life on the field and life back in civilization.
       The rest of the collection is more varied, ranging from several poems in Brazil to a tribute to Joseph Brodsky to lullabies. There is a rollicking Deep Sorriness Atonement Song, in which Maxwell apologizes for missing an appointment, claiming to be sorrier than (among many others) "the bloke who told the Light Brigade 'Oh what the hell, lets charge 'em,' (...) And anyone who reckoned it was City's year for Wembley."
       Maxwell does a great deal in this collection, offering verse that is serious as well as verse that is light. There is much here that is good, but we found little that impressed greatly. Maxwell does more with form than most contemporary poets, and some of it works quite well. Still, it remains a fine but not not entirely satisfying volume.

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The Breakage: Glyn Maxwell: Other books by Glyn Maxwell under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See also the Index of Poetry under review

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About the Author:

       English poet Glyn Maxwell was born in 1962. He studied at Oxford and Boston University and currently teaches at Amherst College. He has received the Somerset Maugham Prize and the E.M.Forster Prize.

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