Clive James was one of our finest critics and best-loved cultural voices. He was also a prize-winning poet. Since he was first enthralled by the mysterious power of poetry, he has been a dedicated student. In fact, for him, poetry was nothing less than the occupation of a lifetime, and in this book Poetry Notebook, he presents a distillation of everything he learned about the art form that matters to him most.
With his customary wit, delightfully lucid prose style and wide-ranging knowledge, James explains the difference between the innocuous stuff that often passes for poetry and a real poem: the latter being a work of unity that insists on being heard entire and threatens never to leave the memory. A committed formalist and an astute commentator, he offers close and careful readings of individual poems and poets (from Shakespeare to Larkin, Keats to Pound), and in some case second readings or re-readings late in life – just to be sure he wasn't wrong the first time! Whether discussing technical details of metaphorical creativity or simply praising his five favourite collections of all time, he is never less than captivating.
In the media
The material was well worth collecting . . . entertaining . . . His hand has not lost its cunning
He is a unique figure, a straddler of genres and a bridger of the gaps between high and low culture. He will be seen, I think, as one of the most important and influential writers of our time
Bryan Appleyard Sunday Times Culture
The James voice is immediately recognisable. To describe it as comic does not do it justice: it might be fairer to say that the world it inhabits is prone, at most times, to a comedy of desperate sorts . . . James's best comedy is in the phrase-making, a craft at which he excels . . . James was - and remains - far more than a clever boy laughing at muddied oafs. He is a scholar who has preferred wearing his scholarship lightly . . . Full of an energy that is partly Augustan but racier, as if Dr Johnson had sealed a pact with the 19th-century poet Winthrop Mackworth Praed . . . Witty but fully sounded through, grave but not solemn
George Szirtes New Statesman
As a critic, James is formidable, blending vast reading with the knowledge of practice. He demurs from having an "aesthetic system", but this is too modest. There are some clear positions in Poetry Notebook, and they are erudite, strident, but balanced . . . Poetry Notebook is a stellar collection by a great Australian writer, a man who, "[l]ooking back ... with tired eyes", retains the poetic enthusiasm of his teenage self
James McNamara The Australian