Review of Glyn Maxwell's Pluto

Sunday 1 March 2015

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Glyn Maxwell
(Picador, 2013); pbk £9.99

In his review of Pluto for Stride Magazine, Andy Brown is overtly critical of Glyn Maxwell’s “highly repetitious deployment of forms of ‘parallelisms’”, both synonymous and antithetic. That this style recurs throughout the collection cannot be denied. The first stanza of the opening poem, “Byelaws”, epitomises this technique:

Never have met me, know me well,
tell all the world there was little to tell,
say I was heavenly, say I was hell,
harry me over the blasted moors
but come my way, go yours.

It is also employed in “The Window”:

[…] I felt found
in your company, I felt lost
like one who’ll still be found,
however far he sails, steered by grace.

In turn, by way of a final example, consider the closing line of “Dunwich”: “Never have met me, know me well, be no one / else”. Here, Maxwell goes so far as to exactly replicate the collection’s opening line. That Pluto is repetitive in this sense is certain; whether this is the work’s downfall is questionable.

The concept of time rules Pluto, the collection revolves around it – in the words of “The Window”, Maxwell “steer[s] the thing through time”. Time becomes our opponent in the game of life:

At Greenwich we convene, sweet Time and I,
long having been each other’s only subjects,
for a game of noughts and crosses […] (“Greenwich”)

Losing, we “cry / Let’s play again! But time is moving on”.

In terms of his representation of time, in an interview with Ellen Cranitch, Maxwell exclaims: “What is there in our lives that disrupts time? Love is one thing and poetry is another.” Pluto is indisputably a deeply personal work. There are, for instance, intense moments of brutal self-reflection: “one of us said those chicks / were really hot I’ve a horrible feeling I did”. It is perhaps surprising, therefore, to read Brown’s criticism of Maxwell: “[l]ike Pluto, I felt at the outer reaches of Maxwell’s solar system, knocking to get in, but kept at arm’s length by the distancing effects of repetitious rhetoric.” In contrast, I feel that the poet’s utilisation of parallelism serves not to distance the reader but rather, as it embodies the very feelings the poet conveys, and as it is integral to the work, it tends to draw in the reader. The antitheses which characterise Maxwell’s paradoxical lines capture the nonsensical. To suggest that one can “Never have met me, know me well”, is foolish. Yet, this is a poetry collection which deals with self-reflection, with love, and loss, and change. Take for example “South-East of Eden”:

                                                     And out they come,
exiting one another with the kiss
to heal the bruise and be the bruise […]

In this context, the success of Maxwell’s parallelism is evident, for in dealing with the loss of love, and of oneself in the process, the feelings experienced are indeed often conflicting and contradictory. They are, at least to the person struggling with them, senseless; essentially, like Maxwell’s lines, they are absurd. Poetry, it would appear, becomes the ideal medium for the expression of our emotional perplexity. It allows us the paradox of emotion, perfect in that both poetry and the reader can be trusted, for:

[…] they drift together away in the dust while you lot
Stay to the end, which means the world to me. (“My Talk”)

Reviewed in anticipation of Maxwell’s appearance at the 2015 StAnza poetry festival, Pluto is an absolutely astounding collection – I cannot contain my excitement for his reading on the 5th of March!

Chloe Charalambous

Glyn Maxwell will appear at StAnza on 4th and 5th March