Cover image for The nerve
The nerve
Maxwell, Glyn, 1962-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2002.
Physical Description:
58 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


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PR6063.A869 N4 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Many of the poems in Glyn Maxwell's brilliant new collection explore American life and history. An Englishman who lived five years in Massachusetts, Maxwell watches fairs and floods and beggars pass by; he tries to understand gridiron and the ever-lengthening Halloween season. Some of these poems concern the harmful and the harmed: school shooters and terrorists on the one hand, victims and refugees on the other -- a girl accused of witchcraft; families made homeless, knowing "none in heaven or earth with any stake/in stopping it"; and the Californian "wild child" Genie. In a zone between are the harmlessly bewildered: a man who holds his own funeral, a TV weatherman wishing for hurricanes, women writing love letters to men on Death Row.
Maxwell's first new collection since The Breakage (1999), this succession of lyrics and narratives captures the strangeness and splendor of America, its thin layer of normality, its historical origins in flight, longing, and trust in providence. Beyond the cultural context of these poems is an incisive and compassionate portrait of the human animal in the twenty-first century. The Nerve is a haunting, powerful book that strikes deep beneath the surface of daily life, "like a spell or a code that unlocks a safe" (P. N. Review).

Author Notes

Glyn Maxwell was born in 1962 in Hertfordshire, England. He studied English at Oxford & poetry at Boston University. Among the honors he has received are the Somerset Maugham Prize & the E.M. Forster Prize. He now lives with his wife & their daughter in Massachusetts, where he teaches at Amherst College.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Englishman Maxwell (The Breakage) divides his time between Amherst, MA, and New York City and also serves as poetry editor for the New Republic. Like Auden, he is a wry social commentator, fascinated by American phenomena like football games, country fairs, TV weather forecasters, and Internet chat rooms. But he also probes "the nerve" underlying this middle-class predictability. Notably, he describes women writing to criminals on death row, an eccentric who stages his own funeral, and "Genie," the speechless California "wild child." These oddities form "the outline of somewhere/ inhospitable/ with other rules." Like Dickinson and Frost, he is able to bring an effortless moral and aesthetic compression to his work; a discussion of poets and poetry ends thus: "When a verse/ has done its work, it tells there'll be one day/ nothing but the verse." Maxwell composes in a unique musical signature with an obvious gift for phrasing, as when a stream riffles like "a lady smoothing out her sleeve." He is a poet who bears watching on both sides of the Atlantic. Highly recommended. Daniel L. Guillory, Millikin Univ., Decatur, IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



THE SEA COMES IN LIKE NOTHING BUT THE SEAThe sea comes in like nothing but the sea, but still a mind, knowing how seldom wordsaugment, reorders them before the breaker and plays them as it comes. All that should soundis water reaching into the rough space the mind has cleared. The clearing of that mindis nothing to the sea. The means whereby the goats were chosen nothing to the god,who asked only a breathing life of us, to prove we were still there when it was doubted.THE MAN WHO HELD HIS FUNERALRugged and silken, like a country singer both those things, fastidious and scary, yet fitted by the terms of his employment in a sober suit and driving gloves, he seemed defeated in a civil war still going.He said hed lived his life. What was he, sixty? with children and grandchildren, his car business solid, sold. He laid his leather hands on the steering wheel and said hed lived his life. And so one day had held his funeral.Although he looked in his blue single-breasted right for one, we caught each others eyes and tried to find this funny or him funny. It depended. All his pals had been invited, had come from far and wide and there he lay,face-up in a hired coffin, taking breaks for Pepsi while he listened to their speeches. Which, by the grin I saw in the drivers mirror, must have delighted him on his bed of satin, staring with eyes closed. Oh they made cracks,he told us, they hit home, they didnt spare me! We didnt really know how to receive this, in the back, on the winning side, except politely, then without words to stretch back and imagine his friends were probably mourning him, youd have to,because he hadnt died, because hed held his funeral, to hear the case against him, but had heard nothing and was satisfied, and reassured that all the things he loved and strolled among had had their hour of judgment.THE WEATHER GUYHurricane This is scaring us, Hurricane Thats not far behind, and were not turning our backs one second. We look at the screen all day. We findHurricane This still flapping away at the shirt of Tom the Weather Guy. Canada throws an arm around him. Hurricane That just bats an eye.Hurricane This is whipping off the Carolinas tablecloth; Hurricane That, amused by this, is beating ocean into froth.Hurricane This is playing wolf to New York Citys clever pig; Noahs nailing down his roof so when it comes its nothing big.Hurricane This is burning out off Providence; Hurricane That is disappointing Tom, whod dreamt of half Virginia pounded flat.And Hurricane This was called Renee. And Hurricane That was Stan. And Canada pats Toms shoulder now as he hands us back to Jenni-Ann,who asks about his weekend plans, which are much the same as ours, so maybe well see him nosing out of a local brawl of cars,and maybe hell give us the wave he gets when the heat kicks in and how, and it hits the heights he said it would this far upstate by now.More likely hell just speed away. And Id be shy Excerpted from The Nerve: Poems by Glyn Maxwell All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

The Sea Comes in Like Nothing but the Seap. 1
The Nervep. 2
Haunted Hayridep. 4
The Man Who Held His Funeralp. 6
Gatekeepers on Danap. 8
One of the Splendoursp. 9
Todayp. 10
A Winter Eveningp. 11
Blindfoldp. 12
Refugees in Massachusettsp. 14
The Year in Picturesp. 16
Farm Animals Are Childhoodp. 17
A Hunting Manp. 18
Chartreusep. 20
A Promisep. 21
Two Breathsp. 22
A Child's Love Songp. 23
Island Painting, St. Luciap. 24
The Paving Stonesp. 27
The Only Workp. 28
The Poem Recalls the Poetp. 29
The Weather Guyp. 30
An Earthly Causep. 32
The Alumnip. 34
The Leonidsp. 36
Stopit and Nomorep. 37
Likes and Dislikesp. 38
Crow and Calf and Dogp. 39
The Game Alonep. 40
The Fair That Always Comesp. 44
The Flood Townsp. 46
Chilep. 48
Love Letters for Cell 10p. 49
Burning Songp. 50
Colorado Morningp. 51
The Strictures of What Wasp. 52
The Surnamesp. 53
Playground Songp. 54
The Stop at Amherstp. 55
The Snow Villagep. 58