Clive James read, learned and recited poetry aloud for most of his life. In the last book he completed before he died, he offers a selection of his favourite poems and a personal commentary on each. In the last months of his life, his vision impaired by surgery and unable to read, Clive James explored the treasure-house of his mind: the poems he knew best, so good that he didn’t just remember them, he found them impossible to forget.
The Fire of Joy is the record of this final journey of recollection and celebration. Enthralled by poetry all his life, James knew hundreds of poems by heart. In offering this selection of his favourites, a succession of poems from the sixteenth century to the present, his aim is to inspire you to discover and to learn, and perhaps even to speak poetry aloud.
In his highly personal anthology, James offers a commentary on each of the eighty or so poems: sometimes a historical or critical note on the poem or its author, sometimes a technical point about the poem’s construction from someone who was himself a poet, sometimes a personal anecdote about the role the poem played in his own life. Whether you’re familiar with a poem or not – whether you’re familiar with poetry in general or not – these chatty, unpretentious, often tender mini-essays convey the joy of James’s enthusiasm and the benefit of his knowledge. His urgent wish was to share with a new generation what he himself had loved.
This is a book to be read cover to cover or dipped into: either way it generously opens up a world for our delight. ‘Clive James’s joyous farewell . .
. from Thomas Wyatt to Carol Ann Duffy’ – Guardian, Best Poetry of 2020