Originally from Hertfordshire, Maxwell exhibits an intensely English sensibility that belies the many years he has studied and taught at Boston University and Amherst. The forms he employs vary widely, rarely obtruding upon the reader’s consciousness, and sometimes this creates a feeling of slickness—as if tight structures come so easily to Maxwell that he lets the weakest poems write themselves. He is at his best in his early poems, which avoid premature closure and err on the side of excess rather than safety. Of these, a long ode to consumerist desire called “Tale of a Chocolate Egg” is worth the whole volume: hilarious and scary, it chronicles the effect of an advertisement for Cadbury chocolate eggs on a London neighborhood. The interplay of blank verse and half-rhymes provides a flexible, musical backdrop for a story of equal parts banality and profundity. Maxwell refuses to succumb to sentimentality or romantic transport: “Night fell. Put it another way: England / spun out into darkness, didn’t count, / didn’t have the sun, had all the rest.”
In his dryness, Maxwell achieves the quiet fury that Philip Larkin regularly mustered in his suspiciously polite verse, but he is both less polite and less bitter than Larkin and remains his own man—a brazen, sarcastic, and ultimately good-natured narrator of the everyday soul.