Dream, fantasy, coma, or afterlife? One of these surely explains why an established poet wakes up one day to find himself in a tiny English village teaching a poetry course and enjoying visits from Keats, Whitman, Dickinson, and other literary geniuses.
Like an upscale version of the Web series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” British poet and playwright Maxwell’s (On Poetry, 2012, etc.) novel presents intimate conversations with stars of Western civilization’s poetic canon along with liberal quantities of alcohol. The Brownings, Coleridge, Yeats, and more take turns visiting a nameless village in contemporary England where the Academy is holding a series of fall courses and author/central character Glyn Maxwell is teaching poetry to a group of eight students. Exercises, individual tutorials, and seminars on the work of landmark poets are enhanced by appearances from the long-dead writers themselves; they perform readings, take Q-and-A sessions, and often end up in the pub afterward. But this isn’t real life, and Maxwell knows it. So is he dead? Why is it always Thursday? And when can he leave? This curiosity of a book is threaded with questions, some of which are answered by the poets in their own words, which have been culled by Maxwell from diaries, essays, and letters. Poe complains: “I’ve made no money”; Byron—a big, confident hit with the students—comments: “Don’t be afraid of praising me too highly.” Part comic novel, part confession, part literary critique, Maxwell’s book is both creative and self-indulgent, packed with quotations, musings, and dissections of rhyme schemes. The book's fictional elements (characters, plot) play a poor second to its expansive, good-natured embrace of all things poetic.
Within the loose format of a campus novel lurks a peculiar but not unpersuasive agglomeration of ideas, opinions, and imaginings about poets and their work.