joshuawhitehead
3rd February 2021

Review: The Fire of Joy by Clive James

The Fire of Joy is the final book by Clive James. It’s a beautiful exploration of the history of poetry
Review: The Fire of Joy by Clive James
The Fire of Joy by Clive James Photo: Joshua Whitehead @ The Mancunion

The Fire of Joy is the last book by Clive James, a poet and cultural critic internationally renowned for his intellect and prodigiousness. When James wasn’t making prime time TV programs, he was translating Dante’s Divine Comedy and writing best-selling memoirs. 

But it is as a poet and literary critic that James will be best remembered. The Fire of Joy exemplifies what made James so popular. He had a vast knowledge, and he dispensed it generously. The goal in his writing was to enrich the life of the reader, and to point him or her in the direction of further gratification. Cutting through the pretentious crap, he focused only on what mattered: appreciating the beauty and power of the written word

His style is therefore perfect for this book, a collection of short poems dating from the middle ages to the present century. If (like me) you’re new to poetry, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better guide than James. As Virgil to our Dante, James provides fascinating, hilarious, and deeply personal contexts for each poem. (With reference to the final couplet of ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, the ailing James says that he prefers to keep the blinds open as he approaches his own ‘slow dusk’.)

And because poems ought to be spoken, says James, he also gives tips on how to read aloud, and other pointers on the technical details that go into a successful poem. 

The mini-essays attached to each poem then set you off on a journey of your own. Potentially, they will lead you to the poet’s other works or to a period of writing you haven’t explored before. It’s exactly what makes reading so exciting: discovering one thing helps you discover another! I’ve already started reading and learning poems by several poets listed in The Fire of Joy

If you want a way into poetry, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you might even get the urge to recite lines to yourself in the mirror. But without a doubt you’ll come away with a greater appreciation for what poetry is, and, therefore, what it means to be human. 


More Coverage

Poetic Prizes: The Forward Prizes takes on the North

After relocating to Manchester’s Contract Theatre, the Mancunion attends the prestigious Forward Prizes for a night of awe and bereavement

Book references in Taylor Swift’s songs: Lyrical masterpieces

Taylor Swift has dominated the music industry for over ten years. She has ten original award-winning studio albums, with her most recent one, Midnights, breaking Spotify records. Swift’s love of books is no secret, especially when considering the many books she has recommended over the years. This includes Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney, recently […]

Review: The Leviathan

Witchcraft. Demonic possession. All-knowing entities. these are just a few of the themes to expect in Rosie Andrew’s explosive debut novel

A Bookmark biography: The charity that helps children read

As well as providing all the information you need to know about who Bookmark are, what they do and how you can get involved, the Mancunion interviews Bookmark’s Anna Pickles to ask about all the extra info, plus her favourite book

Copyright © The Mancunion
Powered By Spotlight Studios

0161 275 2930  University of Manchester’s Students’ Union, Oxford Rd, Manchester M13 9PR