BOOK CLUB: The Fire of Joy

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Clive James is one of those Australians who became more famous overseas than here in Australia.  His reputation as a bestselling author, a TV critic and TV presenter earnt him well deserved recognition.  He received many international awards for his writing which included his highly amusing and nostalgic autobiography Unreliable Memoirs.  

Those who knew Clive as a TV presenter might not realise what a serious writer and reader he could be, or know of his passion for poetry.

Clive died in 2019 after a long illness and prior to his death, he spent many months revisiting the poems he knew (often by heart) and loved.  Through The Fire of Joy Clive introduces the reader to many of the world’s great poets, he not only provides examples of their work (and encourages us to read them aloud) but alongside each poem he provides a commentary.

Sometimes they are historical or critical notes, often they provide more insight into the poet and their work or they feature personal anecdotes from Clive’s life.  What all of these commentaries do is provide the reader with background knowledge and make so many of these great poets more human, accessible and readable.  

This anthology features poets from the Tudors through to the 21st century, the list (roughly 80) features many of the great poets and a few that are not so well known. I can’t bring myself to list some of the poets as examples because I want to list them all!  

As stated earlier Clive wants the reader to “get by heart and say aloud”.  I can’t remember the last time a read a poem aloud but I followed the Rules on Reading Aloud provided by Clive and thoroughly enjoyed it. I also realised that reading aloud gives the reader a different perspective on the work.

As I got into this wonderful anthology I rediscovered poets I’d forgotten and discovered new writers.  Thanks to Clive’s intelligent, witty commentaries I found I wanted to learn more about so many of the poets and their work (a lot of Googling started to take place).  I was also inspired to share this anthology with family and friends so that hopefully they too will be inspired to enjoy poetry.

This is my favourite book of 2020 and one that I will keep close and refer to again and again.  

A huge thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia and the Beauty and Lace Book Club for the opportunity to read this terrific anthology. 

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading The Fire of Joy by Clive James. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.

ISBN: 978-1529059366 / Pan Macmillan Australia

8 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: The Fire of Joy

  1. I loved reading this book and discovering poems that I had never read before. Rediscovering poems from the past that I had long forgotten as well. The best thing was Clive’s commentary on the various writers and their poems. At times I found I was laughing out loud as Clive called it as he saw it and was rather blunt about some writers and their talents.
    If you enjoy poetry then this is a great book and one you really need to invest in. Clive has a wonderful way of teaching you not only about the meaning behind the poems but also gives you information about the writers.
    This is a book that you will go back to time after time.

  2. The Fire of Joy by Clive James, and published by Pan Macmillan is an interesting and varied collection of poetry, which reveals James’s lifelong love of verse.

    I must confess I have always thought of Clive James as a rather bombastic, pseudo intellectual tv comic and critic with a sardonic wit. So I was somewhat surprised to find that his selection of poems and accompanying commentary in this anthology, reveal a more eloquent and serious side. Having said that, James’s particular cutting style and humour still very definitely shine through. Indeed I found many of his comments added new and different perspectives to some of my favourite classical poems.

    Like Clive James, I also studied English Literature, so a good number of the poems in this collection were very familiar to me. And just as this collection of poems was for him a trip down memory lane, so it was for me. Indeed James’s sometimes chatty anecdotes, technical analysis or historical asides reminded me of how much I too had enjoyed discussing, debating and studying poetry back in the day!

    However, I also found the best way to read The Fire of Joy was to read it in short bursts. Eighty (80)poems is a lot of poems and at times James’s commentary indulged in a bit too much navel-gazing! It became quite tedious, and towards the second half of the book I was beginning to tire of it. Still given that James had leukemia and emphysema, it is perfectly understandable he could at times be quite melancholic and taken to contemplating his own mortality.

    Indeed it is rather sad and poignant that this anthology of poems from the sixteenth century to modern day, was lovingly recollected and celebrated by Clive James from his sick bed (with the help of his daughter) just before his death.
    Nevertheless this is a wonderful book of poems and I recommend it to all lovers of poetry.

  3. I have been a fan of Clive James forever and to be given the opportunity to read The Fire of Joy was a pleasant surprise.
    It is a wonderful semblance of poems through Clive’s eyes and thoughts. A book to be read over and over as each poems has its own depth and at times only to be read in short bursts. It’s to me a “pick up/put down” and reflect book. Some I have tagged to go back to when I need some thought time.

    This book will be a keeper for me. Thank you Clive for being the intelligent and many times funny person.

  4. The Fire of Joy was the final book Clive James wrote before his death in 2019. His vision impaired and unable to write Clive remembered his favourite English poems by heart.
    His love of poetry and vast collection captured in his mind he wanted to expand and ignite the minds of individuals to explore the most significant poems from the sixteenth century to the present day.

    There are over 80 poems in the book; each James has offered commentary which is critical, positive or technical and what impact the poem has played in his life.

    I feel generations of today have lost the meaning of poetry and how much it plays a part in history and our lives, The journey may be filled with dead ends and suffering or endless joy and happiness, with poetry you read, you listen, and you feel.

    This a book you can read at your own pace or in a full sit, I recommend reading a few poems at a time so you can feel the emotion of the poem.

    Thank you Beauty & Lace and Pan Macmillan AU for the opportunity to read and review.

  5. Thank you Beauty & Lace and Pan Macmillan AU for the opportunity to read and review The Fire of Joy by Clice James.
    I haven’t previously read any Clive James stories prior to this so I was interested in gaining an understanding of Clive James’s love of literature and verse. Reading the poems and then Clive’s interpretation and insight into them was fascinating and provided a deeper understanding to not only the poems but to Clive himself.
    I recommend this to anyone who is interested in poetry, writing and the writing process.

  6. I’ve been a Clive James fan for years, first being introduced through the first of his autobiographies ‘Unreliable Memoirs’ via a book club (for which I’ve forever been thankful). His body of work is immense, his intellect and insights unstoppable, his humour a delight. It is a gift to read this book, his last before he died 11 months ago at the age of 80 years. To celebrate his age, the book showcases eighty of his favourite poems, plus a few others just because he can, and doesn’t want them forgotten. From his cracking introduction (where he explains the significance of the title) you know you’re in for a treat. Even reading his ‘Rules On Reading Aloud’ is rather marvellous. And then the poems begin…

    They’re mostly printed in entirety, apart from some excerpts from very lengthy poems. They are listed chronologically, from an ‘Anonymous’ poem from ??, and ‘They Flee From Me’ by Sir Thomas Wyatt (1535), to the final ‘The Red Sea’ by Stephen Edgar (2008) – and a few riotous others in the Postcript. Each poem is followed by a short commentary, and that is the utter delight of the book.

    Clive James has the gift of cutting through language and potential inaccessibility (or not) in poetry, and making it all a thing of joy – ‘the fire of joy’, in actuality, as his title proclaims.

    I think my four favourite comments were as follows:

    1. On Christina Rosetti’s poem ‘Remember’: ‘The line “Yet if you should forget me for a while” really means “forget me and my ghost will return to make a shambles of your sock drawer”…’
    2. On Emily Dickinson: ‘Her collected works are a bowl of beads…Shadows still hold their breath when she speaks.’
    3. On Galway Kinnell (who I confess I’d never heard of) and his poem ‘The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ into the New World’: ‘All of his word pictures, throughout the poem, flare with that magnesium intensity.’
    4. On Seamus Heaney and his poem ‘Shore Woman’: ‘The only possible answer to the question “How did he think of that?” was “Because he’s him.”‘

    This is a book to keep on the shelf and dip into again and again. It will continually bring you that fire of joy.
    Many thanks to Beauty & Lace Book Club and Pan McMillan Australia for the fabulous opportunity to read this review copy. It was a privilege and delight.

  7. The Fire of Joy by Clive James is a collection of some of his favourite poems. This collection was put together in the last months of his life, and shows he has had a love of poetry all his life. With each poem, Clive has provided an interpretation and his personal comments, which I found very entertaining, and made me see each poem in a different light. I am not well read in the poetry field, but the way this book was presented made it an interesting and educational read.

    Thank you to Beauty and Lace and Pan Macmillan for the opportunity to read this book

  8. What a beautiful collection of Clive James’ favourite poems. Reading through I discovered many new ones and also of some I knew.
    Clive’s interpretation and commentary was interesting to read. A lovely collection that now sits proudly on my bookshelf with all my favourite.
    Thank you beauty and Lace for the opportunity to read this.

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