Elaine Feinstein at the Financial Times:
Clive James has always written with verve about poetry, and though much of his latest book is drawn from articles already published, the material was well worth collecting. Poetry Notebook may not have the idiosyncratic range of his Cultural Amnesia (2007) but it has the same knack of entertaining his readers, even those inclined to disagree with what he says.
Reflecting on the influential critic Ian Hamilton, James remarks: “Hamilton was strongest where he found weakness”. That is not his own purpose here, except perhaps in his account of Ezra Pound’s followers, of whom I shall have more to say. What he wants to explore is the intensity of language that enables certain lines of poetry to lodge in the mind even when the rest of the poem has been forgotten. He finds these in Shakespeare, naturally, but also in Robert Frost, WH Auden and Richard Wilbur. Philip Larkin is an important presence throughout, being exemplary in his ability to write a resonant line that miraculously carries significance without contortion. There is also a whole chapter on Michael Donaghy, a thoughtful tribute to a much-loved and talented poet, who spoke all his poems by heart and died far too young.