A topical and accessible collection, The Sugar Mile takes its readers on a journey from wartime London to modern-day America. In a series of monologues, each beautifully drawn and intimate, Glyn Maxwell details the effects and experiences of conflict: the sense of community bounded by a distrust of strangers and foreigners; whole streets razed to the ground; homes lost, possessions misplaced and characters displaced; fears for loved-ones offset by tentative bargains with god; casual encounters given an intense, unreal edge by the context in which they occur; the routine drama and unfamiliar ‘everydayness’ of bombs, blackouts, shelters, temporary accommodation and evacuation . . . With painstaking clarity and honesty, Maxwell has captured the surrealism of a world under siege -- whether WWII or the war on terror declared post 9/11.
After the lyric break of The Nerve (2002), Maxwell follows one ambitious if not altogether convincing book-length verse narrative (Time's Fool; 2000) with another, this time letting the story unfold through short poems. In September 2001, at an Irish pub in Manhattan, the poet meets a friendly bartender, Raul, and a sleepy old former Londoner, Joey, who delivered newspapers during the blitz. Most of the poems that follow are framed as Joey's recollections, and most use the voices of Londoners children and adults, a grandmother, an air-raid warden during September 1941. Joey gradually reveals the secrets that explain why he left London; Raul is given space to describe the life of the pub and hint that he will die in the Twin Towers attacks. Maxwell, who has been celebrated overseas for a decade as a witty English everyman, has been resident in the U.S. since the late '90s and serves as the New Republic's poetry editor. His formal technique is as strong as ever (especially in three fluent sestinas), and he still excels as a ventriloquist ("Will you still bring/ a paper to/ the ruins Joe?"), but the character development is thin. Maxwell implies, but never quite delivers, intellectual or psychological links between wartime London and post-9/11 New York; what's left the melancholy of displaced Englishmen doesn't quite let his new volume go the distance.