"There is an inevitable sadness to this moving collection. This being James, there are also moments of zinging energy and a sense of fun…James will remain in the present tense as those Japanese Maple's leaves continue to turn to flame." —Rebecca K. Morrison, Independent
In this new collection of "technically and emotionally heart-stopping poems" (Spectator)—including "Japanese Maple," which was published in The New Yorker to great acclaim—Clive James looks back over an extraordinarily rich life with a clear-eyed and unflinching honesty. There are regrets but no trace of self-pity in these verses, which—for all their grappling with death and his current illness—are primarily a celebration of what is treasurable and memorable in our time here.
Again and again, James reminds us that he is not only a poet of effortless wit and lyric accomplishment but also an immensely wise one, who delights in using poetic form to bring a razor-sharp focus to his thought. Miraculously, these poems see James writing with his insight and energy not only undiminished but positively charged by his situation. The poems of Sentenced to Life represents a career high point from one of the greatest literary intellects of our age.
James (Poetry Notebook 2006 2014), the famous Australian-born British TV personality and cultural critic, muses about his slowed-down, ailing body in moving new verse about illness, debility, and impending death. "The storm blew out and this is the dead calm," he writes; "The pain is going where the passion went." James's humor, his resignation, and his fluency with rhymed pentameters recall Philip Larkin (though a closer match is Larkin's contemporary, Elizabeth Jennings). If some readers find James's stanzas to be glib or outmoded, many more will admire and possibly memorize their attitudes. James apologizes to loved ones, sometimes vaguely, for his devotion to public over private life; contemplates the tomb, "the last, the truly last house"; and remembers the beaches of his antipodean childhood. He even wrings humor from hospital stays and from the awkwardness of chronic health troubles: "my cataracts invest the bright spring day/ With extra glory." James's Anglo-American devotees may expect literary in-jokes and anecdotes, and they'll find a few good ones in here (the best is a joke about reading Catullus). Mostly, though, James brings his urbane skills to the most serious subjects, telling himself, articulately and accurately, that "I know how/ My death is something I must live with now."