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The Fire of Joy: Roughly 80 Poems to Get by Heart and Say Aloud

Clive's first posthumous publication, The Fire of Joy is released by Picador on October 1st 2020.

Clive James read, learned and recited poetry aloud for most of his life. In this book, completed before just before his death, he offers a selection of his favourite poems and a personal commentary on each.

In the last months of his life, his vision impaired by surgery and unable to read, Clive James explored the treasure-house of his mind: the poems he knew best, so good that he didn’t just remember them, he found them impossible to forget. The Fire of Joy is the record of this final journey of recollection and celebration. Enthralled by poetry all his life, James knew hundreds of poems by heart. In offering this selection of his favourites, a succession of poems from the sixteenth century to the present, his aim is to inspire you to discover and to learn, and perhaps even to speak poetry aloud.

In his highly personal anthology, James offers a commentary on each of the eighty or so poems: sometimes a historical or critical note on the poem or its author, sometimes a technical point about the poem’s construction from someone who was himself a poet, sometimes a personal anecdote about the role the poem played in his own life.

Whether you’re familiar with a poem or not — whether you’re familiar with poetry in general or not — these chatty, unpretentious, often tender mini-essays convey the joy of James’s enthusiasm and the benefit of his knowledge. His urgent wish was to share with a new generation what he himself had loved. This is a book to be read cover to cover or dipped into: either way it generously opens up a world for our delight.

Guardian review, excerpts.

Archive Editor's Note

In the old, webmaster Dawn Mancer used this “NEW” section to announce recent additions to the website, ever a Work in Progress while Clive lived; what made it so was not only the considerable time his compilers needed to devote to the labour of entering Clive's printed work in the absence of electronic copies, but the nature of his fertile intellect: Clive continued to generate fresh material throughout his final years. This archive is a different kind of Work in Progress, an attempt to rebuild in twelve months, from fragments that survived the collapse of its Web hosting, an edifice that took Clive, with Dawn and other helpers, 14 years to create. The concept of a “NEW” section may seem out of place in the context of an archive, but I intend to use this page to promote, as I've done above with The Fire of Joy, such new publications or other significant material as may emerge from Clive's legacy. Yet, abiding by Clive's completist principle of not discarding anything that could be of interest, I have retained what I could recover of Dawn Mancer's website progress notes, with just her links revised to target the items’ new locations in the Archive, where available — see the menu at left. My own progress in constructing this archive is documented HERE.

— S J Birkill, September 2020