Clearing The Tangled Wood: Poetry as a Way of Seeing the World by James Lawless

An acclaimed global study and meditation on poetry and creativity

Clearing the tangled wood: poetry as a way of seeing the world

This monograph is a study of poetry as an alternative way of seeing the world and of obtaining insights into realities that enable the reader to see the vast otherness that usually eludes. The process of creativity is discussed. The influences of other disciplines on the heightening of consciousness are described as well as methodologies of observation that have been employed in the last 100 years are elucidated. Attention is paid to the specific contribution of modern Irish poetry especially in the role of the poet in society. Works of three non English poets (Salinas, Lorca and Pasternak) are appraised in some detail and the role of these three poets in their societies discussed with a view to the vindication of poetic insight and illumination against societal forces that would destroy the poet and his poetry. The final section of the work deals with poetry as an art form uniquely able to interpret a fragmented and arid post modern world.

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Some reviews of Clearing the Tangled Wood

“This is the work of an insatiable reader, a gifted scholar, a natural philosopher and a writer passionately convinced of the spiritual value of poetry. Clearing The Tangled Wood is an appropriate title because James Lawless insists on a clarity and candour in an artistic area where criticism is often needlessly complicated and sometimes confusing. Lawless explores poetry for what it is  a special world with a vitality, identity and mystery all its own. Clearing The Tangled Wood is a thrilling sequence of revelations, a beautifully written work of love, pleasure and insight.”
Brendan Kennelly

“A linguistic ballet, learned and lively, on behalf of poetry.”
John Montague

“A book of great scholarship but also of great hope. To all practitioners of poetry it gives an important epistemological grounding to our work. It is like a safety net to a trapeze artist  we can swing higher and leap farther, knowing that this work lies beneath us. This book has given me back my belief in poetry as not only a useful discipline but an essential manner of being in the world. What more can I say?”
Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill

“Impressive in its references among other works of criticism, and of opinions and general concepts.”
Thomas Kinsella

“In this luminous and wide-ranging meditation, James Lawless considers the dynamics of creation. For him the poet is one who, in reconnecting us with our buried selves, also invents a new way of seeing the world.”
Declan Kiberd

Clearing the Tangled Wood is a wonderfully compelling and elegantly written book which does, indeed, clarify and shine light on the evolution of poetry in a clear and rigorous way, seeking out and analysing the contributions of numerous poets in an insightful and affectionate way. It is a valuable, well written and enjoyable work through which a reverence and love for poetry, words and form is at all times discernible.”
Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland

‘Clearing The Tangled Wood is as much a masterwork of poetic imagination as of scholarly precision.’
Ronald M. Mazur, Professor of European Languages and Linguistics, Winona State University.

 “In this wide-ranging book Lawless considers the work of many poets, including W. H. Auden, Allen Ginsberg and Mícheál Ó Siadhail, as he explores the relevance of poetry in ordinary and extraordinary people’s lives. It comes highly recommended.”

from Books Ireland, May 2012

Reviews from Amazon

4.0 out of 5 stars Poetry as you don’t know it.,January 5, 2013


Crystal Lanham – See all my reviews

This review is from: Clearing the Tangled Wood: Poetry As a Way of Seeing the World (Paperback)

This book is a very informational and may even be considered educational, aimed to show people the different ways poetry can enrich their lives.

The book shows us benefits of poetry in a language aspect, a well as human communication and much more. After reading this book, your view and understanding of poetry will be completely different, I assure you. You will learn a great deal. I have a better understanding and new respect for poetry since reading “Clearing the Tangled Wood.” One interesting chapter talks about poetry in relation to meditation.

You can tell James Lawless did his homework on this book. An amazing amount of research must have been done, I can only imagine the hours put into this. He did a great job, I am very impressed. I thoroughly enjoyed reading “Clearing the Tangled Wood.” I learned a great deal that I did not know about poetry, though I enjoy books that teach me new things that appeal to me.

I highly recommend this book. If this is your kind of thing, then you will be happy with this book. “Clearing the Tangled Wood” is a real eye opener.

5.0 out of 5 stars An extraordinary read!,January 2, 2013


benq123 – See all my reviews

This review is from: Clearing the Tangled Wood: Poetry As a Way of Seeing the World (Paperback)

While I am no authority on poetry, it is clear that in this book we have here a serious study of poetry.
You may ask why should a non-authority on poetry have a say on such a book? If poetry is for the masses, then it could be argued that if it appeals to me, then it should appeal to others.

In an attempt to be partly poetic myself, I would like to say that we live in a world full of machines. Day by day our world is becoming more and more artificial. True human values seem to be diminishing in face of these machines and infrastructures. It could be argued that modern society is obliging us to ignore base human values and become more machine like.

That’s why books like “clearing the tangled wood” act like a precious medicine, reminding us that there is more to contemplate than we normally do. Poetry allows us to look into our hearts, into our very souls, yet it is a medium that is very difficult to comprehend.

I’m sure many will find the study of poetry a most fascinating subject, but equally feel it is difficult to find people to enliven it and make sense of it. For this you need a true creative and insightful mind. I, for one, found it in this book and this author. Even though such studies are supposedly boring stuff, I found this book to be quite easy to digest and take in. It is written in a very readable format. Lawless covers many aspects of poetry and some of the greatest poets are discussed in an interesting writing style.

The book describes admirably the ups and downs of poetry from old age and the role it has played in shaping our societies. As mentioned earlier, in this modern technological era we live in, people need even more than ever poetry. We need poetry to change our visions and how we look into our lives and the lives of others. This book actually helped me realize the importance of poetry and by doing this, at least for a moment, helped this reader see the world in a new light. Anybody interested in poetry should give this book a try.

5.0 out of 5 stars Poetry Is A Way Through The Chaos Of The World,January 1, 2013


stern0 – See all my reviews

This review is from: Clearing the Tangled Wood: Poetry As a Way of Seeing the World (Paperback)

Clearing the Tangled Wood: Poetry As a Way of Seeing the World In a world that is at once contradictory, chaotic and, often, outright confusing, there is one art form that transcends this chaos and, indeed, makes sense of it, poetry. That is the well-written argument of James Lawless, author of “Clearing the Tangled Wood – Poetry As a Way of Seeing the World.” In his monograph, Lawless examines the world against the world of poetry and the result is that poetry is the only way we can see the world clearly through the chaos. This is an insightful work.

4.0 out of 5 stars A recommended read for those interested in poetry 12 Jan 2013

By Lynda V. McCarthy


While I am a fan of James Lawless’ fictional novels (Peeling Oranges being one of my favourites), I was hesitant about looking at one of his more academic works. Yet I enjoyed his fiction so much that I wanted to dig a little deeper.I believe “Clearing the Tangled Wood” cleared up a number of things for me. Firstly, and probably not the point of the book, that Lawless is a very learned fellow and clearly with a strong love for poetry. Next, like some of the more accomplished writers of fiction I have read, there is much more depth and eruditism that I could at first have imagined to Lawless’s writing.I hope the author will forgive me if parts of this book are lost on me – sorry, I just ain’t that clever. However, even for me, this book goes a long way in showing the importance of poetry. The way the author examines our modern world against it is quite insightful.For anyone with interest in poetry, especially in its context to today, I can imagine this is a very interesting read.Once I Saw Through a Glass Darkly,10 Jan 2013



bertiejf – See all my reviews

This review is from: Clearing the Tangled Wood: Poetry as a Way of Seeing the World (Paperback)

Clearing the Tangled Wood, by James Lawless, is an educated and elucidate treatment of the importance of poetry and its ability to actually shape the way that we see the world around us.

James Lawless has studied the works of many poets, paying some special attention to modern Irish poets as well as a few non- English speaking poets. He delves into the creative process, the effects of other types of creative writing on poetry and even the methodologies of the poet. It seems to be important to understand the ‘hows’ and the ‘whys’ of poetry and the poetic process in order to grasp the significance of the thesis of this book, which I believe to be that poetry can enable the reader to see the world in a new light. To, if you will, ‘clear the tangled’ undergrowth that might keep us from seeing clearly and open our eyes to truth, beauty, honor, death, sorrow and so much more.

While not an easy read, this book is highly recommended to both the poet and reader of poetry alike. Thank you Mr. Lawless for sharing your insight.


Genre: POETRY / General

Secondary Genre: LITERARY COLLECTIONS / General

Language: English


Word Count: 43,563

Sales info:

Selling steadily in bookshops and libraries and and on the web. Wonderful reviews. Recognised as a an important contribution to the underestanding of creativity and poetry.

Sample text:


His gaze those bars keep passing is so misted

with tiredness, it can take in nothing more.

He feels as though a thousand bars existed,

and no more world beyond them than before.

This stanza from Rilke’s Panther (1964) presents an animal of enormous energy restricted and stupefied by cage bars. Sometimes an image will appear, only to be killed by his trapped and frustrated heart. The poem is a good metaphor for the conflict between the inner vision of the poet and the destructive external world.

Poetry is not merely writing, as some would have us believe,1 but in many cases it is the only means which the “speaking animal” has “to shift the limits of its enclosure” (Kristeva, 1980:33).

Freud credits poetry with the power of liberating the unconscious (Cheselka, 1987:70). His role was to turn the study of the unconscious into a science, and he very effectively showed man as a more irrational than rational being. There are limitations on literal language to express our inner selves. Our thoughts go round in circles, but our language is linear, as Bergson (1910) points out. If we take Nabokov’s definition of poetry as “the mysteries of the irrational perceived through rational words” (Winokur, 1989:78), we see the importance of poetry as a key to unravelling some of the complexities of our innermost psyches.

Book translation status:

The book is available for translation into any language except those listed below:

Already translated. Translated by Jean-Baptiste Philippot
Author review:
I had the pleasure of working with Jean-Baptiste on the translation into French of my book on modern poetry and creativity: Clearing the Tangled Wood: Poetry as Way of Seeing the World. He is a thorough and precise translator whom I highly recommend.
Already translated. Translated by Cristina Cinquini
Author review:
Cristina is a wonderful translator, accurate and precise of my global study of poetry, Clearing the Tangled Wood: Poetry as a Way of Seeing the World, l Highly recommend her.
Already translated. Translated by Marcella Mattar
Author review:
I worked with Marcella on the Portuguese translation of my global study of poetry, Clearing The Tangled Wood: Poetry as a Way of Seeing the World. She was a pleasure to work with and meticulous in her translation. I highly recommend her.
Already translated. Translated by Bárbara Mondaca
Author review:
I had the pleasure of working with Bárbara on the Spanish translation of my global study of poetry and creativity, Clearing The Tangled wood: Poetry as a way of seeing the world. She is a meticulous and thorough translator whom I highly recommend.

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