Too frequently we read year end Top Ten lists about fiction. Fiction lists are, well, boring. As a counterpoint to the current glut of people blabbing about the same old novels, we would like to say a few words about David Lehman’s NEW AND SELECTED POEMS, our favorite book of poetry published in 2013. What are lists for, if not to provide exposure to works of art that might otherwise slip past us underappreciated? Editor of The Oxford Book of American Poetry and The Best American Poetry Series, David Lehman is a true literary man, an editor, a professor, a writer of prose and essays, and co-founder of the KGB Bar Poetry Reading series. The act of establishing a permanent poetry reading in a dingy, East Village bar, is perhaps the definitive act of a Literary Man-in training.
Published by Scribner, Lehman’s latest collection ranges from his early work, including an old favorite, “The Presidential Years,” first published in The Paris Review when Lehman was an undergraduate at Columbia. Other poems, such as “Mother Died Today,” mark the development of his style from a more accessible, straightforward poetry with narrative and story-telling, to a more experiment, mashy style of contemporary poetry, often engaging in dialogue with other works of art. “Mother Died Today” calls to mind the opening lines of Albert Camus’ masterpiece L’Etranger, and, indeed plays with it, contorts it, destroys it, recreates it for fresh eyes.
Word-nerds will love the attention to line-by-line beauty and strangeness. In “Sixteen Tons,” we get a weird, effective blend of sports, sexuality, the Bible, and the devastating evocation of a cocktail party full of “unloved doves and loveless hawks.” This is excellent stuff, people. We often talk about enjoying poetry, and yet it’s sometimes difficult to know where to start. How does one stay in touch with contemporary poetry? Well, start here: with these NEW AND SELECTED POEMS.