The Collected Poems of James Laughlin

Including over 1,250 poems, The Collected Poems of James Laughlin showcases the poet’s body of work over six decades, during which he stood at the helm of modernism as founder of New Directions Publishing. Often written in a direct voice, Laughlin’s subjects vary from abstract philosophy (“A selfless man who has renounced / the fruit of his action attains peace.”) to personal recollection (“I / climbed a tree and look- / ed in a window, Papa and / Mrs R were doing strange / things”). His originality is equally evident in his inventive use of the five-line “pentastich” form and in his irresistible titles (“The Glacier and Love’s Ignorant Tongue”). As noted by famed essayist and correspondent Guy Davenport, “The tall man who wrote these poems was once skiing down an alp with such headlong agility that he split the seat of his trousers.” Line after line, the reader shares in the panoramic hilltop view of Laughlin’s literary sources, from Virgil to Catullus, before surrendering to a joyful acceleration.

This book review originally appeared in American Poets, Spring-Summer 2015.