New and Selected Poems

Though David Lehman may poke fun at the various movements of modern poetry that, in their commitment to innovation and originality, all ended with the same “result…that everybody sounded alike,” in his ninth volume of poetry, the poet, critic, and editor proves that it is possible, after all, “to have a voice of your own.” Lehman’s latest opens with new works, grouped under the title “Escape Artist,” in which he deploys his highly intelligent but talky tone to great effect, in poems that address everyday profundities such as a psychoanalysis, as well as the stuff of poetry itself—like Lehman’s love of the present tense or the second-person pronoun (“you” being his “favorite word”). The rest of Lehman’s book moves in reverse chronological order, with work chosen from his eight previous collections, as well as a selection of “Early and Uncollected Poems.” Lehman’s backwards organizing principle is ingenious, offering readers a true career retrospective, and the final section is an enlightening addition: It’s a pleasure to see “The Presidential Years,” Lehman’s first appearance in the Paris Review, when he was just an undergraduate at Columbia, back in print. A remembrance of the Eisenhower and Kennedy years as well as a reckoning with morality, the poem finds the “serious, defiant” young writer declaring: “We are all going to wind up under the ground.”

This book review originally appeared in American Poets, Spring-Summer 2014.