From the February issue of The Brooklyn Rail comes this review of David Lehman's New and Selected Poems (Scribner, 2013):
In his redoubtable essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” T. S. Eliot wrote, “No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists.” I wonder how Eliot might have assessed the work of David Lehman, a poet whose recently published New and Selected Poems demonstrates time and again that one’s ongoing engagement with poets dead or alive need not mask personality or stifle innovation. Whether writing an intimate Haiku sequence to mentor David Shapiro (“L’Shana Tova”), echoing by turns John Donne (“Any Place I Hang My Hat”) and Philip Larkin (“This Be the Bread”), or channeling Kenneth Koch via that poet’s Art of Love phase (“Story of My Life”), the poet draws on an encyclopedic range of sources and influences without ever sacrificing his own distinct voice.
Urbane, candid, and sometimes vulnerable, that voice sounds clear as a foghorn no matter what form or tone it assumes. In fact, Lehman’s most celebrated quality may be his unapologetic eclecticism. As the author himself admitted in an interview with the Cortland Review: “I write in a lot of different styles and forms on the theory that the poems all sound like me in the end, so why not make them as different from one another as possible, at least in outward appearance?” This might seem like a contradiction, but it isn’t. Lehman understands that voice is the persistent thru-line of any writer’s work, despite ruptures and convolutions in style or approach. What is more, many of Lehman’s earliest poems—like the title sestina from Operation Memory (1990) and “The Master of Ceremonies” from An Alternative to Speech (1986)—evince the same confidence and maturity one finds in his most recent work, thus providing the ostensibly varied and various New and Selected Poems with a consistency that is worth savoring.
Read the complete review over at The Brooklyn Rail.