Most closely associated with the so-called new formalist school, which he helped to publicize in the 1980s, Leithauser is also an accomplished novelist (The Friends of Freeland) and essayist (Penchants & Places). His fourth collection, and first since 1990, confirms the self-confessed ""obsession with rhyme and meter"" (Interview, Jan. 27, 1997) that has made him a partisan in yesterday's spat between dogmatic vers-librists and equally dogmatic rhymers. If the new poems' old insistence on their own artifice lends them an air of obstinacy, Leithauser's strict forms well suit his modest lyrics of personal and genealogical history, and his focus (sometimes bitter) on the relations between men and women, men and nature, and men and men: ""It's termite's labor--dark, clandestine, slow,/ No thanks and not a thing to show/ For it."" Elsewhere, a young suicide leaves her car running, lights on, atop the cliff she's thrown herself from; a stranger saves the life of a wounded soldier (later, the speaker's father) on a beach; a senile widow calls her new ""husband"" by the former's name. Such kernels of narrative (which at their best recall the eerie verse-anecdotes of E.A. Robinson) draw attention to what's missing in this practiced but flat collection: surprise, wit, metrical delicacy. Readers for whom old-fashioned versification holds the glamour of a doomed cause will continue to applaud Leithauser's workmanship; readers who take for granted the deathlessness of poetic forms may see somewhat less cause for gratitude. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/31/1998 Release date: 09/01/1998 Genre: Fiction
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