LANDSCAPE WITH CHAINSAW
Raised and educated in England, Lasdun now makes his home in New York's Catskill Mountains, whence his poems, short stories and novels now issue. These witty, personal poems and sequences consider the poet's move from Britain to America and meditate on his family's new surroundings. Lasdun shows, however, an Englishman's distrustful amusement at American self-confidence, and at masculine violence—"Returning the Gift" is the best, and the longest, of several poems about the titular chainsaw and the talkative local who sells them. Other poems remember prep-school hippies and English pubs; contemplate Lasdun's Anglo-Jewish heritage; or evoke the neat brambles of nearby forests. His best poems combine those virtues with his considerable gift for short, crackling narrative—the quick plot of "Property: The Bear" withstands comparison to its Frostian models. But readers will find the inoculating irony of some of Lasdun's Frederick Seidel-like quips insufficient: "The locals,/ Esopus Algonquins,/ having already been massacred,/ there's no-one with greater claims to an acre// than you have." Lasdun (Woman Police Officer in Elevator ) delights in turning a deft stanza, or in bringing highbrow allusions (Heidegger, say) down to homely earth; he can also reveal a self-deprecating wit reminiscent of Merrill. With their Audenesque epigrams, fluent stanzas and English background, the works gathered here will certainly make Anglophile readers perk up their ears, but beyond the dressings, these are really just more autobiographical poems from a literate, white, middle-aged, male speaker. (July)
Forecast:Lasdun's reputation in Britain rests on two previous books of poems, on his prose fiction, and on the well-known anthology After Ovid, which he coedited with Michael Hofmann. Any sales here will have to be driven by the fiction, which has yet to find a significant audience here.