These poems capture the romance, irony, and pathos of love; they movingly chronicle days in post-9/11 New York and bring a fresh perspective to an array of subjects -- from the Brooklyn Bridge to Gertrude Stein to Buddhism. When a Woman Loves a Man is playful, inventive, and as amusing as it is clever; it is the work of a poet at the height of his lyrical and reflective powers.
Lehman's latest amply demonstrates his formal and prosodic range as well as his unstinting loyalty to the tones, predispositions, prejudices and forms of the New York School of poets, particularly Ashbery, O'Hara and Koch. The autobiographical "Wittgenstein's Ladder," "In Freud's House" and "The Code of Napoleon" are distinctive, Mel Brooks-like summations of their subjects, foregrounding Lehman's strengths as a writer--his humor, compact and direct syntax and easy musicality--simply by presenting them through the prism of historical subject matter: "He's the shortest man in the room, the only one who thinks / He is Adolf Hitler. Everyone else is Napoleon." "Jew You" features a litany of slanders gut-wrenching in their pain and humor, and it ends on a nice twist: "...and when Lionel Trilling asked Allen Ginsberg why he, a fellow Jew, / had written 'fuck the Jews' in his dorm room window, / Ginsberg sighed: 'It's very complicated.' Now there was a Jew." Lehman cannot "take wing" the way his hero-poets did in the '50s not only because he lacks the spirit of the enigma - the Surrealist aspect of New York School hijinks eludes him - but simply because he doesn't seem to like his time very much. (Apr.)
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April 04, 2005
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Excerpt from When a Woman Loves a Man by David Lehman
When she says margarita she means daiquiri.
When she says quixotic she means mercurial.
And when she says, "I'll never speak to you again,"
she means, "Put your arms around me from behind
as I stand disconsolate at the window."
He's supposed to know that.
When a man loves a woman he is in New York and she is in Virginia
or he is in Boston, writing, and she is in New York, reading,
or she is wearing a sweater and sunglasses in Balboa Park and he is raking the leaves in Ithaca
or he is driving to East Hampton and she is standing disconsolate at the window overlooking the bay
where a regatta of many-colored sails is going on
while he is stuck in traffic on the Long Island Expressway.
When a woman loves a man it is one ten in the morning
she is asleep he is watching the ball scores and eating pretzels
and two hours later he wakes up and staggers into bed
where she remains asleep and very warm.
When she says tomorrow she means in three or four weeks.
When she says, "We're talking about me now,"
he stops talking. Her best friend comes over and says,
"Did somebody die?"
When a woman loves a man, they have gone
to swim naked in the stream
on a glorious July day
with the sound of the waterfall like a chuckle
of water rushing over smooth rocks,
and there is nothing alien in the universe.
Ripe apples fall about them.
What else can they do but eat?
When he says, "Ours is a transitional era,"
"that's very original of you," she replies,
dry as the martini he is sipping.
They fight all the time
What do I owe you?
Let's start with an apology
OK, I'm sorry, you dickhead.
A sign is held up saying "Laughter."
It's a silent picture.
"I've been fucked without a kiss," she says,
"and you can quote me on that,"
which sounds great in an English accent.