William H. PritchardMay 31, 2010 - 10:00am0 comments
The Art Student’s War
Alfred A. Knopf, $28.95, 496 pp.
Criticism has not yet caught up with Brad Leithauser. At age fifty-six, he has published five volumes of accomplished verse; a long poem, Darlington’s Fall, which he calls a “novel in verse” and which is his most distinctive, indeed dazzling, work; and six novels, of which the newest represents a peak achievement. In addition to books of light verse, illustrated by his brother Mark, and a miscellany of prose pieces, he has made regular appearances as a critic over the past few decades, mainly in the New York Review of Books. His subjects there and elsewhere have ranged from poets such as Coleridge, Hopkins, Edward Lear, Louis MacNeice, Theodore Roethke, Anthony Hecht, and Richard Wilbur to major figures from the realm of American popular song: Lorenz Hart, Irving Berlin, and others. If ever there was one, Leithauser is a triple-threat man as novelist, poet, and critic; yet the richness—sometimes one is tempted to call it sheer genius—of his work has not found a large, responsive audience, while reviews of his books, at least in the New York Times Book Review, have been mixed.
His first published book of poems, Hundreds of Fireflies, contained an attractive mixture of formal expertise in rhyme and stanza with personal biography—being a tennis instructor one summer, or working for a law firm in New York City. His penchant for syllabic verse, noticed especially in Cats of the Temple, his second book of poems, had something...