David Lehman is a writer of many kinds of poetry, many kinds of prose, but whatever he writes is unmistakably his—and ours. Lehman lets us become who we are, which sounds as if it should be easy: we need him, and, until he writes even more, The Morning Line is his best book.
The Morning Line is David Lehman’s most ambitious book to date, combining wit, quotidian charm, and off-the-cuff spontaneity of poems written with candid and moving meditations on life, love, aging, disease, friendship, chance, and the possibility of redemption in a godless age.
Lehman is a poetic ventriloquist, and he expertly imitates Catullus and François Villon in new poems and offers his fresh translations of Mayakovsky’s “Cloud in Trousers” and Hölderlin’s “Half-Life.” The element of joie de vivre in Lehman’s work is distinctive and unusual in contemporary poetry.
Excerpt from “Fats Waller Live in 1935”
Think of that: in 1935 when everyone was supposed to be miserable, here was Fats Waller in his derby hat mustache cigarette and huge grin playing and singing for the sheer joy of it.
In The Morning Line, David Lehman engages us at his most companionable. His voice is inclusive and intimate, his intelligence inexhaustible, embracing subjects ranging from the perfect martini and accompanying jazz recording to profound questions of faith. Reading David Lehman is an antidote for loneliness.
The Morning Line arrives like some miraculous rendition of your favorite tune, only stylized and torqued to his jocular spirit and encyclopedic range. Buoyant, wildly funny, and terrifically alive, his poems summon that forgotten age where wit and learnedness reigned and the reader, enriched by a jetsetting speed, reemerged soulfully fortified.
David Lehman’s books include One Hundred Autobiographies: A Memoir and Playlist: A Poem. He is the editor of The Oxford Book of American Poetry and series editor of The Best American Poetry. He has written nonfiction books about the New York School of poets, classic American popular songs, Frank Sinatra, and mystery novels, among other subjects.