David Lehman, a poet of wit, ingenuity, and formidable skill, draws upon his heritage as a grandson of Holocaust victims and offers a stirring autobiographical collection of poems that is his most ambitious work to date. It covers an expansive range of subjects -- from love, sex, and romance to repentance, humility, the meaning of democracy, Existentialism, modern European history, military intelligence, and the rituals associated with faith and prayer. The title poem, "Yeshiva Boys," is a work in twelve parts that blends the elements of espionage fiction, memory, history, and moral philosophy. It reflects David's experience as a student in an orthodox Yeshiva, and it, along with many other poems in the book, explores what it means to be a Jew in America, what is gained and lost in assimilating to secular culture, how to understand the peculiar destiny of the Jewish people, and how to reconcile the existence of God with the knowledge of evil. Beautiful, provocative, and accessible, this is David Lehman's most inspired collection.
Disarmingly casual, unexpectedly serious, alert to his predecessors and mentors in literature and in life, Best American Poetry series editor Lehman (When a Woman Loves a Man) has produced a seventh book of uncommon variety. Some poems consider writing itself, as inspiration, as vocation, as business "That's the thing about ambitious middle-aged writers/ who used to be young: each has a secret problem,/ and if they confess it, they think it will advance/ their careers." Others seek the informality that Lehman's readers have come to expect. The Jewish content promised by the title arrives in force late in the volume, as the title poem cuts between Lehman's remembered childhood and his adult meditations on heritage and the Holocaust: "I feel as if my real life is somewhere else, I left it/ back in 1938." (Lehman's mother, who speaks the prose epilogue, describes her life as a child in Vienna and as a refugee.) Lehman, who lives in New York, remains alert to many styles and forms; as a poet he has often followed in the tracks of Kenneth Koch and Frank O'Hara. The title poem, leaving those influences behind, will seem to some readers flat and without style, to others as personal and as profound as anything Lehman has written.