Poems in the Manner Of… by David Lehman (2017)
Intentionally adopting another author’s voice can be a dangerous exercise; falling into the trap of derivativeness is nearly unavoidable. David Lehman attempts to pay homage to his influences in Poems in the Manner Of…, as he calls on inspiration from the words of such heavyweights as Shakespeare, Whitman, Hemingway, and more. The results are a mixed bag; some work well, others fall well short.
Lehman fails at subtlety far too often, employing blunt and sometimes crass expressions. I often began a piece enjoying his direction, only to be blindsided by an unnecessary expletive or an unsettling turn of phrase. In some instances, the poems seem almost sarcastic. His imitation of Dickinson seems more parody than tribute. He also utilizes prose poetry far too often, while the occasional astrological profiles feel forced.
There are, however, moments of brilliance. Lehman’s “Two Poems in the Manner of Edna St. Vincent Millay” are refreshingly subdued yet quite enjoyable. Lehman strongly captures Millay’s famous sonnet style and voice.
Lehman, who has edited the Best American Poetry series since he initiated it nearly thirty years ago, has been called “a combination of Mark Twain, Charlie Rose, and John le Carré with a little John Donne thrown in.” Perhaps in his own voice, he can channel them, but I fail to see those personalities in Poems in the Manner Of….