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A Great Clearing in the Forest19 Aug. 2001
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In the forest of contemporary poetry most of what grows seems to obstruct passage, kill the view, and generally make the world darker. You need a machete, or better yet a chainsaw, just to cut through to sunlight. Very occasionally, however, one stumbles across a clearing, and Lasdun's "Landscape with Chainsaw" is such an occasion. This poet's wit and mastery of language make him a true pleasure to read, but they alone are not what make this book important. According to his bio notes, Lasdun grew up in England and now lives in upstake New York, in the Catskills. Now I'm no special fan of the brits, but this is the rare case of a writer who, coming to America, ends up telling us things about ourselves we are either too close or desensitized to know. Lasdun is tuned in to history, to literature, to his neighbors, to himself and to the land. Both literally and figuratively these poems are about landing in a foreign landscape and cutting into it, again, (after first overcoming a sense of presumption and squeamish prejudice against doing so) in order simply to be able to park oneself there, to infuse it with personal meaning, to make it "home." This collection has a thrilling thematic coherence; the poems gain in power and seem to be speaking to one another as you read on. Get your hands on this book. At the very least it's a sound financial investment: twenty years from now it will be as valuable as, say, a first edition of Robert Lowell's "Life Studies."