"What's truly tragic's never allowed / to stand alone for long, of course."
I've encountered Brad Leithauser before. He did my translation of Halldor Laxness's Independent People, and he's Mary Jo Salter's husband, so it's strange that his name simply never stuck in my mind. When I found his book The Odd Last Thing She Did in the Reykjavik City Library, I had no idea who he was or what his work would be like. I liked the cover, though (look at that color scheme!) and the fantastic title, and decided it was worth a read.
The jacket copy and the first few poems had my attention: the book is a collection of poetic portraits written in formally structured verse. Leithauser's style is chatty and loose, but his hard rhymes and elaborate nonce stanzas lend the poems some much-needed tension. His devotion to family history is pleasingly earnest, if perhaps a bit unthrilling.
The collection goes rather astray in its middle section, with a series of landscape poems. Admittedly, nature poems have never really been my thing; these seem especially slack, lacking the flash of personalities that the poet puts into his family portraits.
Throughout, though, the formal mastery is impressive. The game of form was, for the most part, fun enough to keep me reading. This would not be the case for most readers, I'm sure. The reviews on Amazon are amusingly harsh ("bourgeois tripe"), but don't let that discourage you from leafing through the book if you happen to come across it. The poems might not be all that memorable, but they are a pleasant way to spend an hour or two in a foreign library.