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Two Poems

James Lasdun, 24 March 1994

... General McClellan Pride, questioner, and pride’s obverse, fear; Fear of failure. The Times of London Noted my Air of Success. Our grand Potomac army loved me as I’d planned. I was Napoleon. I snubbed Lincoln. Think if I’d obeyed him: one swift strike, Rebellion over, slavery intact, Oneself in office ... I couldn’t act. What if I should fail? My ranks Glistened like the river in its banks; Beautiful, swollen to bursting ...

Oxblood

James Lasdun, 24 February 1994

... Mid-October, our Blackjack oak Peppers the tar-paper roof with its ripened acorns; Day and night, two weeks of it, Priapic Scattershot clattering down With every gust of wind from the mountain; I stare outside. Impossible to sleep, think, work; Into my mind a memory comes: Another oak, the King Charles oak That stood in our garden at home; Survivor of summer lightning and winter storms, The humps on its thick trunk bulging Like muscles under the weight of its limbs ...

The Skaters

James Lasdun, 3 January 2002

... Their town’s the quaint one: the board won’t let it sprawl more than a half-mile from the green’s little pool-table of grass and shiny tulips where Santa lands in winter and the teens play hackysack all summer. There’s no mall, no motel either, which is just what they want; they voted for the good life there; they can afford it: no fast-food chain, no sixplex, they’ll quietly brag; no trailer park, no air- or groundwater-fouling autoshop or plant ...

Two Poems

James Lasdun, 4 February 1999

... Birch Tree with Chainsaw for Pia Five months; five cords of hardwood; ash mostly, hickory, oak; greying in the weather, by April starting to rot, outsides sodden by May, too crumbly even to splinter. But then to uncover the first layer; white birch, bright with the whiteness that whitens your hands like chalk; flesh-coloured wood still firm in its sheath of papery bands, flaw-lined like slubbed silk ...

The Accomplices

James Lasdun, 23 May 1991

... A small man thumbed us down and sidled in Dusting the seat with a quick flick first, his wrist Thin enough to snap like a candy bar; Runt-of-the-litter frame, mid-twenties, shivering, A little drunk, ‘You folks Headed for Cromer’s Hatch?’ We weren’t, But the day being cold, and this good turn so easy, We said we’d take him just the same. He thanked us, then with a sly glance at the mirror, Added ‘I just got out From the St Johnsbury Penitentiary, I was in for some shit I did ...

Internet-Enabled

Nick Richardson: Stalking James Lasdun, 25 April 2013

Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked 
by James Lasdun.
Cape, 224 pp., £14.99, February 2013, 978 0 224 09662 1
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... In September 2011, the LRB published a Diary by James Lasdun about learning to fire a gun. A few weeks later we received an email from his stalker. It read: ‘His writing is boring and doesn’t sell. Stop publishing that hairy-nosed Jewish wanna-be-Protestant bore of a boar. His wife’s cunt smells of dead rabbits ...

Returning the Gift

James Lasdun, 2 November 2000

... for Nicholas Jenkins For my birthday my wife gives me a chainsaw; a shiny blue Makita, big as our child, heavy as an impacted planet. On every part of its body the makers have slapped red warning stickers: Stop! Danger of Death! Do Not Operate Unless Experienced! The manual elaborates: kickback, where the blade bucks back through your neck; blinding by woodchip or exploding fuel, death by misguided tree-fall, tissue necrosis from the engine vibrations … I look at my wife, wondering what it means for a woman to give her husband a gift such as this … You said we needed one, remember? She smiles, and it’s true; we’re losing our meadow to red maple, alder, poplar ...

Mr. W. H.

James Lasdun, 5 February 2004

... Not that bloodlines – family or otherwise – have ever meant much to me, but at forty one wants forebears almost as much as heirs, and even though the oblivion we’re headed for is doubtless total, it feels somewhat lonely heading there orphaned, or lonelier than not. Of course every poet appoints his own ancestors but that’s one thing if you’re Auden enlisting Byron, another if you’re nobody claiming Auden ...

A Pair of Lobsters in a Murky Tank

Theo Tait: James Lasdun, 9 March 2006

Seven Lies 
by James Lasdun.
Cape, 199 pp., £14.99, February 2006, 0 224 07592 6
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... A woman threw her glass of wine at me,’ James Lasdun’s second novel begins. At a party held by a wealthy philanthropist in New York, a woman walks up to the narrator and asks: ‘Excuse me, are you Stefan Vogel?’ He says yes; she flings her wine in his face. In keeping with the novel’s mood of dreamlike self-absorption, the event is replayed many times ...

Hatching, Splitting, Doubling

James Lasdun: Smooching the Swan, 21 August 2003

Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds: Ways of Telling the Self 
by Marina Warner.
Oxford, 264 pp., £19.99, October 2002, 0 19 818726 2
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... A memorable image in Robert Musil’s Man without Qualities likens the impact of a certain character to that of a powdery avalanche. The effect of reading Marina Warner’s magisterial works of cultural history is somewhat similar: the cool temperature, the graceful touch, the sensation of resistance being gently annihilated under an accumulation of brilliant particularity ...

Diary

James Lasdun: With the rent-collector, 21 October 2004

... and begin knocking on doors. Each one opens onto a world of strangeness. Here are Heather and James, an obese girl of about eighteen living with her boyfriend, who appears to have mild Down’s syndrome. They seem cheerful, but utterly incapable of looking after themselves – there are dirty dishes and cutlery all over the bed. Here is Anna, prim and ...

I’ll have to kill you

J. Robert Lennon: ‘The Fall Guy’, 19 April 2017

The Fall Guy 
by James Lasdun.
Cape, 266 pp., £12.99, January 2017, 978 1 910702 83 3
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... It isn’t until​ the halfway point of The Fall Guy, James Lasdun’s thrillerish new novel, that we are treated to its first overtly criminal act: breaking and entering. This book is about boundaries – emotional, social and moral – and it is with characteristic obliqueness that Lasdun gives us this first, long anticipated transgression: though the act strikes the reader as insane in its audacity, its import barely registers on Matthew, the book’s protagonist and the perpetrator of the crime ...

Who’s under the desk?

Siddhartha Deb: James Lasdun’s Novel, 7 March 2002

The Horned Man 
by James Lasdun.
Cape, 195 pp., £10.99, February 2002, 0 224 06217 4
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... At the beginning of James Lasdun’s novel, Lawrence Miller, a professor of gender studies at a college on the outskirts of New York, is interrupted while reading a book. When he returns to his office the next day, he finds his bookmark has been moved forward thirty pages. ‘Either I had moved the marker inadvertently myself, or else some night-visitor had been reading the book in my absence ...

Diary

James Lasdun: Salad Days, 9 February 2006

... The alternative career fantasies of writers would make an interesting study: James Joyce dreaming of becoming the agent for Irish tweeds in Trieste, Thomas Mann musing that he would have made a good banker, Samuel Beckett contemplating a career as a pilot. ‘I hope I am not too old to take it up seriously nor too stupid about machines to qualify as a commercial pilot,’ Beckett wrote to Thomas MacGreevy at the age of 29, having just published More Pricks than Kicks ...

Extreme Gothic Americana

James Lasdun, 6 June 2019

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee 
by Casey Cep.
Heinemann, 314 pp., £20, May 2019, 978 1 78515 073 9
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... Alongside his preaching, the enterprising reverend ran a pulpwooding crew in which his nephew, James Hicks, was employed until he quit, nervous of his uncle’s increasingly sinister reputation. Quitting didn’t do him any good. In February 1976 Hicks, who was 22, was found dead in his Pontiac Firebird with some small cuts but – according to the autopsy ...

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