Scribner Poetry, 2002 (ISBN 074322552X)
What can I say about David Lehman's The Evening Sun not made redundant simply by reading the book? Like its predecessor, The Daily Mirror, The Evening Sun is nearly perfect, a remarkable poetic vision of the daily life of the mind. For anyone not familiar with Lehman's poem-a-day project, anyone who has somehow avoided the date-titled poems in all the prestigious literary journals (not to mention online journals like Poetry Daily) where they have appeared, this collection will come as somewhat of a surprise. Dressed up as single-stanza journal entries that read like a foursome of Freud, Jung, Kafka, and Burroughs having a one-up contest by comparing dreams, Lehman's work is everything contemporary poetry is not, but should be (or at least, thanks to his ongoing proof with every poem he writes, everything it could be).
The Evening Sun runs 159 pages and covers, according to the author's preface, the years 1999 and 2000, with the dates jumbled up and no year attached, making the poems somewhat more universal. Lehman explained in the earlier collection how he often changes dates if two good poems coincide with the same date/title, making another interesting diversion to consider as one reads the poems: were these from '99, '00, or maybe another year altogether? It adds a hint of mystery to a book that already brings its own twists, turns, and red herrings.
Trying to break down these poems into patterns would be a difficult proposition. My first impulse is to say they begin with a clever opening as with these lines from "July 7":
The greatest genius in the history
of American marketing is the guy
who added the word "repeat"
to the directions on the back
of the shampoo bottle
Then they go off on a tangent, as in "November 15," which begins by talking about the day Sinatra's voice cracked on stage, but then dances stage-right or else through a trapdoor into:
. . .there's a new magazine on the net
called "Failure" I tried to access it today but could not
aha I got the Zen of the experience you say a hail Mary
Finally, the poems dovetail back into their tonic note, their primary theme. Or at least that is how I imagine these poems work. The truth, however, is that they often spiral around, leap from tangent to tangent like a squirrel among branches, they lose themselves, find themselves, lose themselves again, and ultimately come to rest in some momentary place of nirvana that may or may not have a connection to the opening line. In other words, sometimes these poems are the Kiddie Coaster, sometimes the Mountain of Deadly Thrills: fun at their simplest, at their best and most complex they leave you stunned, staggering away.
Recommendation: Buy two copies of this book, one to read a hundred times, the other for when the first one falls apart. Then, if you lack The Daily Mirror in your collection, buy that too. If Lehman sells enough of the first two books, maybe he will give us a third.