Curves and Angles: Poems


In his first collection since the widely acclaimed Darlington’s Fall, Brad Leithauser takes the reader on a bracing poetic journey. Curves and Angles begins in a warm, soft, populated world (these are the curves of the human body, as well as the elliptical pathways of human motivation), and it concludes in a cooler, sharper, more private place—the less-giving angles of an inanimate universe.

The first section, “Curves,” introduces us to a couple of passionate young lovers, ...

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Curves and Angles: Poems

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In his first collection since the widely acclaimed Darlington’s Fall, Brad Leithauser takes the reader on a bracing poetic journey. Curves and Angles begins in a warm, soft, populated world (these are the curves of the human body, as well as the elliptical pathways of human motivation), and it concludes in a cooler, sharper, more private place—the less-giving angles of an inanimate universe.

The first section, “Curves,” introduces us to a couple of passionate young lovers, indoors in the city on a rainy afternoon; to a vociferous cluster of children playing on a Midwestern summer evening; to a godlike scuba diver, “all long gold limbs and a restless halo of long gold hair.” In a pair of long poems, two aging men—one a science-fiction writer of the 1950s, the other a traveler in an airport bar—confront their mortality.

“Angles” guides us to a rarely opened north-looking attic room, made brilliant by a nearby maple in full fall orange; to a sunny Louisiana kitchen, where two bowls—one brimming with semiprecious stones, one filled with seashells—are locked in an eternal silent beauty contest; to a frozen Icelandic lake; and to a narrow unmarked entryway that possibly leads to our “true and unbounded kingdom.”

Curves and Angles wanders from the balmy waters of the South Pacific to the crystalline wastes of the Arctic, unified throughout by an embracing love of the natural world in all its inexhaustible variety—whether lush or spare, peopled or solitary, curved or angled. It’s a journey made unforgettable by these wise and exuberant poems.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Poised between reserve and sympathy, between limpid pathos and stoic resolve, Leithauser's first book of short poems since The Odd Last Thing She Did (1998) contains some of his strongest lyric work. Leithauser won praise in the 1980s for his attractive revivals of difficult forms. He has since found broader notice with novels in verse and in prose, and as a critic whose interests include musical theater and Scandinavian literature. Here, two well-sculpted poems describe New Year's Day in Iceland ("miles of ice give way in time/ to rock and snow"), and several more pay homage to the playwright and Broadway lyricist Lorenz Hart. In a six-stanza poem about scuba divers, the first thing we see is "a can of Cheez Whiz" whose "cheese or cheez extrudes into the sea/ as a sturdy gold thread." By far the best work, however, occurs in the sequence most indebted to Leithauser's novelistic talents: "A Science Fiction Writer of the Fifties" combines narrative gifts, baby boom nostalgia, ecological worries and a fine sense of stanza and line. Leithauser may not be his generation's most ambitious poet, but at his best he can make old forms sing anew. (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In a return to the lyric mode after his 2003 verse novel Darlington's Fall, Leithauser addresses both animate and inanimate entities with the sparing, narrowed eye of a disciplined but empathic imagist. Wrapped in rhyme, reliable pentameters, and poised syllabics, his painterly appreciations of otherwise ordinary phenomena can conjure the solar system in a deft haiku ("Out of the blind swamp/ Nine moths emerge to circle/ Our kerosene lamp.") or, in a burst of short phrases, trigger the colorful chaos of tropical fish ("...a purple dottyback, then a pink pack/ Of fairy basslets, a bright, black-/ Eyed jack, some green/ And blue parrotfish"). His most inspiring subject is light itself, its evocations of life's recurrent beginnings ("Gently, at a thousand miles per hour,/ The rose border of daybreak races/ Over difficult terrain.") and their bittersweet transience ("Though rippling foliage fills/ the pane, the flush that tints the wall/ will last a week or two, no more."). Readers who feel abandoned by much contemporary poetry will find some comfort here, in what may be Leithauser's most satisfying collection in years. Recommended for public and academic libraries. Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307265289
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/14/2006
  • Pages: 96
  • Product dimensions: 6.11 (w) x 8.72 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

Brad Leithauser was born in Detroit and graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He is the author of five novels, a novel in verse, four previous volumes of poetry, a collection of light verse, and a book of essays. Among his many awards and honors are a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Ingram Merrill Grant, and a MacArthur Fellowship. An Emily Dickinson Senior Lecturer in the Humanities at Mount Holyoke College, he lives with his wife in Amherst, Massachusetts. In 2005, the president of Iceland inducted him into the Order of the Falcon for his writings about Nordic literature.
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Read an Excerpt

Curves and Angles


By Brad Leithauser


Copyright © 2006

Brad Leithauser

All right reserved.

ISBN: 0307265285

(Detroit, 1948)

New, and entirely new to the neighborhoodÉ
One August day, it came to their own street:
the Nutleys brought home a television!
Nights now, the neighbors began to meet
more often than before, out walking,
walking past the Nutleys, who, on display
behind their picture window, sat frozen
in their chairs, watching their television, which lay
off to the side, just out of view,
so you couldn't make out what
it was they were watching but only
them watching, the four Nutleys, in a blue
glow that was lunar but
not lunar exactly.

That was the summer we all
watched the Nutleys–no,
we all watched "The Nutleys,"
which was the one great show
of the summer, it ran for weeks,
with its four silent stars
behind glass, until nights went cold
and damp and we turned to our cars
if we ventured out after dark,
and then–three in a row–
the Daleys, the Floods, the Markses
took the plunge, they brought home the glow,
and the Nutleys, suddenly,
belonged to a new community.


There are those great winds on a tear
Over the Great Plains,
Bending the grasses all the way
Down to the roots
And the grasses revealing
A gracefulness in the wind's fury
You would nototherwise
Have suspected there.

And there's the wind off the sea
Roiling the thin crowns of the great
Douglas firs on the cragged
Oregon coast, uprooting
Choruses of outraged cries,
As if the trees were unused
To bending, who can weather
Such storms for a century.

And–somewhere between those places,
Needing a break–we climb out stiff
From our endless drive to stand, dwindled,
On a ridge, holding hands,
In what are foothills only because
The neighboring mountains are
So much taller, and there are the breezes,
Contrarily pulled, awakening our faces.


Memory buries its own,
And of what now forever must be
The longest day of his life
What mostly remained was a blur
Under too-bright lights–so he
Could scarcely tell if the things
Sharpest in his mind were
Nothing but fantasies, sewn
Afterwards, out of grief,
And guilt's imaginings.

Yet it seemed memory called up
(After the interminable birth,
As his finger stroked the arm
Of a child who would not last
Even one whole day
And all of its time on earth
Ministered to by vast
Machines that couldn't mend the harm
In a single transcription slip
In reams of DNA)

A look so haunted, so
Haunting, he would not confess
(Not even later, to his wife)
How it stayed with him, on him: the slow
Flicker in a watery eye,
The mute call–through all
The exhausted hopefulness
The condemned come to know
In the end–from animal to animal,
Imploring, Please save my life.


In a seldom-entered attic
you force a balky door,
disclosing a room made brilliant
by an orange tree whose branches bear

no fruit but maple leaves;
We're in New England, after all.
Though rippling foliage fills
the pane, the flush that tints the wall

will last a week or two, no more.


And this conception, if consoling,
of a high, untenanted room
lit solely by a tree
houses as well–at least for those

who'd sidestep round the fear
that in the give-and-take of calls
to answer, calls to make,
we lose the light most dim, most clear–

a reprimand no breeze can shake.


When miles of perfect whiteness
Gave way to a whiteness below
(Snowed-under hills of a cloudlike brightness
Under cloudbanks heaped like snow),

By either light
How fulfilling to contemplate
Domains so evenly claimworthy–
Unpeopled, complete.


Excerpted from Curves and Angles
by Brad Leithauser
Copyright © 2006 by Brad Leithauser.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2007

    Geometry of Water

    This may be Brad Leithauser's best book. Devoted to exquisite detail, liquidity and architecture, these poems unveil a poetic talent that has matured in similar ways to the development of the great painter, Edward Hopper. In the end, Hopper became an artist of sharp angles and unforgiving light. As a mature artist, Hopper painted pictures the way Clint Eastwood now makes movies. It seems to me that Leithauser is doing the same thing, but in poetry. It is an exciting project to watch. This poet's well traveled attention to the glorious world we share entertains and enlightens us. I adore his scuba diver, his cloistered city lovers, his aging cohorts wondering what is was all about and why it must end. As always, Leithauser is good company, a reliable fellow traveler capable of surprising you just when you need it most. --Robert McDowell, The Poetry Mentor, is the author of a book on poetry in spiritual practice due out later this year.

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