Leithauser & Leithauser
This, indeed, is a strange creature. A book of light nonsense verse unfolding like an alphabetical fan, a bestiary and a zodiac rolled into one; written by one brother and sumptuously illustrated by another; and dedicated, in turn, to two other brothers (Lance and Neil).
We're searching for some sign,
Some hint, some fresh suggestion--
(We're searching for life's meaning--nothing less.)
The answer will come easily, we guess,
Once we locate the question.
Brad, of course, is a well-known poet here in the U.S. and a recipient of many literary awards. Darlington's Fall (2002), his novel in verse about the famous English biologist and eugenicist, is a breathtaking masterpiece.
Lettered Creatures is extremely unusual in style and execution--particularly for Brad Leithauser--who prefers to deal, for the most part, with more serious themes. His customary humor, however, is evident throughout, earning him a comparison with Marianne Moore and Stephen Sondheim.
There are 28 poems in total: one for each of the 26 letters of the English alphabet, plus a prologue and an epilogue. Although the book is unpaginated and there is no table of content, the full list of poems looks something like this:
Alphabets: A Greeting
D: Damselfly and Dragonfly
J: Joey (a baby kangaroo)
K: King Cobras
Q: Q & A (with a porcupine)
R: Ruminant (in this case, camel)
V: Vampire Bats
X: Xs (as in, eXtinct animals)
Z: Zedonk (no idea what this is)
Zoodiac: A Farewell
Damselfly and Dragonfly is my favorite piece in the collection, perhaps even my favorite poem from Leithauser. Simple, lucidly worded and unadorned, it is nevertheless a work of much imaginative power--humorous, amusing, playful and beautifully succinct:
Other favorites include Beaver, Iguanas, Ruminant, Turtle and Unicornfish.
Though fresh as paint, littered with lights,
This pair is old, old as the dinosaurs;
They buzzed our steaming, teeming shores
When draggling monster-lizards ruled the world...
As old as those and older still:
Ancient as days when clanking knights
Rescued their damsels from the curled
Dragon recluded in the caverned hill.