Work Title: A Time in Xanadu
Work Author(s): Lars Gustafsson; John Irons, translator
Copper Canyon Press
Hardcover $16.95 (96pp)
Reviewer: Fleda Brown
Gustafsson's A Time in Xanadu, his third translated collection of poems, manages to be personal and quirky while also deeply philosophical. Previous poems and novels---he has also written seven novels and one collection of short stories---have won the Prix Europeen de l'Essai Charles Veillon, the Swedish Academy's Bellman Prize, and the Swedish Pilot Prize. Between 1982 and 2004, he taught philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, and presently is Jamail Distinguished Professor Emeritus in Stockholm, Sweden.
A reader enters the book through two prologue poems, "Monologue for Some Prince of Denmark" and "Kublai Kahn Departs from Xanadu," the first offering a philosophy of language, the second a philosophy of living, including Einstein, Chaplin, Marco Polo, and Gottlob Frege in the discussion. The poems are readable, wry, and wear their learning unselfconsciously. Further sections are comprised of seemingly simple, often short poems: "Sleeping With a Cat in the Bed," "Citywide Garage Sale, Austin, Texas, 1998," "Senior High," "How the Winters Once Were." But each contains a line that opens and shifts the whole into a complicated dimension. For example, "The Small Roads" tells of a salesman on a bike who teaches a young boy all he knows---about landscape, where the strawberries are, and also the angry dogs. The last two lines are: "And the boy learned it all. / Without knowing what he actually learned."
The tone of...