James Lasdun is  a rare example of a writer whose success has manifested itself across genres. In addition to his four collections of poetry, the latest being Water Sessions (2012), he has published two novels, four short story collections, several screenplays, two guidebooks (with his wife Pia Davis), numerous essays and reviews and, most recently, the autobiographical Give Me Everything You Have, an account of his experience of being stalked. One of his stories, ‘The Siege’, was made into the 1998 Bertulocci film, Besieged. As a poet he has been shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Award, the Forward Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (for Landscape with Chainsaw, in 2001), and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1997.

Lasdun was born in London in 1958. His father was the architect Denys Lasdun, best known for the National Theatre, and he was brought up in the UK before relocating to the US, which he has made his home. Unsurprisingly, Lasdun’s poetry is often narrative-driven, managing somehow to appear both lavish and restrained, perhaps through its use of formal cadences and subtle rhyme. This allows luxurious turns of phrase to be effectively harnessed, such as these finely wrought lines in ‘The Calling of the Apostle Matthew’ about the subject’s ascetism, brought out here by the poet’s confident reading: ‘As if renouncing merely gave / Density to having; as if / He’d glimpsed in nothingness a derelict’s // Secret of unabated, / Inverse possession . . .’

Lasdun’s relocation to the States is a theme frequently explored in his work, and is reflected in two poems here, ‘Locals’ and ‘It Isn’t Me’. Lasdun describes ‘Locals’ as about ‘not being, or ever having really been, a true local anywhere’; the poem imagines a ‘true local’ from the outsider’s perspective, as someone proprietorial and unwelcoming, implying, through the narrator’s envy of such people, the threat they pose to the non-local’s sense of identity: ‘there were always locals, and they were never us.’ Similarly, ‘It Isn’t Me’ describes a character perpetually out of place, at odds with his conception of the conventional or appropriate path, who repeatedly extracts himself from jobs or situations after deciding ‘it isn’t me’. The difference between these poems is that whereas in ‘Locals’ it is the insiders, the locals, who pose a threat to the outsider, ‘It Isn’t Me’ presents the marginalised figure as a metaphor for the hidden lack in more conventional lives, their ‘stray / doubts and discomforts’, a sudden unheimlich reminder of ‘the utter strangeness of being there’.

James Lasdun’s recording was made at The Soundhouse, London on 21 February 2013. The producer was Anne Rosenfeld.

Poems by James Lasdun

The Calling of the Apostle Matthew - James Lasdun
It Isn’t Me - James Lasdun
Blueberries - James Lasdun
James Lasdun in the Poetry Store

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Books by James Lasdun



Guggenheim Fellowship

Prize website

Landscape with Chainsaw shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize

Prize website

Landscape with Chainsaw shortlisted for the Forward Prize

Prize website

Landscape with Chainsaw shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize

Prize website

Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature

Prize website