James Lasdun

James Lasdun

b. 1958

Certainly among the most gifted, vivid, and deft poets now writing in English, and far better than many who are more famous – Anthony Hecht

The Calling of the Apostle Matthew

James Lasdun

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About James Lasdun

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.



Additional material and useful links

James Lasdun's Guardian profile

Read reviews and articles by James Lasdun published in the Guardian


An interview with James Lasdun

in the Spectator


Selected bibliography

Walking and Eating in Provence, Moon Handbooks, 2008

Walking and Eating in Tuscany and Umbria (with Pia Davis...

A Jump Start, Secker & Warburg, 1987

The Revenant, Jonathan Cape, 1995

The Siege, Vintage, 1999

Landscape with Chainsaw, Jonathan Cape, 2001

Water Sessions, Jonathan Cape, 2012

After Ovid: New Metamorphoses (co-edited with Michael...

Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked, Jonathan...


Eric Gregory Award 1982

Prize website

The Dylan Thomas Prize 1985 for The Silver Age

Prize website

Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry 1997

Prize website

Sundance Film Festival Waldo Salt Prize for Best Screenplay 1997

TLS/Blackwells Poetry Competition 1999

T. S. Eliot Prize (shortlist) 2001 for Landscape with Chainsaw

Forward Poetry Prize (shortlist) 2001 for Landscape with Chainsaw

Prize website

LA Times Book Prize (shortlist) 2001 for Landscape with Chainsaw

National Short Story Competition 2006 for 'An Anxious Man'

Encore Award (shortlist) 2007 for Seven Lies

Prize website

James Tait Black Memorial Prize (shortlist) 2007 for Seven Lies

Prize website