Books: Sophisticated Lady

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SCRAP IRONY (127 pp.)—Felicia Lamporf—Houghton Mifflin ($3).

The pun also rises. Too much maligned as the lowest form of humor, it can soar for a brief moment. And in good hands, words can be made to jump, molt, wiggle, shrink, flash, collide, fight, strut, and turn themselves inside out or upside down. They do in this volume of 57 light poems and five airy essays by Felicia Lamport. She briskly suggests that By Love Possessed might well have been written "by Henry James, gulled, cozened." She wonders if spacemen are headed for the "lunar bin." She worries about that poor fellow "who felt his old Krafft ebbing." She is a master of the line rhyme, as when she notes primly that "The refined mind/ Will conceal zeal." To get at the diseases of man, she scrubs up, pulls on rubber gloves, and performs delicate logogastrectomies: "The if in the gift is the motive of the giving."

Like many writers of light verse these days, Felicia Lamport is fond of creating new words by lopping off prefixes, but she does it better than most:

Many a new little life is begot

By the hibited man with the promptu plot.

Glistening images turn smoothly under her rhymes—

And what could be moister

Than tears from an oyster

On occasion, her imagination goes splendidly mad. Mocking the Age of Publicity in an essay which notes that Where writers write has become almost as important as What they write (Thomas Wolfe scratched out his manuscripts on refrigerator tops; Jean Kerr worked in the front seat of her Chevrolet), Lamport tops them all with Elihu Linot, who always wrote on the backs of women, starting at the neck and working down. Once his editor eloped with the manuscript. There was no carbon.

Felicia Lamport, 45, is the wife of a professor at the Harvard Law School. Her illustrator, in fact—the book is full of superb sketches by Edward Gorey—is a fellow she met when he was an under graduate at Harvard. Now the mother of two teenagers, she was raised in Manhattan and educated at Vassar, once published a book of reminiscences of her childhood called Mink on Weekdays. She is in her fifth year of work on a novel ("Don't wait to read it, your life expectancy isn't that long"). But, as her professor husband might say, "writing is the opiate of the Mrs."