Mandelbaum's Chelm isn't the fool's paradise of Diaspora folklore but an ""echt Chelm"" of the ""divagations, digressions, the discreet and indiscreet parentheses"" which gives a center to these poems that seem so much like Talmudic conundra. Hermetic and lapidary, the verse here has an impressive metrical precision and a gleaming intelligence behind it; each poem is supposed to be a ""finding,"" a shard of some buried treasure that Mandelbaum's scholarly and allusive language has gently dusted off. The trope is superb; where the book falters is in its single-minded pursuit of the tour de force. A rather too dry wit and professorial distance reigns; a glossary in back is filled with cutesy explanations for words like ""phlegm,"" ""Katabasis,"" ""hallucinarium,"" and ""thrut"" that must have sounded much better in the research library than they do on the page. How pleased these poems are with themselves becomes impossible to ignore as the rhythms grow a little rigid and the academic echoes repeat. It's a curious and interesting book all the same; were Mandelbaum less of a ""sciolist,"" a ""scoriast,"" or a ""paraphrast"" and more of a poet it might have been more.