THE ALPHABET OF DESIRE by Barbara Hamby

THE ALPHABET OF DESIRE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

            The second collection by the editor of the Apalachee Review is a prizewinner like the first:  Delirium (1994) won the Vassar Miller award, and now this ample new volume has been selected for NYU’s annual prize.  Everything about it is excessive:  the lines run on, the poems race all over the place, the sensibility embraces all things, and there are just too many poems.  Actually, there’s lots of poetry here, but few distinctly individual poems; Hamby seldom varies her expressive style, which, at its best, results in energetic, jazzy rhythms, a “bebop/babble,” that, however, the writer fails to sustain throughout this exhausting book.  The greater the risks she takes, the greater her flops:  “With Sonya,” a poem about movie-going, digresses on Roman Polanski (“he shouldn’t fuck thirteen-year-old girls”), and poems addressing world-historical events unintentionally recall Mel Brooks, especially the tasteless “Springtime for Hitler” bit in “Reichsführer Blues,” a way-too casual and self-assured poem about the Holocaust and human disaster:  “Heave ho, heave ho, it’s off to bake you go…” Hamby piles on nouns and adjectives with no concern for synonymy:  her logorrheic effusions and her “rhumba/with the infinite” find her ranting and raving, often about her own neuroses.  The dullest poems simply celebrate the poet’s husband:  him sleeping beside her (“Beriberi”); her hugging “Mr. Pillow” when he’s away; him among beautiful students (“The Dream of the Red Drink”); him as samurai and warlord (“Irony Waltz”), and so on.  A mid-section of poems is arranged somewhat pointlessly as an abcedarium, and 13 Italian odes only show off the writer’s limited foreign vocabulary.

            Provocative, and at times plain silly, Hamby’s verse bombards us with its expansiveness.  
Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8147-3597-5
Page count: 108pp
Publisher: New York Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1999