It's a treat to find a woman poet who appropriates the male domain of easy and arrogant wit. ""What I want from God, feared to be/ unlovable, is none of the body's/ business, nasty lunches/ of blood and host. . . ."" McHugh's calculated aplomb--she speaks in a detached voice of even her own life--distances her from any hints of confessionalism. Many of these poems develop as terse ""treatments"" of theme, reminiscent of an 18th-century essay: on language, on theology, on moments of emotional and intellectual insight. ""Alive or dead, we make/ a world of difference. Or so we say/ as, over our heads, the sky turns/ blue to red in a space of minutes."" Others address the poet's public role--in ""Blue Streak,"" suggestively ticking off 20th-century problems like a history text. . . ""and the poets,/ who should have spoken for us, were busy/ panning landscapes, gunning/ their electrics, going/ IIIII."" McHugh's compulsive punning does grow tedious; she can be cavalier toward poetic form. And when her subject is herself, her witty reserve tends to get cutesy. But, overall, McHugh's ironic intelligence and lucid style make this--her second collection--most engaging.