The tone of the best of Sandra Hochman's new poems is almost brutally self-mocking, like a stand-up comedienne who seems at once brave and pathetic. She's a boarding school fatty, a roly-poly, a butterball who decides to be a heroine. Dieting, a necessary indignity for a bourgeois woman, becomes a crown of thorns for the poet. Her ironic desperate salvation comes with the conviction that she was born to tap. She performs for Shirley Chisholm's campaign, ""the soft-holy-shoe of a poet."" There are poems about her childhood, her first love Nursie and ""the argument world of Sid and Mae where neither of us belonged"" and then the children's court, where seven-year-old Sandy looks for silk dresses, jesters and princesses and waves to her weeping father. Hochman slides into baroque childlike silliness in ""All the World Loves a Lobster"" when she tackles a bad marriage: ""'Franco, do you mind/ If I go in a corner of the room and write?'I would/ Ask, practically sucking my thumb."" Her tough-girl, wise-guy idiom is striking, direct, contemporary. She's a witch, a bitch, a troublemaker, a good woman dying the particular slow death built into the American dream, bleeding from lovelessness, counting ""a lot of pain"" in her inventory of assets, having given up on that knight in shining armor but still looking for Babar the elephant, longing to return to a childhood that wasn't very happy to begin with.