All-Night Lingo Tango

By BARBARA HAMBY

I don’t know about you, but when I read this title, visions of soul-stirring linguistic acrobatics started dancing in my head — along with those leggy girls gracing the cover. I wasn’t too far off the mark. Partly because Barbara Hamby is an accomplished poet and author of three previous collections, including The Alphabet of Desire (a personal favorite), which was designated one of the 25 Best Books of the Year by the New York Public Library. But mostly because her verses have a way of wiggling, twisting, and rising up off the page and directly into your mind, where they take up residence (resonance?), lolling in a cozy crevice of grey matter, playing back at you at odd times. From “Mambo Cadillac”:

?the world in two, make a hoodoo soup with chicken necks,
A gumbo with plutonium roux, a little snack
Before the dirt and jalapeno stew that will shuck
The skin right off your slinky hips, Mr. I’m-not-stuck?


I challenge you not to remember this as you eat your next meal. The book is organized in three sections: mambos (from the Bantu “conversations with the gods”), “abecedarian” sonnets, and odes. Hamby says she particularly explored the constructs of odes to create poems that “incorporated Pindar’s wild associations and Horace’s intimacy yet still had the syntax and diction of the 21st century mind.” But really, all her work could be described thusly. Swiveling, strumming, and slicing through air like an Alvin Ailey ensemble, Hamby exhales a world the shape of associated conditions and intimate emotions out of her carefully chosen words. The poems are individually stunning. Collected together, they dance.