Babel features more of the rhetorical acrobatics that fueled Barbara Hamby's earlier work. These whirlwinds of words and sounds form vistas, images, and scenes that are at once unique and immediately recognizable.
In poems such as “Six, Sex, Say,” she displays a linguistic bravado that moves effortlessly through translations, cognates, and homonyms. This love of words permeates the poems, from the husband wooing his future wife “with a barrage of words so cunningly fluent, / so linguistically adroit” in “Flesh, Bone, and Red,” to the alphabetic sampler woven from memory and love in “Ode on My Mother's Handwriting.”
Hamby's poems drift across histories and continents, from early writing and culture in Mesopotamia through the motion-picture heaven that seems so much like Paris, to odes on such thoroughly American subjects as hardware stores, bubblegum, barbecue, and sharp-tongued cocktail waitresses giving mandatory pre-date quizzes to lawyers and “orangutans in the guise of men.” As Booklist noted in reviewing her previous collection, Hamby's poems “are tsunamis carrying you far out to sea and then back to shore giddy and glad to be alive.”
There's no question that these are witty poems, oftentimes reminscent of the electric, frenzied hilarity of watching Robin Williams at his coked-out best. . . . A challenging book, one that thrusts us into the superconductor of a post-modern mind, that threatens, at times, to overwhelm us with its abundance of reference points, but which never becomes unclear, never forsakes meaning for the sake of its verbal inventiveness. This is not only Hamby's best book, but one that marks, I believe, a major poetic achievement. It's a book that dazzles and energizes, that challenges and comforts, as it celebrates and mourns 'our cries of Bigger, faster, more, more, more.'
"Barbar a Hamby's Babel is just that—a wild confluence of words almost inundated by its barely restrained verbal enthusiasms. Funky, erudite, obsessively referential, and wild with listing, her poems orgiastically invite us to hurl ourselves into them."—Billy Collins
Babel is a word-lover's romp, a cultural historian's playground. Hamby can be as inclusive as Goldbarth, as intelligently zany as Frank O'Hara. This is poetry that energizes, that dares to give us a high-wire performer's notion of a good time.
Hamby's poems have a jumping verve and forward drive. She knows American life and language with exuberant precision and links them to the popular culture, high art, and languages of many of other countries, all of this in a prfoundly assured, resourceful, inventive and unifying voice.
Barbara Hamby is the author of six books of poems, including On the Street of Divine Love: New and Selected Poems, Babel, and All-Night Lingo Tango. She was a 2010 Guggenheim fellow in Poetry and her book of short stories, Lester Higata’s 20th Century, won the 2010 Iowa Short Fiction Award. Her poems have appeared in many magazines, including the New Yorker, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, and Yale Review. She has also edited an anthology of poems, Seriously Funny, with her husband David Kirby. She teaches at Florida State University where she is Distinguished University Scholar.learn more