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.”