""The Bourgeoisie Despises Poverty and Denies It Cultural Validity"" is one partly tongue-in-cheek title from a collection packing social urgency into lines that veer into parody: ""Apparatus, don't be embarrassed by my life/ as a dishwasher."" Within these 20 poems, four of which being extended meditations that dominate the book, Howe seemingly intends to bridge class lines by depicting states of emotional and economic affliction, often writing in the voice of a marginalized woman, a la Adrienne Rich or Ai. Her chosen character is May, a delinquent drug user. Often Howe lets May's vernacular but often surprisingly--and perhaps incongruously--literate voice simply point at social inequities, as in ""[sic],"" a long poem that seems to present May's ramblings verbatim: ""`Pink is hidden, yellow is prison. One day--blam/ to all my hopes. I was as low as a coward and the stones/ could have my bones.'"" But don't mistake empathy for pity: in ""Perfection and Derangement,"" a long prose poem, the poet muses ""Woman are like roaches, they survive so much. They seem to grow tougher with each succeeding generation."" The work's intentionally unfocused quality, one that allows voices and musings to slide into each other, is an acquired taste that can, at worst, frustrate and annoy, but it can also reveal how a language of brutalized distress can be unexpectedly beautiful: ""Tonight the ward is quiet. People have a zombie attitude and seem inwardly hostile. Sam oiled his hair with toothpaste before bed."" (Nov.) FYI: Howe has written more than 20 books of poetry and fiction, including the novel Saving History.