This funny, flirtatious volume of verse from the eminent Manhattan-based poet, editor and translator includes his best work in a long while. Howard has always been known for dramatic monologues, landing a Pulitzer for Untitled Subjects (1970) and acclaim for the eloquent (and historically researched) personae of subsequent volumes (such as 1994's No Traveller). Remarkable impersonations in this, Howard's 11th book, include Willa Cather, who comments at length on the classic film Queen Christina; Walt Whitman in old age, an evasive invalid, introduced to the author of Dracula; and a troubled colleague of the German "doctor/ who made arousal,// especially 'deviant arousal,'/ a subject for scientific research." Howard (who teaches at Columbia University) has long made arousal in general, and gay men's varied erotic lives in particular, one subject for his work: that subject takes center stage in a series of provocative, sometimes comic poems called "Phallacies." The epistolary-narrative series "Five Communications" takes on love of another kind, being perhaps the best contemporary poem about dog-owners and dogs (and one enlivened by a plot-twist ending). Howard's devotees will also appreciate new work based on visual art, from the Colossus of Rhodes to the contemporary painter Gerhard Richter: those who want more personal meditations from this master of masks and disguises may be pleased by "Fallacies of Wonder" (Howard's reaction to September 11) or by the careful volume-closing syllabics in "Elementary Principles at Seventy-Two." (Nov.)
Forecast:Howard owes his continued fame partly to his poems, partly to his ongoing success as a poetry editor (Paris Review) and as a translator of French essays, novels ( The Charterhouse of Parma) and poems ( Fleurs du Mal). Expect some respectful national reviews and a possible collected or selected next time out.