cover image The Book of a Hundred Hands

The Book of a Hundred Hands

Cole Swensen, . . Univ. of Iowa, $16 (125pp) ISBN 978-0-87745-946-0

The title is accurate: 100 short, smart, off-kilter poems about the human hand—its physiology, its uses, its role in history, its symbolism and the art forms that depend upon it—form Swensen's entertaining latest collection. As in previous works, Swensen (Try ; Such Rich Hour ) sometimes fashions poems from adapted or partially erased found texts, especially those from previous centuries. Her strongest pages, though, rely on observation and wit, taking apart ordinary syntax and context, then bringing them back again by the end of the poem. "The Hand as Origami" depicts prehistoric migration as a version of a children's game. Sections near the end of the volume devoted to American Sign Language and to shadow puppetry turn ordinary description into a set of double- and triple-meanings. Such a large set of similar short works may be more impressive dipped into than read straight through: nevertheless, these passages about palm and fingertip, tendon and thumb, are far more than five-finger exercises and could be the form that will find this poet, much admired in academia, an audience outside it. (Oct.)