The Razzle-Dazzle of Barbara Hamby


Are you ready for a wild ride? In his review of Barbara Hamby’s most recent collection, On the Street of Divine Love: New and Selected Poems, Charles Butterfield says, “Hold on to your hat! Barbara Hamby is coming to town with all her razzle-dazzle verbal pyrotechnics.” And “razzle-dazzle” these “rapid fire” poems are, with their breathtaking couplings of high and low culture. Albert Goldbarth describes Hamby’s poems as “snazzily beatific, unashamedly carnal, at sumptuous ease with both the down-home blues and the intellectual high life, sometimes porch sitting and sometimes globe-trotting, and always in love with life.”

And Denise Duhamel echoes these enticing descriptions by saying that “If language were an Olympic sport – and why is it not? – Hamby would bring home the gold in bungee-jumping, bobsledding, boogie-woogie boxing, and soul-searching curling. Her poems sparkle with their top-notch surfaces, then bring us deep into the gusto of life, the painful and ecstatic truth.”

Hamby is the author of five poetry collections, including All-Night Lingo Tango and Babel, winner of the Donald Hall Prize in Poetry. Her book of linked stories, Lester Higata’s 20th Century, received the 2010 Iowa Short Fiction Award/ John Simmons Award. She also co-edited an anthology of poetry, Seriously Funny, with her husband, the poet David Kirby. She’s the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Kate Tufts Award, and numerous other honors. Her poems have been published in many journals and anthologies, including The Best American Poetry 2000, 2009, and 2010. She is a Distinguished University Scholar at Florida State University.

With a father in the Air Force, the poet moved around a good bit, and she loves travel, as her writing vividly demonstrates. Between the ages of ten and eighteen, she lived in Hawai’i, where, as she says in an interview conducted by Superstition Review editor Haley Larson, she found the local pidgin “wonderful-hilarious, cruel, efficient, inventive,” a “living language” she didn’t find in her dictionary, but that gave her a sensitivity to words that continued when she moved to the American South and “came in contact with African-American and Cuban English.” Her husband grew up in South Louisiana “with its cajun spices.” American English, she says, “is a wonderful gumbo to work with on the page and out loud.”

So, readers, welcome to Barbara Hamby’s poems, which, as Goldbarth enthuses, “turn ‘wretched excess’ to ‘blessed excess’ and declare a new physics of plenitude,” poems that are so “busy with verbal energy,” as Billy Collins insists, “you might feel them buzzing in your hands.”

Wendy Barker's sixth full-length collection of poems, One Blackbird at a Time, won the John Ciardi Prize and was published by BkMk Press in 2015. Her fourth chapbook, From the Moon, Earth is Blue, was also published in 2015, by Wings Press. She is Poet-in-Residence and the Pearl LeWinn Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where she has taught since 1982.

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One thought on “The Razzle-Dazzle of Barbara Hamby

  1. Elaine

    Great intro to Hamby’s collection—you most certainly did it justice and because of it I couldn’t wait to start reading Hamby’s poetry.
    Thanks!

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