Buying a Heart. By George Macbeth. New York: Atheneum, $4.95 (pa.)
Buying a Heart, Scots poet George Macbeth's fourteenth book of poems, distinguishes itself by its wit and impish vulgarity. The collection is worth puchasing for two poems: "The Silver Needle," a science fiction version of the Perseus and Andromeda myth, and "The Greedy Book," about a book that eats the world.
Macbeth has talked elsewhere of poetry's obligation to help people in their daily lives and of his concern with atomic warfare. Unfortunately, the poems that fail in this volume are those that have some lesson to teach or some pointed irony to convey. "Missile Commander" satirically looks at "an ex-Colonel of Infantry on a missile site." That paranoiacs are commanding ICBM silos has become a convention of the cold war age. Doctor Strangelove made the point and it hardly needs refining. Some poems strain for significance and others, such as "A Roman Death," seem mere exercises in the macabre.
There are twenty-three poems in Buying a Heart. The longest, "Crazy Jane's A.B.C.," takes fourteen of the book's eighty-one pages, but half of those fourteen is devoted to line drawings by Robin Lawrie. Macbeth's imagery is bizarre, often violent, sometimes coarse, but this is because he deals with themes of greed and gluttony. Four of his poems rhyme; almost all are organized into stanzas of some regularity. At his best, Macbeth takes a run at a poetry that oddly moves, a poetry seeking surfeit like "The Greedy Book:"
The book took a run at a high rise of ice cream Sundays and gulped down their format. It gulped down their hindmat, too, and the North side of the tenements in St. Albans.