Ian Pindar, Emporium, Carcanet, $19.95 (paper)

Emporium, the darkly genial debut collection from London native Ian Pindar, exhibits a variety befitting its title and its author’s range as a critic, editor, and translator. Luring the reader in with deceptive informality, these poems delight in surprises, not always happy: “Youth and beauty have left me / a full packet of cigarettes / and this balcony.” Though some poems feel limited by the effervescence of jokes—to be cracked only so many times before losing their fizz—others, such as the grisly “Advice for Travellers” or the tale of hapless Big Bumperton, sustain rereading with their tremulous unease. Subtle sound patterning, including unobtrusive rhyme, adds a vocal dimension, as does astute parody of worn-out speech: “I don’t recall the last time / we met. I think it was in Berlin.” In many poems, Pindar the ironist and satirist becomes a gadfly, sometimes displacing exhortation into dramatic utterances (for instance, ventriloquizing ancient Indian materialist philosophy). At other times, apparently speaking in his own voice, Pindar displays keen timing in both the comedic and historical senses: “every royal wedding is a funeral / for democracy.” If these poems tend to burst like bubbles, they delight, before doing so, with their livid iridescence. Pindar’s inventiveness and sense of linguistic and literary history make this an enjoyable collection, holding promise for the future.