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By Jessica English, Julie Birnbaum, Blake de Pastino and Angie Drobnic

Poems Along the Path
by Judith Rafaela (Sherman Ascher, paper, $12)

July 8, 1997:  To be a poet, you must first be in love with language. Santa Fe poet Judith Rafaela definitely is: Her writing is comfortably cyclical--each line tumbling into the next, with the grace and weightlessness of a flying trapeze artist. Sadly though, there's more to poetry than pretty words, and Rafaela lacks it. Her poems fall flat, devoid of emotion. Poems Along the Path, a 20-year collection of Rafaela's poetry, is full of tired metaphors--like references to wolves and tigers, even Dorothy asleep in a field of poppies en route to Oz. Rafaela writes deeply personal ballads that, unfortunately, leave the reader unaffected, like "My Husband's Beard," which ends with the hollow comparison "Salt and pepper./Spice of my life." Having finished the 40-odd pages that represent 20 years of her life, I am nothing but numb. (JE)

Italy in Mind
by Alice Leccese Powers, ed. (Vintage, paper, $14)

Anyone who is interested in Italy, with that mixture of love and irritation that it often provokes, should read this book. A diverse collection of short stories, essays, poetry and novel excerpts, Italy in Mind is two centuries of American and British writers inspired to write about the country and its inimitable culture. The pieces range from poetry by Shelley and Lord Byron to chapters from E.M. Forster's A Room with a View and Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient to a wry, funny essay on Italian men by travel guide author Kate Simon. Many of the enamored contributors describe Roman ruins, Florentine streets and Venetian cathedrals in wonderful detail; others tackle the problems of extreme, backcountry poverty and unbelievable bureaucracy. As a whole, the collection creates an extraordinary sense of a place full of history, life, beauty and contradictions. (JB)

Modernity and the Architecture of Mexico
by Edward R. Burian, ed. (Univ. of Texas, paper, $19.95)

Considering that its subject matter is not quite on everyone's mind, Modernity and the Architecture of Mexico actually goes a long way in pursuing an interesting agenda. Over the course of nine essays, it explores the very meaning of design in society, carefully analyzing the architects, buildings and trends that flourished between two crucial periods in Mexico--the social upheaval of 1928 and the Olympic games of 1968. Along the way, it sets about dispelling some misconceptions that English-speakers tend to have about Mexico's development--like that modernity somehow passed Mexico by, or, conversely, that everything that is modern in Mexico was just thought up by Anglos. Interesting and readable in ways that architecture writing usually is not, Modernity and the Architecture of Mexico offers many opportunities for anyone who's interested in the built environment of the borderlands. (BdeP)

The Art of the Impossible
by Vaclav Havel (Knopf, cloth, $24)

Not only the well loved president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel is also a famous playwright, and it's hard not to expect better speeches from him than your average politician. Fortunately, in this collection of addresses and writing from 1990 to 1996, Havel certainly delivers. His command of metaphor, analogy and structure is astounding, his point beautifully conveyed every time. As a form, the spoken lecture is usually more forgiving than the written essay, but Havel's speeches neatly cover both genres. His themes--modern politics, the universality of men--may seem to be pure Enlightenment thinking, but they also contain a knowing subtext that is absurd, humble and very particular to the fin de siècle. Havel will no doubt go down in history as the orator who best expressed post-revolution thought in the 1990s; this book shows why. (AD)

--Jessica English, Julie Birnbaum, Blake de Pastino and Angie Drobnic

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