The title of Lisa Bickmore's collection calls up a line I found in a pioneer journal: "Today, due to rain, we made haste slowly."

Measured, pensive, well-wrought, Lisa Bickmore's poems make haste slowly through the rain.In the growing flock of poets published by Signature Books, Bickmore may own the truest voice and finest ear - though her gifts do wobble on her at times. One suspects she is quietly working out a sophisticated sense of aesthetics, toying with long elaborate lines, putting poems in lower case, breaking tone in ungodly places. There is a sense that "Haste" is the laboratory that will one day produce some true cold fusion.

And "cool" is the key word in Bickmore. In the poet's world - a world trapped between the twin poles of longing and loss, readers are led back and forth between sensual, multicolored visions and the steely, black-and-white realm of innocence, sterility and possibility. Black and white admitted that shadow, she writes at one point. But: open the drape, and in it spills, the clotted gold of the sun. . .

What unnerves about Bickmore's verse is its edge, a hard, analytical quality that often seems clinical. Berryman once said of Wallace Stevens that he "never wounds." One reads the opening section here fearing the same for Bickmore. The dry-eyed view of tragedy never wavers, the harsh cerebral light never blinks. It is, she explains, a gift and curse from her father, this pencil on graph paper / The theroms falling so finally into sense. Of a friend's suicide she is almost ruthless in her analysis:

a gesture of decisions

That I admire very much, even if it is not my way.

Yet, just as the reader begins to grow uncomfortable with the chill, the poet springs a surprise: a brace of love poems to her husband and her children. Coming upon those poems is like coming upon a bouquet of daisies in the snow.

The breath of my children hovers over their beds

Still and unwavering, nothing disturbing

The field of their sleep. The spotted dog

Sprawls on the floor among discarded garments,

A moan in his throat as he shifts his great bones.

I imagine them leaving one by one. . .

Such is the universe and the poetry of Lisa Bickmore. They are chilly places with occasional flashes of heat. By entering that world, a reader can come away with a kinship with the poet, a better sense of language and a clearer sense of life.

And that, in the end, is why we read poetry.