By Jennifer Reese
Updated October 20, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

In Blue Arabesque, a sinuous meditation on artistic inspiration, poet Patricia Hampl revisits the figures who have meant the most to her, including Henri Matisse, Katherine Mansfield, and eccentric Minnesota-born filmmaker Jerome Hill, all of whom, like Hampl, were drawn ”as if by divining rod…to the aquamarine rim of the Mediterranean.” In just over 200 pages of honed prose, she segues gracefully from discussions of Matisse’s tense marriage to an alternative feminist interpretation of harems (”not a caged life, but a silken chamber”) to a critique of tourism to her own Catholic girlhood. Though overly precious in places, this tiny, brainy book is nonetheless a treat.