The title, of course, is howlingly ironic. If San Francisco poet Justin Chin is laughing, it's just a gag reflex against a particularly bitter pill.
A gay, punk-rock Chinese American in the age of AIDS, Chin's poems confront all manner of hypocrisy, from health care and consumer culture to literary pretension.
The author is a performance artist and a slam poet; not surprisingly, his work for the printed page is effusive, rambunctious and occasionally a little too off-hand. His mischievous dismembering of poetic orthodoxy can be amusing (his directions for using a "Surrealist Bookmark" conclude with No. 4: "Place bookmark in a book that has yet to be written" ). It can also be defiantly immature, as in the poem "Contents Page to the Book of Poems I Have Yet to Write" ("Papercuts in the Afterlife -- I Want Japanese Anime Hair" ).
When Chin gets on a roll, however, he can be formidable. The collection's extended centerpieces, including the title piece, "Imagining America," and "Homomonument," are all terrific examples of contemporary poetry, surely intended as performance as much as reading. "Imagining America" is a dense, lilting, mantra-like piece that suffers not in the least for its obvious debt to Allen Ginsberg, while "Homomonument" is an agonizing meditation on hate crimes and messy desire:
What humans know is hardly/enough/for hooves or glue;/but ample enough to fuel our/hearts/and all its immeasurable/imaginary/landscapes and homes.
In the end, Chin's channel-surfing and pranksterism give way to his old, melancholy soul. ''A mirage is something like hope,'' he writes, ''but not it. '' He'll keep looking anyway.