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8 Always a Reckoning and Other Poems by Jimmy Carter, Times Books $18.

Jimmy Carter is the best book signer his publicity director at Times Books in New York has ever seen. "He's better than Tip O'Neill, better than Kirk Douglas. He not only signs, he makes eye contact. He Says `Hi'." His best effort in a single day has been 3,700 copies - which must be a good enough reason for any publisher to want to publish a first collection of poems by an ex-President of the United States.

Carter's book of 47 short poems is divided into four comfortable categories - People, Places, Politics and Private Lives - and it is all about saying hi! to honest human feelings. This is the Plainsman's artless vision of the plain man going about his daily business beneath God's tall sky.

Jimmy Carter's enthusiasm for poetry began with Dylan Thomas. While visiting Westminster Abbey on presidential business, he complained about Thomas' absence from Poets' Corner. He refused to accept that the earlier, greater poet's reputation as a drunken reprobate was sufficient reason to keep him out. Eventually, the Abbey came to see it his way. The Great Conciliator had struck again.