Volume 9 (Spring 2015)
Most contemporary American poetry lacks humor. Dean Young and Tony Hoagland come to mind, but few others. There is humor in the surrealist work of contemporary European poets, but that is territory which most on this side of the Atlantic tend to leave uncolonized. In my poetry workshop (now there's a funny term; makes me think of little elves screwing tenors into their vehicles), I certainly steer my students away from what might seem humorous to them, considering that their 18-year-old idea of humor is only casually stained with the dull light of the pathetic, which the humorous needs – in poetry at least – if it is to rise above the “merely” entertaining; hence the sardonic tones that often arise in Young and Hoagland. But then why does humor arise so rarely?
Perhaps because it is so damn hard. Erin Belieu's latest book, Slant Six, demonstrates, in its deft handling of language and tone, both how difficult and how affecting such work can be:
"The Body is a Sagacity"
is another thing Nietzsche said
that hits me as pretty specious,
while sitting in my car in the Costco
parking lot, listening to the Ballet
mécanique of metal buggies shrieking,
as each super, singular, and self-contained
wisdom of this Monday morning rumbles
its jumbo packs of toilet paper and Diet Coke
up the sidewalk. ...
Here, the tone itself, like the shopping carts, is grating – the juxtaposition of the philosopher and the discount supermarket, the brand name and the invented French, “wisdom” and “toilet paper.” The rhythms are colloquial, but the language is rich and sonorous. A funny pleasure.
Overall, the poems in this collection are real politik – the eroticism of politics and the politics of eroticism. It's refreshing to have read a new book that, while it did not make me cry, made me pleasantly wince. And that's a sensation that has been sorely missing on the contemporary scene.
Slant Six by Erin Belieu (Copper Canyon, 2015)