-Poems Reviewed by Kendra Bartell–
I bequeath a world
where cupboards stick,
with nothing left
to creak for.
So ends the enchanting collection, Slant Six, by poet Erin Belieu. Belieu doesn’t beat around the bush. She immediately implicates the reader, speaking in unclouded English that is clear, idiomatic, and crisp. To some, this may be a sticking point, after all, isn’t this a book of poems? Shouldn’t Belieu dress her meaning in multiple metaphors and archaic diction? Belieu responds to long-winded inclined critics with a resounding “no,” never letting readers forget her purpose: to capture the American experience.
Slant Six is a wild ride through modern American-(ness), confronting our assumptions head on. In the second poem of the collection, titled, Someone Asks, What Makes This Poem American?” Belieu responds bluntly: “I answer by driving around, which seems/to me the most American of activities, up there/with waving the incendiary dandelion of sparklers/or eating potato salad with green specks of relish.” She may be right. Hasn’t she boiled down quintessential American pastimes? At once stereotypical and honest, Belieu is unflinching when dissecting aspects of her persona, especially as part of larger society.
The poet’s honesty adds pressure to each line of her poems, moving readers closer to moments of realization. Profound revelations often occur unexpectedly, as in the poem titled, When at a certain party in NYC: “Wherever you’re from sucks, and wherever you grew up sucks,” Belieu begins in a frustrated tone, but she ends with a rush of emotion and a stroke of beauty: “what you want is/to be on the fastest Conestoga home, where the other/losers live and where the tasteless azaleas are,/as we speak, halfheartedly exploding.” She at once critiques the microcosm of NYC society, unveiling the self-conscious and judgmental voice of a visitor at a party who merely wants to fit in. At the same time, the speaker celebrates the city’s opulence while voicing essential homesickness.
Belieu masterfully captures the mind in the act of thinking, tracking a rapid cognitive journey through interconnected images and the dissociative leaps and bounds we make when contemplating any given subject matter. The best example of the human thought process is Poem of Philosophical and Parental Conundrums Written in an Election Year. Layered clauses punctuated by semicolons, humor, and wisdom, characterize the writing. “I’m thinking/maybe I got it right this time,//maybe I did okay at least; this doesn’t have to/be the thing Jude talks about someday in therapy.//But with kids, you never know,” she extolls as the poem closes. We do never really “know,” but Belieu comforts her readers, leading them through the wanderings of her mind and revealing common troubles with which many will sympathize. Belieu’s hilarious meditation on parenting and politics mirrors how we often try to parse our identities and pass them on to our progeny.
There are moments in the collection where Belieu’s language falters and poems are less successful than others, but by and large these stumbles are few and far between. One example is Time Machine, in which the language gets bogged down with some clunkier phrasing. “Commit Random Acts of Kindness/ is what the bumper sticker says / on the Volvo that cuts me off/in traffic, driven by a woman/who then gives me the finger.” The poem begins with this stilted phrasing, which prevents a nice entry into what could be engaging subject matter.
InSlant Six, Belieu balances everyday language with her breathtaking awareness and attention to detail. Likewise, she employs a deft ear, effectively capturing the exact diction of speech and dialects overheard in public. Readers can easily breeze through these poems as if they were prose, but it’s worth spending a little extra time with each piece. Then you’ll start to notice the tiny but devastating work of the line breaks, the poet’s control of sounds, and the understated awareness of the world within each poem. Leave Slant Six handy when you finish, this wildly entertaining and moving book calls for a second read.
Post Photo Courtesy of Amazon.com