In her fourth book of poems, Erin Belieu reaffirms her status as one of our most charmingly frank contemporary poets, with a populist bent toward the “Americanness” of “driving / around a frowsy Gulf Coast city with its terrific / mini-marts like Bill’s, the very best of all marts!” There’s no high-low dichotomy in Belieu’s poems—Nietzsche and Costco make appearances two lines away from each other—just a winsome sense of humor that’s highly intelligent while never erudite. “When at a Certain Party in NYC” pokes fun at the ridiculousness of New York’s cultural capital—“Wherever you’re from sucks, / and wherever you grew up sucks”—but never becomes mean-spirited. Belieu is, even at her most distressed, a poet of celebration and praise; in spite of (or because of) this, one of the book’s most triumphant poems grapples specifically with unkind impulses. In “Time Machine” an aggressive fellow driver briefly transports the poet back to an earlier, angrier self, “this mostly / unsympathetic girl, who doesn’t know / how soon she’ll be fired for sleeping / with the boss.” There’s no shortage of bad things yet to happen in Belieu’s latest (the book concludes with the darkly apocalyptic “Après Moi”), but in her poems, when “the world’s saddest thing shakes you,” it does so “like a magic eight ball…” She writes like the friend you want with you when it does.
This book review originally appeared in American Poets, Fall-Winter 2014.