In her latest collection, poet Erin Belieu turns her signature wit and intellectual rigor inward for an unguarded exploration of human vulnerability, witnessing a lifelong pattern of brutality from which she painfully breaks free.
The title of Erin Belieu’s new book of poems...is a compact gadget of a phrase that embodies her tinkerer’s style of found puns, verbal doodles, and word games ... Belieu toggles troublingly between screwball comedy and...violence—part Howard Hawks, part Ovid ... The foundation of Belieu’s language, and also its primary defense, is paradox—the symbiosis of apparent opposites. The poems create insinuations in order to undermine them ... Belieu’s poems often present uneasy pas de deux between rivals, as though strained coöperation were the prerequisite for beauty ... The lightness in this collection is sometimes strained, deliberately so. Few poems pass without a joke, and some are, to my taste, jokey ... Belieu’s corniness is a nervous impulse to counter the unbearable tense silence that surrounds performance. It’s also a form of flinching ... Though these poems are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, it’s the groaners and knee-slappers—poignant for never quite landing—that distinguish Belieu’s style.
... through the structural vigor of these lyric wormholes we begin to see glimpses of the self; the speaker avoids therapy through the tangential and piquant movements of mind, but in so doing provides the reader with the intimate knowledge of self-realization that the speaker is chasing ... modest, logical ironies in the dramatic tenor of self-interrogation happen repeatedly throughout Come-Hither Honeycomb and embody an important aesthetic gesture of the book: how to convey the difficult task of interrogating the self ... Wielding syntax that is piercing in its hypotactic sarcasm, throughout Come-Hither Honeycomb Belieu is able to bait the reader, as much as the speaker’s self and subjects of examination, through these lyric 'spat[s]' ... operating under this sensibility one can run the risk of becoming too witty ... I think Belieu mainly avoids this through a measured interspersing of poems that take on a more musical and syntactic experimentation...and poems that operate under different personae, most prominently those which experiment with gender ... Although these poems offer brief intermission, they represent, perhaps to one’s excitement or one’s cerebral consternations, deviations that sometimes require space for their own sensibility to unfold, thus necessitating their own patience. But it is a patience, even as an element of craft, that the speaker in turn grants themself ... Come-Hither Honeycomb is relentless in its aesthetic exploration of these questions, but it also dispenses breadcrumbs of optimism ... a book that, through patience, rewards through its complexity of craft.
Though some of the poems riff on failure or sadness, Belieu also uses puns and everyday sayings to capture daily life, and her language varies throughout from slang to the sublime ... These poems continuously examine life, sometimes with reverence, sometimes with wry humor, as the poet offers an intelligent take on being a woman in the 21st century. The poet's en point observations of the world are truly delightful, and not since Ann Sexton has a poet captured girlhood so well ... The occasional poem could use some tightening, but this is a sterling collection that ends much too soon. Highly recommended.