A few months ago, I was lucky enough to hear Erin Belieu speak at the OSU Alumni Writers Extravaganza. She was funny, intelligent, and honest, and I eagerly picked up a copy of her latest book of poetry, Slant Six. While that weekend introduced me to the sharpness and sensibility of Belieu’s voice, this book has completely cemented my fandom. I adored this volume of poetry so much that I didn’t even procrastinate in writing this review after I finished reading; as I write this, the last poem in the book is only moments old in my head. I’m that excited to tell you about it.
The poems in Slant Six are funny, moving, and so well-observed. That may sound like a strange compliment, but it was the most succinct way I could think of to describe encountering some of the phrases Belieu crafts. Images and feelings appeared before me that, as soon as I saw them, I knew to be so true, but had never felt them articulated so sharply. You know that feeling you get when you’ve finally thought of the word that’s been on your tongue, and it’s like “Yes! That’s it!“? That feeling happened to me again and again while reading this volume, an almost guttural recognition of life’s experiences.
It’s hard to pick a favorite poem; I liked so many of them for so many reasons. Some lean more towards social and political commentary, while others describe human relationships with such original accuracy and truth. The poem “Love Is Not An Emergency” (which was originally published and still available on Slate’s website) felt particularly pointed, placed before me with intention and necessity. Some poems helped me look toward the future, and others reminded me of home and childhood. One that really surprised me was “Field;” it started as, what seemed to me, a lovely but honest look at the way humans and nature can interact, and both the acceptance and indifference of nature towards the human character. But then, suddenly, in a way that almost had me gasp as I read, it became something else. I don’t even want to write it here to spoil it; you can click on the link if you’d like and see what it ends up meaning to you.
I think this book can speak to you whether you’re a fan of poetry or whether poetry intimidates you. The poems are accessible and clear, which is not to say that they’re easy or simple. In fact, at times Belieu seems to be engaging with the stereotype of poetry that seems to use language to obfuscate rather than clarify (add poetry itself to the list of what gets satirized in this book). Belieu’s poems, instead, are endlessly clarifying. At times they taught me something, and at times they equipped me with words for something I feel I’ve always known. I’m sure I will be revisiting this book many, many times.