Aaron Belz has created a world all his own with Lovely, Raspberry from Persea Books. Let’s call it Belzland. In both traditional and free verse poetry, he populates this world with strange sounds, strange sights and stranger fascinations. In Belz’s playground people ask Al Gore about the muse, turn their face into a glowing pear and use Alberto V05 Extra Body Shampoo to make sense of their love life. The result is a slender, ribald romp across things ancient (Henry the Eighth and The Waste Land) and maddeningly modern (Mr. Potato Head, Skee Ball, Michael Bolton).
In some of the poems, one need go no further than the title for a good chuckle. Case in point: “The One about the Ectoplasm and the Osteoblast,” with the two forces bantering at a bar, deciding about drinking Dead Guy Ale.
Beloved of puns, Belz has many playful titles such as “The Love-Hat Relationship,” “Slam Dunque” and “Train to Mehlville.” This last poem begins with the sobering line, “I have been sponsored by a local society / to sever these melons with this black mallet.” The speaker of the poem is in a stasis. He has been sponsored but he is not doing his chore, his duty. A rain starts, his wife is on the phone with her sister, his daughter is getting out of a cello lesson, but he can’t bring himself to start hacking away:
and earth could be colliding and I would have
to cherish this humble chore as if it were
a kiss with my new bride. On that day she wait-
ed beautifully on the platform, and I was late.
Confounding, but apt. Nothing changed years ago and it seems nothing will happen again. A string of nothings. “Apropos of nothing” might be too confounding and apt for the feeling some of these poems convey, but humor is a many-headed tyrant; and non sequitur is the order of the day in Belzland.
In the delightfully ludicrous, “A Pile of Trees, and an Actuary,” a pile of trees addresses an actuary, saying, “Sirrah! Ecoutez.” There is a pan of cakes the pile of trees wants the actuary to find:
TAKE the pan of cakes and
speak the name of your wife
into it. Close your eyes and
pick up the first cake that
comes to hand, bite into it,
and you will find a key.
Objects have as much right to direct and renounce as people. It’s a mystical and mythical world where the green forests of Lancelot and Sir Gawain’s time have been replaced by the eerie symmetrical suburbs of Charles Reznikoff’s back yard and a talking in-ground sprinkler that spurs a serpent to bite a postman’s leg. Even Katharine Hepburn shows up, speaking to the narrator (who is on crutches) about a possible sexual liaison. Yet suddenly the famed actress tells him it’s her time of the month and asks for a rain check.
The people in these poems are caught in worlds beyond their understanding. Nothing works as it should, but nothing could work as it should because the world has been drenched in camp, mischief and misunderstanding, complete with a chaser of bitters. It’s Three’s Company for the Ivy League.
Consider the poem “You Bore Me“:
You bore me. So be it.
I bore you and enjoy doing it.
Let us learn to bore each other
Without worrying about it.
You act all shy around me,
and that’s you prerogative.
If I act shy around you,
it’s because you’re pretty
and I want to kiss you.
I wish I were Canadian.
If I were Canadian,
I could be boring and
get away with it. You’d say,
This man is from Canada.
He bores me. He acts shy.
He wants to kiss me.
And you would let me
kiss you not only on the lips
but on the cheek, neck,
shoulder; belly, maybe?
Because I would be Canadian
and have scruffy hair
and big eyes. But alas,
you bore me, too. You
act like you’re from Michigan.
Unrequited love has always been good sport for comedy and Belz plays it perfectly with questioning, supposition and presupposition and represupposition. There are jabs, there is titillation, there is coercion—but there is also honesty, trickling out slowly, like real feelings tend to, ending in the unholy sucker punch. Repetition is one of the golden tropes in comedy. Of the 130 words, eight are “you,” five are “bore,” four are “Canada” (or variations). The words are simple, but the repetitions are violent—butcher’s knives aloft in the air, ready to cut the one who brings pain.
Lovely, Raspberry continues the wondrous parade of funny illogic that began in Belz’s first book The Bird Hoverer. In contrast to many modern American poets, Belz doesn’t take himself too seriously, but the tears streaming down your cheeks after a guffaw might be two parts funny, one part sad. If love is a hard business, comedy is even harder but Belzland is nicely groomed to tickle.