It’s probably because this is the holiday season and the end of the semester and a “break” looms in the near distance that I’m feeling the effects of the current pandemic more than usual lately. The coffee shop parking lot behind my house is full more often than not, and the patrons inside—visible through the floor-to-ceiling windows—are generally mask-less, whether or not food and drink sits on the small, tall table beside their laptops or Bibles. I wonder if I’ll ever set foot in spaces like this again, even after we’ve mostly all been vaccinated and built a new normal for our lives.
That’s what’s in my head as I think about the poems in Erin Belieu’s new collection, Come-Hither Honeycomb. But before I tell you more, a quick reminder that in order to receive your early copy of Come-Hither Honeycomb, read along with the Poetry Book Club, and participate in our exclusive chat with Erin Belieu, you’ll need to subscribe by December 15!
Consider the opening lines from the second poem in the book, “Loser Bait.”
Some of us
Some of us
are the come-hither
gleamy in the middle
of the trap’s busted smile.
I haven’t seen a lot of poems that suggest the speaker, much less the collective we, is bait. And the word choices here: chum is a word both for a buddy and for the fish guts thrown into the water to attract larger fish. And then also the use of “come-hither” as a descriptor, an enticement. It does the same work as chum but with a decidedly different effect on my senses. In both cases, the bait is something being acted upon, which is what we expect of bait.
But then watch this turn about halfway through the poem. Belieu has described the speaker as “hapless nymph / straight outta Bullfinch’s, minding my own beeswax” (nice reference back to the honeycomb) set upon by a “layabout youth / or a rapey god.” Then she writes:
For didn’t I supply
the tippy box, too?
Notch the stick on which
to prop it?
Didn’t I fumble the clove hitch
for the rope?
Leave the trip obvious
in the tall, buggy grass?
Now this person-as-bait has agency, not placed in the trap by someone else to serve as lure for a doomed animal but instead the setter of the trap. So, what does it mean to be bait and also hunter? And, how does this work in the context of the poem’s title, “Loser Bait.” Is the speaker trying to catch a loser? Is she good or bad at it? Is she bait just for losers? The poem doesn’t really answer these questions (nor should it!), but it does leaves us with this lovely description of Narcissus, “a story / so hoary, his name’s Pre-Greek” (my ear reads hoary not just as old and trite, but also as whore-y) and “a one-man performance / wherein the actor hates his audience.” According to the myth, Narcissus starved to death because he fell in love with his own reflection in a pool and couldn’t tear himself away, even with Echo trying to get his attention from over his shoulder—but I think I like this better, the idea that a narcissist hates the person they see in the mirror because it consumes them somehow.
Belieu’s collection is filled with moments like this, where the poems play with language and references, all with close attention to craft and formal elements. It’s an elegant book, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with our members. If you subscribe to the Rumpus Poetry Book Club by December 15, you’ll receive your early copy of Come-Hither Honeycomb and will be invited to take part in our online chat with Erin Belieu in early January. I hope you’ll join us!
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