Not only is Aaron Belz’s poetry book The Bird Hoverer (BlazeVOX [books], 2007) available at Left Bank Books and online at Amazon.com, but it is accessible by opening your bedroom window. The Iowa native and St. Louis resident writes about animals for their intrinsic comedic value, often projecting human thoughts onto their actions.
“I think people see themselves in animals, which is why we have cats and dogs and parrots and stuff,” he said. “We want friends! Animals are an extended social world for me, as I think they are for most people.”
The poem “Smartest Creatures” gossips about birds and dolphins: “Birds underappreciate sympathy. Birds would love to go swimming with you on Sunday. Dolphins feel pain as they think about the past.” The comedy emerges in how far Belz pushes the poem, and how much he restrains it. The poem is a leashed animal itself–always controlled, but at times allowed to explore.
Belz’s conversational poetry is alive; it’s a living, breathing entity, pulsing with pop culture life. Violet Affleck gets a shout-out in “For Ben Affleck’s Daughter,” and the poet himself has a very sexy t?te-?-t?te while watching Cheers with Meryl Streep in the poem “In Bed With Meryl Streep.” Years from now, when the poems in The Bird Hoverer have grandchildren and prostate problems, some young whippersnapper will question the pop culture references, asking, “Who was Ben Affleck, and what made him so hot? Why did this Meryl Streep wear a flowered nightgown?”
Pop culture impacts today’s readers because it is familiar. Said Belz, “In the past, I suppose a poet might have written about a glorious battle or a work of fine art; nowadays, what we have is Tobey Maguire and Angelina Jolie … ?I find new culture fascinating-it resonates powerfully with people’s fantasies, if only briefly. There’s always something new to replace it.”
“Wherever I Go” is slightly childish, in the most endearing way, because of the speaker’s frustration-an easily relatable emotion: “Wherever I go there are two of you: one telling me what to do, the other what not to do. I’m going to stab you with a fork.”
Some poems are campy and innocent because of Belz’s diction; they are like Frank O’Hara-inspired Mad Libs, re-evaluating the classic definitions of words and causing the reader to reflect upon a word’s possibilities, such as in “Stella”: “A woman, eating nothing but Viet Nam, sat in the shadow of a bushel of parsnip. She beckoned me to explode daily.”
He skillfully manages precision, similar to Ezra Pound’s work, and delicately molds his poems to reveal enough to hook the reader, but conceal enough to maintain mystery. “Hidden Microphones” baits the reader and then lets go: “I am all about hidden microphones. If you pay me a certain amount of money, I will plant a certain number of microphones around your home, or a friend’s home.”
Belz, an alumnus of New York University, will graduate in May with a Ph.D. from Saint Louis University. Having taught poetry and English courses at SLU in the past, he will return in the fall to teach as a postdoctoral fellow. “I used to ride a scooter, but now I ride a vintage motorcycle,” said Belz. “Things are looking up!”
The speakers in his poems charmingly strive for the insight of John Ashbery; and, years from now, with Belz’s inventiveness and unpredictability, he may venture there. His poetry is enjoyable-a welcome respite from schooldays suffocated by Shelley and Keats. His poetry is personable, and each page has its own character. Most importantly, it’s relatable-which comforts us by demonstrating that we’re all poets if we take the time to observe and reflect upon life’s idiosyncrasies. At the touch of life, everyone becomes a poet.