Poet Rae Armantrout calls fellow poet Aaron Belz the “Comic of the Apocalypse.” After reading his new collection, Soft Launch: Poems, I discovered that she was right, but not entirely right. Yes, there is a strong sense of comedy in his poems, evoking smiles, grins, and the occasional out-loud laugh. And yes, some of the poems are about the Apocalypse. But take a plunge below the surface, and you find something else.
Take this poem, for example. It has comedy. It’s about the Apocalypse. But it’s also telling us, whether we confront the crackup of Western civilization, imminent climate disaster, or the complete breakdown of political and civil discourse, that we should always remember to take a deep breath.
The Importance of Self-Care During the Apocalypse
Silver lining? Think again: DriClime polyester
lines a rugged but breathable shell putting this
all-season cagoule at the top of your handbasket
for years to come. “What’s in your handbasket?”
goes the popular slogan, though silver and gold
have we none, such as we have to give you—
credit. And the Apocalypse. And a word to the wise:
Take care of yourself. Take a walk, give a hand
Job (or jobs), count to 500. You know, Botany 500.
Breathe. The 700 Club. Mile High Club. Fight Club.
Club Med. Breathe (in the air). It’s politics
qua politics—it’s politics during the apocalypse.
This is the vein Belz mines with wit, whether he’s considering a sonnet in the grocery store, spray tans, King Leopold and the atrocities in the Congo, becoming authoritarian with your coffee, or the difficult history of rabbits. He even has a backward nod at T.S. Eliot with “The Love Song of J. Alfred Capslock,” (yes, the poem is entirely all caps) and a poem, “Pride and Prej,” that summarizes Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in six short lines and 37 words.
The poems exhibit a love of language, a playfulness with words and familiar sayings to turn an idea back on itself. Love doesn’t persist “against all odds” but actually only “against one odd,” as one poem tells us. This is comedy and fun, but it has a serious underlying message—to acknowledge love, keep your head level, avoid the headlines that scare you into believing everything’s a crisis.
Belz received a B.A. from Covenant College, a master’s in creative writing from New York University, and a Ph.D. in English from St. Louis University. His poems and other writings have appeared in literary journals, newspapers, and even popular magazines like Wired. His previous collections of poetry are The Bird Hoverer (2007), Lovely, Raspberry (2010), and Glitter Bomb (2014). His blog provides links to his published essays, articles and poems. He lives in Savannah, Georgia.
The poems of Soft Launch use comedy and playful language to tell us to stop, take a break, realize we’re letting the crises of the day control our lives. Stay calm. Enjoy life the way it should be enjoyed.
And perhaps don’t even take poetry too seriously. As Belz writes in one of the collection’s final poems, “Your poetry, my son, manages the balance / between irreverent and irrelevant / better than any poetry I can recall off the top.” Even in the face of a daily apocalypse.
Related: Aaron Belz and Glitter Bomb
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish