watch out for the wack kings,
clanking in their armor,
riding their dope horsies over the hill.
‘Wack Kings’ has been stuck in my head for six years. I first read it in an email Aaron Belz sent to one of his cousins, and now it has found its way into Glitter Bomb, Belz’s third collection from Persea Books. I do not know why I am supposed to “watch out.” I still don’t, but I find myself repeating ‘Wack Kings’ like a wack prayer during moments of outrageous fortune. In Belz’s world the rough side of outrageous fortune is likely to be a recurring nightmare in which one watches helplessly as velociraptors eat the last of one’s Vegenaise on the day when terrorists have bombed all the vegeinaise factories in the world and one’s girlfriend has decided to start brushing her teeth with smoked oysters. It’s weird; watch out. Glitter Bomb will lead you through hilarious terrors.
Undoubtedly this is because Belz’s poetry is (maybe mostly) about hard times. Glitter Bomb’s hard times are occasionally truly hard, but the hard times he writes about, and which (ostensibly) seem to inspire him, are the daily incongruities, hang ups, and hassles which exacerbate our more significant anxieties.
Sometimes even the weird poems are borderline contemplative. ‘Scattered Showers’ is one example: (preface with more explanation to get strip malls).
Like, I might be driving along, and the
iPod might shuffle to that one Coldplay song:
why now? Here, where the road
….gracefully descends to Steak ‘n Shake,
where the trail ends
I can’t remember. That part is blacked out.
This, too, is hilarious. Is it hilarious because Aaron’s life is so boring? Actually, it’s because your life (most likely if you are a human—and this book will question that) and my life share the inanity of routine, complete with meaningless soundtracks.
The inanity is enough to make one claim, along with Aaron:
What’s interesting about you
Is the unique ways in which
You fail to distinguish yourself.
In ‘Michael Jashberry’ he reveals he’s talking
Glitter Bomb is like a convex mirror. It reflects the despair underlying our busyness and caricatures the ensuing confusion. Belz appears to be asking us by way of himself: how much of your daily life are you actually aware of yourself living? Step back from weeks or months of surviving daily life and take a look.
It is the closing poem ‘Accumulata,’ which takes ‘Scattered Showers’ and, as Aaron claims, turns the despair of busyness into a sort of rain:
…and see, can’t you see
that this is your ordinary?
We live lives in which breakups, errands, work (see ‘Starbucks’), children, mothers, horses, and smoking intersect. Aaron is not just writing whatever pops into his head, a criticism some might level (see ‘Gleff’), as he is charting the mental course of confused, tired, frazzled, occasionally happy (but kind of excruciatingly so) people: people in familiar difficulty who continue to get up and live each day. You can laugh about it, or weep about it, or do both. At its heart, Glitter Bomb is goofy fey—a lot of “alas, poor Yorick” with extra jowls.
Indeed, the poem that is, perhaps, most essentially, the glitter bomb at the heart of Glitter Bomb answers Hamlet’s request of Yorick’s skull:
her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must
come; make her laugh at that.
That poem is ‘Big Face/M4W/Hollywood (Amoeba Music),’ which continues:
Dress the ordinary in the absurd it deserves. Now laugh at it because you know what’s actually going on; namely, it’s still ordinary. Get it? I’m not always sure I do.
In fact here I take issue: I want something more to watch out for than the ambiguous wack kings and their retinue of caricatures. At their worst, the poems in Glitter Bomb are poetic collagen; they maintain the stiff upper lip of a generation of disillusioned liberal arts majors commuting to and from the jobs they loathe with a kind of sneering empathy. I enjoy this, but it isn’t particularly substantial. Surely some beauty still lurks on the edges of the mundane. If this is true, then the greater challenge is to face the beauty.
However, I may be overshooting my mark. Belz is most likely unconcerned with “challenges.” Glitter Bomb is a success insofar as the humor and the desperation have not only improved but grown increasingly indistinguishable since Lovely, Raspberry. ‘Lone Star’ is a near perfect example (Frost’s ‘Birches’ meets Vietnam).
In short, here is a book about the mundane with a fitting title. Buy it. Also, people who know Aaron or have heard him read will tell you his poetry is best when he is reading it. They are usually right, so go see him if you get the chance. He’s serious about his art right to the edge of stupid and rescuing it with a joke that stabs you in the heart (see ‘Ice Cream’).