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National Poetry Month: 'As for the Heart' by Erin Belieu

On the podcast: We're celebrating National Poetry Month with a series of shorts highlighting the work of Lesley poets.

Find the full transcript after the Episode Notes.

Episode notes

It's National Poetry Month and we're doing things a little differently this month. Each week in April, we're inviting one poet from the Lesley community to share some of their verses and talk about their work. Erin Belieu is a faculty member and poet mentor. In this episode, she shares "As for the Heart," a poem she wrote during the pandemic that also appears in her most recent collection, Come Hither, Honeycomb.

About Erin

Erin Belieu is the author of Infanta, chosen by Hayden Carruth for the National Poetry Series; One Above & One Below, winner of the Midland Authors Prize and Ohioana Poetry Award; Black Box, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist; Slant Six, a New York Times favorite book of 2014; and Come-Hither Honeycomb (2020), all published by Copper Canyon Press. Her poems have appeared in places such as The Best American Poetry, The New Yorker, Poetry, The New York Times, The Atlantic, AGNI, Tin House, and The American Poetry Review. She currently teaches in the Lesley University low-residency MFA in Creative Writing program.

Mentioned in this episode:

The New Yorker review of Come Hither, Honeycomb

Library Journal starred review of Come Hither, Honeybomb

Check out some of our other poetry episodes:

Check out all of our episodes, show notes, and transcripts on our podcast page or just go ahead and follow us on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Podcasts or Spotify.

  • Transcript

    Georgia Sparling: This is Why We Write, a podcast of Lesley University. Every episode, we bring you conversations with authors from the Lesley community to talk about books, writing and the writing life.

    Hi, everybody. My name is Georgia Sparling, I produce Why We Write, and this month, I'm excited to bring you a special series in honor of National Poetry Month. Every week in April, I've invited a Lesley poet to come onto the show, give us a behind the scenes look into their process and share one of their poems with us. 

    Today’s guest is Lesley faculty member Erin Belieu. Erin has published a number of acclaimed works of poetry, including her 2020 collection “Come Hither, Honeycomb,” which received a starred review from the Library Journal and had a pretty great review in the New Yorker as well. That link is in the show notes.

    Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The New Yorker, The Best American Poetry, The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The American Poetry Review, among others. Today, she’s going to share a poem that she wrote during the pandemic and also where the idea from it came from. Here’s Erin.

    Erin Belieu: Hi, my name is Erin Belieu and I'm a poet mentor on the faculty of the Lesley low residency MFA in Creative Writing Program. Today, I'm going to be reading a poem called "As for the Heart." It was a poem I was asked to write by the Academy of American Poets when they were doing poems featuring people writing through this period of pandemic. And we weren't given any particular subject matter. We were just told to write a poem, somewhere near the topic.

    My poems are autobiographical in the sense that I believe that every poem is a version of a self-portrait, and that it comes from a very particular consciousness and everyone is their own weird little idiosyncratic soul machine. And so there will be elements of my own life in it and things that are sort of translated into poetry because, you know, poets, just like any other kind of artist, whatever is autobiographical, usually, you're willing to give up the facts of something in order to get at a larger truth that serves the poem better than whatever the mundane facts of your own individual life are. So, I'm always trying to help my students understand the difference between the facts in writing and the truth of something in writing. And they're not necessarily the same thing.

    I have a soft spot for this poem, because one of the autobiographical triggers in the poem was having that moment where one of the things that was really nice for this isolation for me was that I was actually with my son the whole time. And he was supposed to have gone off to college where he has gone since. But for the first six months, my son was here. And just having that sort of enforced alone time I'm sure he was dying to get out there and fly with his new college wings, but for me, it was just that moment of clarity of looking at my son standing in his pajama bottoms, snarfing food out of a bowl that he just warmed up in the microwave, and just every once in a while, when you love people, you look at them, and you're like, "they're just so beautiful". There's just that feeling of just like, when you love somebody and you really see them for a second and you think, "lucky me."

    So, this is the poem, “As for the Heart.”

    I am come to the age  
    of pondering my lastness:  
    buying what seems likely  
    my final winter coat at Macy’s,  
    or when a glossy magazine 
    (so very blithely)  
    asks me to renew. As for  

    my heart, that pixilated  
    tweener, how long  
    I’ve been required to baby  
    her complaints,  
    (unLOVED unLOVED),  

    alarmed and stubborn clock, 
    refusing to listen even as  
    the more intrepid tried.  

    Now, she mostly mutters 
    to herself, though  
    occasionally there’s  
    some clanging, a tinny sound,  
    like the radiator in a Southie  
    triple decker, fractious as  
    a pair of cowboy boots 
    in a laundromat’s dryer.  

    It’s always been  
    this joke old people know— 
    in such a state  
    of nearly doneness,  
    the world grows sweeter,  
    as if our later days  
    are underscored with music  
    from a concerto’s saddest  
    oboe hidden in the trees. 

    Just today,  
    while standing in the kitchen,  
    my son complained nonstop  
    about his AP Psych class  
    while wolfing warmed up  
    bucatini from a crazed,  
    pink china bowl.  

    Shiny, kvetching creature.  
    Even if I could tell him  
    what he doesn’t want to know,  
    I wouldn’t. But now,  

    the pissy storm that’s spent  
    all afternoon flapping like 
    a dirty sheet  
    has wandered off 
    to spook some other  

    There’s one barbed weed 
    pushing up greenly through  
    my scruffy loropetalum. 

    And it falls on me, this little  
    cold rain the day has left. 

    Georgia: Before we wrap up this episode, I wanted to share one more thing Erin and I talked about. As she notes, this is a pandemic poem, yet as you’ve heard, it’s not explicitly so. Given the 14 or so months we’ve all spent in various states of lockdown, I thought her take on being an artist during this time was particularly apt to share.

    Erin: Writing during the pandemic has been interesting in that, I think poets tend to be kind of interior creatures to start with, but I think this period of enforced isolation has driven many artists even more into that internal relationship. I mean, if we're lucky, if we're privileged, like I am, and, you know, I haven't had to worry about my job and things like that, I've had this period of aloneness, which sometimes feels really good. And like for everybody else, it feels really lonely. But I have gotten an enormous amount of work done.

    I think poets spend a lot of time, people don't know that we're working because a lot of writing a poem is staring into space. I’m thinking about things as I'm working poems in my head, which is where a lot of poem-making takes place for me before I get it to the page.

    I think most artists don't go at things dead on. If you look at one of the greatest paintings in the world about the nature and horror of war is, you know “Guernica,” but no one would look at that and say, “Oh, yeah, that is a one to one translation”, right? It's the quality of mind goes through all these different filters of imagination. So, I think there will be a ton of poems that are loosely kind of triggered and spurred by the pandemic, but I don't think there'll be a ton of homes that are just like, “my poem on the pandemic” because art translates things.

    Georgia: Thank you for listening today. “As for the Heart” appears in Erin Belieu’s new poetry collection, “Come Hither, Honeycomb.” Check out our show notes to learn more about Erin and her work as well as our low-residency Creative Writing program, where Erin is a poetry mentor. Next week is our final National Poetry Month episode, so please do make sure you’re following Why We Write on whatever platform you like to listen to podcasts, so you don’t miss it.