The title of Erin Belieu’s new book of poems, “Come-Hither Honeycomb” (Copper Canyon), is a compact gadget of a phrase that embodies her tinkerer’s style of found puns, verbal doodles, and word games. “Come-hither” is both invitation and command, an adjective that evolved from, but clings to, the imperative. It modifies the word it mirrors, “honeycomb,” which is both the sweet core of a hive and, it turns out, a tropical fish with a sparkly exterior. And yet those showy scales are a camouflage, a defense against predators. Though its body may narrow to an exaggerated pucker, it wasn’t put on the planet to kiss.
Belieu—who grew up in Nebraska, lived for years in Florida, and now teaches at the University of Houston—often explores the relationship between arousal and survival. In “Loser Bait,” we find her title in context. “Some of us / are chum”—used for bait, or friend-zoned—while others
The shiny victim lies in the middle of a punched face. Belieu toggles troublingly between screwball comedy and this sort of violence—part Howard Hawks, part Ovid. When a “hapless nymph” enters the scene in this poem, she dreams of a “layabout youth” but fears a “rapey god” who “leaps unerring, stag-like, / quicker than smoke, to the wrong idea.”