Belieu, Erin 1965-

views updated

Belieu, Erin 1965-


Born 1965, in Omaha, NE. Education: University of Nebraska, Omaha, B.F.A., 1989; Boston University, M.A.; completed two years of Ph.D. studies at Ohio State University. Hobbies and other interests: Films from 1912 to 1960.


Home—Tallahassee, FL. E-mail—[email protected].


Poet, educator. Former managing editor of AGNI; visiting instructor, Kenyon College, beginning in 1998; previously taught at Washington University, St. Louis, MO; current associate professor, Florida State University.


University of Nebraska, Outstanding Undergraduate Award, 1989; Academy of American Poets Prize, University of Nebraska—Omaha, best group of poems, 1991; The Nebraska Review, best group of poems, 1993; National Poetry Series winner, 1995, for Infanta; Rona Jaffe Foundation Award, 1995; University of Nebraska, Distinguished Alumnus Award, 1995; St. Botolph Club Writers' Award, 1995; Library Journal, the National Book Critics' Circle, and Washington Post Book World, named Infanta one of the ten best books of poetry, 1995; Bread Loaf fellow, 1996; Sewanee Writers' Conference, Walter E. Dakin fellow in poetry, 1997; Ohioana Award, Society of Midland Authors, both for One Above & One Below.


Infanta (poetry), Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 1995.

One Above & One Below: Poems, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 2000.

(Editor, with Susan Aizenberg) The Extraordinary Tide: New Poetry by American Women, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 2001.

Black Box (poems), Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 2006.

Author of the blog Dispatches: Journals, Poetry Foundation, 2006. Contributor to periodicals, including the Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, Slate, Nerve, Yale Review, TriQuarterly, Ploughshares, and the New York Times. Work has also appeared in anthologies such as American Poetry: The Next Generation, Carnegie-Mellon University Press; The Bread Loaf Anthology of New American Poets, University Press of New England; The KGB Reader, William Morrow; and The New Young American Poets, Southern Illinois University Press.


Erin Belieu is a poet who distinguished herself with her first verse collection, the surreal, humorous Infanta. The book was selected for publication after winning the National Poetry Series, an experience that Belieu likened to winning the lottery in a Kenyon College Alumni Bulletin interview. "I didn't have to spend years trying to get a manuscript out," she explained. Five years later, her second collection appeared, titled One Above & One Below: Poems. During the creation of this book, Belieu taught creative writing, including work as a visiting instructor at Kenyon. "I'm not one of those writers who just teaches on the side," she remarked. "I find that teaching writing spurs my own writing."

Infanta includes some offbeat rhymed works and also features both free verse and prose poems. The titles are often quirky: "Legend of the Albino Farm," "Georgic on Memory," "The Exploding Madonna," "Erections," "The Green that Never Leaves the Skin," and "How the Elderly Drive" are among the poems included in the volume. Among the subjects explored in Infanta are incest, infidelity, and rape. Upon its publication in 1995, Infanta won significant recognition. Robert Schultz, writing in the Hudson Review, ranked Infanta among those volumes "remarkable for the variety of their accomplishments" and included it among those "debuts which make us look forward, hopefully, toward long and adventuresome careers." Al Maginnes, in his American Book Review assessment, was less enthusiastic. He conceded that Belieu's "skills are considerable, her craft already well-honed," but maintained that "she has not yet come up with a subject to focus her skill and intellect." He concluded that "when this happens, Ms. Belieu will be a force to be reckoned with" and noted that with "Georgic on Memory," Belieu had already succeeded in producing "that rarest of things in these times, a poem written in form that does not call attention to itself."

One Above & One Below, a volume encompassing a variety of settings and perspectives, was also singled out as a work by a skilled young poet. A Publishers Weekly reviewer described the collection as having "many voices" ranging from the "edgy sophisticate" to "the singer of the Western plains." Compliments included notice of Belieu's ease with regular rhymed stanzas as well as free verse, and in approaching topics ranging from contemporary experiences to historical events, her ability to match "a form to every theme." But the reviewer regretted that "the results are perfectly modulated but low on surprise." In a review for Booklist, Donna Seaman remarked on the poems set in Belieu's home state of Nebraska and her ability to distinguish the different characters they feature. Seaman concluded: "Kinetic and inventive in the act of describing, Belieu is witty and provocative in her agile musings on such mysteries as hell, sexual attraction, and dreams." Library Journal's Ellen Kaufman was convinced that One Above & One Below showed a poet who was skilled but had not yet found her greatest strengths: "Wedded to a dark muse … she has a youthful, upbeat spirit, and … the dark side does not always convince. Belieu is a young poet worth watching."

Belieu continues her edgy examination of love and relationships in her 2006 collection, Black Box, a work that "examines the wreckage of interpersonal disaster, chiefly a nasty marital breakup," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. In the poem "Epithalamion" Belieu deals with her marriage, while in the longer poem, "In the Red Dress I Wear to Your Funeral," she likens a broken marriage to a car accident from which one emerges only half-living. A Publishers Weekly reviewer found this a "forceful" collection, yet one in which the "anger [is] so thoroughgoing it threatens at times to become simplistic." Library Journal contributor Diane Scharper noted the "echoes of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes" in the poems from Black Box. Scharper went on to note: "Self-absorbed, heavy with sexual innuendoes, many of these poems take themselves too seriously." However, the same reviewer further found the poems "lighthearted with a dark edge." Higher praise came from Cold Front contributor Scott Hightower, who felt that Belieu's "poems are courageous, smart and artful," and that Black Box "places [Belieu] among the best poets writing today." Similarly, Rya Pagliughi, writing in CutBank Reviews, observed: "Belieu's work is richly textured, formally varied, and filled with non-sentimental emotion." Pagliughi concluded: "Black Box is a dark indulgence, it is offensive and endearing, brash and vulnerable; it is a book with guts, heart, and a wry smile throughout."



American Book Review, December-January, 1995-96, Al Maginnes, review of Infanta.

Antioch Review, summer, 1996, review of Infanta, pp. 375-376; summer, 2001, Jane Satterfield, review of One Above & One Below: Poems.

Booklist, April 15, 2000, Donna Seaman, review of One Above & One Below, p. 1516.

Hudson Review, autumn, 1996, Robert Schultz, review of Infanta, pp. 503-512.

Library Journal, April 15, 2000, Ellen Kaufman, review of One Above & One Below, p. 95; September 1, 2006, Diane Scharper, review of Black Box, p. 150.

Publishers Weekly, April 24, 2000, review of One Above & One Below, p. 83; August 28, 2006, review of Black Box, p. 31.


Bookslut, (August 17, 2007), Jason B. Jones, review of Black Box.

Cold Front, (March 12, 2007), Scott Hightower, review of Black Box.

CutBank Reviews, (May 15, 2007), Rya Pagliughi, review of Black Box.

Florida State University Web site, (August 17, 2007), "Erin Belieu."

Kenyon College Alumni Bulletin, (fall-winter, 1998), "Faculty News."

Saw Palm—Florida Literature and Art, (August 17, 2007), David Moody, review of Black Box.