By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, August 5, 2007

What is the difference between a poem and a monologue? Clearly, some works are both, but what a gifted stand-up artist or actor does with face, body and voice, poetry does with the rhythms of words and the rhythms of thought, in language. Erin Belieu's "On Being Fired Again," a monologue in form and subject, also exemplifies the kinds of verbal energy peculiar to poetry:


I've known the pleasures of being

fired at least eleven times --

most notably by Larry who found my snood

unsuitable, another time by Jack,

whom I was sleeping with. Poor attitude,

tardiness, a contagious lack

of team spirit; I have been unmotivated

squirting perfume onto little cards,

while stocking salad bars, when stripping

covers from romance novels, their heroines

slaving on the chain gang of obsessive love --

and always the same hard candy

of shame dissolving in my throat;

handing in my apron, returning the cash-

register key. And yet, how fine it feels,

the perversity of freedom which never signs

a rent check or explains anything to one's family.

I've arrived again, taking one more last

walk through another door, thinking " I am

what is wrong with America," while outside

in the emptied, post-rushhour street,

the sun slouches in a tulip tree and the sound

of a neighborhood pool floats up on the heat.

For instance, the comic effect of "found my snood/ unsuitable," somewhat heightened by straddling two lines, also begins a burst of rhyme, with "snood/ Jack/ attitude/ lack." Along with that kind of audible effect, the poem opens multiple possibilities of thought, in rapidly juggled metaphors: "the chain gang of obsessive love" followed immediately by "the same hard candy/ of shame dissolving in my throat." The resonances of overtones and undertones in this kind of writing resemble the sense-perception of the final two lines: the multiple voices of summer play, distinct and choral, rising from the pool. ยท

(Erin Belieu's poem "On Being Fired Again" can be found in her book "One Above & One Below: Poems." Copper Canyon. Copyright 2000 by Erin Belieu.)

Robert Pinsky's most recent book is "The Life of David."

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