Brooklyn BookBeat: Balmain’s ‘Walking In On People’ is Clever, Comical
Brooklyn Heights native and former Brooklyn Heights Press writer Melissa Balmain takes her writing seriously. Her new collection of poetry, “Walking In On People” (Able Muse Press; on-sale June 23), has been praised by some of the most esteemed poets — among them former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, who says her “poems add to the rhythmic bounce of light verse a darker, more cutting humor” — while her prose has been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times and other publications. But, as Collins observes, despite Balmain’s ability to capture the “darker” side of humanity, she has a knack for infusing her work with lightness and humor.
Balmain, who at a young age served as the Brooklyn Heights Press’s “Town Crier” — taking photos of local eyesores and hazards and writing indignantly about them — says that her humorous style comes naturally. Dozier Hasty, publisher of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and the Brooklyn Heights Press, clearly remembers the precocious insights of Melissa Weiner as a 12-year-old contributor. “She had the common sense when writing about potholes to photograph one on Henry Street with her brother standing in the hole….it was very dramatic,” said Hasty.
Balmain’s clever instincts have endured. In “Walking In On People,” Balmain cogently depicts weighty situations and sentiments, such as aging and fear of loss, while weaving in hilarity and pop culture references to lighten the mood. Although Balmain’s style seems effortless, she revealed to the Brooklyn Eagle, “it often takes me dozens of drafts before I’m happy with a poem. I’ve been comforted to learn, over the years, that many of my humor-writing idols also find being funny a lot of work.”
Now the editor of Light, the country’s oldest journal devoted entirely to humorous poetry, Balmain told theEagle she is “thrilled to be in the company of some of the world’s funniest poets.” She helped to establish the journal’s online presence, and its first web-based issue came out in the summer of 2013. “Over the past year we’ve seen Light’s audience grow steadily,” Balmain said.
Balmain’s innate love for comical poetry and playful language shines through in her poems. In a poem titled “Brooklyn Anthem,” which she indicates should be read to the tune of “America the Beautiful,” Balmain pays homage to her roots while lyrically commenting on the city’s changing landscape. The poem reads:
— To the tune of “America the Beautiful”
O beautiful for pizza pies,
Falafel and knishes.
(Who cares if turf wars send some guys
To sleep among the fishes?)
A tasty melting pot!
( Just pick a good, safe neighborhood
Where you will not get shot.)
O beautiful for gentrified
Row houses and chai lattes.
(Ignore the bistros full of snide
Celebs who do Pilates.)
A place of rising means!
(The multitudes who cook its foods
Are moving out to Queens.)
From Walking in on People © Melissa Balmain, 2014. Used by permission of Able Muse Press.