Micro-Review: The Bees Make Money in the Lion by Lo Kwa Mei-en

Francine Conley

Lo Kwa Mei-en’s second collection of poems, The Bees Make Money in the Lion, is a loaded, postmodern experience. As if to channel versions of dystopia, Mei-en crafts poems that embrace the notion of discordance at its fullest. Most of the poems explore, to a great extent, the idea of identity as it relates to aliens, citizens, gender, androids, and generically speaking, immigrants. The poems’ titles provide the most continuity insofar as many of them repeat certain words (aubade, pastoral, alien, babel), a gesture that provides some thematic continuity. As a whole, however, the collection works hard to disassemble continuity, challenging the reader’s comfort levels. In place of a storyline, language swirls and swarms. Cohesive meaning falters in poems grafted from heady fragments such as: “Motherboard, I am thoughtless when I should resemble jazz, / new, not news. My face is a phobia / let go.” Or, “Lo, I am lions.” Lines like these borrow from high and low registers, and words strung together without a formal apology make no promise to a reader seeking easy meanings. If the reader lets go, however, she might enjoy the discordant play at stake in these poems.

There are a few that bear the disguise of a clear storyline, such as “Romance with Blackout,” but most in the collection dispense with transparency and prefer sonic anarchy. It seems fair to say Mei-en fancies clever word combinations and melodic meltdowns. As a whole, the collection could be attractive to anyone tired of so-called traditional poems. If you enjoy inharmonious syntax and agitated language, there are many poems that excite here, replete with blips like: “the hive of distance” or “the bliss against blitz.” But those seeking comfort will be frustrated by the collection, as many of the poems puzzle. What does it all mean? Yes, life is alien and alienating, as these poems attest, and perhaps nonsense for those who feel like aliens inwardly can be a certain refuge. For poems that cut off, that fracture the speaker’s voice, and that conjure peculiar figures like “Human system, you white glaciar with an animal’s face / filled kings sleep in,” this book is an antidote. Those pleasure-seekers might view this collection as the hive making money in the lion they have been reading so many poems to find.