Why I Chose Erika Meitner’s Copia for The Rumpus Poetry Book Club

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Because this book is written with the attentive eye of an unrequited lover, who repeats and repeats and repeats even the most unlikely manifestations of the beloved’s beauty—vacant retail space, a shopping cart, a lost plastic yellow shovel, a coiled terrycloth turban, an abandoned Packard Plant, “the plastic kerchief my grandmother would wear over her wig and tie under her chin on days it rained,” the Walmart parking lot, and Krylon paint—the catalogs in Copia overflow with ardor and longing.
Because many of the poems’ lines are so long, the book’s width had to be expanded to accommodate their breadth. Meitner’s capacious poems could not be contained on a standard page.
Because she seems to question the ability of the lineated poem to hold all her poems must contain, she often eschews line breaks entirely and goes for clean prose blocks. These look like high rises or shipping containers or big box stores.
Sometimes she’s playful and jagged and frenetic on the page because that’s how life looks sometimes, and Copia is about life as it is lived here and now, where “the world / we expect is hewn from wood, is maybe two lanes wide, / has readily identifiable produce, and the one we’ve got has jackknifed itself / on the side of the interstate and keeps skidding.”

Copia

Because there are “whole vanished towns that exist now / only in books,” because “The people who sang to their children in Yiddish and worked in Yiddish / and made love in Yiddish are nearly gone,” because the Packard plant has been gone over half a century—the jobs it promised: gone—and because “whole neighborhoods / fade away like that,” Meitner has “pried open [her] pages” to write a book “in which we are all in limbo.”
Because so many of these poems are about a city (Detroit) and a country (America) and a time (now) and a dream (“This is the single greatest story of American success”), there are babies in these poems alongside the bleakness. The babies are growing and will need to be fed, and their mothers can find food and tube socks at Walmart.
“We will remain the same: abundant and impossible to fill,” she writes. “Everything beautiful is not far away,” she writes. These things she writes are just what they are: mundane and miraculous. Like Niagara Falls, which, one poem reminds us, is bleak and also one of the wonders of the world.
Because there is hope amidst the dissolution, because one is called “Interrobang” (an exclamation inside a question), because they remind us that “objects around us are not strangers,” because they remind us that “mercy has a human heart,” the poems in Copia are poems we need right now.

Camille T. Dungy is author of Smith Blue; Suck on the Marrow; and What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison. She is also editor of Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, co-editor of From the Fishouse: An Anthology of Poems that Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great, and assistant editor of Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem’s First Decade. Dungy has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, Cave Canem, the Dana Award, and Bread Loaf, is the winner of the 2011 American Book Award, a two-time recipient of the Northern California Book Award, and silver medal winner in the 2011 California Book Award. A two-time NAACP Image Award nominee, she has been shortlisted for the 2011 Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Award, the 2011 Balcones Poetry Prize, the PEN Center USA 2007 Literary Award, and the Library of Virginia 2007 Literary Award. Dungy is currently a professor in the Creative Writing Department at San Francisco State University. Her poems and essays have been published widely in anthologies and print and online journals. http://www.camilledungy.com/ More from this author →