Copia by Erika Meitner

Reviewed By

Collectively, the poems of Copia ask: is plenty enough? This question resonates with conversations about commercialism and consumption. Meitner frames these dialogues in the first poem, a litany, where she tells us, “Objects around us are emitting light, transgressing,” and “Objects around us are blank and seamless[;]” they are also “durable” and “not strangers.” They “shimmer.” Objects both “wrap us in compassion” and “are no substitute for anything” (11-12). From this poem, “Litany of Our Radical Engagement with the Material World,” Meitner’s Copia may seem an anti-capitalist jeremiad; and, for some readers, it may be. Yet, here is Meitner at Wal-Mart, driving her “enormous cart / through the aisles and fill[ing] it with Pampers, tube socks, juice boxes, fruit.” Here Meitner finds gratitude for “small mercies.” She moves, like most of us, through these commercialized spaces, touching polyester, appreciating how it can be “used over and over again” (13). Meitner finds in the world of Wal-Mart and Niagara words of love “written with the motel pen” (24-5). This gift of Copia: its plenitude and the space and time Meitner takes exploring it.


What is enough? In a world where anything and everything a human might desire seems to be available for purchase twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, the question, what is enough?, takes on new purchase. When is plenty enough? Perhaps when loss strikes through the desire and pleasure of consumption.


Against the copia of contemporary life is the emptiness of loss in Meitner’s poetry. Loss is multifocal and multivalent for Meitner. She writes about the loss of her grandmother, “we wept and wept / over my grandmother[.]” The rabbi’s suggestion to “recite psalms / as comfort” is discarded in favor of listening “to each other / breathe[;]”the sister’s breath was “the coiled / terrycloth turban our grandmother wore when she cooked / or walked to the shallow end of her condo pool for exercise” (39). The copious availability of consumer products does not diminish loss.


Lost with the grandmother are connections to her great-grandchildren. Also lost, another Yiddish speaker. Meitner opens “Yiddishland:”


The people who sang to their children in Yiddish and worked in Yiddish

and made love in Yiddish are nearly all gone. Phantasmic. Heym (42).


Mourning the grandmother, Meitner asks, “Can we tell this story in Yiddish? Put the words in the right places?” (42) She concludes, “we are poor guardians of memory” (43). Unlike products for consumption, memory is not plentiful.


In Copia, loss is encountered not only through death. Meitner explores her own “secondary fertility,” mourning her “body as terra nullius,” as “the territory no one will inhabit” (67). She powerfully contrasts her body “as cavernous, as broke-down” as houses in Detroit, mocking medical residents saying “the houses love me” and “the houses don’t talk back or ask how the procedure went” (67). This metaphoric rond de jambe animates the series of poems about Detroit.


Meitner’s documentary poems about Detroit include “The Book of Dissolution,” “Post-Industrialization,” “All That Blue Fire,” “Outside the Abandoned Packard Plant,” “And After the Ark,” “Inside the Frame,” “Outside the Frame,” and “Borderama.” Most of these poems are in the final section of the book, but these poems seem to haunt the other poems. Commissioned by Ted Genoways at the Virginia Quarterly Review, these poems are part of a documentary reporting trip that Meitner made to Detroit in August 2010. These poems transcend their documentary intention. Yes, they capture some of the now iconic images of decay in Detroit—particularly the Packard Plan and abandoned schools—but Meitner transforms this content with her own experiences and through her copious lens. Meitner weaves her experiences of being used up, discarded, unproductive with the building and people of Detroit in these poems. For example, visiting The Heidelberg Project, she observes:


and all the flesh that stirred in the city persisted

the buildings held their ground and used trees

to anchor themselves to the land (77).


This persistence of flesh, of buildings holding their ground, and trees anchoring themselves to the land suggests that perhaps there is enough. Outside the frame, we might realize, “sometimes there’s just nobody around to say you can’t” (82). Outside the frame, we might realize, we have plenty.


erika-meitner-448As Camille T. Dungy notes, Meitner’s poems cannot be contained in the usual trim sizes of poetry books. Copia is large, oversized, commanding. The physical construction of the book accommodates the multitude of forms for her poems that Meitner employs. The physical object of the book brings pleasure to those attuned to the aesthetics of book-making. The interplay between the poems and the construction of the book invites the consideration of the relationship between physical objects and ideas, between things and emotions, between the detritus of life and the ephemerality of humanness. What size is enough for poems? What space is enough? Where is plenitude within poems? Where is plenitude within the space of poems?


When is it plenty? When is it enough? In Copia, Meitner gathers material from disparate places—big box stores, her grandmother, Yiddish speakers, her life in Blacksburg, VA, travel to Detroit—to consider these questions. The parts that she gathers, the fragments of language, the physical pieces of life, the things left behind, lost, abandoned are greater as a collection than any object individually. Things are more whole together, contained, bound. Meitner assembles plenitude only to ask, is plenty enough? That is the richness, the abundance of Copia.


Julie R. Enszer, PhD, is a scholar and a poet. Her book manuscript, A Fine Bind, is a history of lesbian-feminist presses from 1969 until 2009. Her scholarly work has appeared or is forthcoming in Southern Cultures, Journal of Lesbian Studies, American Periodicals, WSQ, and Frontiers. She is the author of four poetry collections, Avowed (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2016), Lilith’s Demons (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2015), Sisterhood (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2013) and Handmade Love (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2010). She is editor of The Complete Works of Pat Parker (Sinister Wisdom/A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2016), which won the 2017 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Poetry, and Milk & Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2011), which was a finalist for the 2012 Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Poetry. She has her MFA and PhD from the University of Maryland. Enszer edits and publishes Sinister Wisdom, a multicultural lesbian literary and art journal, and a regular book reviewer for the The Rumpus and Calyx. You can read more of her work at More from this author →