We’ve all experienced, I hope, the sense of reading a book of poems that feels perfect for a specific moment, as though it had been written in response to what we’re going through right now. There’s a sense of immediacy to the work, an urgency. It’s almost never actually the case, of course. Most poetry collections take years to write and even more years still to find a home with a publisher, and so on. This is a slow, slow business.
But the feeling is real all the same. Usually it’s caused, I think, by the pattern-recognition parts of our brains forming connections between what we’re reading and what we’re experiencing. I felt this happening to me while I read Andrés Cerpa’s second collection, The Vault, forthcoming from Alice James Books on June 15 but available to Poetry Book Club members in just a few weeks.
Before I tell you more, a quick reminder that in order to receive your early copy of The Vault, read along with the Poetry Book Club, and participate in our exclusive chat with Andrés Cerpa, you’ll need to subscribe by April 15!
Here’s what I mean: If you look at The Vault’s table of contents, the collection is basically made up of two poems, but somehow that doesn’t feel like an accurate description. There are two long sequences, but the pieces don’t cohere into long poems, at least not as I generally think of a long poem. Instead, they are fragments, and in the first section often read like parts of letters to different recipients. The fragmented nature of these poems contributes significantly to why they feel so immediate for me right now. I don’t know that I’d feel that same immediacy if I’d read them five years ago, for example. I had a different sense of time and narrative then. The last five years have done a lot to change the way I see, well, everything. Between the Trump years and the COVID-19 pandemic, time moves differently now, and so does the way I expect to respond to art. The dislocation I feel while reading this collection echoes in the uncertainties I’ve come to view as just a fact of life now.
Yet it’s more than just the form. Cerpa’s collection is loaded with grief and loss, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve kept close company with both of those emotions over the last year in particular. The driving factor for the grief in The Vault is a father’s suicide, and the speaker spins into addiction as an attempt to cope. Cerpa doesn’t focus much on the details of either narrative, though. Instead, he inhabits the grief and loss, and that’s what made me connect so strongly to this writing. Because grief and loss aren’t always (ever?) coherent experiences, especially not while you’re in them. Over time, we maybe find ways to create a narrative that allows us to not let these emotions consume us every moment of the day—but this book doesn’t inhabit that “after” space.
That, for me, is why The Vault feels so much of this moment; hopefully, someday we’ll be able to form a narrative of the last year (or five years) that will help us grasp what’s happened to us, but we’re not ready for that moment yet. Instead, we need to wade through the experiences of grief and loss, and allow them to be nonlinear.
I look forward to reading and discussing this collection through the month of May with our members. If you subscribe to the Rumpus Poetry Book Club by April 15, you’ll receive your early copy of The Vault, and will be invited to take part in our exclusive online chat with Andrés Cerpa in early June. I hope you’ll join us!