NORTH CAROLINA L I T E R A R Y RE V I E W
adamantly wished for years ago in contemporary American poetry. There is nothing timid about these poems. Like Ackerman’s book, Transcendental Telemarketer is divided into three sections. Yet even from the epigraphs of the sections, one can immediately spot the dreamier sensibility of this book. Whereas Ackerman’s vision is singularly and intensely focused on a desire for home, Copeland’s book adds up to a yearning that is more expansive. You can feel that yearning in the gist of the epigraphs for the three sections: starting anew, life as a foreign country, and water’s attempt to return to its source. Her vision is not only large, but filled with wanderlust, curiosity, and conscience. The whole second section contains poems about other cultures, especially that of Japan. “The Origins of Silk” is notable – a long, sad, syllabic poem that tells the plight of children who work in deplorable conditions so that rich people on the other side of the globe can wear silk. Copeland, as might be expected, likes to experiment with sound play and form. Among others, the pantoum, sestina, canzone, mirror poem, and rhymed couplets all make an appearance. The liberties the poet sometimes takes with form give the poems a more contemporary feeling. “And One More Thing . . . ,” the book’s last poem, a pantoum, offers a variation on the repeated lines instead of repeating them verbatim, as one can see in these first three stanzas of the poem: My mind races as I leave the house. What if I forgot to lock the door? What if I forgot to alphabetize the baby’s blocks? I should go back, just to be sure. If I forgot to knock three times before locking the door, I’ll have bad luck. Did I wash my hands? I should, just to be sure I don’t catch a flesh-eating strep infection. I’ll have bad luck if I don’t wash my hands. Better spray some Lysol on the phone, so I don’t catch bubonic plague or get a bad connection. Did I forget to count the hairs in my brush?
Quite a few other poems, especially in the book’s final section, are in form. The poems that follow
Beth Copeland is an English instructor at Methodist University in Fayetteville, NC. She received her BA in English from St. Andrews Presbyterian University, located in Laurinburg, NC, and her MFA in
Japanese tradition take on a more meditative tone, a move that Copeland is particularly good at. The tanka “Mikimoto Pearls” has the spareness that one would expect, with the leaps and a certain amount of randomness from one part to the next. Yet each fiveline part holds together like a small poem: White nights of worry. Craters of ice on the moon. A cup of warm milk. Obsession’s a rosary of fear and anxiety.
The longer poems of the collection often spill – sometimes even sprawl – onto the page, depending heavily on voice. These poems gain energy when the lines unspool, as they do in “Self-Portrait as a House,” where the speaker tells of all the houses in which she has lived – aptly including her body. The poem ends with a line about the poet’s first name: “In this house that rhymes with death.” The reader is given the opportunity to participate in the poem by supplying the name Beth, as if it’s the answer to a riddle. By the end of these longer poems, that same reader feels an intimate connection with the speaker that is hard to achieve in a shorter poem. In the end, the pleasures of reading Ackerman’s Coal River Road and Copeland’s Transcendental Telemarketer go back to the microscope and the telescope. Ackerman lays out a smaller territory for the reader to know by heart, particulars and peculiarities included: house fire, lint roller, rabbit jar, funeral pillow, applesauce cake. Copeland, on the other hand, takes the reader from home to Japan to paradise, giving us angels, pearls, a third eye, and a persistent telemarketer along the way; it’s a broader sweep. One poet takes her familiar Appalachian mountain life and makes it somewhat strange; the other takes the exotic, the strange, and makes it somewhat familiar. Each is inspired by a different muse. For Ackerman, there is a yearning for story and a feeling of urgency to hold onto what is becoming lost. For Copeland, the pull is toward boldness and beauty, as well as naming what makes up the past to let it go, defining truths and what’s unfair in the world. n
Creative Writing from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Her first collection of poems, Traveling through Glass (Bright Hill Press, 1999), received the Bright Hill Press Poetry Book Award.