Arielle Greenberg

A Sacrificial Zinc
By Matthew Cooperman
Louisiana State University Press
ISBN 0-8071-2733-7

Matthew Cooperman's first book, A Sacrificial Zinc, is likewise interested in the play between narrative and abstraction, but the result feels more cerebral and less heady. In these poems, many of which explore a 1970s Californian childhood, full of Big Wheels and leisure-suited men, the poet employs fragment and nontraditional forms to tell a story slant.

Cooperman has a way with disjointed syntax, as in the prose poem "In Time:" "Little boy picks up his plastic tricycle and watches the bruise on his elbow spread into some kind of sign. He wonders where his mother is, years from now who she is. Enters has a voice." In this poem, as in others, there is a tender consideration of the speaker's parents that seems heartfelt, as do the several longer poems in A Sacrificial Zinc, such as "Two Waters," about a childhood spent near the sea and under the influence of pop culture. But "In Time" also includes the line "Lao Tzu is poolside, dozing in Marin," and this move, a forcing together of the spiritual and the everyday, feels self-conscious rather than seamless.

The poet does occasionally innovate, as in the poem "(Re)Cento," in which he brings back images and ideas from poems throughout the rest of the book-interesting, but only if you have read the book cover to cover, which most people do not do with poetry collections.

And many poems here would be even more powerful were they not trying so hard to be innovative, as in the first lines of the poem "Traveling Papers:" "Creak of this or that. Furniture. Ankle joint. Joists in the floors where mice. The filter of water from an upstairs place." These are not particularly surprising details, so why spend the time separating them out and trying to make them seem less direct than they really are?

Certainly, Cooperman uses words well, and in the most emotionally-rooted poems, he uses this gift to great effect, as in the opening section of "What I've Called Elsewhere:"

     A reclining chair in childhood. A sag
     where father sat, pressures of his dark
     forearms oiling the intricate weave, young
     eyes glistening to the radio's slow geometry.

     A rapture shaped like wings, like imagining
     fathers flying over emerald lawns. He sings
                 the evening paper into air.

This is quite beautiful, but as lovely as the image is, it once again seems to be trying so hard that it strains rather than soars, which is unfortunate, because one can tell that Cooperman wants to have fun. In the poem "Them Apples," he plays off of names and slogans about apples, but once again, the words do not take off—they lie on the page, rather stiff: "[Appel, Dutch, appellation, name. Pyrus malus, symbol of fruitfulness, pome, a charm for lovers.]"

Nonetheless, for those who enjoy intellectual meditations and dense diction, A Sacrificial Zinc may prove a good read. One poem, 'World Said," ends with the great line "our trebled spur riffling the thick of it"-in his best moments, Cooperman does riffle language in a provocative way.




© 2003 Electronic Poetry Review