Dreaming of exotic travel? The sun never sets on Beth Copeland’s poems in Transcendental Telemarketer. This remarkable collection explores the locales of India, Japan and Wake Forest, North Carolina and there’s an added bonus: this book will also take you on a Zen journey of the sacred in the natural world.
The first section begins with “Still Life With One Apple.” Reading this one page meditation on memory, Greek mythology, Noah and the Ark, and Georgia O’Keefe, I knew I was in the presence of someone with a global vision. And when the poem ended, “I ate the apple to make it whole,” I knew I was in the presence of an artist of the light and a manipulator of negative space to define what is by what it is not.
Copeland’s poems in Transcendental Telemarketer combine a recollection of youthful (but never cloying) female innocence with wry humor and a fierce compassion. Copeland delivers pop references to Casper the Friendly Ghost, Ricky Nelson, Howdy Doody, Zenith televisions with vacuum tubes, the Amazing Kreskin, and the Beatles. She also mentions Lord & Taylor and Nagasaki. Her poems synthesize the numinous with the ordinary and the ridiculous.
“My Life as a Slut” is structured by the age of the speaker but not in chronological order.
Age 21: My mother calls me a “harlot,” “Jezebel,” and “strumpet” after I stay
out all night with my boyfriend. I roll my eyes and say, “If we’re going to have
this conversation, at least update your vocabulary. The word is ‘slut.”
I love these lines because I believe in these individuals depicted and their relationship. “Strumpet”? How Shakespearean. These lines confer a poxy dignity on the twenty-one-year-old daughter while indicating how the mother is educated, articulate, and speaks with a certain formality even when she is angry and upset. The daughter seizes the moment to divert the conversation from sex to vocabulary. She indicates a willingness to have a dialogue by making it conditional on using the appropriate slang.
Another poem in the first section “Conditional Constructs” takes a different tone. The constructs of the title are if/then based.
…If I am the key to a door that doesn’t lock
You are the house in North Carolina next to the railroad tracks.
If you are the scent of ripe peaches in a blue enamel bowl,
I am the sandalwood heart inside the peach.
If I am wisteria vines on a dead pine,
You are the kudzu climbing the telephone pole.
Interestingly, wisteria is native to Japan and the east as well as to North Carolina. Kudzu thrives and is an invasive import to North Carolina from Japan. Both vines are parasitic. Still, they have a certain majesty and beauty. These and other plants such as pear trees, iris, water oaks, and poppies dapple Copeland’s verses and enhance the sensuality of her images and language.
The second section of Transcendental Telemarketer contains a poem titled, “Canzone.” Within the poem, Copeland defines a canzone. No, she says, it’s not some kind of pizza. “It’s an Italian lyric with repeated end words,” which is perhaps less well known than sestinas and pantoums or ghazals, but as in her canzone in homage to another poet, Agaha Shahid Ali, the canzone is musical and satisfying. It has a rhythm and slant rhyme and vowels that taste lush.
The lengthiest poem in the book is “The Origins of Silk.” It informs, celebrates and scolds and calls to awareness and action. Despite the title, it is not just the origins of silk that are covered but its history, manufacture, cost, and ultimate destination. The poem says, as almost all good poems do, pay attention.
Section three of Transcendental Telemarketer contains the poem of the same title. The person in the poem is offered an all-expense paid vacation to Paradise, Heaven, Nirvana, Valhalla, Olympus, or the Promised Land by telemarketers that will not take no for an answer. I won’t spoil the ending for you. The poems in this last third of the book have the scent of intimacy. In “Drawing Lesson” Copeland addresses her sixteen year old son, Joe.
“…When the skylark bones of your hand soar in an arc
of swift, penciled flight, when you trace the line
of rain falling straight from heaven to earth,
you will know how to draw from life.
At the end of the book, I was forced to wake from my dream of travel, of being myself and yet of being someone else. I returned to my own waking life safe but changed a little. You will, too.
Beth Copeland’s book Traveling Through Glass received the 1999 Bright Hill Press Poetry Book Award and her second poetry collection Transcendental Telemarketer was named first runner-up in the 2012 Oscar Arnold Young Contest for the best collection of poetry from North Carolina.Two of her poems have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is an English instructor at Methodist University.