A Sacrificial Zinc
By Matthew Cooperman
Louisiana State University Press
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
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
where father sat, pressures of his dark
forearms oiling the intricate weave,
eyes glistening to the radio's slow
A rapture shaped like wings, like
fathers flying over emerald lawns. He
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 offthey
lie on the page, rather stiff: "[Appel, Dutch, appellation,
name. Pyrus malus, symbol of fruitfulness, pome, a charm
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.