A master of documentary poetry, Erika Meitner takes up the question of desire and intimacy in her latest collection of poems.
In her previous five collections of poetry, Erika Meitner has established herself as one of America’s most incisive observers, cherished for her remarkable ability to temper catastrophe with tenderness. In her newest collection Useful Junk, Meitner considers what it means to be a sexual being in a world that sees women as invisible—as mothers, customers, passengers, worshippers, wives. These poems render our changing bodies as real and alive, shaped by the sense memories of long-lost lovers and the still thrilling touch of a spouse after years of parenthood, affirming that we are made of every intimate moment we have ever had. Letter poems to a younger poet interspersed throughout the collection question desire itself and how new technologies—Uber, sexting, Instagram—are reframing self-image and shifting the ratios of risk and reward in erotic encounters.
With dauntless vulnerability, Meitner travels a world of strip malls, supermarkets, and subway platforms, remaining porous and open to the world, always returning to the intimacies rooted deep within the self as a shout against the dying earth. Boldly affirming that pleasure is a vital form of knowledge, Useful Junk reminds us that our selves are made real and beautiful by our embodied experiences and that our desire is what keeps us alive.
“Erika Meitner’s Useful Junk is composed of poems that are tragicomic-erotic-nostalgic with a twist of existential dread and a cherry of wit on top. Meitner’s speaker is most comfortable, or most able to endure her discomfort, when she’s on the move, in airport terminals and on subway platforms, between the domestic present tense and the erotic subterfuge of memory, sex, and poetry, between selfhood and the selfie. These daring poems exist at the intersection of usefulness and junk, where I, you, and we are tenuously twined ‘together like an interrobang’ until we drop anchor or disappear.”
—Diane Seuss, author of frank: sonnets
“There are so many layers of revelation embodied in Erika Meitner’s Useful Junk, and so many selves allowed to speak and shine here. This book is more than I thought a book could be. Sharp and funny and horny and transcendent and generous and human as hell, it is the very book of poems all my selves have been waiting for. ‘Listen,’ the poet says here, ‘we are making art because we want to inhabit everything / and not fear it.’ Done and done, Erika Meitner. Done and done.”
—Carrie Fountain, author of The Life
“Useful Junk is indisputably addictive, graced by the poet’s signature clutch on quirky, her dazzling and exhaustive range, and a dexterity with lyric that consistently upends the ordinary. An Erika Meitner poem is not only enviable art—it’s a loosening of what ties us to the ordinary. And the long-anticipated arrival of this new work is cause for unbridled celebration, a necessary reminder that great poetry always arrives just when we need it.”
— Patricia Smith, author of Incendiary Art: Poems
- Cecily Hemley Award