Ideal Cities by Erika Meitner

Ideal Cities by Erika Meitner, whom I interviewed in 2009, was published in 2010 by Harper Perennial as part of the National Poetry Series selected by Paul Guest. The collection is broken down into two sections: Rental Towns and Ideal Cities.  Rental towns appears to be at first glance about the transient nature of apartment or rental living, but on a deeper level its about the transient nature of our lives and how quickly we all want to grow up and become adults.  There zipping through memories and moments reminds us that our childhood moves too quickly and so innocence is gone before we realize it.  “The windows on the soon-to-be luxury/condos across the way say things/to the darkness I can’t hear.  Sometimes/they’re blocked by the train masticating/its way across town.  Now and then//” (from Vinyl-Sided Epiphany, page 5-6)

Each poem is ripe with stunning imagery, like in “January Towns” (page 38-9),  “. . . Sometimes the light/above the clouds winks out a full-size replica/of our lives.  We are crystals of frozen water;//”  Not only is life transient in nature as we move from one moment to the next, but it is also frozen in time for us to review at anytime in our memories.  A bit of us, as we were is frozen, captured.  We seek to capture those moments not only in our minds, but in photos and videos, and in some moments we see ourselves in the past and wonder who those people are.  From “Poem With/out a Face” (page 16-7), “Desire is serendipity,/is pity, is blind,is danger,is not/obligation, is poking the most/alien thing with a stick to see/if it stirs and clings, the way/”  Some memories are clearer than others, which is true even of those moments in our lives that we thought we’d remember forever through a clear, clean lens, only to find the lens is murky and obscured.

In the second section, “Ideal Cities,” Meitner’s poems are not about a utopia in the true sense of the word, like a world without crime, etc., but they are about the communities that reside in each city, with their diversity, quirkiness, and pain.  There are a great deal of images in these poems that pay homage to the sounds of cities, from construction equipment to the silence of social networking.  This section is smaller than the first, but tackles tougher subjects like the Holocaust, though both sections glance at pregnancy and birth.  From “Elegy With Construction Sounds, Water, Fish” (page 75-7), “There is music, and there is music./There is water from a plastic pitcher/hitting slate pavers, silenced by skin./There are valleys with houses tucked/into them and something trilling/”  From birth to death and city to the suburbs, Meitner’s focus is on the journey that life takes, even its most devastating parts.

Meitner’s poetry has a quickness that illustrates the transient nature of the modern world, and her poems beg the question of whether modernity is ideal or whether suburbia is ideal.  Readers will examine each of these poems and discover that the answer to that question lies within themselves.  The poet endorses neither one nor the other, but she does examine the old world versus the new world.  Ideal Cities by Erika Meitner is an enigmatic collection with moments on clarity and stunning imagery that highlights the transient nature of the modern world whether you live in the city or in suburbia.

Also check out the poem from this collection that was under discussion in the 109th Virtual Poetry Circle.

© Photo by Steve Trost, 2009

About the Poet:

Erika Meitner was born and raised in Queens and Long Island, New York. She attended Dartmouth College (for an A.B. in Creative Writing in 1996), Hebrew University on a Reynolds Scholarship, and the University of Virginia, where she received her M.F.A. in 2001 as a Henry Hoyns Fellow. Meitner is a first-generation American: her father is from Haifa, Israel; her mother was born in Stuttgart, Germany, which is where her maternal grandparents settled after surviving Auschwitz, Ravensbruck, and Mauthausen concentration camps

She is currently an Assistant Professor of English at Virginia Tech, where she teaches in the MFA program, and is also simultaneously completing her doctorate in Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, where she was the Morgenstern Fellow in Jewish Studies.


This is my 21st book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.


This is my 43rd book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

109th Virtual Poetry Circle

Welcome to the 109th Virtual Poetry Circle!

Remember, this is just for fun and is not meant to be stressful.

Keep in mind what Molly Peacock’s books suggested. Look at a line, a stanza, sentences, and images; describe what you like or don’t like; and offer an opinion. If you missed my review of her book, check it out here.

Also, sign up for the 2011 Fearless Poetry Reading Challenge because its simple; you only need to read 1 book of poetry. Please contribute to the growing list of 2011 Indie Lit Award Poetry Suggestions, visit the stops on the National Poetry Month Blog Tour from April.

Today’s poem is from Erika Meitner‘s (I interviewed her in 2009) Ideal Cities:

O Edinburgh (page 18)

it was night & we were always drunk
    or it was day (gray day) & I'd buy
              boxes of clementines on my way
    from school & keep them outside
my window on the sill so they'd stay
    cool -- O Edinburgh, where we'd
              mash ourselves together on that shelf
    of bed after you lined up shoes
to toss, one by one, at the heater
    on the wall -- open coils that glowed
              orange for 15-minute increments
    like a toaster, & when you'd hit
the button your shoes would thud
    like large fish tails slapping the sides
              of a boat & we rose with the wind's
    current, its November brogue, &
O Edinburgh, it spoke in tongues,
    flapped doors open & shut, howled
              until I couldn't remember exactly
    what happened in the dark except
that we curled ourselves up into
    the smallest specks until I wept
              over a horoscope & someone else's
    tattoo & I never loved you because
I was a wall of a city I had never been to

Let me know your thoughts, ideas, feelings, impressions. Let’s have a great discussion…pick a line, pick an image, pick a sentence.

I’ve you missed the other Virtual Poetry Circles. It’s never too late to join the discussion.

Mailbox Monday #137

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch.  This month our host is Life in the Thumb.  Kristi of The Story Siren continues to sponsor her In My Mailbox meme.  Both of these memes allow bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received this week:

From Borders, which is the only local book store in my town and had the best employees who had great recommendations every time I went in; it also was the only store with a good three-to-four shelves of poetry near me and outside the immediate D.C. city:

1.  The Postcard Killers by James Patterson and Liza Marklund, which I bought for my mom’s birthday (good thing she doesn’t read the blog).

2.  Twilight: The Graphic Novel Volume 1 by Stephenie Meyer and adapted by Young Kim

3.  Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan, which I bought to complete the Ireland Reading Challenge and because I just missed out on the TLC Book Tour.

4.  Ideal Cities by Erika Meitner; yes, this is just one of the books I snagged from the poetry section.

5.  The Broken Word by Adam Foulds

6.  Here, Bullet by Brian Turner

7.  Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea by Nikki Giovanni, which I picked up because I loved her selection of poems in (Hip Hop Speaks to Children (my review)

8.  Ballistics by Billy Collins

9. Falling Up by Shel Silverstein

10. Don't Bump the Glump! by Shel Silverstein

11. Runny Babbit by Shel Silverstein

12. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

13. Peter Rabbit's Tale by Beatrix Potter

14. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss; our version says its made with recycled paper.

15. Dr. Seuss's Circus McGurkus 1,2,3! (plush)

From Anna for Wiggles:

16. Winnie the Pooh and Piglet's Book of Opposites

17. Winnie the Pooh All Year Long

18. Adventures of Rusty & Ginger Fox by Tim Ostermeyer

And books that came in the mail for review:

19. The Tree It Was by Sandra Fuhringer

What did you receive this week?