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Three Poetry Chapbooks
David C. Kopaska-Merkel
Runaway Spoon Press, Eraserhead Press, Smoldering Banyan Press

Results of a Preliminary Investigation of Electrochemical Properties of Some Organic Matrices
Y2K Survival Kit
David C. Kopaska-Merkel
David C. Kopaska-Merkel was born in Charlottesville, Pennsylvania, in 1957. He is a professional geologist in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, with his wife and 2 children. He earned his B.S. (in geology/biology) at William and Mary in 1978 and his Ph.D. in geology at the University of Kansas. Writing and publishing are his vocations; fossil collecting, reading and collecting the works of Walt Kelly, his hobbies.

underfoot, $3
the Runaway Spoon Press
Box 3621
Port Charlotte, FL 33949

Results of a Preliminary Investigation of Electrochemical Properties of Some Organic Matrices, $2.25
Eraserhead Press
16664 E Trevino Drive
Fountain Hills, AZ 85268

Y2K Survival Kit, $5
Smoldering Banyan Press
1300 19th Ave. E.
Tuscaloosa, AL 35404

David C. Kopaska-Merkel Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Trent Walters

David C. Kopaska-Merkel, editor of speculative poetry magazines Dreams and Nightmares and Star*Line, has three of his seven chapbooks out now by three separate presses. At the time of this review, Kopaska-Merkel states that "You might want to know that underfoot was the first and Y2K and Preliminary... are the two most recent. In between were 'a round white hole' from dbqp press, The Conspiracy Unmasked from Dark Regions press (still in print), hunger from Preternatural Press, and In the Land of Princesses from Indolent Dragon Press (a children's poem)."

Kopaska-Merkel's poetry is almost always conversational and playful in the best sense of the term, yet ranges at times from too opaque to too shallow. But at his most capable, Kopaska-Merkel stands alongside David Lunde and other SF poetry giants in writing some of the most emotionally poweful and meaningful genre poetry.

The introductions to Kopaska-Merkel, with the exception of that of Geof Huth, praise more than they enlighten. Kevin L. Donihe suggests that Kopaska-Merkel is the poet to lead us into the new millennium and that his poetry "glean[s] truth from absurdity" while W. Gregory Stewart suggests that Kopaska-Merkel's work "has helped define Science Fiction poetry," and his wit "flashes through his dark images." Geof Huth's introduction to underfoot is well-worth the expense if a reader wants to get to know Kopaska-Merkel's poetry on another level.

Results of a Preliminary Investigation of Electrochemical Properties of Some Organic Matrices has some of my favourite poems of his (please indulge my prejudice since as former co-editor of Mythic Circle I published one, but it was also one of the best pieces Mythic Circle has ever seen). Witness Kopaska-Merkel's imagination and playful love of language in:
"Billy Never Noticed":

They would lift the loose
tile near the sink, emerging
each midnight to dance
the rhumba, the cha-cha, even
the twist. Darlene mopped away
the black footprints in the morning before Billy awoke, but one night
she stayed up to watch. Their dances
reminded her of high school and those hot summer nights. She had to join in,
swinging each time with a new partner, flaring her nightgown like a pleated skirt. When the sun bloomed over the trees they hustled her away to the displaced tile.
"I'll never fit!"
she wailed, but she did, dwindling
to rat size
before slipping down the hole.
One of the others stayed behind to
mop the floor and make breakfast.

Kopaska-Merkel's "A Winter's Night" tells of a supernatural infidelity that backfires. The long poem "Valley of Years" recounts the figurative and literal journey of a couple as they weave in and out and back into love: "For days I work the city's bones, ... Sometimes you are there... You turn and vanish... as I run through the alleys redolent of cinnamon and nutmeg." The shorter poems -- "Sky Whales" and "Inside the Cloud" and "Shy Moon" -- are the weakest of the lot. It is not their brevity that does the damage but the quaintness of the situation. While poetry does not need to be somber and serious (as the work of Billy Collins, Albert Goldbarth or William Trowbridge deny), the quaintness of the conclusion to "Sky Whale" -- "The whale wonders if ants are tasty" -- attests to the general symptom of the genre not maintaining a high standard. Granted, not even contemporary poets have an entire book of great poetry, but the genre can accomplish more if the editors set a higher standard. But then, one may argue, is the purpose of the genre art or entertainment? The eternal question. Both, if possible. If not both, then art, says this reviewer. And that is the critical judgement by which the reader, looking for a book of poetry, must read this critique.

Results of a Preliminary Investigation of Electrochemical Properties of Some Organic Matrices closes with one of Kopaska-Merkel's most intriguing pieces: "Some of the Windows of My House" in which the narrator has presumably been looking through each of his many windows. Upon looking through the five hundredth, where we join the narrator, he spies a woman who screams upon seeing him see her. The ensuing windows unfold a Byzantine plot of the narrator's and this strange woman's fates.

The strength of Y2K Survival Kit lies in its attempt to encompass millennial and apocalyptic woes. The pieces overlap in a light-hearted manner, poking fun at our previous paranoia as in:
"Response 1: Biblical":

The computers did not recognize the date, and technology was confused,
and halting
and lo, there was much lamentation
throughout the land.
And the faithful were glad,
and taken them to a camp high in the mountains, where they might squat them
and survive...

"After the Fall" is another quote-worthy poem and perhaps the better, but this review can only go so long. Here a human narrator discusses the ramifications of having an affair with a cannibal tree and explains to it why the relationship would not work now -- maybe later. "Dreams of Starlight" and "Adrift", relating pessimistic (what more can you expect from the apocalyptic hype of Y2K?) tales of technology and the future of our species, are also poems of note. "Gardino strolls the dead city" holds interest in that by the narrator closing his eyes he can keep contact with the previous lives of the dead city. And finally, "his glass eye winking like a jewel" rounds out the collection with the O'Henryesque ending wherein a man explains to another that his ship had been attacked by alien nanos that had once wiped out its own civilization. The listener asks, "How did you fight them off?" to which the narrator replies, "There were no survivors."

Of the three chapbooks, underfoot is the most linguistically playful, using complex puns that don't immediately strike the reader: " 'In the desert,' begins the iguana, / 'Socialists are rare.' " (from "Under the gazebo's roof"). Most people have an immediate aversion to puns, without ever realizing "double entendre" is just a fancy name for the same thing. What should be differentiated are good and bad puns. Here the pun is rendered meaningful both by sound and sense.

At times underfoot achieves what the others do not: insight into the smaller details of life: "The window's shadow / illumines half the page, / then, shrinking from my words, / departs." (from "The odor after rain"). Now that is moving. Other poems of note included in this collection along a similar timbre are "bargun momb" and "collage". "Dear Santa," quoted below, is also from this collection.

But at other times, the poetry is quaint as in the two-word poem "When Pottsville five returned through time to snuff their maternal grandfather": "They didn't."

Of course, the genre roots sustain this type of work. Some will debate it should continue to do so. And it should if there are those who are entertained by it. Humour is a variable product. One man's groaner is another's knee slapper. Perhaps the key to humorous poetry is that if the humour is removed, it can still stand on its own.

A poet, however, must be judged by his best work, not his worst -- or else William Carlos Williams and William Stafford (among every other poet in the world) would be sorely missed from the canon. David C. Kopaska-Merkel is a poet worth reading. It is also worth watching for what he will do in the future, for speculative poets will be sure to follow his lead. What I (as other genre poetry readers should) eagerly await is a collection of selected poems, which if there were an annual prize for best book of speculative poetry, this would have to be a contender, if not the winner. And just in case a Christmas anthologist is reading this review, here's a poem to anthologize to augment this poet's visibility.
"Dear Santa,"

I don't want much this year,
just a few itmes for myself:
a couple of doughnuts,
the kind with real custard filling (lemon), I can't find those around anymore.
Besides that, the toys I always wanted as a child, please make me want them again.
If I have any credit left,
distribute it among the poor;
give them whatever they want the most.
And Santa,
you can throw away the list I sent last year.
I know there are quite a few items there that you never brought me,
but that's okay,
I don't remember why I wanted them.

Copyright © 2001 Trent Walters

Trent Walters co-edits Mythic Circle, is a 1999 graduate of Clarion West, is working on a book of interviews with science fiction writers.

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