In this 31 Books in 30 Days series leading up to the March 14, 2019 announcement of the 2018 National Book Critics Circle award winners, NBCC board members review the thirty-one finalists. Today, NBCC VP/Membership Anjali Enjeti offers her appraisal of poetry finalist Erika Meitner’s 'Holy Moly Carry Me' (BOA Editions).
Erika Meitner’s thrilling Holy Moly Carry Me, the author’s fifth collection of poetry, possesses both a searing vulnerability and a vibrant musicality. Here are brutal images of violence intertwined with the resplendent purple mountain ranges of Appalachia. Here are the precious nuggets of motherhood and domesticity woven with anxieties about safety and security. Here, in this evocative and cruel world innocence dissolves, and in its wake, leaves a grim reality.
Isolation, infertility, genocide, poverty and the looming threat of gun violence haunt this radiant collection. Meitner acutely explores her identity as a Jewish mother raising one white son and one Black son in a region steeped in evangelical Christianity. It is the keen juxtaposition of these seemingly disparate themes that makes the collection so surprising and bold. “My neighbor / and I share a plate of onion rings and become / teary over our intimate infertility heartbreak. / She says, Good thing I got John a new / gun safe for Christmas.”
What is holy? That which is safe, undisturbed, natural. Yet even everyday tasks, like in the poem, “Our Holiday Letter,” carry with them an unrelenting grief.
feel blessed, and
wish you peace
in spite of our hardships, and
twenty children were gunned down
in an elementary school…
Meitner’s poems hit the perfect note between light and dark, the whimsical and the tragic. But underneath the surface danger lurks everywhere. Denial and the omission of certain truths become stalwart defense mechanisms. In “Hat Trick,” Meitner writes of her grandparents, who survived three different concentration camps during the Holocaust.
I haven’t told my son the stories
about my grandparents – the ill-fitting wooden
clogs all the prisoners wore through
the winter and stuffed with rags for the
long walk from the camps to the factory
and back in the snow.”
For sometimes, Meitner seamlessly evinces, that which is unknown can bring solace and comfort, too.
Anjali Enjeti’s articles, essays, and book reviews have appeared in Al Jazeera, The Paris Review, The Georgia Review, The Atlantic, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Minneapolis Star Tribune, and elsewhere. She teaches creative nonfiction in the MFA program at Reinhardt University, lives near Atlanta, and can be found on Twitter @anjalienjeti.