Stefanie Wielkopolan, Border Theory: Selected Poems. Detroit: Black Coffee Press, 2011. Poetry. 61 pages. ISBN: 978-0982744048.
Border Theory is the debut poetry collection by Stefanie Wielkopolan. Wielkopolan grew up in Michigan, but got her MFA at Chatham University and currently resides in Pittsburgh. In spite of us sharing the same small city and the same small but vibrant poetry community, I had never heard of or met Wielkopolan. We weren’t even friends on Facebook (gasp!), so I went into this collection knowing only what I have mentioned above about Wielkopolan, and excited to read a collection by a young poet living in Pittsburgh.
The title Border Theory is quite apt – the place of each poem is set up in relation to other places in the book. You travel in a relatively straightforward way – from Michigan to Pittsburgh to Germany to Kentucky. While Wielkopolan leads you on a physical journey from point A to point B with little back and forth between spaces, each space is not so often described by what or where it is, as often as it is described by how far it is from another space in the book, or how it is different from another space. Places are measured not in city blocks or square mileage, but in hours away from one another, in miles of distance between the people residing in them.
In addition to a linear progression through space, there is also a distinctly linear progression through time in Border Theory. The poems set in Michigan tend to be about the speaker’s parents and grandparents, about the speaker's childhood. Transition poems from Michigan to Pittsburgh feel like poems that are also about the transition from childhood into adulthood, and so on. This time/space progression deftly reinforces the ideas of borders, with each move from one point to the next almost a rite of passage for the speaker. The only point at which this linear progression of time breaks off is when the speaker visits Germany, at which point some of the poems become about WWII. This is also the only point in the book when the events of the poems do not take place within the speaker’s lifetime or family.
While Wielkopolan brings the reader through a linear journey, the reader often is brought into a poem after the action - poems often seem to be recollections or explanations of aftermath and consequences rather than descriptions of action themselves. When paired with the plain, almost conversational language of the poems, this lends the poetry of Border Theory to a wisdom of careful reflection within the poems’ lines.
I ultimately felt very satisfied by Border Theory upon completion of the book. If you are going to read it, I would definitely recommend reading straight through, from beginning to end in order to truly take the physical and emotional journey mapped out in miles and hours.
Border Theory is available from the publisher website,
Black Coffee Press: http://www.blackcoffeepress.net
and from select bookstores.
Review by Margaret Bashaar
Co-host of The TypewriterGirls, editor of the anthology Make It So, and author of Barefoot and Listening (Tilt Press, 2009)