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Beth Copeland

The child of missionaries, Beth Copeland was born in Japan, where she spent her early childhood, as well as in India and the United States. Her first full-length poetry book Traveling through Glass received the 1999 Bright Hill Press Poetry Book Award. Her second book Transcendental Telemarketer was published by BlazeVOX in 2012. Beth received her MFA degree from Bowling Green State University in Ohio and teaches creative writing at her undergraduate alma mater, St. Andrews University. She lives with her husband Phil Rech and hound dog Kasey in a log cabin in North Carolina.


"The structure of Blue Honey ... reenacts the circular journey that so many of us must make, from being cared for by our parents to ushering them through the mysterious borderland known as old age. Beth Copeland (writes) with breathtaking honesty ... metaphorically fresh and formally inventive ... Bravo to Copeland for not shying away from poetry's most arduous and important task, which is to write about life in a way that makes us feel less alone."

– Sue Ellen Thompson, editor The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary Poetry

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Blue Honey

Blue Honey by Beth Copeland


Nothing is harder than losing the ones we love. And losing them in slow-motion, watching the persons they were disappear in their own bodies — “the long / goodbye” — is a harrowing process. Poet Beth Copeland grants her readers full access to her life, loss, and love in the new collection Blue Honey, winner of the 2017 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize. Each poem is deeply personal, giving honest, heartbreaking snapshots of how she lost her parents told through moments from her childhood, marriage, and parents’ battles with dementia.

Primarily told through a reflective lens, the poems of Copeland’s childhood show her spirited, adventurous parents before their abilities were lost to Alzheimer’s. Missionaries in Japan, there are stories of her parents’ cross-ocean voyages which help contextualize the deep loss of personal identity experienced through their battles with dementia. These journeys also serve as haunting analogies for the final one they are on: “When I ask / where he went, he blinks as if / returning from another / hemisphere into daylight, still / adrift between this continent / and the next.” The juxtaposition of the tragic late-life realities with the vibrance of youth are heartbreaking. Copeland writes, “When / I was small . . . I believed / he could hold back / time forever, a pulse that / would never stop” — a painful illusion one learns the truths about with time.

Copeland’s honesty throughout the collection is moving and purposeful. It gives a thoughtful and balanced reflection on the challenges and frustrations of mental-faculty loss for both the afflicted and the loved ones watching the disease take hold. We are shown her father’s struggles to speak and swallow, as well as her mother’s rapid memory loss. Towards the end of her life, her mother would quickly forget things she’d just done or said. Her mind refreshes and repeats. Copeland’s love and sympathy are well highlighted, but she doesn’t sugarcoat the challenge: “I want / to talk to her, but I want / to hang up, too, after listening to her / refrain like grooves on vinyl.”

The difficulties of Copeland’s own marriage, seen in poems such as “Cleave” and “Sweet Basil,” show not just the tolls losing one’s parents can have on our relationships with others—“Is this pairing of pain / and passion the moon’s / push-pull”—but also help contextualize the miracle that was her parents 66-year relationship and the agony of watching their lives now. Copeland articulates the situation with gut-wrenching honesty: “I love them but want / the blade to drop / the bleeding to stop.”

Each expertly crafted poem is beautiful-written but accessible. Together, the poems give a clear window into Copeland’s memories, experiences, and thinking. They show the grim realities of Alzheimer’s destructive powers. But these incredible poems also show that even in the worst of circumstances not everything is lost. “A mother’s love never vanishes,” Copeland writes, “fixed as / the North Star with no stops in a midnight sky.” Disease can take away mind and body, but it can’t take away love: “I hold / her in the heart / of my heart / where she’s whole.” Pain and sadness are inescapable realities of this world, but Blue Honey grants us the necessary reminder that there is so much more.

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