Poetry friends, there are few collections that make me feel like I’ve reclaimed a part of myself upon finishing them. But after reading Makeshift Instructions for Vigilant Girls by Erika Meitner, I can confidently say that this is a poetry collection that you want to get your hands on. Page by page, many readers will cheer for the speaker because they will recognize parts of her in themselves. Through Makeshift Instructions, Meitner brings us the snark, the humor, and most of all, the truth about what it’s like to grow up as a young woman.
In my favorite poem of the collection, the speaker makes a powerful statement against the wrong information oftentimes given to students in sex ed: “to teach us sex as danger, sex as fear / of consequence, sex as weak-willed passion / gone too far; sex as anything but get-lost-in-it” (“Sex Ed” lines 24-26). I love this poem because it points out the ways in which we often relay the wrong information to young-adults, causing confusion and fear. The details, conversational tone, and strong narrative voice drives the poem forward, and then ends it with a blow: “that we don’t need to ask for forgiveness for exploring fingers, / roving lips and tangled limbs, for baseball metaphors / and base desires, for holding each other close” (lines 76-78). I wish I had this book growing up.
In the first section of the book, readers will sympathize with the book’s commentary about adolescent girls. The pages are filled with all of the awkward truths involved with being 13 or 14. For example, in the poem “Camp Westmont, 1988” the speaker relays her experience about summer camp: “At thirteen / the worst humiliation was not getting caught / with hickeys in the shape of his initials” (lines 30-32). Like this poem, others in the collection are nostalgic and humorous, edgy and sarcastic.
As readers move forward in the collection, the poems do not lose momentum or voice. In the poem “Instructions for Cyclists Contending with Evil” the speakers begs readers to do the following: “Don’t trust anyone you pass who labels you a sinner / or covers embarrassing objects with curtains. / No matter how many crustless sandwiches they set out for you” (lines 23-25). This humor, coupled with the random UFO sightings sprinkled throughout the collection (thank you, thank you, thank you) made Makeshift Instructions a true treat: “Speak / as quickly as you can / before you get married / or abducted” (“Faith-Based Options” lines 11-14). Page by page, you will fall in love with this speaker as she boldly moves through the world.
In total, the collection is 80 pages of haphazard warnings, UFO sightings, and witty lines. This, my friends, is an instruction manual that we can celebrate.
Buy the collection from Anhinga Press here.
*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about Anhinga Press: “Since 1974 our mission has been to bring quality poetry to a broad audience by publishing poetry, sponsoring poetry events and educational activities, hosting and participating in writers festivals, working with area colleges, making our books available as textbooks for students, and networking with other arts organizations as a good citizen of the arts community and the community at large.” Check out their website here.*
(Photo of Anhinga Press Logo and cover of Makeshift Instructions for Vigilant Girls courtesy of Anhinga Press. I do not own these photos.)
Check out my interview with Erika Meitner here.