Review: A Life of Service: The Poems of Peter Coppelman

By Nadia Bruce-Rawlings

Peter Coppelman has led quite a life. Coppelman received his AB, magna cum laude, from Harvard in 1964, and J.D. from Cornell Law School in 1968. In 1965 he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to India. That alone is very impressive. According to his bio, The Giraffe Heroes Project called him a Giraffe Hero for “continuously sticking his neck out for the common good, devoting his career to causes he believes in, bypassing opportunities to enrich himself.” His legal career was impressive. And then he retired and began writing poetry. And, I might add, very impressively.
The poetry in A LIFE OF SERVICE: THE POEMS OF PETER COPPELMAN are primarily autobiographical. They are easily read, because they are well written, but also because they give the reader a look at a life that is interesting and intriguing. 
The book is divided into sections:  Life; A Touch of the Surreal; Sonnets and Villanelles; Poem Stories; and Potpourri. The opening poem, “Born,” is short and powerful:
I was born in 1942.
I was born in Brookline, Massachusetts.
When I was born, the world was at war.
When I was born, in Germany millions of Jews
Were being systematically slaughtered.
I was born in the safest place in all the world
At the safest time in all of history
To be born
A Jew.
Some of Coppelman’s poetry rhymes, some is free verse, some is written in the style of other poets…it’s a good mix. He’s actually very good at rhyming, something I’ve never quite grasped myself. His poems tell of his life, and of emotions, and of growing up, and of getting old. It talks about the world. I particularly liked his poems about Trump, one of which follows:  
“A Life of Service Farewell to A Failed President”
You never knew what you were doing
And you never bothered to learn
You were constantly stewing
We were never your concern.
The vocabulary of a ten year old
The maturity of a teen
A vindictiveness to behold
You were nothing else but mean.
To you your opposition
Was always a “disgrace”
Consumed by blind ambition
The White House you debase.
In your mind you were “incredible”
Everything you did was “great”
You chose women who were beddable
Your evil never did abate.
The Nobel Prize you expected
For Mt. Rushmore you were bidding
With your blunders uncorrected
You surely must be kidding
You’ve enjoyed your fancy suits
Air Force One and golf on us
With racists you were in cahoots
Why won’t you go without a fuss?
You gave it your best shot
You tried to bring us down
We beat back your onslaught
Get your sorry ass out of town
Coppelman has a humor to his writing, as well as a directness that is very enjoyable. I’m not saying that all the poems in this 106-page book were great; there are a couple duds; but for the most part they are well written, enjoyable, and intriguing. I read it early in the morning and found it stuck with me throughout the day. I wanted to re-read it for sure. 
One more that I loved:
The art of losing
Takes some skill
You want to win
But never will
The game is fixed
The deck is stacked
The die is cast
It’s just a fact
The game of life
You can’t outfox
You always end up
In a box.
I would very much also like to read a prose version about Mr. Coppelman’s life - I’m hoping a memoir is next on his plate. He’s a fascinating person. His poetry tells a lot of his story, but I’d love to learn more.