These sinewy, sensuous poems lead down dusty Louisiana backroads, where anything might be lurking: family secrets, rusted relics, a viper. In Copperhead, her debut collection, Rachel Richardson pays homage to the folklore and myth of an Old South that is rapidly disappearing. Riffing from Leadbelly to road signs to the Lucky Lady Lounge, from Britney Spears to broken levees to the first white woman executed in the state, Richardson weaves a rich and conflicted portrait of a place continually haunted by its past. These are poems-as-documentary, an accounting of a region’s history and future–politically charged, environmentally reverent, and always shot through with song.
These are poems with a passionate investment in place. They evoke the way that the locale makes the life: of families, of language, and finally of the memories which resolve in this book into craft and restraint and cadence. This is a wonderful debut collection. Eavan Boland
When the object of love, which we also call home, is a site of indelible historical culpability, and the lover, who is also unflinching and true, is a poet of unfailing subtlety, both musical and moral, how shall she write the worthy love poem? Not a task for lesser spirits. But a task so beautifully accomplished by the author of this fine and finely honed first book that it becomes a beacon for us all. Rachel Richardson writes her corner of the American South, writes with haunting resonance and perfect calibration, with tenderness and with dismay, with a native part in sorrow, and with, yes, with love. Linda Gregerson
Rachel Richardson’s Copperhead is a gorgeous river song fast-rising above the heart’s levee. As sensuous, cerebral, and mysterious as thick layers of hanging moss over muddy water, this ear-catching debut of poems performs in its language a semimagical charm of memory, seduction, and redemption. My suggestion: avoid all evacuation routes and stay put. Richardson is a remarkable talent who teaches us to faithfully read the signs that make us broken and beautiful. Major Jackson