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Thursday, October 24, 2019

Review: Puma Perl’s Birthdays Before and After, Beyond Baroque Press: 2019 (ISBN: 978-1892184-207)

Birthdays Before and After is a singular work, much like Puma Perl is a singular voice, and your life will be vastly improved when you buy this book.
Birthdays Before and After has an immediate sense of place and time, and is well served by the framing of birthdays.  There are several poems that serve as bookends as well as rest stops on this enigmatic journey.
From the opening poem you are propelled into Perl’s world of words.  The cadence is assured and confident.  And, ironically, it is a New York poem about Los Angeles.
From The Most Perfect Day (p.2):
A backyard filled with punks and poets,
flowers, a barbeque pit, overflowing trays
of food, back steps leading into the house.
Iris and I sat on those steps and took a picture,
Razor bought a book.  He insisted.
Support the traveling poets, he said.

Simple, melodic, finely tuned.  The poem continues to explore the immediate world around Perl, quick events, flashback; an entire world divulged in 93 lines.  This first poem is critical and key as it sets a tone to what is to come next. And in the next poem we get the boom.

FromBirthdays Before and After (p. 5)

I had wanted to wear my new Saint Anthony medal,
a gift from a friend, but the clasp is broken
A least it’s not lost
Broken, not lost
Like me

I have always sensed a heavy sigh to Puma’s work; a long sigh that ends with a shrug and a smile.  Her work is tough and raw as NYC.

Puma’s work has always been a delicate mix of cynicism, regret, sorrow, and hope.  It is a broad tapestry that draws the reader in deeper.  It is a work that reads quick, but demands an immediate return.

My favorite poem in the collection is What I Need and Don’t Need.

From What I Need and Don’t Need (p.53)

My clothes 
Stuffed into garbage bags
For 3 weeks I lived out of a carry-on bag
More than I brought on a 2-month bike trip

That is all I need

This simple revelation speaks in volumes, telling of where Puma comes from, her values, and what informs her writing.  There is a real honesty, which great poetry should always have and should always espouse.

Also, from What I Need and Don’t Need:

 I have 40 unmatched earrings
100 single socks
I even have unpaired shoes
Due to my tendency of walking
Harder on one side than the other

It is difficult to really let a reader understand the depth and value of a collection of poems without reprinting all the poems.

What I Need and Don’t Need is a great example of a poet walking through moments of time, weaving the past and present together. She talks about the poet¸life and loss, everything in between.  

There is a stanza that well explains the essence of Puma Perl.

From What I Need and Don’t Need:

Most poets are just too serious
There are a billion poems out there to read
Does yours make any difference?

I can tell you this:  Puma Perl’s poems make a difference.  They inspire, they intrigue, they reveal the self in an explosive way.

Ultimately Puma Perl is a true poet.  A true New York poet.  She easily joins a litany of amazing poets (that happen to call NYC home). You can hear echoes of Langston Hughes, Frank O’Hara, Patti Smith, and Dorothy Parker.

As a slight aside I have to compliment the layout and structure of the book.  Iris Berry has a fine eye in edited this book and other editors/publishers should take note. Most of the poetry books I stumble upon feel thrown together.  Sometimes that works.  A collage of words makes the picture, but spending time and effort on the flow, pace, and structure of a poetry book is critical.  Iris nailed it on every level.  While Puma Perl’s work can stand up regardless of the format, the craft within the craft really elevates.  Presentation can be everything.

Birthdays Before and After can be purchased at as well as

-       Jack Henry

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