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The Oldest Map with the Name America

by Lucia Perillo

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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375501606, Hardcover)

"Someday / you could even write a poem," Lucia Perillo tells her newborn nephew in "The Sportsmen's Guide," then ruefully adds,
the tradition of which
pretty much demands the reader be told off the bat
what a muckheap the world is. But then comes the swerve
where the poet flipflops or digresses
to come up with something that the muckheap
will surprise you with.
This is, in a sense, the distillation of both Perillo's poetic voice--funny, knowing, tough--and her mission: to show the world in all its beauty and terror and strangeness. Is there a better title, anywhere, than "Thinking About Illness After Reading About Tennessee Fainting Goats"? ("Stopped in their tracks / they go down like drunks.... / How cruel, gripes a friend. But maybe they show / us what the body's darker fortunes mean-- / we break, we rise. We do what we're here for.")

For Perillo, transcendence is an ambiguous business. "The Body Rising," for instance, moves from airborne disasters and funeral-home smoke to the miracle of teenage punks handed up from the mosh pit "weightless and waterlogged, bullied and buoyed." But for every body rising, there is another that wants to fall. Perillo's women hitchhike and rock climb; they earn their Girl Scout merit badges in "Dangerous Life." In "Pomegranate" her ambivalent Persephone must choose between, on the one hand, "the underground gods and their motorbikes" and, on the other, "daylight, sure / but also living with her mother." It's the tension between these that makes Perillo's dangerous poetry sing; she's like the narrator of "Kilned," who sculpts with molten lava "to see what this catastrophe is saying." The world may indeed be a muckheap, but these poems never fail to surprise. --Mary Park

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:19 -0400)

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