Birthdays Before and After
by Puma Perl
Beyond Baroque Books, 2019
Birthdays Before and After, Puma Perl’s new collection seems more like an experience than her other bodies of work do and I am and have been a fan. While I read, I felt like we were hanging out together and shooting the shit. In the background, a party rages where poets, musicians, artists, friends wander around taking part in this massive improvisation. Perl explores loneliness, addiction, loss in a way that anyone can relate to. She doesn’t resign herself to a particular style or approach, which makes the collection eclectic. One of the aspects of Perl’s writing that I admire most is her humility, which you see throughout, but most directly in “Wild Cards, “ where she writes:
I wrote a few poems
Some of them might be good
but not as good as
Those you send
or the ones you used to write
Her ability to see herself as a poet in a world full of poets and the way she continually pays homage toward many other writers, musicians and artists makes you feel as if you are part of a massive mosaic. In “What I Need and Don’t Need,” she asks:
Most poets are just too serious
There are a billion poems out there to read
Does yours make any difference?
This rhetorical question drives home the idea that we should not take ourselves that serious and even though we often feel alone, a reoccurring theme in Perl’s work, we all have shared experiences. One of my favorite stanzas in this collection is from “Black Leopards:”
And there is us
like broken umbrellas
wet and forgotten
in the trunks of cars.
The Loneliness expressed here is universal like many of the themes she touches upon. Another part of the poem “Wild Cards,” referenced earlier, shows universal suffering:
I message one October morning
and you agree, drinking coffee,
waiting for a ride to the rehab center
A funny word, rehab,
when nothing can be fixed
in these broken-down houses
made of twisted bone
devoid of muscle memory
Too many cigarettes,
speedballs, and rainbow cookies
Bored silly by the gym
and its endless repetitions
Like every house, each of us has its own imperfections and our own addictions and ways of trying to move through this life. While Perl puts her cards down on the table and shows us her hand, she never stops playing the game and that is what makes her work so relatable.
My favorite piece in this collection is “Jane Ormerod’s Basement*” which contains this footnote: “*Jane Ormerod wrote one of the best lines I’ve ever read: “We refuse to enter the basement because of something that happened in the attic,” from Belongings (Must Dress the Character”).” In this piece, she references this line, but also Perl writes lines that I would venture to say are of equal caliber to Ormerod’s, whose work I must note I love.
Love only happens when the garbage is taken out
Loss is another way of saying Wednesday
These lines gave pause and made me consider Perl’s genius. Yes, I think she is a poetic genius and I could go on and on about this collection, but instead, I will end with this: I will reread this collection and that, as we all know, is the greatest of compliments!
Puma Perl is a widely published poet and writer, as well as a performer and producer. She is the author of two chapbooks, Ruby True and Belinda and Her Friends, and three full-length poetry collections, knuckle tattoos, Retrograde (great weather for MEDIA), and Birthdays Before and After (Beyond Baroque.) She is the creator, curator, and producer of Puma’s Pandemonium, which launched at the Bowery Electric in 2012 and brings spoken word together with rock and roll. As Puma Perl and Friends, she performs regularly with a group of excellent musicians. She’s received two honorable mentions and one first-place award from the New York Press Association in recognition of her journalism and was the recipient of the 2016 Acker Award in the category of writing; she lives and works on the Lower East Side.