Friday, May 24, 2019

Tobi Alfier - On Simon Perchik

The Gibson Poems

Thank goodness I have a young physical therapist, because when I’m 95, I want to be spry, curious, have a great sense of humor, check my email every day, write every day, attend readings, and feature at some pretty high profile places, such as the KGB Bar in New York. When I’m 95, I want to be Simon Perchik.

Eleven years ago when we started San Pedro River Review (SPRR), we got a submission from Simon Perchik (Si, as he is called by his friends). Being about one nth educated on contemporary poets compared to Jeff being a whole solar system educated, I said “hon, all of his poem titles are asterisks. We need to ask him to title his poems”. Smart Jeff did not do that. I now know that Si is the only poet in the world who does this consistently, and who is allowed to do it.

We have been blessed to have published him often. He’s now “Uncle Si” to us. In our Tables of Contents we list the first line of each poem as the title, because we usually take more than one poem each issue. Done and done!

Simon Perchik
Enter “The Gibson Poems”. Published this year by Cholla Needles, this volume, written in Fierro’s Pizzeria, The Golden Pear, and various other cafés in New York, contains 216 poems numbered G1 through G216. In keeping with the convictions of publisher Rich Soos, there is no Table of Contents, just 216 pages of glorious poetry. Did I mention it’s only $10? Did I mention Uncle Si thanks the “owners, employees, and customers” of the two restaurants mentioned above? Did I mention he’s going to give copies to the people he sees and talks to every day? He is such a kind soul. I swear, I want to invite him for Thanksgiving!

I discovered long ago that the best way to read Si’s poetry is out loud. Sometimes I may not understand a poem 100%, but when I read it out loud softly to myself, the words are so beautiful it doesn’t even matter if I understand it exactly.

Take G44 (because 4 is my lucky number, a whole other story):

Not with the light itself
lifting this page closer
though the breeze already left

–you need glasses, the kind
crystal-gazers use
and for centuries would weep

to birds that go on living
–cockpit-glass! pressed
against your forehead

by wings and distances
–in the end the book too
will lose its slack, approach

with the window in front
closed and even its shadow
had no chance to escape.

Honestly? I don’t think this poem is about birds or pages of a book. To me, this poem is about airplanes (“cock-pit glass”), binoculars (“you need glasses”), radar (“crystal-gazers”), damage (“slack, approach”)…this poem is about war. This poem is about a pilot in a damaged plane in a war. Trying to get home in the early evening, with “no chance to escape”.  How do I know this? I don’t. I read it many times. I read it out loud many times. I don’t know. And it doesn’t matter. It is beautiful, and it made my heart hurt. I cried. And that’s what I decided it was about.

Did I pick the “hardest” poem in the book? Probably, but as I said, 4’s my lucky number. I feel changed by this poem and thankful I read it.

I asked Jeff to read it and tell me what he thought it was about. He said:

“I may be on a limb here, but this is how I read G44:

Light alone in his older years is not enough, nor the glasses so redolent of the “cockpit glass”, wedded in image to “wings and distances” – the war embedded in memory, where even war’s “shadow / had no chance to escape.” Glasses of increased focus are highly suggestive to the speaker of crystal ball gazers whose aim is to heighten their vision into future or distant things. But the past, the “shadow” that can’t escape, keeps him tethered to a personal history that won’t fall away from current life.”

Jeff, an Air Force Veteran, whose father is about the same age as Si and was a B-17 crew member, have had discussions about his poetry. Si told him the war is in all his poems.

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Even though Jeff and I both arrived at roughly the same conclusion, we did so in different ways. And that, in my opinion, is the wonder of Si’s poems. They’re not experimental. They’re not metaphorical. They are interpretable—he gives his readers credit, and knows that they will get there.

I can’t write like that. Reading the difference between Jeff and me above, it’s obvious I can’t write like that. Just another reason I appreciate the heck out of Si—what he can say with words, and the beauty and sound of his images. He’s amazing, and so are his poems. I love him, and I bet you will too.

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Link to a 2017 Perchik review by r soos 
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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.


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