Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Poetry Show -- April 24 -- Lucia Perillo

The Poetry Show, hosted by Janet Harrison, is broadcast Mondays, 7:30 - 9:00 AM, EST, on

This week's featured poet is Lucia Perillo

Lucia Perillo was born in Manhattan on September 30, 1958 and died at her home in Olympia, Washington on October 16, 2016. The third child of a lawyer and a librarian, she grew up in Irvington, New York. She attended McGill University in Montreal and graduated with a degree in wildlife management. While working at the San Francisco Bay Wildlife Refuge, she took a class at San Jose State University taught by poet Robert Hass. After moving to Olympia, Washington, in the 1980s, she earned a Master's degree in English from Syracuse University. Her first book of poetry, Dangerous Life (Northeastern University Press, 1989) was a success, winning the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America. However, before the book went to press, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Despite her illness, she continued to write and teach, publishing six subsequent collections of poetry: The Body Mutinies (Purdue University Press, 1996), The Oldest Map with the Name America: New and Selected Poems (Random House, 1999), Luck is Luck (Random House, 2005), Inseminating the Elephant (Copper Canyon Press, 2009), On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths (Copper Canyon Press, 2012), and Time Will Clean the Carcass Bones: Selected and New Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2016). Additionally, she has published a collection of essays, I Hear the Vultures Singing (Trinity University Press, 2007) and a book of short stories, Happiness is a Chemical in the Brain (Norton, 2012). Her awards include the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship—the so-called genius award—and three Pushcart Prizes. 

Responding to the famous Robert Frost quote that "writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down," Perillo said: "but you also have to invent the shape of the ball and whether the paddle is going to be a fishing pole or a fly swatter. And then make up the rules of the game, what the ball bounces off of, etc." "The poem finds its form, and this is liberating but also a burden." 

This week's featured poem is "Women Who Sleep on Stones" from Time Will Clean the Carcass Bones: Selected and New Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2016), originally published in her second book, The Body Mutinies (Purdue University Press, 1996). 


Women who sleep on stones are like
brick houses that squat alone in cornfields. 
They look weatherworn, solid, dusty, 
torn screen sloughing from the window frames. 
But at dusk a second-story light is always burning. 

Used to be I loved nothing more
than spreading my blanket on high granite ledges
that collect good water in their hollows. 
Stars came close without the trees
staring and rustling like damp underthings. 

But doesn't the body foil what it loves best?
Now my hips creak and their blades are tender. 
I can't rest on my back for fear of exposing
my gut to night creatures who might come along
and rip it open with a beak or hoof. 

And if I sleep on my belly, pinning it down, 
my breasts start puling like baby pigs
trapped under their slab of torpid mother. 
Dark passes as I shift from side to side
to side, the blood pooling just above the bone. 

Women who sleep on stones don't sleep. 
They see the stars moving, the sunrise, the gnats
rising like a hairnet lifted from a waitress's head. 
The next day they're sore all over and glad
for the ache: that's how stubborn they are. 

John Case
Harpers Ferry, WV

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