Perchik, Simon: The Gibson Poems

Perchik, Simon. The Gibson Poems. Cholla Needles Arts & Literary Library, 2019. Paperback, 216 pp.

_____Simon Perchik, “the most widely published unknown poet in America,”* is the author of many books, beginning with I Counted Only April, which was published in 1964. His book Hands Collected (2000) was nominated for the National Book Award. His latest work, The Gibson Poems, is a big, beautiful book of dreamlike, nonlinear poems: 216 of them, to be exact, each inspired in part by a work by photographer Ralph Gibson. The poems have no titles—they are numbered G1 through G216—and each is no more than a page long, written in three-line stanzas with little punctuation. To me, each poem reads like a one-sentence-long dream-myth. For example, here is the entirety of one of the shortest pieces in the book, poem G57:

You come by as if this dirt was once
the ceiling, thankful on small apartments
though these dead at the last minute

open the doors alone
and from each room the great cry
already smells from rock and avalanche

–you listen for flowers though these handfuls
could make the difference
the walls the faces and echoes.

_____In addition to the features I’ve mentioned above, this poem displays other elements that recur throughout The Gibson Poems. First, as is the case with G57, almost every poem in the book is addressed to a “you.” This gives the poet room for ambiguity and the reader room for personal interpretation: “you” can be almost anyone. This also makes the poems, despite their strangeness, both more personal (the poet is speaking to me) and more universal (the poet is speaking to anyone/everyone/anything/everything). Second, G57 is filled with unadorned, elemental nouns: dirt, ceiling, dead, doors, room, rock, avalanche, flowers, walls, faces, echoes. These are just a few of the recurring images in the book. Others include arms, water, ice, stones, graves, shadow, mouth, breasts—almost always without adjectives to modify them. Here are some representative stanzas:

each stone is closing its wings
letting go the sky, the graves
and just as suddenly your shoulders.
____________________________________(from G5)

a mound, with a shadow all its own
spreading out your flowers –a harbor
smelling from distance and spray.
____________________________________(from G41)

These dead still need pills
though the one rock you leave
no longer reaches star to star
____________________________________(from G99)

Though your shadow carries names
its scent is falling off, luring piece by piece
the stone it needs for nourishment
____________________________________(from G169)

Star by star you add a word
the way the Earth still darkens
from the bottom up, lets you hold on
____________________________________(from G196)

–here even rain is comforted to keep you dry
–whole families sitting down, waiting for you
to walk in, forget something somewhere else.
____________________________________(from G206)

_____The Gibson Poems is a rich, allusive book that achieves its effects through images rather than narrative. It suggests rather than states its themes. To me, it suggests many eternal ones: the life cycle of birth, growth, sex, aging, death, rebirth; the changing seasons; love and loss; memory; dreams; the imagined afterlife. Other readers will find their own themes—and delights—in this beautiful book.

*Library Journal, 15 Nov. 2000. (From Perchik’s website: http://www.simonperchik.com/).

–Tom Zimmerman
7 July 2019