Voices of the Lady

Stuart Z. Perkoff, Author, Gerald Perkoff, Editor, Robert Creeley, Foreword by
Stuart Z. Perkoff, Author, Gerald Perkoff, Editor, Robert Creeley, Foreword by National Poetry Foundation $19.95 (474p) ISBN 978-0-943373-48-5
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
Perkoff (1930-1974) garnered reverent admirers in the Beat community of Venice, Calif., and beyond. This hefty volume compiles his eight books (three posthumous) and over 200 pages of unpublished verse. Drawing on Whitman, Williams, Lawrence, cummings and Olson, Perkoff's expansive poems show his mystic ambitions, jumping from jazz argot, to the casually demotic, to the aggressively elevated: ""turned loose in the streets/ we eat the earth itself in/ search of vision."" Some involve the poet's Jewish heritage, his heroin addiction or his five years in prison on drug charges. Many address a Lady-Muse; these can seem dated (""naked flesh woman flesh in the morning/ real flesh real ecstasy bodies/ flesh loved flesh"") though they can show real love, especially for Perkoff's wife, whose psychotic break prompted The Venice Poems. Perkoff writes of ""recklessly skipping our way in & out of poems/ our brains tied together like the three-legged race at the school picnic."" For all their exuberance and pain, the results lack subtlety, seeming shrill, unrevised and formless even when measured against the Beat tradition: ""man finds his screams & poems & dreams are smashed""; ""despair threatens always to take over/ but life struggles toward its joy""; ""indescribable nightmares overwhelm reality."" The best few are comic portraits like ""The Juggler"" (""what a task he undertook with his sweaty armpits!""), or brief, Creeley-influenced scene descriptions. Scholars of Beat writing will welcome this gathering of Perkoff's work; readers not privileged to have known him personally may find the poems copiously predictable, historical documents in an effusively uncareful period style. (Aug.)
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