The louche, camp iconography of Marianne Faithful's Cigarette (1998)—"My name's Petula./ Pompeii's a great place to meet dykes/ and lichen"—is carefully focused in Pearlberg's second collection. Yet nature poems form the core of the book, portraying a New Yorker with a complex, emotionally exhausting life (in one poem the city resembles an astonishing array of psychoactive pill bottles) who aspires to Basho's pure barefoot walk among the trees. There's a gentle back-and-forth here between the delights of language, the perceiving self and the sublimation of both: "that's the story of spring,/ & it's not 'about' anything/ any more than Brooklyn is,/ though spring makes me/ think of croaking—/ there were, after all, toads in the garden on Bergen Street." By this light, two female bodies together are seen as just abstracted shapes reflected in a bottle, and the breakup poems here, sensually written, struggle valiantly and wittily to see the loved as not the desired but as a subject with its own separate agenda. Broad-stroke political poems ("Commerce is a potent aphrodisiac") convey palpable anger, while series of ingeniously side-by-side double sonnets reimagine the life and mind of St. Francis. Although perhaps not as selfless as that nature-loving saint, Pearlberg is a generous poet, and the best of these poems locate the reader in the natural world she adores, mourns and hopes for. (May)
Forecast: Pearlberg edited the disarming anthology Queer Dog: homo/pup/poetry (which remains a solid-selling gift book), and won a Lambda literary award for Cigarette. Painted Leaf (www.paintedleaf.com) is a five-year old New York publisher of fiction, nonfiction and poetry, with a "focus on Latino, gay and lesbian, psychology, politics, debut fiction and bilingual books." Gay and lesbian buyers and reviewers will find this book; well-deserved review attention in the independent press would garner Pearlberg a further audience.