Skip to main content

World Class poet Lucia Perillo has died. She had MS.

    Lucia Perillo: World Class Poet


Lucia Perillo: World Class Poet


lucia perillo poet
Lucia Perillo is a local poet with an impressive list of national accolades.

By Alec Clayton
washington orthopaedic centerWho knew we had a world-class poet right here in Olympia? Her name is Lucia Perillo. Her talent and prestige are remarkable. No less a luminary than Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate of the United States, said, “It is a delight to wander with [Perillo] into strange and imaginative territories. Always, I read her poems with surprise and (write it!) jealousy.”
Novelist Tom Perotta, author of The Leftovers, wrote of her first story collection: “Lucia Perillo isn’t just a strikingly original poet; she’s a top-notch fiction writer as well. The stories in this bleakly funny and harrowing collection are reminiscent of both Raymond Carver and Denis Johnson, but the vision that animates them is Perillo’s own, unique and unmistakable.”

Lucia Perillo is a local poet with an impressive list of national accolades.

For years, I’ve known her as a woman in a wheelchair who swims at the Olympia Downtown branch of the Sound Sound YMCA. She is always accompanied by an aide and is lowered into the pool by a lifeguard using an electronic lift chair. She seldom speaks to us, but is polite when she does. When I heard that she is a poet and looked her up I was astounded to learn that she has been published in America’s most prestigious magazines: The New YorkerThe Atlantic MonthlyThe Kenyon Review, and has been awarded such distinguished prizes as the Pushcart Prize (three times). She has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Poetry Series and the L.A. Times Book Prize. She has been a MacArthur Fellow, also known as the “Genius Grant,” and locally she has been awarded the Washington State Book Award and Governor’s Award.
Perillo has published six books of poetry, a book of essays and a short story collection. Her latest books are On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths (poetry) and Happiness is a Chemical in the Brain (short stories). Next year she will have a new book of poetry from Copper Canyon Press tentatively titled Time Will Clean the Carcass-Bones.
Perillo’s poems have been described as funny and tough, dark and bold. She shies away from nothing. The New York Times Book Review described her writing as “taut, lucid, lyric, filled with complex emotional reflection while avoiding the usual difficulties of highbrow poetry.”

Happiness is a Chemical in the Brain, stories by Lucia Perillo, image taken from Perillo’s website.

In an unflinching look at the body, she writes:
WHEN YOU SPEND MANY HOURS ALONE IN A ROOM
YOU HAVE MORE THAN THE USUAL CHANCES TO DISGUST YOURSELF—
THIS IS THE PROBLEM OF THE BODY, NOT THAT IT IS MORTAL
BUT THAT IT IS MORTIFYING. WHEN WE WERE YOUNG THEY TAUGHT US
DO NOT TOUCH IT, BUT WHO CAN KEEP FROM TOUCHING IT,
FROM SCRATCHING OFF THE JUICY SCAB?
Writing such as this gives evidence of Perillo’s keen observation and of a sense of humor that can touch on the macabre. Consider these lines from her poem “Abandon,” a poem about dancing to old songs on a phonograph:
MEANWHILE EACH NIGHT BLED INTO THE NEXT, LIKE STORIES
TOLD TO HOLD THE KNIFE OFF SOMEONE’S THROAT,
THE SCRATCHES ON THE RECORD PATTERING
LIKE PINE NEEDLES DROPPING TO THE FOREST FLOOR
Images in her poems often lead in unexpected directions, such as in the poem “Foley” in her book The Oldest Map with the Name America, which starts off talking about Harrison Ford and movie sound effects and veers off in a surprisingly logical way to a comparison of black girl groups and white girl groups in sixties pop music, which leads into phone conversations for money, and then right back to movie making. When I asked her about this way of writing, which I thought of as stream of conscious, she said, “I always have a constellated idea or image. It may seem like stream of conscious but I hope it comes together by the end of the poem. I hope the reader will come along for the ride.”

On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths, poems by Lucia Perillo, image taken from Perillo’s website.

We sat down to chat in a corner of Orca Books on 4th Avenue in Olympia. I asked when she came to Olympia and why. She had grown up on the East Coast and taught at Syracuse University among other places. She said she came to Washington to work a summer job as a ranger on Mount Rainier in 1987, and from there she came to Olympia to teach at Saint Martin’s College. It was in this time that she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
I asked Perillo how it felt to win so many awards and which meant the most to her. She said, “People are interested in the awards, but that’s secondary and I don’t focus on that.” She said she would rather talk about poetry but said people are reluctant, perhaps intimidated by it. “People think they are unequal to poetry, that it’s complicated and impossible to understand.”
I asked what she would say to people who say poetry is too difficult and she said, “I guess I would read them a poem of mine or recite a poem by others.”
She said the most meaningful award might have been the Bobbitt Award given by the Library of Congress. “It was nice to go to Washington, D.C. and the Library of Congress. Lyndon Johnson’s sister endowed the award and her son hosted a banquet to award it, and L.B.J.’s daughter was there.”
Perillo says her influences have been W.B. Yeats when she was younger, Emily Dickenson and Wallace Stevens. She speaks of “stealing” from great poets of the past. “It was Frank Sinatra, I think, who said to steal from one person is plagiarism but stealing from everyone, that’s research.”
She says she still writes a lot and tries to work it in between such things as caregivers and physical therapy, and her wilderness. “I write when I can squeeze in a couple of hours.”
To learn more about Lucia Perillo, visit her website and Wikipedia
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Riding the MS broom

Do you ever feel like the ultimate witchy woman? That is actually a rhetorical question because I know you do. We all do whether we mean it or not. And guess what? We have a right to feel that way. Our brand of broom is a touch one to ride. That is why I truly believe that our supreme master, who ever/whatever that may be, doesn't throw us more than we can catch.

MSers (I read recently that this is an inappropriate way in which to refer to individuals with multiple sclerosis. The source of this judgement obliviously does not live with the disease. MS Warriors are far less offended by such a label than that.) are strong individuals who thrive on finding a purpose, a solution, a balance.

We are dependent on our co-pilot Common Sense. Care Givers are a beautiful addition to our lives, but many MSers (I did it again!) are not fortunate to have someone to clean our broom and dust off the daily spider webs that clutter the  cognitive mess of our brains. I learned that long before MS becam…

Yoga Burn gives new incentive to my morning routine.

I am not one much for online shopping indulgences, but a couple of weeks ago I allowed myself the rare treat of purchasing the Yoga Burn program advertised on Face Book. This morning I completed week one of the monthly scheduled routine and I even took time to meditate under the guidance of Yoga instructor Zoe Bray Cotton.

Laugh if you must, but I really, really, enjoyed the meditation exercise. I realize this is a solitary activity and I will never practice this in front of husband and/or son. 

I felt wonderful afterword, though. So at peace and relaxed. I always knew I was a Zen Goddess at heart.

What I really love about this program is that it "is a comprehensive online yoga course directed toward women only."  The older I get, the more I appreciate anything to do with "for women only". Weird, huh?

Zoe' voice is so very soft and inviting. As she leads me through my morning poses, I really feel as though she is my new morning bestie. Of course, I have only comple…

This Writer's Euphoric Journey

It is November and that means National Novel Writing Month. I participate every year. As always, I am behind on my writing goal for the month: WRITE 50,000 WORDS  IN 30 DAYS. 

With only two days to go, I still need 10,000 to finish. 

So...I will see you here again on Wednesday or at the end of my journey of 50,000 words. Until then, breathe.

Lisa