GERALD SCHWARTZ Reviews
Carpe Diem: New and Selected Poems by Michael Perkins
(Bushwack Books, Woodstock, New York, 2011)
What do we truly know of the world and ourselves? Only what our human or scientific instruments can tell us. But do they tell us the entire truth? This much we know with certainty: Every so often, there lives among us someone who seems to be able to dip into a great sparkling river of knowledge that is somehow beyond our everyday experience. With Carpe Diem: New and Selected Poems, Michael Perkins reveals that he is such a person, as in "Secret Agent," quoted here in its entirety:
Unselfish inwardness, cloak me
In the invisible, dress me
In garments of transparency;
I would pass among the self-speakers
Like water in a frosted glass.
I would be other than what the world sees.
Carpe Diem is a neo-pastoral cornucopia, following Horace’s “seize the day, putting as little trust as possible in the future,” inviting readers to participate in one metaphysically lush and metaphorically rich world where “the soft gift of morning/ is slowly pulled/ from the magic sleeve of dawn/ and shaken, so that/ the dusty golden hills/ of California/ unwrap themselves” and where “eight planets in a line in the Southwest:/ omens in the sky as the year ends,/ not to be seen again for a century.”
Perkins, a keenly seasoned observer of “the darkness by which all is revealed/ all that light concealed,” our natural world where identity and ego yield to a timeless beauty almost too overwhelming to communicate but still endures and expands, even, even where “we are in this shining world,/ then here no more, so much left to say/ unsaid.”
A poet who writes both by eye and by ear, Perkins calls readers to step into his work, encouraging us to participate in our movements toward infinity. Carpe Diem, in fact, represents a lifetime’s work, composed by a man for whom paying attention has become a way of being. The history lessons, the prayers before dying, the unseen world, all of nature in its infinite variety, human experience of all kinds, and love have all engaged his intense looking and his lively mind. It’s most impossible to put down this collection without feeling somehow renewed by a magnificent mind at work, refashioning a sense of the world we (think we) know to such an exquisite degree we almost believe this planet’s splendorous way will survive our puny efforts to do otherwise.
Born in Pottsville, Pa. in 1958, Gerald Schwartz is the author of ONLY OTHERS ARE: Poems, WORLD and SPKNGinTONGUES.