Needles, Knives, Past and Present Lives
BY SCOTT STIFFLER | Clean and sharply focused when it really should be scratched and cloudy, considering everything it’s been through, Puma Perl’s mirror has two equally unforgiving settings: rear view, and front and center.
“20 years since I shot my last speedball & I’m still losing teeth,” she says, in the first line of “& I’m Still Losing.” That wry observation comes early and hits hard, in “Retrograde.” Released last week, it’s the first single author poetry release from great weather for MEDIA. Perl’s 76-item collection of poetry and short prose finds her no longer using heroin, but still in firm possession of a temperament that makes the take-no-crap author an extremely light touch, nonetheless, for the temptation to get lost in contemplating old haunts, habits and patterns.
That sort of sobriety’s not an easy road to travel — but it makes for an extremely authentic and unsentimental look at the gritty and dangerous New York that has since been glamourized, mourned and burnt beyond recognition into the realm of cultural mythology. Brooklyn native and longtime Lower East Side resident Puma Perl was there, though — apparently keeping at least one eye open for keen observation, even when nodding off.
‘Retrograde’ is a true rush
“Retrograde” takes you on past and present trips to Brooklyn, Coney Island and all points below Delancey. Both deeply connected and uncomfortably detached, it’s a world of nicotine patches, faked orgasms, thwarted hook-up text messages, comparative lists of arrests and addictions, creature comforts stolen from rehab stints, and the knowledge that Perl’s ill-advised lean out the window to get that perfect photo would surely be mistaken for a suicide attempt if she were to fall. No matter. The chance to greet each new day with an “Oh shit” is, in its own way, a victory of sorts — even if each turn of the corner comes with a reminder of the hellish lows and high times of an addict’s life. “Every step is a memory, imprinted, unseen,” she writes in “Imprinted,” unable to stop thinking about the woman who exits a Seventh St. boutique and performs what may or may not be a flirtatious maneuver for her waiting husband. As she “dances in my space, in my sidewalk square,” Perl notes how her old self might have “danced back, flirted with her man just cause I could. Today smoky spirits surround me, invisible to tap dancing women wearing newsboy caps.”
Hear some of the author’s own words, in her actual voice, when you attend the June 27 edition of “Puma Perl’s Pandemonium.” This quarterly music and spoken word event will feature work from “Retrograde” as well as performances from Tony Brown and the Duende Project, Rew Starr, Joff Wilson, Jeff Sztabnik, Jeff Ward, and others. “Over the last few years,” says Perl, “performing with musicians has shaped my work, providing new rhythms and keeping it fresh each time. Many of the poems in this book are a result of these collaborations.”
“Puma Perl’s Pandemonium” happens at 7 p.m. on Fri., June 27, at The Bowery Electric’s Map Room (327 Bowery, btw. Second & Third Sts.). Free. Drink specials, 21+. “Retrograde” was released on June 1, by great weather for MEDIA. Visit greatweatherformedia.com and pumaperl.blogspot.com.