G.E. SCHWARTZ Reviews
Life Sentences: Aphorisms & Reflections by Michael Perkins
(Bushwack Books, Woodstock, N.Y., 2012)
Life Sentences is a book of 500 aphorisms, a form that blurs the line between poetry and philosophy, yet is likely more accessible to the general audience than either, or not a poem explicated but rather a crystallized poetic essence—an attempt at approximating and preserving the poetic moment or epiphany by capturing the first thoughts generated during the impulse to speak rather than the thought long held and worked and shaped. And in Michel Perkins’ book each aphorism calls out to us, like the final line from some wondrous but phantom poem.
100. What amuses God? Playing hide and seek—he knows all the best places to hide.
154. I wear my many hats, but they’re all cocked at an angle.
There is a certain completeness to each one. Each of them is so complete that there is no point in going on to fill it out with a poem. While others of us might take that one idea and try to craft a poem out of it, Perkins has the thought and moves on. Even though a lot of them look quite insouciant, and some of them look very easy, they are crafted. There are a lot of poetic elements to them, and reading them, as they build on each other, propelling each other through the book, you see them as the form of poetry they are.
198. Catastrophes have no end when they are the obscure urge of a people.
241. We go to the zoo to see ourselves reflected in the eyes of the inmates.
Each of the 500 is a place where William Bronk, Thoreau, Wilde, Horace and Groucho Marx, sit together around a primal fire and trade their best. Perkins is as philosophically as he is humorously exact: (106. The brevity of our lives allows for just one greeting: Hello, I must be going.) What more can one ask of a set of words completed in itself, containing subject and predicate and conveying a statement, question, or admonition. Keep this thoughtful, evocative collection near at hand, right on your desk or night-table.
G. E. Schwartz lives in upstate New York and is the author of Only Others Are: Poems (LEGIBLE Press, 2003), WORLD (furniture Press, 2004), ODD FISH (Argotist Books, 2011) and SPKNG in TONGUES (Hanks Loose Gravel Press, 2012)