BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
Puma is New York City. Puma is why New York City is cool. I read her full-length collection Retrograde (great weather for media, 2014) on the subway, while listening to The Cure, walking around LES, and wandering at Coney Island. In many ways, the collection is best read while traveling, as so much of it concerns human movement, both physical and emotional.
The collection moves through time, whether it’s looking toward a dangerous past, a muddy future, or a bleak present; it is a study in how humanity changes yet stays stationary. Perl draws divine inspiration from Elizabeth Bishop, as the sense of loss permeates between every line, syllable, and period. Her poem & I’m Still Losing sets a tone for the entire book, as she discusses drug addiction and past lovers, ending the poem with lines that cut like a sword: "It takes 17 minutes to drink / a hot cup of light sweet coffee…smoke a Marlboro. / It never gets better than that" (Perl, 16).
The book is void of bullshit, portraying American city life in all its unglamorous, gritty glory. Instead of romanticizing the street and bohemian life, Perl illustrates the monotonous impersonal conversations we share with our loved one, as noted in Anniversary: "Please pass the salt. / Did you fix the window…Thank you / Bye, Babe" (Perl, 57). In her poem Do You Think?, she asks the one question we are too afraid to hear the answer to: "Do you think we’ll ever stop pretending?" From black eyeliner to analyzing text messages to blizzards to punk, this book has it all.
What I love most about Retrograde is the simple fact that Perl is not concerned with the hipsterdom invading Brooklyn–-she is concerned about freezing winters, not enough food, lovers destroying each other, the work grind, writing a good poem, not writing a good poem. In essence, she is concerned about real life, not a manicured Instagram.
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (forthcoming 2016, ELJ Publications) & Xenos (forthcoming 2017, Agape Editions). She received her MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. She is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, as well as the managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine. Some of her writing has appeared in Prelude, The Atlas Review, The Huffington Post, Columbia Journal, and elsewhere. She teaches workshops at Brooklyn Poets.
Puma Perl is the author of two chapbooks, the award-winning Belinda and Her Friends and Ruby True, and the full-length collection knuckle tattoos. Her poetry and short stories appear in numerous journals and anthologies including It’s Animal but Merciful (great weather for MEDIA, 2012), The Understanding between Foxes and Light (great weather for MEDIA, 2013), Maintenant, Rattle, The Chiron Review, Have a NYC (Three Rooms Press), and Bullying: Replies, Rebuttals, Confessions, and Catharsis. Recently she was awarded a 2016 Acker Award.