Pearl Pirie. The Pet Radish, Shrunken. (BookThug 2015).
After two books, Pearl Pirie already has something of a reputation for verbal pyrotechnics, & her eccentrically titled new collection will definitely further burnish it. The Pet Radish, Shrunken is a wide-ranging potpourri of various & varied poems full of (often cutting & sardonic) wit, punning, & delight in the odd & transgressive: ‘catch my flown meaning, the broken sticks / that used to be letters you could make sense of.’
She’s insistent: ’sense is as sense does. Sense is as sense is made.’ And her poetic makes a lot – of different things here. Pirie plays with various forms, a kind of wild ghazal, prose poems, little playlets, sheer joyful & willful language games. The Pet Radish, Shrunken is a bit of a literary roller-coaster. Not everything works (for me), but there’s more than enough I can praise here.
Although many of these pieces seem to fly beyond the ordinary, the local & political world hovers nearby, & sometimes impinges in a cutting manner. There’s a pertinent impertinence to such poems as ‘but here are you from, really?’ with lines like ‘absence makes the heart grown nomads. we are cheerleaders / standing on the pyramid of temporary workers,’ etc. Or ‘the hem in them’ (& she just loves to find the words within words that set up contradictions): ‘childhood betrothal shifts its weight on another foot / when nationalists come calling to collect us for their wars // their values.’
I like the way in which Pirie can shift, within a line, from the personal or local out, to the planetary or cosmic: ‘lose an evening chez chefs / their red snappers, ocean wars’ or, all too much to the point at this political moment, ‘when it wasn’t up to multinationals like ikea to support refugee camps. / when we compare ourselves with gods our losses are less small.’ Point of view, as many of these poems suggest, is variable, even within the singular poet.
Pirie is a master of the sharp one liner, as in this bp-ish little take: ‘pr is the inevitable start of any time / of prayer.’ Elsewhere she is heavily into portmanteau hyphenated constructions which she then wrestles into different syntactical usages: ‘re-lifestyle the monkeymind’ for example. Or she takes words apart, for similar purposes.
Yet for all this play, she can also turn to a metaphysical poetics of existential awareness, as in ‘scratch the surface.’ One of my favorite poems in the book, it’s beautifully modulated in its almost cosmic understatement, as it moves from ‘a white line along the forearm’ to ‘we, that storm of particles refilling earth. // we, hills, moving, with spines running thru / don’t return to dust. have never left.’ The Pet Radish, Shrunken offers many moments that hold a reader tight, slightly off balance, & glad to be so.