by Gary Percesepe
Gary Percesepe’s new collection of poetry, Gaslight Opera, is anchored by a long pantoum composed in honor of the poet Mark Strand, to whom the work is dedicated. “Waltz du Temps Perdu” is the dance of death, the wreck of the ship of state and the entrance into what Mark Strand called “The Grand Ballroom of the New Eternity.”
Percesepe deftly deploys prose poems and other traditional poetic forms to observe and comment on the current unreality. These poems disturb, distort and ultimately delight. Although most of the poems in Gaslight Opera were written prior to the global pandemic that began in 2020, they seem to anticipate what is coming: loss, grief, despair, and anguished death alongside comic gestures of resistance tilting at the absurdity of our shared situation. These somewhat manic, even zany prose poems soon give way to a middle section of a grief observed–the quiet “eye” of the storm. Three villanelles help mark the transition to a return to the thunder and plunge off the cliff, a sliding logic of surrealistic elliptical montage with reflections on time and memory– a time permanently out of joint, as seen in Gaslight Opera by such poems as “The New Year” and “Captain Ahab Surveys the Damage Done at the Press Conference,” deliberately omitting cues and introducing oblique connections (asparagus and encyclopedias, Moby Dick and the president).
Baudelaire said that the prose poem is essentially lyric and expressive of inner states, reflecting “the lyrical impulses of the soul, the undulations of reverie, the jibes of conscience.” This is a pretty fair description of what is going on in Gaslight Opera.
Life affirming acts of invention… A romp through a world we mostly recognize, made brilliant and startling through language well chosen. The poems create a belief system we want to embrace and cause the reader to applaud a spirited writer reworking the universe for our delight. ~Maxine Chernoff
About the Author
Gary Percesepe is the author of a new poetry book, Gaslight Opera (The Poetry Box, 2021) plus eleven books, including Moratorium, a short story collection forthcoming from Atmosphere Press. He is Associate Editor at New World Writing (formerly Mississippi Review). Prior to that, he was an assistant fiction editor at Antioch Review. His work has appeared in Brevity, Story Quarterly, N + 1, The Greensboro Review, Wigleaf, Christian Century, Mississippi Review, New World Writing, Salon, Camera Obscura, Westchester Review, PANK, The Millions, Atticus Review, BULL, The Good Man Project, Word Riot, Necessary Fiction, Solstice, The Maine Review, Mercurius, and other places. He resides in White Plains, New York, and teaches philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx.
Other Books by Gary Percesepe include:
- What Might Have Been: Letters of Jackson Pollock and Dori G (an epistolary novel with Susan Tepper)
- Falling (poetry)
- Itch (short stories)
- The Winter of J (poetry)
- Light Turnout (poetry)
Early Praise for Gaslight Opera:
Gary Percesepe’s brilliant new book of poems is, as they say, packed. There’s so much of the human condition on display in this full-throated work—poems beautifully serious and beautifully zany, all leading to the poem of the final section “Waltz de Temps Perdu,” dedicated to Mark Strand and it’s a tour de force.
—Tim Suermondt, author of Josephine Baker Swimming Pool
Gaslight Opera, Gary Percesepe’s latest collection of poetry, brilliantly captures the existential mood of the times, delivering sharply observant slices of life comic and tragic against a backdrop of literature, love, and dreams intertwined. Somewhere moonflowers shimmer in street dust, a long-lost father works late at night alone in a parallel world, and we may wake up one day and find ourselves covered in covfefe, searching for the last fallen ice cube in the fridge. Percesepe, with joyful resistance, reassures: “Whatever happens today, we are here.”
—Morgan Harlowe, author of Midwest Ritual Burning
“While they illuminate the absurdity that we inhabit in a whirling present, the poems in Gaslight Opera defy the urge to privilege crisis over clarity, lament over insight, mockery over authenticity, oblivion over the glisten of wounds. Rather, they emerge from a bold acceptance of the manic, and an introspective embrace of what’s broken: ‘I am alone with my secrets. They are so lovely.’ Percesepe’s voice is one of shrewdness, marked by a rare combination of emotional astuteness and a penetrating depth of vision.”