Monday, December 12, 2016

Live Interview with Simon Perchik

The B Poems by Simon Perchik

Live Interview with Simon Perchik by Susan Tepper on December 10, 2016

with Susan Tepper

Simon Perchik was born in Paterson, New Jersey in 1923. His father was a silk weaver until the mills dried up during the Great Depression, when he turned to the grocery business, installing his family of eight in living quarters behind the small stores where Perchik lived until World War II. Following a stint in the Army Air Corps, where he served as a pilot, Perchik enrolled in New York University under the G.I. Bill. He began writing poetry in fits and starts. After receiving a B.A. in English, he went straight to NYU Law School. From 1950 until 1980 Perchik practiced law while continuing to write poetry. He served as Suffolk County Long Island’s first Environmental Prosecutor from 1975 until 1980.

I Counted Only April, his first book, was published in 1964. Twenty three poetry books have been published to date. Perchik has placed thousands of poems in magazines and journals ranging from The New Yorker, Poetry, Partisan Review and The Nation, to the tiniest of online magazines.

The B Poems, his brand new collection, was published by Poets Wear Prada in November 2016. Perchik divides his time between his home in East Hampton, NY and his daughter’s home in Manhattan.
Library Journal wrote: “…Perchik is the most widely published unknown poet in America…”

Susan Tepper: You have a daily writing routine. How do you start the process moving?

Simon Perchik: Every morning I take a fifteen minute walk to catch the bus to East Hampton Village. I go to the Y where I do a little exercise and have some coffee. I’ll start to work on my poetry there. Then I move down the street to The Golden Pear café where I take a table all the way in the rear. Nobody wants to sit back there because you can’t see and be seen! (laughter)

ST: That’s funny and so typical of the tony Hamptons, the see and be seen.

SP: Yeah! So I sit there with my headphones on listening to classical music. Mahler and Beethoven for instance. I’ll be working with a group of pictures from a well known photographer’s book such as The Family of Man.

ST: So you write from what you see in the photo? But your work is so abstract.

SP: Susan, I wish it were that simple. I begin by describing in prose what I see in the photo (this is a so and so) for maybe six or seven pages. Then keeping the photo in sight, I turn to a book of mythology or science. I’ll think to myself now what does this have to do with what’s in the photograph.

ST: You’re looking for a link?

SP: I’m like a detective. A poetry detective. Though the photo and the book’s text are seemingly contradictory, I continue thinking about it, then suddenly one has everything in the world to do with the other. I have my hook. Similar to what a metaphor does.

ST: That’s when the poem actually begins?

SP: Correct. The photo is simply a catalyst to get the pen flowing. Trying to connect the image with the idea. As the poem progresses, new things come in and often the originating image and idea disappear entirely at the poem’s conclusion.

ST: Wow, that’s some process. I don’t think I’d have the strength. (laughter)

SP: I mark each page as I go along onto the next photograph. The entire collection can take several years to finish.

ST: You work in the café on a laptop?

SP: No, on random sheets of paper. In long hand.

ST: Seriously?

SP: Yes. Listen. The poems don’t get written by themselves. The Family of Man took me eight years to finish.

ST: When you first see the photograph, does the poem start to jell in your mind?

SP: No. I’ll be thinking where am I going with this, what am I doing. Writing with nothing in my head but a sense of doom.

ST: But your poems always come out perfect. At what point in your method does the abstraction come into the poem?

SP: That comes at the end. If I’m going to abstract a mountain, first I have to have the mountain. After I get a sense of what’s going on in the poem. It’s a poem not an essay. I try to approach the reader through their subconscious.

ST: There’s a lot of death in your poems. Are all poets obsessed with death?

SP: No matter how a poem starts out it ends in a cemetery (laughter). Love and death. Loneliness, despair, fear. What else is there to write about?

ST: Of all the abstract painters, who would you compare yourself with?

SP: Rothko. When the abstract artist paints, it is the artist’s subconscious talking to the viewer’s subconscious. Likewise, when I abstract a poem, it is my subconscious talking to the reader’s subconscious. Another painter, Herman Cherry, who was an abstract artist, is my favorite of the abstractionists and I feel an equal to Rothko.

ST: That’s interesting. I’m unfamiliar with Cherry’s work. Do you own any of his pictures?

SP: Yes, but not the one I want. The one I wish I owned is a blue-purplish dark abstraction that’s really death-like.

ST: It sounds amazing. Actually, I see you as the Jackson Pollock of poets. And he lived in East Hampton, too, close to you in Springs. Did you ever meet him?

SP: No. I met de Kooning a few times.

ST: What was he like?

SP: His studio was jammed with paintings. He was not in good health at that time. My wife, Mickie, was a nurse and she’d been sent there to give him an injection. I accompanied her. He was very quiet.

ST: So getting back to your brand new collection of 63 poems titled The B Poems. Which photography book helped to inspire this work?

SP: Bruce Davidson was the photographer and I used all 63 photos from his book titled Bruce Davidson:Photofile published by Thames & Hudson, London, 1990. I might add that I have pretty much exhausted mythology at this point, mostly using Science News Magazine to confront the photographs.

ST: Having read nearly all your twenty three books, I must say I was totally stunned all over again by the brilliance of The B Poems.

SP: Thank you.

The B Poems by Simon Perchik published by Poets Wear Prada and all online outlets.

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