Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, The Nation, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker and elsewhere. His most recent collection is Almost Rain, published by River Otter Press (2013). For more information, including free e-books, his essay titled “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities” please visit his website at http://www.simonperchik.com.
Geosi Gyasi: Let’s begin from the past: You served in the Army Air Corps as a pilot. How did you get involved with piloting?
Simon Perchik :It was a poster of a young pilot looking up at the sky and the words, “Learn to Fly” written on the poster that was placed in the army base I was sent to when I was drafted. I applied, passed the interview and was sent off for training. Got my wings about 8 months later and soon after that was off to England. Flew 35 missions (as co-pilot) then sent home and discharged. From beginning to end it took a year, year and a half out of my life and yet it has taken such a hold that I can’t shake the experience. It dominates my poetry.
Geosi Gyasi: What influenced your decision to go to Law School just after completing a B.A in English?
Simon Perchik: The G I Bill. I had enough points to get all that education free. Took me five years, including summers. Law seemed a good way to make a living so why pass it up.
Geosi Gyasi: What would you say to young budding writers who venture into writing from the very beginning of their lives? Would you encourage them to take a ‘well-paying’ job before they even think of venturing into writing?
Simon Perchik: No. I would advice them not to take anyone’s advice on that. But not to forget something has to feed the writing and the experience of earning a living is one source. Writing in an “ivory tower” deprives the writer of the material he or she needs to get the job done.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you get involved with poetry?
Simon Perchik: I wrote poems in grade school and never stopped. Must give credit to my High School teacher (Mary Bell) for encouraging me.
Geosi Gyasi: Did Mary Bell hear about any of your publications? Besides being a teacher, was she a poet too?
Simon Perchik: She died long before anything of mine got published. No, she was not a poet. Just a good teacher. I owe her much and want that there be a record of it. Himmm. Is that why I write!
Geosi Gyasi: How do you define your role or vision as a poet?
Simon Perchik: I don’t think I have any role or vision. I’m writing my way out and it helps me. If others are helped, I’m happy but I have no cause to champion.
Geosi Gyasi: Tell me the story about being the first Environmental Prosecutor for Suffolk County Long Island?
Simon Perchik: I’m very proud of those five years. Lots of frustration (No help from the administrative agencies County, State or Federal) but did get a few things done and the DA kept the office open after I left..
Geosi Gyasi: Who were your early influences when you began to write?
Simon Perchik: Baudelaire of course. Paul Blackburn was a very big help and got me to give up rhyme. Much influenced by Pablo Neruda and Vicente Aleixandre.
Geosi Gyasi: What are some of the technical things you consider with your craft as a poet?
Simon Perchik: Tension is a primary concern. Also, as my work becomes more and more abstract (my subconscious talking to the reader’s subconscious). I have to be careful to provide the reader with concrete images to allow the reader a place to touch down now and then.
Geosi Gyasi: Is “I Counted Only April” your first published book?
Simon Perchik: No. I self published a small collection. Done with a rented typewriter and a rented mimeograph machine. Called “Bomber Moon”. Couldn’t give it away. Now I can’t find any copies.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you regard “Touching the Headstone” much of a success as compared to “The Autochthon Poems”?
Simon Perchik: I don’t regard any of my books a success. The only book that sold was “Hands Collected”(Pavement Saw Press) which went into a second edition.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you keep a dictionary beside you when you write?
Simon Perchik: Glad you asked that. I don’t keep a dictionary but do keep a Roget’s Thesaurus. But not solely for the purpose you may think. Of course some words are more handsome than others and writers want the best they can find. I’m no different. But I also use Roget’s Thesaurus to get ideas. Mainly to get ideas I would never in a million years thought of.. Very often a word will suggest something 90 degrees from where I was heading. Sometimes 180 degrees and the entire poem takes off in that new direction. My hope is that any writer reading this will explore what I just now said. It works!
Geosi Gyasi: Are you a full-time writer?
Simon Perchik: Yes. I wasn’t always but since my retirement in 1980 I write full time. I just exploded. Still am.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you use a computer to write or write longhand?
Simon Perchik: I write in long hand with a fountain pen. Need ink to flow out my hand. Although the poems are short lyric bursts it takes 20, 40, 90 pages to get those 12, 14, 16 short lines.
Geosi Gyasi: Does the beginning of a poem matter to you at all?
Simon Perchik: Yes. Very much so. I work the marrow and a good, strong first line helps break open the bones.
Geosi Gyasi: How about the ending of a poem. Do care so much about your endings?
Simon Perchik: Yes. I try to avoid the mistake most poets make by not stopping in time.
Geosi Gyasi: Do your children and grandchildren read your work?
Simon Perchik: No. Most people I know would sooner drink iodine than read a poem.
Geosi Gyasi: What inspired your essay, “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities”?
Simon Perchik : Wanted to tell others how I get my ideas and how that method may be of help to them.
Geosi Gyasi: How do you justify the thought that ‘poetry is not a tool for everyday use by everyone’?
Simon Perchik: Because it’s true. Poetry revives us. At a funeral we need John Donne. At a party we don’t.
Geosi Gyasi: You seem to make clear the difference between prose and poetry but my question is, are the two vastly unrelated in anyway?
Simon Perchik: Yes. Prose tells you it exactly while poetry alludes to it and you do the rest which includes a ton of unrelated references.. And this is so for prose passing itself off as poetry no matter how wide the margins are on both sides the page.
Geosi Gyasi: How about music? Is there any close relationship between poetry and music?
Simon Perchik: They are one. Both inform the listener/reader of what cannot be articulated.
Geosi Gyasi: Is it always the case that, ‘prose is a telling of what the writers already know”?
Simon Perchik: Yes. And when they tell us something they don’t know, it’s poetry they’re making.