puma perl review

5 Aug

Singing Ramones’ Songs in Church

review: “with the patience of monuments”

by Puma Perl

Jack Henry slammed me in the face.

I have always admired Jack’s writing, his fearless self-revelations combined with a world-view that is equal parts jaded and hopeful. What knocked me off my feet in his first full-length collection, with the patience of monuments, is the way he turns himself inside out, and then goes down a little deeper, moves in a bit closer, and, just as you think he’s in for the kill, suddenly…a gentle word, a line so of such graceful beauty you get, well, slammed in the face. Again.


Great writing always includes the element of surprise, whether it’s a sucker punch or a spiked drink. This is a book that opens with the line:

a single note destroyed me

tells us who he is and who he’s not in the second poem (very next breath)

perhaps i’m like Jesus
during those middle years

and, further on,

there’s a chance i am just a mirror
broken on the floor in a symphony of single shards

thereby introducing the underlying spiritual/religious theme, and the overlying one, in which he provides a mirror not only into his own soul but into the reader’s. Looking deeply into the mirror is where I got slammed in the face and started to bleed; where I recognized the need in myself to gather the courage to throw myself onto the page like a maniac bungee jumper, no net, only a belief and love of the process and a little bit of faith in the outcome.

Part of the uniqueness of the work is the brilliance of the surprise. Airport meetings, commuter bus fucks, Speak East Taverns, bitter circus, and, right in the mix, the sweet fragility of lives lived with love (absolved of nothing but trying):

i take her hand, kiss her,
make her blush with a particular
whisper, one have that
is only for her…

It took several readings before I finished the collection. I had to stop, absorb, and bandage a few new bruises. Anybody can write about someone else, anybody can even write about themselves, dancing along surfaces filled with imagery and amusement. I was overcome with the journey into self, which shoved me, hard, into my self.

This is a book you need to hold in your hands, feel the weight of the man who lives within; it is not an e-book or a kindle or a flickering screen. I am going to do that wearing a little less body armor and a deeper understanding of why we do this at all.

Maybe somewhere there is still “a bookstore on Bleecker Street” and we can celebrate as Jack does:

on Sunday we went to a cathedral,
ate church in the back row,
sang songs by the Ramones
when everybody knelt to pray…

Puma Perl,
author, Belinda and Her Friends (Erbacce Press, 2008)

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