Puma Perl’s Retrograde (Book Review) by David McLean

This is Puma Perl’s second full length collection of poetry. Moving backwards through memory, but not getting worse, as the title might imply. I am assuming that it is not used in the medical sense or the original astrological sense, but maybe in the musical sense, of imitation, or the metamorphosis of organs in botany that assume the appearance of those outside surrounding them. As I remember, in Tristram Shandy the word is used just to mean slow or remiss. Maybe Puma feels her pen has been “a little retrograde” – having written all these things after the event.

The book is for those who do not wake up screaming, but wake up wanting to scream.

Some things the writer relates to belong to what one might call “modern love”:

I know you don’t love me anymore.

Your text message was in small letters.

It used to be uppercase.


Everybody knows about caps and computers. The use of caps is not good. A man who writes all in uppercase is not to be trusted; he may be an ax-murderer. And Puma is brave enough to mention Failbook in a poem, the consummate circle jerk for morons where I, along with everybody and his/her grandmother, greedily and gratefully participate. It is a world where people fake orgasms even when they masturbate, and where Puma is one of the very few who actually write poetry that deserves to exist on paper.

One good thing about Puma is that her poetry doesn’t particularly remind the reader of anybody else and is never reluctant to refer to popular culture – she even refers to writers from the Facefuck emptiness, which may restrict the book’s appeal if potential readers don’t know who they are. But this happens relatively seldom, and most of the references are to people like Nico, and there’s no excuse for not knowing who she is.

The poems in the book span everything from years of addiction, long ago, to the now where there are “social media” and cell phones. It is a a world where “it is always sometimes, never forever”: as it has always been, it’s just a world where it is more glaringly obvious. The poems are both psychologically insecure and artistically secure:

I am a broken basket.

Don’t put your eggs in me

(p. 106)

The poems are written with exact confidence, however:

Do not believe

my spoken word,

read my scarred

letters, they crawl

down my arms

like predators.

(p. 31)

Puma asks if the life was all worth it, all the problems and anxiety, just for some poems.

runaway dogs

dead kittens

dark glasses

splintered mind

broken windows

purple dress

bare feet

cold linoleum


patched jeans

ripped shirts

burnt years

welfare cheese

dirty decades

stolen checks

lost kids

was it worth it

just to write

some fucking poems?

(pp. 121f.)

If you buy the book at Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/Retrograde-Puma-Perl/dp/0985731729, then I’m sure you’ll agree. Well, yes, it was.

We do not find ourselves by worrying and reflecting on the “self” – we find ourselves by thoughtfully engaging with out world – and this is what Puma does here, she paints the being wherein she lives.


Author bio:

David McLean is from Wales but has lived in Sweden since 1987. He lives there with his dog, Oscar, & his computers. In addition to various chapbooks, McLean is the author of seven full-length poetry collections. The last four of thse are from Oneiros Books and called NOBODY WANTS TO GO TO HEAVEN BUT EVERYBODY WANTS TO DIE (June, 2013), THINGS THE DEAD SAY (Feb, 2014), OF DESIRE AND THE LESION THAT IS THE EGO (May, 2014) & ZARA & THE GHOST OF GERTRUDE (Oct, 2014). More information about McLean can be found at his blogs http://mourningabortion.blogspot.com/ &http://davidcmclean.wordpress.com/

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