By Gale Hemmann, 10/6/10
For those who haven’t heard her name around town or read it on a book cover, Lucia Perillo is a local treasure. She’s both an award-winning poet (her book Inseminating the Elephant was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, among many other awards) and a long-time Olympia resident.
Lucia gives a writer’s eye to the natural beauty around us in Puget Sound while also being hard-hitting. As someone who suffers from MS, she writes often about the painful realities of the body. Her work uses humor and beautiful images to connect with her readers, and it is no wonder she has won such acclaim. She resides with her husband on Olympia’s Westside.
I was lucky enough to catch up with her recently to ask her a few questions about Olympia and poetry (which go well together, as it turns out).
OP&L: Some of your poems, in Luck is Luck, for instance, include references to Olympia, such as the old KFC building. Do you feel that living and writing in Olympia over the years has played a role in your poetry writing in general? How would you say it has influenced you?
PERILLO: I have written, over the years, a few poems that use the environment of Olympia for their settings, partly because the landscape is stunning and also unique. The social environment of Olympia has also provided me with material for poems and stories. I wrote a book of stories set in Olympia that was never published. I wrote a poem about two drunks at Bayview, and always have it in mind that I must spend more time hanging out downtown.
OP&L: What, if any, writing projects are you working on now? You have pursued different online venues over the past few years – do you plan to return to any online/blogging projects in the near future?
PERILLO: Right now I am writing poems. I feel wistful about how computers have changed our lives. Surely they’ve improved the lives of disabled people by providing new means of achieving and maintaining social connections. Technology has also aided daily living in countless ways for anyone with a physical challenge.
But computers also provide us with too much input: we have the world at our fingertips now, without gatekeepers.Unfortunately, we need gatekeepeers to manage the flood of images and language, if we’re not to be washed away. Currently we are being washed away, at least I find that I am overwhelmed by information that is trivial. So I am trying to unplug myself and read more actual books. OP&L: Who are some of the local literary figures, if any, that have been important to you as friends, fellow writers, and/or good spirits about town? Have you been involved much with the local literary scene, or is most of your connection more at a national level now?
PERILLO: I don’t travel much, so most of my connections are local—the poet Jeanne Lohman is a neighbor and the poet Tim Kelly is a friend. Luckily there are poets here I can bounce my work off of. It makes me extremely uncomfortable to be thought of as “the famous poet” in a smallish town.
Fortunately or unfortunately, being a successful poet means that you will sell a thousand books. So you are not mobbed at the grocery store. But I was envious at Jim Lynch’s book party for his novel Border Songs, to see boxes of his book flying out of the Olympia Hotel.
OP&L: At your readings I’ve attended, you often shared anecdotes about some of the great local characters, past and present, of Olympia (the Airplane Man, etc.). How would you describe the Olympia literary scene and overall culture, in your experience? PERILLO: Compared to a lot of places I’ve lived, Olympia has a tolerant, progressive population, and that means that one is more liable to see, for example, a man rollerskating around town in a dress.
It’s standard practice for writers to utilize their physical environments—I can think of a lot of poems that take place on the streets of New York or Paris. There’s also a pastoral tradition in poetry, poems that utilize the countryside. Here, we’re between worlds, not city, not county, not suburban. This is a liminal place, a between-place. Tibetans would call it one example of the bardo.
If I were looking for a metaphor to wrap that in, it would be the tide, always in flux, always between the high and the ebb. It infuses the air here.It reminds you that our lives are fluid and ever-changing. ◙
For more info about Lucia Perillo, visit www.luciaperillo.com.