Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday, 16 February 1998

THE LOVER OF MY SOUL: A Search for Ecstasy and Wisdom

By Perry Brass

Book Review by Jack Nichols

The Lover of My Soul: A Search for Ecstasy and Wisdom, by Perry Brass, Belhue Press, 1998, paperback, 97 pages, $8.95

In Dr. James T. Sears' new book, Lonely Hunters: An Oral History of Lesbian and Gay Southern Life, Perry Brass is called "a Northern émigré and a post-Stonewall gay activist…a Savannah poet born in 1947."

Professor Sears tells how Brass eventually left the University of Georgia and went to work in Manhattan. He quotes a long-ago Brass poem titled When I Was Twelve Years Old:

Lying in bed with another man
I wonder sometimes how we are able
to step out of the brutalizing process
long enough to express any feelings
for one another…
The doctors
say that there must be something wrong
to want to lie here instead of killing
each other.

"This anger and angst," reflects historian Sears with his focus on the late 1960s, "would soon be unleashed by a Southern band of youthful radicals…"

Perry Brass was ahead of his time prior to the Stonewall rebellion, yes, but he remains so today too. Given his latest creation, I'd wager he's even more passionately in touch with core values now than then. His new book of poetry, The Lover of My Soul, delivers exactly what poetry lovers are supposed to experience: startling, mysterious openings in the folds of inner consciousness, thrill-filled roller-coaster rides into realms of stark awareness beating--hands down--those points made in lengthy essays.

In my own major work, Men's Liberation: A New Definition of Masculinity (Penguin Books) the book's final chapter calls poetry (such as—over the centuries— has affected many nations' and tribes' populaces) a "technology of remembrance" in which a memorized muse's survival values and his or her ideas about the best kinds of social interaction become a people's marrow promoting and holding together humankind's best cherished hopes.

This year—along with my rediscovery of The Essential Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks)—I've been struck most by Perry Brass' amazing poetic takes on human existence. When he began writing for GayToday, I'd merely recalled that his name had popped up in the Stonewall era, though I knew he'd written some gripping novels.

I had no idea, however, that through his poems he could cut through hypocritical cant as he does, nor that he could deliver—with a mere word or phrase—the sort of wisdom that the pursuit of ecstasy requires.

He says that people have asked him why he wanted to publish another book that is basically, for the most part, poetry. People tell him over and over that poetry doesn't sell.

Wisely, Brass has ignored—as poets should—such financial concerns. "I am most myself in poetry," he tells us, "I love and respect this form, this difficult linguistic weather in a bottle, alternatingly lovely, stormy, peaceful, and frightening, but never plain, at least not plain in any dull, unfeeling way."

Brass thinks its difficult to judge poetry, or to say what its worth. Here I take issue with him. The Lover of My Soul can boast many moments of sheer genius, and Brass can rest assured there's nothing in what he's written that's merely "clever" or "chatty" or "academic".

When I first picked up Allen Ginsberg's poems, for example, I didn't feel nearly the same warm flashes of excitement that Brass delivers. He may be right believing Americans pay little attention to any poetry, and this fact is tragic. In The Lover of My Soul the gifted poet has given his countrymen spirited presents that are, at times, "ferocious" but always nourishing to their souls.

Listen to Brass' own reflections on what poetry is about. "It is," he says: "the most intimate and gallant form of writing. It dances across the field of consciousness as well as marches. It turns. It stops. Eyes you. And then, if you are lucky, settles in to making love. It is sexy and brutal, and it cuts right to the chase. It is the chase."

Brass believes people are frightened of poetry because they're afraid of themselves. I'll ditto that. Brass admits that he even fears his own thoughts. If only others of us were so honest.

"Poetry," he writes, "has been 'in your face' as long as the human face has been around.. It is also a mirror that not only tells the truth ('Mirror, mirror, on the wall!'), but like a joltingly good joke brings the truth closer to brain level, and then lets us play with it."

The Lover of My Soul is now one of the treasured books in my library. To choose one favorite poem from this slender volume would be unfair to the rest—all of which speak to us in a variety of moods, some quite deliberately frightening. There's A Warning to Fag Bashers, for example:

I'm a deranged queer
I will cut your throat and torch your head off.
I'll bite your dick off and spit it into your face.
You can never tell when you'll run into me
and there's lots more like me where I came from,
or there's nobody like me, so when you run into me
you better get the fuck out
I will not be a victim. I will play every dirty trick on you.
I am a dirty trick. I am a queer with no scruples
when it comes down to protecting myself
and the men I love and you are not one of them.
You are a low animal
and expendable.
I am descended from Jews, gypsies, funny niggers,
and black widow spiders
with Christ's savage blood in them.
I am a decorative tarantula.
and if you want to see how pretty I am,
get closer. I will not be your victim.
I will play vile, dumb and dirty.
I will not play by the rules and I will come back for you
in the middle of the night and slash the rubber tires
attached to your balls. I am not witty like Gore Vidal
at parties. So don't expect me to fight
your chicken-shit actions with words. You know
who you are and I know what your plans are.
I've seen you on the streets every day
and I can identify you by your tin smile
and your scent like that of a dead rat.

Such attitude ought to give fag bashers pause, is it not so?

But there are other attitudes in The Lover of My Soul to give any of us pause. This following reflection, for example is delivered at a point where we think about meeting a person who makes a "whole" difference to us, who will "open up…a path of romanticism and joy." Brass writes In Some Point in Your Life:

At another point you may realize
that that person may be yourself, and it is possible
to stumble onto this path, this course,
of beauty within yourself, and if/when you do,
You will want to share this with another man
and in wanting this, you may come upon
many blind alleys, because
you will be seeing your own light, your own kindness,
reflected in the plain faces of others, and, probably,
they will not see it at all. In fact, they may be
puzzled by you: that you are not as numbed, jaded,
and turned off both to joy and pain as they are:
as they have blocked the road to their own passion and ecstasy
and learned to live within the dull silence we now
call "normalcy,"
and they will call you "strange" that you are not part of that:
or at best, they may try to snip off little pieces
of you, eat of you what they can, then spit the rest out.
So beware while you are on this quest, but do not
give it up: to do so is to resign yourself
to the flat world around you: a world that makes no promises
but takes all bargains, finds satisfaction in the most harmful pursuits
and tries to drug itself with this—you will want more,
because you have known more, seen it, felt it—
but at some point you will meet that person
who will make a… "whole" difference to you,
and you will speak in a language of intense, shared experience
and then both of you, at
that point, will understand.

Perry Brass' latest novel about cloning, The Harvest, has been nominated among this year's Lambda Literary Award finalists (science fiction category). No doubt this happening has heartened the distinguished author. But he should also feel assured that his latest poems, which invite first-time readers to a prime feast of emotional intensities, may very well be the very gems that carry his work far into the next century and even beyond.

Perry Brass' web site can be reached at:

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