Gary Percesepe’s new collection of poetry, Gaslight Opera, is anchored by a long pantoum composed in honor of the poet Mark Strand, to whom the work is dedicated. “Waltz du Temps Perdu” is the dance of death, the wreck of the ship of state and the entrance into what Mark Strand called “The Grand Ballroom of the New Eternity.”
Percesepe deftly deploys prose poems and other traditional poetic forms to observe and comment on the current unreality. These poems disturb, distort and ultimately delight. Although most of the poems in Gaslight Opera were written prior to the global pandemic that began in 2020, they seem to anticipate what is coming: loss, grief, despair, and anguished death alongside comic gestures of resistance tilting at the absurdity of our shared situation. These somewhat manic, even zany prose poems soon give way to a middle section of a grief observed–the quiet “eye” of the storm. Three villanelles help mark the transition to a return to the thunder and plunge off the cliff, a sliding logic of surrealistic elliptical montage with reflections on time and memory– a time permanently out of joint, as seen in Gaslight Opera by such poems as “The New Year” and “Captain Ahab Surveys the Damage Done at the Press Conference,” deliberately omitting cues and introducing oblique connections (asparagus and encyclopedias, Moby Dick and the president).
Baudelaire said that the prose poem is essentially lyric and expressive of inner states, reflecting “the lyrical impulses of the soul, the undulations of reverie, the jibes of conscience.” This is a pretty fair description of what is going on in Gaslight Opera.
Life affirming acts of invention… A romp through a world we mostly recognize, made brilliant and startling through language well chosen. The poems create a belief system we want to embrace and cause the reader to applaud a spirited writer reworking the universe for our delight.