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The Sounds of Chewing, by George Pereny

January 26, 2015

Join the Red Wheelbarrow Poets at the book release party for

GEORGE PERENY’s From the Sounds of Chewing

GainVille Café in Rutherford, NJ, Friday, Jan. 30, 7AM, 17 Ames Ave

Here is the introduction to the book, written by Jim Klein:

George Pereny is the real shit. That may seem a strange way to begin the Introduction to From The Sounds of Chewing, but I have my reasons. First, I’ve known George ever since the fall of 1975 when I started teaching English at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Rutherford, and George was doing grad work there. I might as well reveal my biases at the top. More important, I think if a book of poems is any good, at the deepest level the reader falls in love not with any poem or three but with the poet’s voice, and ultimately with the poet himself. I’ve had the habit of turning down the corners of the pages on poems I liked. It’s often happened that I go 20 or 30 pages unmoved, and then a poem hits me, and another, and I’m turning down a lot of corners and falling for the poet.

George’s voice is as clear and pure as George is. He’s had the experience all right, but his voice is natural and innocent. Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, George actually combines both. The apparent effortlessness of his work even gets me thinking back to the Aeolian harp, the Romantic image of inspiration caused by the wind blowing through the mountains. George has distilled the complexities of who he is, and was, and yearns to be into the verse testimony you have in your hand.

An immigrant kid from Hungry who first landed on a Pennsylvania farm where his family did chores, George went to high school in Bayonne. When he first came to Rutherford on a band gig in his senior year, he concluded he was in the country. He knew Springsteen in those days, so he set out on his lifelong journey to be a rocker. At Fairleigh, he made friends with Carole King’s lyricist husband Gerry Goffin, who was in his chemistry class to learn to make LSD. Once, he showed George the back door where the words came to him: Looking out at the falling rain// I used  to feel so uninspired.

The FDU literary magazine before I got there was called The Prelude, no doubt a Brit envy affectation, it was printed in green ink. I found a box of them in the attic of the English building and decided to do a literary magazine that was different in every way from The Prelude. We called it lunch because I was brown bagging it one day and throwing the bag behind my back and catching it in one hand going to the café with Geoff Nulle. Why don’t you call it lunch, Geoff said? We mimeographed it and gave it away. We had so much fun after the first issue we did another one three weeks later: students, non-students, faculty, staff and finally, people in the city and across the country began participating. We had readings nearing 100 at times that went on for hours, no doubt aided by the beer.

I go on like this because George tells me I am his teacher or mentor, and I don’t ever remember working on any of George’s poems or having him in class. I think what he means is that he’s a Jersey boy who cut his teeth on verse influenced by the animal spirits that swirled around the beginnings of lunch, a largely male and raucous scene miles removed from the prettified versings of most literary magazine.

George got a job at Passaic Community College and a few other places. At PCC, he wanted to start a literary magazine. He asked me what to call it. I said “let it come to you as you go, organic.” He called it Footwork. Finally, George got the call to teach in the Bronx. His book Homeslice chronicles those nearly forty gritty years on an almost daily basis. He became Grand Master P to his students and taught English and life in rap and by example, and broke up hundreds of fights, at times getting injured, some as the Dean of Students, commuting  two hours each way every day and during the summer as well.

In his spare time, he played drums and guitar and wrote and published numerous songs and CDs. Weekends, he was MC at the Bower Poetry Cluband Yippie Museum as the Electric Poet. George has always been a student of the martial arts, and he recently won a tournament against a much younger opponent despite having developed Parkinson’s. George has been married to his Mary Ann all these years, and they have raised three kids. He is devoutly religious and attends Mass daily. Vito told me he’s a tither and teaches Sunday School. A tither! Just saying.

Those of us who know George know that he is an amazing dude who really would give you the shirt off his back. All of which means nothing if it wasn’t apparent in every poem he writes. George knows who he is. He doesn’t want to be anybody else. He knows how his instrument sounds and what to do with it. He sure doesn’t sound like anybody else. All that singing and rhythm and kata and innocence and belief comes out in beautiful, heartfelt, monkeyshine poems.

The amazing thing about From The Sounds of Chewing, what a title, is that these are early, early poems. This is a callow, girl-crazy, overworked and underpaid, drug-addled George, emphasis on girl-crazy. It’s all good. Painters are told to hang onto some of their early work because they are doing things there they can’t do later. It shows where they came from. I watched an Antonioni movie last night on Netflix called The Story of a Love Affair. It’s a genre thing without much of a story and almost no end, but there are really amazing scenes in it and interesting bits all along. This young George is really a piece of work too.

He’s got me on the first page, “Fear.”  “When I was a little kid in Budapest// I saw my friend tied to a post//and whipped by his retarded dad.” The poem goes on to tell how  George had a little clown with a steel ball on the bottom to make it stand. He was throwing it around the house, and his mother warned him not to hit their new clock “right there dead in my aim eye.” Right there, we’re with him in childhood. Of course, he hit the clock with his clown, and now he’s terrified that his father will come home. George can make a great line out of anything. “Ocean” has him letting the water “engulf me in her tender cream.”

I’ve always remembered one of George’s big hits from Lunch days.

Tuba

golden tuba in a field of green

sun cascading off its liquid bronze

and sweeping the grass with reflections.

 

from darkness melted light:

the earth out sprang a man

to gaze at tuba

inside

outside

all around—

 

Of course, girls. In “With Me” he awakes “to the call of darkness// to bleed the she-wolf in the park//make the blond in the dark//and go// back to your cave// laughing.” Later in the poem, “And the river slides//between the thighs of the land;// the building stares vaguely//at the potent skies;// the wind is whipped by the revolt of trees// and I am here//and you are here// with me.” In “London,” it’s “The Wolf and the Deer.” “I chased and I caught you// chewed through your neck//and licked the warm  blood from my whiskers// after my// meal . . . .”

He’s not always so potent. In “White Orchestra” Marcia is “Sitting in my dirty car// I can feel her Spanish passion. // We hardly talk// we understand.// Her attitude is//maybe// and I go to her too soon.” In “I Must Bury the Cat” he realizes that though he loves Diane and has said so, he can’t “marry your two kids and ex-husband.” His regret gets mixed up with a dead cat he finds on the sidewalk and, being George, he knows he must bury it in his backyard, at the same time “praying for strength to follow the advice of good friends//concerning you.” Writing the poem on a “lonely Sunday afternoon in dirty East Rutherford,” he imagines her on the beach in a black bikini.

In “Freedom,” he’s running from the Kearny cops and hiding in a girlfriend’s house. “[Y]our mother’s breast embrace was comfort// and your children wanted me to stay.” What do you say about this hilarious, moving guy? “Dents” is about a dent in the left door of a new red Cadillac. “You saved all your money and after I couldn’t marry you// it became your new love and now it’s dented and I’m sorry.”  He’s dented, she’s dented, and he’s sorry. Not me. I’m loving it.

“A Prayer” is for a fly on his table, and of course for himself. “Hey Joe, Where Ya Going//With That Weapon in Your Hand” combines Joe Christmas in Faulkner’s Light in August and “Hey Joe” performed by Jimi Hendrix. Joe, you little sick speck! // If only the digit of God could have flicked you right. //[H]ey Joe where ya going with that weapon in your hand?

George goes where his heart takes him, even where few poets would dare go.

You Woman

When I’d look the way you’d want

I’d see you glance at me

in a flash of hot desire.

I loved you fat

would kiss your varicose veins for healing

but you’d complain when I was dirty

whiskers and bad breath would bother you

while I loved the ugly hair on your unshaved thighs—

 

so who love more?

you woman?

 

We were all young once, and a lot of lunch poets were as crazy as George used to be. I was. Somewhere in this book he has a line about J.K. having a “nervous breakdown. I guess George liked me so much he was driven to euphemism. When I was asked to write this introduction, my mind flew to one of my favorite memories of George. It was a hot August morning. I was in bed, and just woke up with the wrong girl next to me. I said so and she was pissed and we were in kind of a fight, that is she was biting down on my left thumb so hard I couldn’t get it out. I was in pain. Just then George yelled, “Hey, Klein. I’ve got something for you!” I looked just as he heaved a big blue fish over my window sill.

Just then I thought maybe George is right about all his God stuff.

He had just saved me from something very, very bad. I still don’t know about George’s God stuff, but he’s got something for all of us here. It’s his amazing early poems, From The Sounds of Chewing.

 

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