"Inseminating the Elephant [is] a collection of poems, often laced with humor, that examines popular culture, the limits of the human body, and the tragicomic aspects of everyday experience."—Pulitzer Prize finalist citation
"These poems are tough and witty."—The New Yorker
"Whoever told you poetry isn't for everyone hasn't read Lucia Perillo."—Time Out New York
A 2009 Pulitzer Prize finalist, Inseminating the Elephant delivers hard-edged yet vulnerable poems that reconcile the comic impulse with the complications and tragedies of living in the eating and breathing body—what Lucia Perillo calls the "meat cage." Perillo dissects human failings and sexuality, as well as collisions between nature and the manufactured world, to create an unforgettable poetic vision.
How the zoologists start
is by facing the mirror of her flanks,
that foreboding luscious place where the gray hide
gives way to a zeroing-in of skin as vulnerable as an orchid.
Which is the place to enter, provided you are brave,
brave enough to insert your laser-guided camera
to avoid the two false openings of her "vestibule,"
much like the way of entering death, of giving birth to death,
calling it forth as described in the Tibetan Book.
Lucia Perillo graduated from McGill University in Montreal and worked for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. She completed her MA in English at Syracuse University, and has published five books of poetry. She was a MacArthur Fellow in 2000 and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2009. She lives in Olympia, Washington.
Perillo is poet who aggressively, unflinchingly and humorously takes it all in; her poems here feature an ode to Motorola, a fat junkie, a bra fitting and Plath's hair, not to mention the act described in the title poem. She is not afraid of beginning a poem with a list of great men who all had a woman and child/ they needed to ditch, and then comparing the way the universe regards everyone to the way those great men regarded their children. She avoids sentimentality while confronting the rebellions of her own body, which landed her in a wheelchair: She rolls up/ to watch me board, as people do,/ because it is interesting/ to see the wheelchair maneuvered backward/ into the van. She manages to write a surprising poem about Viagra, with Niagara Falls' silver surge as its central image. Perillo is never uninteresting. In the title poem, her chutzpah and roving eye blend perfectly, demonstrating in fairly intricate detail how a German zoologist's preparation and approach toward an elephant's vestibule compares to the reader approaching the speaker's own inner life, her seed-pearl and opalescent sorrow.