Belly Full of Rocks. Tyler B. Perry. Oolichan Books. Fernie, British Columbia. 2016.
Tyler B. Perry inhabits fairy tales like Wayne Gretzky handled the puck, with utter disregard for tradition, the other players and a few of the essential laws of gravity. Perry's poems offer us up an entirely new world or unearthly charms.
How much fun are the poems in Belly Full of Rocks? More than you thought possible. Because we all know the earlier versions of these stories Perry has a known template to dive off of, but when he begins to show his marvelous romp skills all hell breaks loose.
Once inside the fairy tales of our youth Perry delights in the helter-skelter reconstruction of an entirely new set of rules. Perry establishes a new paradigm. Our dark fears join our dark intentions and Perry almost dares us to peer into the foreboding new light: Perry is casting light into the dark corners our heroes never admitted to. Maybe we had the wrong heroes.
So, the wolf has had his bad day, tried to move on, but...
Wolf in the city
I've acquired a small house in the suburbs.
In the city, but close enough to the outskirts
that I can roam the river valley, prowl
the yards of cottages in the foothills.
I don't go into town much, except to buy
groceries and stroll the streets
after dark. At first I was self conscious,
but soon realized I could go
pretty much anywhere incognito.
A heavy pea jacket and a tuque,
fur sticking out from my collar,
snout tucked in. Mostly
I walk. I'm patient now, knowing
I'll have to learn the ways
of the city before I start
to hunt. I snuggle up
to street lamps, run my tongue
along two rows of teeth: shredders
and bone crushers. One day
the girl with the red hood will pass by,
and this time I won't forget to chew.
Belly Full of Rocks is a beautiful case of sustained magic. We know after reading the first delightful poem in this collection that we are not in Walt Disney World fairy tale territory; Perry is more closely and easily aligned with The Brothers Grimm.
Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs have never shared this much venomous rage nor been more like you and I. On the surface the poems in Belly Full of Rocks play fast and loose with the fairy tales we all know and love. It's clear to Today's book of poetry that there is ample sub-text at every turn. There are primal urges vying the limelight right along with with primal fears, these fairy tale creature might be searching for salvation but Perry is reaching for illumination.
Tyler B. Perry deserves our admiration for the consistency of his conceit and how his new universe is such an eerie parallel to our own.
And that damned wolf, he doesn't know when to quit...
My story doesn't end
and I never seem to win.
I've been sliced, stuffed, drowned, skinned,
boiled and eaten, and yet I come again,
slinking with my trickery,
wicked about the eyes, meaning
to spring down upon you
and devour you in the darkness.
You can kill me and kill me and kill me,
but I will feed on your hate
and when the shadows
are their darkest, you will see my eyes:
two lanterns coming towards you
in the night.
This morning's read here at the office was a celebration, these poems ripping off of the tongue like bon-bons for the brain. They only taste like candy, the reality is far more substantial, nutritious.
Belly Full of Rocks was such a pleasure to read that Today's book of poetry is starting to feel spoiled but in truth we read a fair bit of chafe here at TBOP before we find gems like this. Tyler B. Perry is not the guy want reading to your children before they retire for the night - not if you ever want them to sleep. This is for the grown-ups.
Tyler B. Perry goes that extra step, he even arranges for you to feel empathy for that notoriously evil old wolf and his sad lanterns.
I want to hunt
but the rocks slow me down,
my claws too loud on city sidewalks.
Streetlamps dampen the glow of my eyes.
Those pigs with their soft flesh and keen snouts
seemed to smell me before I even knocked,
heard the panting of my hungry breath.
By the time I'd reached the clever third,
he was waiting for me. He might as well
have left the door ajar and set out a pot of tea.
I still drip from the broth, my flesh
torn and bones bruised, chewed to a pulp.
My wounds throb, call to the moon.
Even the alley vermin aren't afraid
of me as I collapse and curl against the curb.
They crawl into my folds for heat.
When the white van pulls up I barely notice
until I feel the snare around my neck
and a sharp sting on my haunch.
I hear the trotters on the pavement,
the scurry of mice, feel soft arms
around me and sleep.
Today's book of poetry says to jump into this water head first. Belly Full of Rocks is what we want from a book of poetry here at Today's book of poetry: it's amusing, arresting and alarming in all the best possible ways. Perry has woven us into these myths, given them back to us to consider once again.
Fine, fine, fine stuff.
Tyler B. Perry
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tyler Brendan Perry graduated from the optional residency Creative Writing MFA program at the University of British Columbia, and teaches high school in Calgary Alberta, where he lives with his wife, two kids, and a dog. He was captain of the 2010 Calgary poetry slam team, and is one of the organizers of the Alberta provincial high school poetry slam, Can You Hear Me Now? This is his second book of poetry.
"You now what stories do, with their subliminally charged plots and scary messages, but do you wonder where they come from and what happens to those characters afterwards? Stay tuned, as Tyler Perry is about to reveal that you carry your stories within you, like stones in the wolf's belly, that you are both reader and author, puppet and puppeteer. Perry's Huntsman, standing outside his daughter's door listening to her breathe and toss in bed, senses the 'thin skin / of glass between her and the forest.' He also understands the gossamer that separates dream from reality. Setting out to carve children from whitebark pine, he finds them already there, ingrained in the wood, having 'seeped into the living / tree from the earth... his hands the engine of their release.' Hold your breath, step inside."
- Gary Geddes, author of The Resumption of Play
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