A Gallery of Ghosts (UNO Press, 2008)
In A Gallery of Ghosts, John Gery once again shows himself to be a master of poetic forms. In this collection, Gery’s distinctive poetic voice lends seemingly orderly poems an ironic sharpness that cuts close to the bone. These poems convey both the bliss and pain of our existence, never shying away from life’s uncomfortable truths.
While each of the five sections in this book, arranged like the rooms in an art gallery, offers distinctive pleasures, Gery’s self-portraits are particularly honest and perceptive. In “The Wrong Tormented Sea,” Gery writes: “I’ve never learned to live within my means.” In A Gallery of Ghosts, we see the exquisite work of an insatiable mind, a poet always reaching for the highest fruit on the tree.
“Here are poems to read for pure pleasure. ‘A Pack of Lies’ is endlessly entertaining, as all 10 poems are examinations of moments in history or literature, poems filled with sly intelligence and humor. Take ‘Lie #1: That Penelope Resisted Scores of Suitors,’ which begins, ‘I’m not convinced that woman wanted him/ ever to come back home.’ Or ‘Lie #9: That Oswald Was a Cuban Sympathizer’: ‘I crept along Canal, handing out leaflets/ to all the derelicts and tourists. Well,/ not the tourists, since I repulsed them. Always/ for me it’s been that way.’
“Many of these writings are the reflections of rueful midlife, a time when all of us are haunted by unfulfilled hopes, plans gone awry, absent friends. In ‘Lines for an Obstinate Poet,’ dedicated to the late New Orleans poet Raeburn Miller, Gery writes, ‘How you were gifted/ that way, cracking vulnerable hearts and making/ off like a thief with their private treasures, taking/ no hostages.’ In another poem, ‘My Refusal to Despair,’ written for his friend Peter D’Agostino, who died in 1988, Gery asks, ‘How will I know/ to give in? When/ reach the rust edge/ of hope?’
“Some of these poems are tools to sharpen that edge of hope — I think — for they are filled with new ways to think about the present moment, a sense of probing awareness at work. In ‘The Wandering of Amelia Earhart as a Model for Our Time,’ Gery sets his course: ‘Like a fading star,/ we will fly into that distant clearing/ unknown, until we drop and roll through the fog,/ never having to repeat ourselves, yet not to be/ forgotten, in that familiar way we’ve come to love.’ – Susan Larson, Nola.com
“John Gery picks up the implicit challenge, pursuing unflinchingly the mysteries of human identity, of the self and its place in the world. Nor does he settle for easy answers or comforts. Appropriately, Amelia Earhart and Francis Parkman figure here as paradigms for exploration and risk-taking.…Finally, though, what arrests attention here is the provisional quality of Gery’s poems—not that they are unfinished, indeed he writes with high polish—but that they arrive with the breath of a life about them, an intensely personal quality marked by such generous vulnerability and openness to the future that his work can burn the reader used to a literature not so determined to play for keeps.” —Philip Dacey
“Metaphysical wit, emotional complexity, and surreal comedy infuse these crackling reports from a world not unlike our own, but seen with a wonderful freshness and a complete absence of can’t that makes it very much John Gery’s. A Gallery of Ghosts is a collection not to be missed.” —Charles Martin
Read Poems from A Gallery of Ghosts