Maybe it's the grin-and-bear-it bravura of the book's title. Or it could be the titles of some of the poems themselves: "Bulletin from Somewhere up the Creek"...

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“Luck Is Luck”

by Lucia Perillo

Random House, 98 pp., $19.95

Maybe it’s the grin-and-bear-it bravura of the book’s title. Or it could be the titles of some of the poems themselves: “Bulletin from Somewhere up the Creek,” “My Eulogy Was Deemed Too Strange,” “On the High Suicide Rate of Dentists.”

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Either way, “Luck Is Luck,” the fourth collection by Olympia poet and 2000 MacArthur Fellow Lucia Perillo, quickly lets you know you’re in the hands of a writer who can juggle tough realities and subversive humor within the space of a line or two.

The additional information that Perillo has been battling multiple sclerosis since the 1980s — a fact alluded to but not spelled out in “Luck Is Luck” — only makes her striking mix of reckless zest and wisecracking doom make more sense.

Her split sensibility is evident in almost all the poems in the book, which address Perillo’s Catholic girlhood, the death of her father and other odder fare, such as falling space junk and Dolly the cloned sheep. But it’s especially powerful in a poem titled “In the Confessional Mode, with a Borrowed Movie Trope.”

Coming up: Lucia Perillo

The poet joins Linda Bierds and Carolyne Wright in a reading/Q&A event introduced by Tod Marshall, “Range of Voices: A Collection of Contemporary Poets,” 3 p.m., Sunday, Seattle Public Library, 1000 Fourth Ave.; free (206-386-4636 or

Here, she remembers the beauty of the boy with whom she “finagled my deflowering”:

Oh I was once

in such a hurry. The job had to be done

before the pot roast was, his stepmother

thumping the ceiling under us: Whatever

you’re doing, you better get out

of your sister’s room.

The live, squirmy memory takes on a sobering context when Perillo reveals that the two of them “both got stuck / with the same disease.” By poem’s end, the contrasts between youth’s godlike sense of immunity and the aging body’s vulnerabilities achieve a sort of whiplash power, complete with appropriate epithet.

Just as moving is “Book of Bob,” in which she remembers her father:

Now he’s dead, and so I guess

I could have him say anything I want.

My father’s mouth I could fill with flowers

but beauty meant less to him than plain

old bread.

So let it be bread then, let him be Bob.

Elsewhere, humor prevails. “Of course,” you think as you read her child’s-eye take on “The Lord’s Prayer.” A kid in church is bound to hear “hallowed” as “hollow,” and the only thing “trespass” is likely to mean is “a sign nailed to a tree.”

Perillo’s natural description, especially of birds, can be both fine and hilarious. A woodpecker in flight is “just a feathery blur, a black wig flying,” while the crows in “The Crows Start Demanding Royalties” (they’re riled at being used in poems so often) are “Little Elvises, the hairdo slicked / with too much grease.”

Even Perillo’s suicidal dentists provide an occasion for some wisecracking — about gastroenterologists.

The line that lends the collection its title — “well, hard luck is luck, nonetheless” — sums up the spirit of the book. Wry, stoical, direct and occasionally somewhat disheveled, these poems grab you from the start and take you for a ride.

Michael Upchurch: