Poet Lucia Perillo dies at age 58

Poet Lucia Perillo
(Copper Canyon Press)

Lucia Perillo, a poet known for her sense of humor and her writing about living with multiple sclerosis, died on Oct. 16 at the age of 58 in Olympia, Wash., her publisher Copper Canyon Press confirms. Her most recent book, “Time Will Clean the Carcass Bones,” was published in February.

In 2000, she received a MacArthur “Genius” fellowship. The MacArthur Foundation praised her “signature voice … marked by an urban speed and a narrative style driven by characterization and drama” and her “emotionally rich and powerful poems.”

Perillo was born in 1958, and was raised near New York City. She earned a bachelor’s degree in wildlife management from McGill University in Montreal in 1979, later working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

She lived in California in the early 1980s, working at the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge and taking poetry classes from Robert Hass at San Jose State University.


After receiving a master’s degree in English from Syracuse University, she taught at colleges including Saint Martin’s College, Southern Illinois University and Syracuse.

Her first book, “Dangerous Life,” was published in 1989, the year after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She would go on to write six more poetry collections, as well as a memoir, “I’ve Heard the Vultures Singing,” and a novel, “Happiness Is a Chemical in the Brain.”

Perillo was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in poetry for her collection “Inseminating the Elephant.” Her 2005 collection “Luck Is Luck” was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

Her most recent collection, “Time Will Clean the Carcass Bones,” was published by Copper Canyon in February. Reviewing the collection for The Times,Craig Morgan Teicher wrote, “For a poet obsessed with the steady degradation of the body and looming of death, Lucia Perillo manages to be highly entertaining. .. Humor is actually the key to the power of her poems: While it’s tempting to assume Perillo jokes to protect herself from life’s dark inevitabilities, in fact, her jokes serve to expose her.”


Teicher highlighted an excerpt from Perillo’s poem “The Great Wave,” in which she seemed to confront her mortality:

Now that we’ve entered the wave of extinction

let’s sing while we still can,

before we all go where the dinosaurs went,


dropping our bones down into the shale—

and the floor of the sea becomes the top

of the mountain, the top

of the mountain the trough of the ditch.