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Jewish World Review August 9, 1999 /27 Av, 5759

Cal Thomas

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Econophone

A poet who didn't know it

http://www.jewishworldreview.com --
BAR HARBOR, Me. -- Not everyone has the privilege (or the terror) of going back to see again one of those who knew him when.

As a young copy boy for NBC News in Washington in the early '60s, I met Jack Perkins, who now co-hosts the popular "Biography'' program on the Arts & Entertainment cable TV network. Then Perkins held the unenviable position of "writer'' for David Brinkley -- unenviable because Brinkley wrote all of his own material.

Jack's career flourished anyway. When he hung up daily reporting after an anchor stint in Los Angeles, he and his wife, artist Mary Jo Perkins, moved to Maine where they live on an island during the summer months. From journalism, Jack has turned reflective, reaching inward to discover something about himself he had not known -- a creative ability as a photographer of things beautiful and a lyrical poetry that is the antithesis of broadcast news -- and outward to something and Someone beyond himself.

This lengthy gestation has produced poems and pictures -- "visions and verses,'' he calls them -- collected in a book called simply "Acadia'' for the national park on which it is based.

The appetite for poetry isn't what it was when I studied English literature in college. Before all-consuming television, freeways, the Internet and high-speed lives, there was time for reflection, observation and communication. Poetry is not fast food. It takes time, like a gourmet meal. Savored properly, it leaves a similarly pleasing taste in the memory.

One doesn't have to be in love with Maine, as I am, to appreciate "Acadia,'' for Maine is not only a place but also a state of mind. It is a place we might all wish to share if time and space and money allowed. In summer it is a respite for the weary. In winter it is a challenge to the hardiest of souls.

Next to a picture of tracks in the sand made by a higher tide and seaweed, Jack looks and sees hieroglyphs:


Could it be
The hieroglyphs inscribed on morning sand
Are Life's encrypted rules,
All that we need to understand To live in concord,
Find our G-d,
Eschew disgrace and sin?
Could it be?
Decipher fast --
The tide is coming in.

With a voice that combines the bass of James Earl Jones with the enunciation of Laurence Olivier, Jack captivates a packed public library with his considerable communicative skills. But it's more than pictures and verse he communicates. It is the peace for which we all search but not all find. It is expressed in his poem on faith, excerpted here. The verse is opposite a picture of a lighthouse set in granite adjacent to the sea:


Granite ascending, rising from granite;
Steel upon brick upon stone.
I see this scene, this symbol of certainty,
Thinking: can I be alone
In puzzling why we squander our trust
On the seemingly certain; and why
We believe that a scene's being seen makes it so?
Why should we? We see the sky.
Or think that we see it. It spreads overhead,
All cerulean blue, we could swear.
But that's an illusion: the sky is not blue.
The sky is not really there.
We're certain we see it. We're wrong, so be it.
Credulity has us undone.
Believe in the seen? Maybe we shouldn't;
Instead, believe in the un--.

"Acadia'' is more than a coffee table book. True, like coffee, it can be consumed for the pleasures and comfort it brings. Yet like the national park in its title, the book is a wonder, complementing memory and creating wishes. Its author, Jack Perkins, is a new creation, iving on an island but more connected to life than ever. He has proved there is abundant life after news, which is good news not only for a ``recovering'' journalist but for everyone else.

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