Brian Forrest "Women Wearing Hats" oil on canvas

Brian Forrest "Women Wearing Hats" oil on canvas

EDITORS NOTE

Readers:

 

June: And once again we find ourselves saying good-bye to a poet passed from this world: Franz Wright. And who better to write of him than his long-time friend, David Young?  The latter’s essay has the ring of everything true in it, and embraces the man in full measure: heart-breaking and beautiful. Once more, you will find it in our much-read Newsletter. If you haven’t already, I strongly urge you to subscribe to that short monthly report if for no other reason that than essay is there. Unsubscribe if you like immediately thereafter – again, it’s a matter of a mouse-click.

 

Also this, again something new in Plume’s series of Featured Selections: no poems this time (well, one, and its later-born twin), but rather a mesmerizing essay on the act of revision by Carol Moldaw.  The essay takes as its starting point a poem, “Dew Point,” which appeared in a now rather long-ago issue of Plume. The revised version of that marvelous poem appears beneath, and the essay consists of the author’s meditations on their origins, among other things.  Fascinating. Enlightening. I imagine some will see themselves – their process — in her words, others will be surprised. Here’s an excerpt, which I feel certain will leave you to wanting more:

 

“Virtually every poem I write goes through innumerable drafts. Drafting changes can be as small but significant as replacing “the” with “a”; they can be a matter of excising words, phrases, lines—or of adding new ones; stanzas might shift places or morph shape; lines might shrink or expand. A poem might shed most of itself and rise renewed, to take off in a new direction. Drafting, revisions, blind turns and dead ends don’t usually faze me; neither does putting an unfinished poem aside for a time and taking it up again, if my conviction’s renewed. I have a pretty high tolerance for the length and convolution of the process, as long as I sense that a poem is progressing. Progressing, toward . . . what exactly is it progressing toward? Not something ever predetermined or predictable, but something that ‘feels right’ when it appears, as it develops; that ‘coheres,’ albeit in surprising, mysterious, even arcane, ways. Does a poem progress toward an ideal self, a self the process—paradoxically–both uncovers and creates?”

 

 

What else?

 

As promised last Note, a number of intriguing Featured Selections will come to fruition in the upcoming months. Among their subjects are — and this is by no means a complete list – we have been busy! – are Native poets, curated by Allison Hedge Coke and including
Cedar Sigo, Leanne Howe, Trevino Brings Plenty, Crisosto Apache
and Sara Marie Ortiz;  David Clewell;  Kelle Groom; a look at British Poets Under 40 and another on Contemporary Australian Poets; new translations of work by Robert Walser and Hermann Hesse, and a  long poem, “Sibylline” by Marc Vincenz.

Remember, if you would like to be considered for a Featured Selection in Plume, or simply have an idea for one, please contact me at plumepoetry@gmail.com

 

And, this, a final time: The Plume Anthology of Poetry V 3 is available for purchase now, at Madhat Press a bargain at $21.95, I think, given the very high quality of the work, the poets, its eclectic range,  and sheer size – 323 pages. A number of instructors of Creative Writing are planning to use the book as a text in the fall – perhaps that might be worth a thought?  (Soon available at other venues, as well – Amazon, B & N, etc.)  Some very nice people have said some very nice things about our little endeavor. Below, just a few of the comments Plume V 3 has received:

Plume’s apparent lack of a narrow editorial policy (except a fondness for interesting poems) makes for lots of strange bedfellows, but when was the last time that was a bad idea?”  ~Billy Collins
“Of all the things that might claim one’s attention, and they are in the multitudes! Plume is well worth making time for since it isn’t just another magazine. Its difference? Wonderful work, on the edge, room for play and dash, new forms, a great discerning editor in Danny
Lawless!”   ~ Tess Gallagher
Plume is one of the most exciting, eclectic gatherings of writers on the web. Editor Daniel Lawless has a knack for putting together voices that create surprising neighborhoods of words, related in complex ways that only gradually reveal themselves. It’s one of very few webzines that I always read.”   ~ Chase Twichell
Plume is rapidly becoming one of the best places in America to read poetry, online and in print, thanks to the untiring efforts of Danny Lawless. It’s where to find dazzling work by new and established writers, and, thanks to the new technology, it is available instantly to readers by the millions. Plume proves once more that poetry is essential to our lives, and that ‘Men die every day for want of what is found in it.’”  ~ Grace Schulman
Plume continues to publish amazing poets in beautiful formats—both online and in-print. The magazine has an exciting vision, embracing a broad gamut of poetries, including collaborations. The work has a consistently intriguing quality about the joys and unsettling aspects of being alive.”   ~ Denise Duhamel

plume v3 front dark blue style 2 (1)

 

Our covert art this issue is from Allen Forrest. Mr. Forrest has created cover art and illustrations for a number of literary publications, including New Plains Review, Pilgrimage Press, The MacGuffin, Blotterature, and Gargoyle Magazine, and his paintings have been commissioned and are on display in the Bellevue College Foundation’s permanent art collection

Finally, New Work Received this month includes pieces from Olivia McCarron, Kate Daniels, Joe Weil, Ricardo Pau-Llosa, Linda Pastan, Bruce Cohen, Ana Gorria (trans Yvette Siegert), Keith Althaus, Salgado Maranhao (trans Alexis Levitan),  Brendan Galvin, and Major Jackson.

 

 

As always, I do hope you enjoy the issue!

 

Daniel Lawless

Editor, PLUME

THREE POEMS

Jürgen Becker translated by Okla Elliott

A Provisional Topography

 

On the Weichsel River, before the war. You see
exactly where we
could have gone farther on the path
above the dam separating the Nothing of river-silver
from those things that formed only shadows
in the changing light.

The unmoved architecture of clouds: it is
this moment that over decades has dragged itself
and has adopted the color of newsprint.

In the distance, in the dark, two houses.
Although it’s bright as day.

Whether souls wander here . . . in any case, distant,
on the dam, two people walking
stand out against the horizon, in the middle
of this past.

The rows of trees continue until
they disappear in a line that returns
on the other side of the river.

The question, whether such or similar conflicts begin.

At night, and not just nights, in the subjunctive.

. . . as though the embankment were to come against us.
Then it’s clear that you can’t steer anything in history.
A progression, an altogether private movement stays
undecided between the return home and a further absence.
These years, it’s said, have left traces of bitterness.

But the landscape is rather quiet.
Invisible the destruction, if in fact
there is destruction.

And the time is passed
which the subsequent, the subsequent time produced.

But you never speak of Now.

Probably in the summer. At that time of year
we remember. Fence posts follow the paths,
or turned around, all of it belonging
to the landscape . . . who owns it? The landscape
leads into landscapes, from the visible ones
to the unseen ones which await us.

A provisional topography.
You can cover it up. You can change
it, but a series emerges, until we achieve
the shore of repetition.

 

Eine vorläufige Topographie

 

An der Weichsel, vor dem Kriege. Nun siehst du
genau, wo wir
hätten weitergehen können, auf dem Weg
übern Damm, der das Nichts des Flußsilbers
trennte von Dingen, die nichts als Schatten
bildeten im Wechsel des Lichts.

Die unbewegte Architektur der Wolken: es ist
dieser Augenblick, der über jahrzehnte sich hinzieht
und angenommen hat die Farbe von Zeitungspapier.

In der Ferne im Dunkeln zwei Häuser.
Obwohl es ganz hell ist.

Ob Seelen hier wandern . . . jedenfalls, fern
auf dem Damm, sind unterwegs zwei Menschen,
die sich abheben vom Horizont, mitten
in dieser Vergangenheit.

Aber die Baumreihen setzen sich fort, bis
sie verschwinden in einer Linie, die zurückkehrt
auf der anderen Seite des Flusses.

Die Frage, ob so oder ähnlich Konflikte anfingen.

Bei Nacht, und nicht nur nachts, im Konjunktiv.

. . . als käme einem die Böschung entgegen. Dann
ist es klar, daß du nichts steuern kannst
and der Geschichte. Ein Weitergehen, allenfalls
eine ganze private Bewegung, die unentschieden bleibt
zwischen Heimkehr und lingerer Abwesenheit. Diese Jahre,
sagt man, haben Spuren der Bitterkeit hinterlassen.

Aber die Landschaft ist ziemlich still.
Unsichtbar bleibt die Zerstörung, falls es
Zerstörung gibt.

Und vorbei ist die Zeit, die
die folgende, die folgende Zeit hervorgebracht hat.

Nur erzählst du vom Jetzt nichts.

Wahrscheinlich im Sommer. Zu jeder Jahreszeit
erinnert man sich. Zaunpfähle folgen den Pfaden,
oder umgekehrt, überall zugehörig
der Landschaft . . . wem gehört sie? Die Landschaft
setzt Landschaften fort, die sichtbaren bis
zu den unsichtbaren, die auf uns warten.

Eine vorläufige Topographie.
Du kannst sie verwischen. Du kannst sie
Verändern, bis eine Serie entsteht, bis wir erreichen
die Ufer der Wiederholung.

 

One of the Many Stories of Sounds

 

It was a quiet afternoon.
Outside, in the corridor, I heard
a door slam
and a woman’s crying, which
slowly diminished in the distance.
Then I heard the door
again, though it stayed silent.

 

 

Eine der vielen Geräusch-Erzählungen

 

Es war ein ruhiger Nachmittag.
Draußen, auf dem Korridor, hörte ich
eine Türe zuschlagen
und das Weinen einer Frau, das sich
langsam entfernte. Dann hörte ich die Türe
noch einmal, aber es blieb still.

 

Sooner or Later

 

Roses, wheat, elderberries; this June
everything far away, down below. Sensations
more and more distanced; we won’t come
very far on this sea.
In our pictures, we see how
it was, but not what came after.

 

Früher oder später

 

Rosen, Getreide, Holunder; in diesem Juni
alles weit weg, da unten. Gefühle

mehr und mehr auf Distanz; wir werden
auf diesem Meer nicht weit kommen.
Auf unseren Bildern sehen wir, wie
es war, aber nicht, was dann kam.

 

 

Jürgen Becker was born in Köln, Germany, in 1932. He is the author of over thirty books—including drama, fiction, and poetry—all published by Suhrkamp,  Germany’s premier publisher. He has won numerous prizes, including the Heinrich Böll Prize, the Uwe Johnson Prize, the Hermann Lenz Prize, and the Georg Büchner Prize, the highest honor a German-language author can receive.

 

 

Okla Elliott is an Illinois Distinguished Fellow at the University of Illinois where he works in the fields of comparative literature and trauma studies. He also holds an MFA from Ohio State University. His nonfiction, poetry, short fiction, and translations have appeared in Another Chicago Magazine, Harvard Review, Indiana Review, The Literary Review, New York Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, A Public Space, and Subtropics, among others. His books include From the Crooked Timber (short fiction), The Cartographer’s Ink (poetry), and The Doors You Mark Are Your Own (a novel co-authored with Raul Clement). His book of translation, Blackbirds in September: Selected Shorter Poems of Jürgen Becker, is forthcoming in late 2015.

TWO SONNETS

Andrei Codrescu

Andrei Codrescu
Two Sonnets

love sonnet to aliens

the known universe is self-referential: it has no choice.
unknown universes can see us and smell us
we hope that they have a sense of humor about it.
I want to learn at the knee and suck at the tit
of a totally unknown universe composed of wit.
when I smell a rusted clamp or a newly greased vice
or a warm horse with a rising yen for a mare
I think I’m closing in on a universe alien and near.
I hope it thinks me tragic and funny on the cusp
of the back-kick the warm horse owes his honey.
what seems self-referential is just aliens going to dinner
to watch aliens. cylons with nylons draw lots
for this perfumer-in-training wearing his boy hots at eighty.

Putin statue project

working class you don’t exist any more.
stalin saw to it that you died on your shovels
after digging graves for poets who committed suicide.
their mothers wrote diaries with piss in snow
while felling trees without gloves at twenty below
zero and some of them lived. that was long ago.
now take your nostalgia to the mall. but don’t relax.
there is something about russia. i loved my russian
teacher’s miniskirt a soft shovel for boy-lust.
she liked to gamble for hurt and display the red meat
of a recklessness that hit my number without fail.
Putin your predecessors did much so you can now nuke for kicks.
so what if next morning you’ll be sober and we’ll be dead?
viva termites! your statue’ll be taller than stalin’s marble head.

 

 

Andrei Codrescu (www.codrescu.com) has been a commentator on All Things Considered since 1983. He is an homme-de-lettres whose novels, essays and poetry have been infiltrating the American psyche since he emigrated from his native Romania to Detroit in 1965. He is the author of forty books of poetry, fiction, and essays, and the founder of Exquisite Corpse. He has received a Peabody award for the PBS version of his film Road Scholar, and has reported for NPR and ABC News from Romania (1989) and Cuba (1996). His new books are The Poetry Lesson,(Princeton) and Bibliodeath: My Archives (with Life in Footnotes) (Antibookclub).

THE DAY

Chard deNiord

THE DAY

For Philip Levine

 

History sings “misery, misery.”

The force that gives us meaning

is terrible, bloody and sweet.

So many lenses the clock holds

up to the past in shades of rose,

lilac, and pansy. The holy,

irrevocable scenes of things

as they were—ignited, burned,

mistaken. The day, as in, back in…

The day, as in the day we played

both sides of the ball; the day,

as in the day we talked to God,

then wrote it down; the day,

as in the day we lived offline

in caves and drew on walls;

the day, as in the day a pack

of cigarettes cost a couple of dimes,

the same as gas; the day, as in the

first, the second, the third, the last;

the day, as in the day we waited

in line for how many hours

to say to the man like Phil Levine,

“I want your job”; the day, as in

the day we built enormous things

with only our hands, then threw

away the plans; the day, as in

the day no novocaine numbed

the pain and we felt it to the bone.


 

Chard de Niord is the author of five books of poetry: Interstate(University of Pittsburgh Press, forthcoming 2015), The Double Truth (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011), Night Mowing (The University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005), Sharp Golden Thorn(Marsh Hawk Press, 2003), and Asleep in the Fire (University of Alabama Press, 1990). His book of essays and interviews with seven senior American poets, titled Sad Friends, Drowned Lovers, Stapled Songs: Conversations and Reflections on Twentieth-Century American Poets, was published by Marick Press in 2012. His poems and essays have appeared in The Pushcart Book of PoetryNew England ReviewAGNILiterary ImaginationSalmagundiThe American Poetry Review, and The Hudson Review. He is professor of English and Creative Writing at Providence College and co-founder of the New England College MFA Program in Poetry.

ELEGY WITH FULL DRESS BLUES

Jehanne Dubrow

Elegy with Full Dress Blues

after Mark Irwin

 

Early in our marriage I would stand
            at the edge
of his closet like a visitor
            at a planetarium,
often only a finger lifted toward the bright
            lacing at the sleeve or the stars
in their glinting thread
            and pretend that all
this fabric was a well-constructed sky,
            night made orderly
as a row of brass buttons,
            on nearby hangers shirts glowing
the same white
            as some precise and flattened moon,
which almost I could touch,
            if not for the worry
of wrinkling, and the satin
            cummerbund that bounded the evening
in an ellipse
            the size of a waist,
although it was polyester and more yellow
            than gold, and the gilded
studs at the wrists not genuine points
            of safety but paste, the dusky
lacquer of his plastic shoes,
            and most of all pairs of opaque gloves
laid out on a tray, pale series
                    of consequential hands,
their tips a little smudged
                    and gesturing
at a darker hour I could almost see.

 

 

Jehanne Dubrow is the author of five poetry collections, including most recently The Arranged Marriage (U of New Mexico P, 2015), Red Army Red (Northwestern UP, 2012), and Stateside (Northwestern UP, 2010). Her work has appeared in Virginia Quarterly ReviewThe New England Review, and Prairie Schooner. She is the Director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House and an Associate Professor of creative writing at Washington College, where she edits the national literary journal, Cherry Tree.

TAROT: THE EMPRESS

Annie Finch

Tarot: The Empress

 

Earth pours wet, quick scimitars

Past my fingers and my knees,

My rooted feet, my crown growing stars,

My breasts that branch from budding trees.

Earth’s power engenders me.

It seeds me with moons like avatars.

I will branch out in sceptered bars

Through folds where grain, sky, body fan

(My draped robes redden patiently,

Raising the heads of tickling wheat)

The sparkled texture of a loom

That moves itself into a plan

Behind my throne.  Come sit and eat.

 

 

 

Annie Finch’s most recent books are Spells: New and Selected Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 2013);  A Poet’s Craft: A Comprehensive Guide to Making and Sharing Your Poetry (University of Michigan Press, 2013); and Measure for Measure: An Anthology of Poetic Meters (Random House/Everymans Library, 2015). Her  poems have appeared in The Norton Anthology of World PoetryThe Penguin Book of the Sonnet, and The Penguin Book of Twentieth-Century American Poetry, and in journals such as  Poetry, Harvard Review, The Paris Review, The Yale Review, Partisan Review, and many others.

POPULATION ZERO

Carol Frost

POPULATION ZERO

 

Cockroaches ignored the winter dawn

lengthening past spring and into summer.

They hid and scarcely saw that we were gone,

 

but died less frequently from nerve poison

and ruby dust, more often in nature.

Cockroaches ignored the winter dawn

 

that cooled the buildings. Where spiders spun

their icy webs in icier zephyrs,

they starved and didn’t know that we were gone.

 

Sidewalks heaved, sewers split, bridges came down,

freezing and thawing in long November.

The hard structure of their world in winter dawn

 

disintegrated, and goose grass, autumn

olive trees, birch, bear, wolf took over

everywhere. The cockroaches were soon gone.

 

We are like cockroaches of autumn

burrowing more deeply and unaware

in heated cities of the cold dawn

when all we’ve had will be gone.

 

Four Pushcart Prize anthologies have published poems by Carol Frost, and Poetry, Shenendoah,  Gettysburg Review, The Atlantic, the New York Times, Subtropics, and Kenyon Review. Entwined: Three Lyric Sequences, her twelfth collection, appeared this fall from Tupelo Press. She teaches at Rollins College, where she is the Theodore Bruce and Barbara Lawrence Alfond Professor of English and she directs Winter with the Writers, a yearly literary festival.

TWO POEMS

Bob Hicok

Busy bees

I like being around people who believe
in eternity. Not for long. An hour or so.
They remind me of vacationers
convinced the lake will always be there.
The sun. The little girl
trying to catch a fish with her hands.
Sometimes she does. Later, as a woman,
she gets up and goes to a winter window,
traces a fish in the condensation
and remembers the insistence
of its last breaths, the body
she held away from the larger body
it belonged to, returns
to the man in bed and bites him,
hoping he will call her cruel.
If that seems like a little play
I just dreamed up, what do you make
of the bite mark on my thigh, or the woman
with her back to me now, crying?
I make everything of her. Everything I can
as long as I can. I’m no smarter
than that fish grinding its gills
against the air. That’s all I’m doing
when I kiss her back, her front,
when I live within the gravity
of her bones. But day and night,
that’s what I’m doing.
If there were always the chance
to cherish later, would we now?

 

Torture

Can I climb the snow? Meant to ask
as a kid. I’m asking now, before my mind
is completely redacted. Climb
as it falls, so faster and lighter
than the invention of crystals.
Redacted, blacked by Alzheimer’s
invisible pen, turning me
into a transcript of absences. As of now,
I can still point in the mirror and know
who my accuser is. Have you lived
like a horse chasing a faster horse?
Have tried to, and will. But no matter
the size of the star in my heart,
eventually I won’t recognize snow
or the boy standing in it.

 

 

 

Bob Hicok’s latest book, Elegy Owed (Copper Canyon, 2013), was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Sex & Love & will be published by Copper Canyon in 2016.

TWO POEMS

Christopher Kennedy

Against Surrealism

 

The human heart weighs ten ounces, but I don’t know if it can float. I don’t suppose it makes sense to say I feel like the tail of Halley’s Comet, but what do you want from the truth? The day lilies are silent, but no one accuses them of being shy. Mother, are all your memories being trampled by a stampede of wild horses? I left the chicken in the pot so long it turned black. It’s too late for an apology, but I can buy you a headstone to match your husband’s. Though when the sun’s too bright it’s hard to find the gravesite; then you can end up on the road to the old sanitarium. I don’t know if a human heart can float, but in my cage of bones last night mine beat like a hummingbird’s wings. The grass is yellow from the drought. Some plants are dead and others are thriving. The lakes stand shallow. The rivers run weak. I believe my heart would sink.

 

 

Anima

 

I took my sex drive for a walk. I got some looks, the way a bald man in a convertible does. There was an alligator’s worth of adrenaline coursing through me. I stopped to consider the dangers. The dangers were considerable. I ducked into a diner and ordered the truth. The waitress asked my name. Death, I said. Sex and Death. She poured me a scalding cup of tar black coffee. I like you, she said and slid into the booth across from me. I drank the coffee down in one agonizing gulp. My eyes bled. My hands shook. The waitress nodded toward the door. We left arm in arm, her apron unfurling behind us like a white flag of surrender.

 

 

 

Christopher Kennedy is the author of three full-length collections of poetry, Nietzsche’s Horse, Trouble with the Machine , and Encouragement for a Man Falling to His Death. His work has appeared in Grand Street, Ploughshares, The Threepenny Review, Mississippi Review, McSweeney’s and many other journals and magazines.

TO HÉCTOR VIEL TEMPERLEY

Campbell McGrath

To Héctor Viel Temperley (1982)

                       I rise straight from the ocean and I am in ecstasy
though I aspire to arrive like a wave

                                    eternally
                       in progression,

ascent and diminution
                       as radio transmissions bound for the stars.

                     My neighbor is a broken man washing his car
again and again in morning sun,

what good is faith without shadow, moonlight

                     on the dunes,
                       clouds like ancient murals?

            I aspire to rise.
            I aspire to rise and fall.

•   •   •

                       I rise straight from the ocean and I am in ecstasy
digging sand from a dune until my palms bleed,

                       until the hammer plants
                                    the heel of the hand

                     with its harsh, romantic kiss.

Because the life of the body bewilders me
                       no longer, recalling the sweetness
                       of dates

and rose-apricot jelly,
                                 bitterness
                                    of a radish

                     scraped against the teeth,

certain the world matters—and yet:

                     if we had wings would we suffer,
                     if we had gills?

                       Children riding imaginary seahorses,
rays and sharks, an ocean of satiation—

                                    my voice does not contain such silk,

listening to the tide’s condolence
I hear always the countermelody

                     at each arrival,
                                    each farewell.

Inexhaustible, the suitcases we will need
                       to pack away the sorrows yet to come.

•   •   •

                     I rise straight from the ocean and I am in ecstasy,
proposing faith in a sentence

                                    marching across the page,

simple sentences marching
                       across the wilderness of the page,

            one,
            and then—
                       another.

Beautiful sentences, beautiful sentences!

            To which, like cities
                       in the path of the great Khan’s army,
we throw open our gates

                     lest the obliteration of Urgench
                     be our portion.

•   •   •

                       I rise straight from the ocean and I am in ecstasy,
entirely at peace watching a dog cross the drawbridge

                       like an ambassador from another planet,
sailboats festooned with signal flags, pennants

            dripping salt and devotion.

To the poets of the future
                     I make but one request on your behalf:

don’t just sing it like you mean it.
                                    Mean it.

                     Then sing it.

 

Campbell McGrath is the author of many books of poetry, most recently the chapbook Picasso/Mao (Upper Rubber Boot, 2014) and the forthcoming XX: for the 20th Century (Ecco Press, 2015). He lives in Miami Beach and teaches in the MFA program at Florida International University.

SIXTH GRADE REDUX

Carol Moldaw

Sixth Grade Redux

 for Terri Blackman

 

Good morning, Ladles and Jellyfish!
Thank you for politely ignoring that woman
pretending to read in the back and also for
the order of mathematical operations
Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sallie.

Every porpoise needs to have a purpose.
Sometimes a surplus of sourpusses surfaces.
If our Greatest Common Factor was fear
that would be a horse of a different color.
We are here to learn, not to scorn.

You can spin yourself into a tizzy
at recess as long as you listen to me now
and then to whoever dons the orange vest
and wields the whistle, even if it’s only
that hapless mother. Wait for the bell.

Avoid the playground’s potholes as well
as the sinkholes Mr. Science explained
in detail and the just-as-scary-but-harder-
to-fathom ones in the psyche he did not.
No spitting, no spitballs, no fisticuffs,

no fuss. No splitting your infinitives!
Though spring may arrive alarmingly
earlier each year, causing migrating birds
and their foodstuff of emergent insects
to go out of sync, school is still in session.

As any adult can attest, you’ll be graded
not only on what you learn, but even more
on what wasn’t taught. Just ask the lady
in the padded vest if she was prepared
for this non-standardized test of her love.

 

 

Carol Moldaw’s most recent book is So Late, So Soon: New and Selected Poems (Etruscan Press, 2010). Moldaw (www.carolmoldaw.com) is the author of four other books of poetry, including The Lightning Field (2003), which won the 2002 FIELD Poetry Prize; and a novel, The Widening (2008). She lives in Santa Fe, N.M.

IS LIGHT ENOUGH ?

Lloyd Schwartz

IS LIGHT ENOUGH?

 

 

Who’s there? I can’t seem to make out anything or anyone. Is
anyone there? Is that you? In this dim light
that’s not light, it’s not light enough
to see who’s there. I’ve been waiting for you—asking myself when
you were going to come. Or call. I don’t like this
uncertainty, this half-light, this state of  bewilderment.
Make it stop. Make it stop before I start crying .
Now I’m shaking, shivering—I want to steady my head against
your chest. Where better to find peace? Wait! I hear your steps—the
sound of your breath, your breathing. Unmistakably yours even in the dark.
Come closer! Find your way into the room. The wind always shuts
the door, so you don’t have to. Closer! Sit down
here, near me. Tell me something. Answer me. Is the
light enough? Should I tell you to open or pull down the shades?

 

 

Lloyd Schwartz is the Frederick S. Troy Professor of English and teaches in the MFA Program at UMass Boston. The author of three books of poetry and a chapbook, his poems have been selected for The Pushcart Prize, The Best American Poetry, and The Best of the Best American Poetry. His publications include the Library of America edition of Elizabeth Bishop, the centennial edition of Bishop’s Prose (FSG), and Music In—and On—the Air, a collection of his music reviews for NPR’s Fresh Air. He was awarded the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.

TWO POEMS

Charles Harper Webb

                                                            KINDNESS DETECTOR

 

            It looks like a bamboo flute, but has a motor that draws air across a copper plate treated with chemicals which, exposed to empathy, the urge to serve, selfless concern for others, etc., makes the flute toot “When the Saints Go Marching In” with a Chinese accent (so to speak) that never fails to charm listeners and choke off fears that some monk in their midst might ask for cash, or be a terrorist.
            Once found-out, the kindly are tracked to their homes, and forcibly enrolled at the Institute for General Decency.  There, Beginners practice dropping coins in beggars’ hands, helping strangers who fall in the street, smiling non-sexually at passers-by, giving small gifts for no reason—a plush kitten, a sudoku game . . .
            Intermediates learn to let a driver cut into a crush of cars, and not aoogah when that driver does the same.
            Advanced students spend hours climbing trees to free stuck kites for kids, and don’t sue when they fall.
            In this way, we cull our culture’s saboteurs, and keep them busy, amid flowers and trees, where the good they do does little harm at all.

 

                                                            TRUTH IN ADVERTISING

 

            I assumed “Three Bedroom Apartment, 600 Per Month.  Won’t Last!” meant, “Grab it fast.”  The potted orchids I gave my wife for Valentine’s, “guaranteed to brighten your home for years,” turned brown and brittle before Mother’s Day.  Even the pencil stub that scratches this complaint once stretched eight inches, with an orange eraser-crown.
            Nothing lasts.  Everybody knows.
            Still, I was shocked to see a black void in the building where our three bedrooms had been.
            Only as I screamed for my wife and our two girls did I recall the other ad, in the same throwaway rag: “Two Pure-Bred King Charles Spaniel Puppies.  Can’t Be Separated.  Free.”
            I called the number, elated to think how much the girls (dancing with glee) would learn, each mothering a pup.  I pictured nights by the big-screen, the dogs on their young owners’ laps, everybody bubbling with bliss.
            But when I reached the address the owner gave—with, in retrospect, something troubling in his voice—there the Siamese-twin puppies lay.

 

 

Charles Harper Webb has published eight books of poetry, including Reading the WaterLiverTulip Farms & Leper ColoniesHot Popsicles, and Amplified Dog.Shadow Ball: New and Selected Poems was published in 2009 by the University of Pittsburgh press. Webb’s awards in poetry include the Morse Prize, the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, the Felix Pollock Prize, and the Benjamin Saltman Prize. His poems have appeared in American Poetry ReviewParis ReviewIowa ReviewPloughsharesMichigan Quarterly ReviewPoets of the New CenturyBest American Poetry, and The Pushcart Prize.

FEATURED SELECTION

Carol Moldaw

This month’s Featured Selection is another slight departure from our usual format of selected poems, with an introduction, either by the poet or as interview, usually with our Associate Editor for Special Projects, Nancy Mitchell.  Here, below, you’ll discover instead a marvelous essay by Carol Moldaw, on revision – I, for one, was enlightened and fascinated to no end.  I think you will be, too. It begins with the original version of her poem “Dew Point,” which appeared in Plume many issues ago now. This early version is followed by its revison, which in turn is followed by a meditation her revision process.

 

Carol Moldaw For Featured Selection  (1)

 

Dew Point

 

 

Because of the nipple crust riming a girl’s

breakthrough poem, I google Quetiapine.

 

From one student I learn what robotripping is;

from another, the names of clouds:

 

diamond dust, sundog, fallstreak halo.

At dew point, vapors collect, condense,

 

become visible, classifiable: cap and banner,

cloud-bow, fog bow, crepuscular ray—

 

yet the signs as to what our convergence

precipitates are fleeting, mercurial.

 

Despite his anchor-pierced clavicle,

the languorous boy sprawled across

 

a poem’s quilt needs no explication,

but what, I’m forced to ask in class,

 

is a tramp stamp? There’s knowing silence

until an ashen girl, with an unselfconscious

 

candor I knew once in myself, gets up

from the conference table, pirouettes

 

on an Ugg and crouches to expose

above tattered low-rise jeans and spanning

 

her iliac crest, a set of lilac tatted fairy wings.

And how had I missed Simko, Huidobro?

 

A poem might get its start from an image or a word, from a line, a thought, an idea; it might take off from a prompt, another poem, a painting, an experience, a dream, an event or events–historical, personal, fictional. It might come out of nowhere, be illogical, highly stylized or plain-spoken, but usually it brings with it a sense of inevitability and, initially, of infinite possibility. To write it, the poet has to embark on a series of discoveries, to choose between unknowns, be alert to the unexpected, but also needs to make decisions, choices that will lead in one direction and limit other possibilities: draft after draft, fork after fork in the road.

Virtually every poem I write goes through innumerable drafts. Drafting changes can be as small but significant as replacing “the” with “a”; they can be a matter of excising words, phrases, lines—or of adding new ones; stanzas might shift places or morph shape; lines might shrink or expand. A poem might shed most of itself and rise renewed, to take off in a new direction. Drafting, revisions, blind turns and dead ends don’t usually faze me; neither does putting an unfinished poem aside for a time and taking it up again, if my conviction’s renewed. I have a pretty high tolerance for the length and convolution of the process, as long as I sense that a poem is progressing. Progressing, toward . . . what exactly is it progressing toward? Not something ever predetermined or predictable, but something that ‘feels right’ when it appears, as it develops; that ‘coheres,’ albeit in surprising, mysterious, even arcane, ways. Does a poem progress toward an ideal self, a self the process—paradoxically–both uncovers and creates?

The concept of a poem having an “ideal self” sounds suspiciously Platonic, as if the ideal of that particular poem exists in the ether and it is up to the writer to draw it down, to manifest it; and it may be false; but, along with the particulars, that construal is what keeps me engaged until the poem seems fully created, at least to the limit of my ability. (What is ability? A combination of skill and vision, a balance of creativity and receptivity required to achieve the precarious, to pull it off?) Whether it is fortuity, craft or vision that propels a poem forward, and whether I frame the tool I use to assess its progress as a tuning fork, an inner compass, intuition or, again, craft, hardly matters. I test the emerging poem against something that doesn’t yet exist. I test it until I give up or am satisfied.

Sometimes, though, satisfaction is only a stage, a resting point—a mirage. At first, the poem does seem done: it somehow fulfills, exceeds and even might subvert the impulse that began it–it goes its own way. I am grateful, jubilant: I send it off; it is published or, if not, sent out again. I file it in both an electronic and a manila folder, with other “finished” poems. If the folder is long (or thick) enough, I begin to think about which poems belong together. I cluster them. After a certain amount of time though, and it could be any amount of time, but after the initial high-spirits have settled, sometimes even after the poem is ingrained, whether published or not, I begin to notice a slight unease when I re-read it, an unease that may not be over-all, but that occurs in spots. It could be certain lines or transitions, words, the way gestures are held together or action unfolds, the way meaning feels wrested, over- or under-determined. Unease, boredom, wariness, disbelief, even dread–all reactions tempting to ignore. Reading my own work, I’m on the alert for them.

“Dewpoint” was such a poem: a poem that seemed to have settled into itself but that, after a time, persistently niggled at me, that I couldn’t seem to get quite right, no matter how I played it. When I compare three (of the many) versions of it—the first full draft, the version published in Plume (Issue 22, April 2013), and the “final” version, now part of a manuscript called Beauty, Refracted, I see that I struggled and fiddled with the same areas and issues over and over. I would find solutions and then find those solutions lacking, taking the poem apart and putting it back together many times before settling on a version that—for now—I live happily with.

Initially, the poem had the working title “Cloud Collecting at the University”; then, “Poetry 255”; then “Tramp Stamp.” It began out of a desire to pay tribute to the students I’d had when I was the Louis D. Rubin, Jr., Writer-in-Residence at Hollins University in the spring of 2011.  It was a class of a few undergraduate women mixed in with a co-ed group of graduate students in creative writing. I conceived of the poem as a kind of love letter, to highlight the variety of things I learned from them and their writing. Though my job, which I worked hard at and enjoyed, was to influence them, to widen their perspective and deepen their process, it was their effect on me that I wanted to accentuate. I was surprised when the poem began to conjure up my younger self, and surprised at what a struggle that proved to be. It was easy to incorporate words and facts I’d learned from the students, but harder to express my feeling that they were at a special moment in their lives, open to many influences, which I appreciated in our confluence. Specifically, the things that gave me the most trouble were: the names-of-the-clouds riff; the placement of “Simko, Huidobro”; the portrait of the tattooed girl and the depiction of her motion; hitting the right note when I realize that I’m not sure what, exactly, the students learned from me; finding the right ending, neither too stated nor too oblique, arbitrary or predictable.

At first, the cloud names were separated by the names of two poets whom students had talked about:

 

from one  I learned what robotripping is;

from another, the names of clouds:

 

diamond dust, sundog, fallstreak halo.

How had I missed Simko, Huidrobro?

 

Cloud-bow, fog bow, crepuscular ray.

 

Later, around the time I came to name the poem “Dew Point,” I realized that the clouds’ formation was analogous to the student’s development, and I wanted to include something about that process, though I didn’t make the connection explicit. This is how it was published in Plume, with the lines about the poets still inserted between the clouds:

From one I learn what robotripping is;

from another the names of clouds:

 

diamond dust, sundog, fallstreak halo.

How had I missed Simko, Huidobro?

 

At dew point, vapors collect, condense,

become visible—classifiable . .

 

Cloud-bow, fog bow, crepuscular ray.

 

It wasn’t until after the poem had been published that having the poets in the middle of the clouds came to bother me, as did the trailing off of the cloud names into ellipses. In the final version, I moved the poets down to the end of poem (something I toyed with on and off throughout many drafts) and made more explicit the connection between the clouds and the students, reworking lines that, in Plume, had ended the poem (“. . .  As to what they, from me, /extrapolate, that too’s inscrutable”). I liked the idea that while, like the clouds, the on-going formation of these students was a result of convergences, unlike the clouds, they were not, or not yet, “visible, classifiable.” I had come to think that, as an ending, these lines sounded forced, both in how they were written and the meaning they imposed.  But slightly changed, moved up, put with the clouds, they gave the connection I wanted, without making too much of it:

From one student I learn what robotripping is;

from another, the names of clouds:

 

diamond dust, sundog, fallstreak halo.

At dew point, vapors collect, condense,

 

become visible, classifiable; cap and banner,

cloud-bow, fog bow, crepuscular ray—

 

yet the signs as to what our convergence

precipitates are fleeting, mercurial.

 

From there, the poem continues, as it had before, with a portrait of a boy who might have been part of the class, but, more to the point, appeared in one of the undergraduate girl’s poems (only it didn’t—I made it up).

While that might be the heart of the poem, the description of the girl’s tattoo could be seen as its climax, linguistically, imagistically and dramatically. I had the lines “above tattered low-rise jeans and spanning//her iliac crest, a set of lilac tatted fairy wings” fairly early, but the lead-up to those lines gave me grief far above their importance. What adjective to use to describe the girl? “Quiet gossamer-haired,” “glossy-haired,” “galante glossy-haired” (in Plume) were some of the things I tried before I recently settled on “ashen.” What was it that reminded me of myself at that age? (I never would have had a tattoo or exposed my lower back in class.) The first version was the most awkward, as I struggled to formulate an idea, a basis for the gesture:

until a quiet gossamer-hair girl

who (though it boggles the mind) recalls to me

 

a younger self . . .

 

This leaves the girl and I and the connection I feel between us all un-interpreted. I tried to address both this and the awkward wordiness in the next draft:

. . .

who improbably calls to mind a younger

 

more fanciful self . . .

 

Next, the version that made it into publication:

 

. . .

who for no apparent reason calls to mind

 

an abiding younger self . . .

 

Finally, I realized that “who” was part of the problem: it should be an attitude or gesture of the girl that reminds me of myself, and that gesture will say something that spans both of us, the way her tattoo spans her hip bones:

until an ashen girl, with an unself-conscious

 

candor I knew once in myself . . .

 

Describing her movement also took some work and diligence and false solutions, but that was mostly a matter of finding verbs with the exact right meaning and tone. “Unself-conscious candor” was a particularly satisfying change, as I felt I had nailed something both about myself at that age and about the girls in my class. The tattoo was not taken from any of them though, it was something my daughter’s first baby-sitter had. I didn’t know what it was called at the time—the phrase was in a student’s poem, and had to be explained to me, but not through a student’s self-exposure.

The ending gave me particular trouble, as I already mentioned. I do have a philosophical and aesthetic inclination to end poems with an image. It feels very pure to me, in a poetical sense, just to let an image resonate. At least one of my poet friends who read it thought I should end with the image of the fairy wings. But I’m wary of ending a poem on its climax and felt that in this case it was almost too sensationalistic, and would be taken to encapsulate the poem’s meaning in a way I found too narrow. For a long time, through many drafts, I tried to work with the “extrapolate . . . inscrutable” lines, though I fretted there was something falsely mysterious about them—a dishonesty, even in the use of “too,” as if I knew more than I was telling, and teasingly saying so. I kept trying to move the Huidobro line there, but I was unsure of ending the poem with a rhetorical question. I fiddled with the form of the thought, but couldn’t quite get the tone I wanted, the tone of an afterthought. Finally, I just added “and” to the beginning of the line and decided it was the best I could do. “And,” I hope, also implies “along with everything else I had missed, until I met these students.” Slightly arch, but, I thought, fitting.

For me, the distinctions between composition, drafting and revision blur. I’m not sure at what point I’m “writing the poem” and engaged in “drafts” and at what point “writing” turns into “revision.” Are drafts revisions, and revisions the same as drafts?  Is composition itself a process of revision—the initial carving out of words a revision of silence’s smooth marble? When I am involved in a poem’s early stages and have no idea where it is headed but am already making changes to the initial lines, is that a revision or a draft? Often, I’m unable to continue until I feel that these first stanzas are solid, ‘right’—though later I might find them not right at all and change them. My method of working is contrapuntal: write, revise, write, revise . . . until a full poem has emerged, and a new stage of revising—and writing—begins: revise, write, revise, write. Whether I am re-working a line as I begin a poem, searching for its particular music, tone, shape, character; or whether I am examining word choices, scrambling and unscrambling syntax, reconfiguring how sentences are laid down on the line, refining images after a poem has an entirety, doesn’t feel all that different to me. All of it is part of listening for the poem, of simultaneously uncovering and creating it.

 

 

 

Carol Moldaw’s most recent book is So Late, So Soon: New and Selected Poems (Etruscan Press, 2010). Moldaw (www.carolmoldaw.com) is the author of four other books of poetry, including The Lightning Field (2003), which won the 2002 FIELD Poetry Prize; and a novel, The Widening (2008). She lives in Santa Fe, N.M.