Guest Editor’s Note: David Breskin on Campaign

This month, for the second time in three months and in Plume’s relatively brief history, I happily step aside, offering this space instead to David Breskin, who fills it — admirably is far too feeble praise — with selected pieces from his work, Campaign. I confess, I was going to preface the poems with a few of my own thoughts on the nature of political poetry (regarding which I have in the past had the usual antipathies), followed by some snarky reprise of the follies and head-clasping miseries of the recently concluded presidential contest. That was, of course, before I received David’s introduction. Read it, even the first sentence, and you will understand immediately why I scotched those previous plans. Brilliant, one-of-a-kind, bracing, fun, smart —here is the kind of writing one wishes never to end. And then there are the poems themselves—“likewise,” I can only think to say. Enjoy.

 

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David Breskin   photo by Gene Pittman

 

 

A Brief Introduction to Campaign

 

Remember those great black and white movie montages….where the pages of a calendar begin to turn, or tear, first slowly, then faster and faster, finally flying off into the air, as if blown by a summer wind or whipped by a winter gale?   This wasn’t that. On February 1, 2016, the date of the Iowa Caucus, the traditional onside kick which begins every presidential scrum, I decided to write a single poem “about” the election, with the vague idea I might write another. To allow for the possibility that something serial, tight, and deliberate might actually happen, I knew I needed a form—an existing form or one of my own. Having toiled (happily) upon the sweltering rack of the ghazal for my last project (DIRTY BABY), I thought it would be more fun to just concoct something. I didn’t want anything symmetrical or pleasant. I wanted something wrong-footed and corrugated, but self-contained. So: I created a deliberately awkward, rollickingly restrictive form—seven beats per line, eleven lines per poem, one stanza fits all. And given our country’s preference for the convenience of sound-bite news and junk-food polls over more nutritious fare, I decided to call them “7-Elevens.” Slurpee Heaven, 7-Eleven. Seventy-seven beats per poem, no exceptions: it’s got a beat and you can’t dance to it.

 

I used to be a journalist, and quit that gig—which began in high school—in 1993. That makes me a “recovering journalist” still three-steps short in my twelve-step program. I still read the paper the way a journalist might, and still have the instinct: I respect deadlines, respect the Five Ws—what, who, where, when, why—and still respect the value of history’s rough draft. What if, I thought (perhaps dimly), I tried to cover the election through poetry the way a journalist might cover it through prose?   What harm would it do?   No animals would be hurt (except perhaps my children), and if, in the end, I had only sweat to show and no inspiration, so be it. Nothing beats a failure but a try.

 

Maybe something interesting might happen under the pressure of a reporter’s daily deadline. My wife, sensing a chance to keep me busy not just for days or weeks but more than three-quarters of an entire bloody year, set up a blog in a few hours time, for this exact and sole and tortuous purpose: because she knew, once these things were out in public, that I would be chained to the mast. The journalist’s itch with a ragged-right edge.

 

Once I got going, I thought I should really do this like an old-school journalist might: without fear or favor. Spoiler alert: I wasn’t exactly in Ted Cruz’s targeted demographic, and would have voted for him only after being waterboarded by his Texas henchmen, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) be just as hard on Hillary or Bernie or Marco or Jill or Carly as on Lyin’ Ted or the man who would, strangely, become our president. If everyone is not fair game it’s no game at all.   And so I kept at it, and, tellingly, it kept at me.

 

db

19 April 2017

San Francisco

 

The poems in this selection come from David Breskin’s new book of poems, CAMPAIGN, which is shortly to be released by MadHat Press.

 

Selected Poems from Campaign

 

Friday, February 5, 2016

 

A VERY ARTFUL SMEAR

 

Why accept such a high fee?

That’s what they offered, Clinton

offered, clenching cheeks into

a fist. Every posy needs

water, every bee pollen.

Goldman sacks of honey hurt

no one. Heart surgeons and camp

counselors too sought to see her

finger-paint with her middle

fingers, one in de Kooning’s

blue bucket, one in the wind.

 

 

Monday, February 15, 2016

 

SCALIA IN MARFA

 

There is no good time to die.

But, judicial colossus,

you picked a crummy one. What

was your intent? If only,

at your swank hunting ranch, you’d

woken, briefly unholstered

the Second Amendment, rode

into town to see the Judd

boxes in morning’s sun, your

take on textualism

might have been forever changed.

 

 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

 

THE BRIDGE AND TUNNEL CROWD

 

Remember when amnesty

was a good word? The fragrance

of forgiveness infusing

every Vietnam War draft

dodger’s overdue dinner

back home. Now the talk of walls

is tall and spurs rip ripe flesh

of whatever horse brought you.

Smashed glass of freedom, a toast

for this sad ballad country

that orphans its immigrants.

 

for Lin-Manuel Miranda


 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

 

PYROCLASTIC FLOW

 

Ash, dust, scoria, pumice.

A man invents a past. Tuff.

A man denies it. Tephra.

Founding Fathers wrote under

pseudonyms. A non-candid

candidate creates phony

publicists, falter egos,

but oh long ago. Teflon.

This lahar of news—knowing

nothing—blasts a path for our

wounded peacock of Pompeii.

 

for Mark Dresser


 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

 

LET’S

 

Let’s go forwards backwards. Let’s

retreat into the future.

Let’s not let nothing stop us.

Let’s join the club that wants us.

Let’s come together. Let’s be

real. Let’s plan to hook up in

that park we like so much we

killed all the grass with our cleats.

Let’s smell it like it is, you

know, the flatulent expense

of our electioneering.

 

 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

 

VISCERAL

 

Speaking from the gut is like

seeing with knees or smelling

from the spine. Nonetheless we

find, in his gut, the pickled

remains of beautiful deals,

chewed newspapers, stupendous-

ly tough bacteria, old

Playboy centerfolds, rusting

lunchboxes of abandoned

factories, a Thanksgiving

play costume from 4th grade, mints.

 

 

NOT SO VISCERAL

 

Federally-mandated

inspection of the contents

of her well-insulated

stomach cites: senior thesis

on Saul Alinsky, french fries,

Blackberry instruction man-

ual, one purple dental

dam, remnants of gift fragrance

from some ambassador (Eau

de Entitlement), a map

of the world, twelve talking points.

 

 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

 

REPUBLICANS IN GETTYSBURG

(CREATED EQUAL)

 

…Score and seven years ago

Every woman lied when they

our fathers brought forth on this

came forward to hurt my cam-

continent, a new nation,

paign. Total fabrication.

conceived in Liberty, and

The events never happened.

dedicated to the prop-

All these liars will be sued.

osition that all men are…

 


Monday, October 31, 2016

 

TREAT OR TRICK?

 

Don’t you just love that our race

for the country’s top job spins

on the whirred gyroscopic

perversions of three spooky

men—D. Trump, B. Clinton, A.

Weiner—who think with their dicks?

Now, imagine a world run

by women, where the first man

within sniffing distance of

the prize was pushed out by sexed-

up Kegeling amazons.

 

 

Friday, November 4, 2016

 

TRUMPISM IN THE LAND OF LAFAYETTE,

JEFFERSON, AND WASHINGTON

 

Fascistic Republican-

ism is the new black. We

sink or swim with ink spilled, marks

made in the booth we fought for.

Blood. Kin. A couple hundred

years of unpaid labor. Hey

neighbor. The far right digs a

beachhead against the rising

tide of a majority

minority nation. Young,

scrappy and obese, we flail.

 

for Daveed Diggs

 

 

 

 

Born in Chicago in 1958, David Breskin first made his name in the 1980s and early ’90s as a freelance journalist, writing for national magazines such as GQ, LIFE, and, most prominently, Rolling Stone, where he was a contributing editor. Breskin covered a wide range of cultural figures—Willie Nelson and Bono, Miles Davis and Martin Short, Michaels Jordan and Jackson—and authored high-profile investigative pieces on teen suicide, murder, and mayhem.

After publishing a novel, The Real Life Diary of a Boomtown Girl, Breskin turned away from journalism and toward poetry, and by the mid-1990s had begun publishing poems in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Parnassus, New American Writing, and TriQuarterly, among other periodicals. His first book of poetry, Fresh Kills, was published in 1997, and his second, Escape Velocity, in 2004. Between those volumes, he created and edited RICHTER 858, a multimedia inquiry into the abstract paintings of Gerhard Richter, with music by Bill Frisell and contributions by thirteen American poets. His next work, Supermodel (2007), was a one-sentence-long epic poem, or novel-in-verse. Mostly recently, Breskin conceived and produced DIRTY BABY, which married his sixty-six ghazals to sixty-six pictures by Ed Ruscha and music by Nels Cline. He has also published a book of interviews with film directors, Inner Views: Filmmakers in Conversation, which features dialogues with Francis Coppola, David Cronenberg, David Lynch, Spike Lee, Oliver Stone, Robert Altman, Tim Burton, and Clint Eastwood.

Breskin has also worked as a record producer for the past thirty-five years and, in addition to Frisell and Cline, has collaborated with leading-edge musicians beginning with John Zorn, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Vernon Reid, and Joey Baron in the ’80s and early ’90s, and continuing with Mary Halvorson, Kris Davis, Craig Taborn, and Chris Lightcap in the current decade.

Breskin lives in San Francisco. Most of his work may be found at davidbreskin.com.

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