This month marks a departure both from the usual format (interview with the chosen poet and its content of new work from him or her. Instead, to celebrate our five-year anniversary – 60 issues! – we cast a glance backward, over those issues as well as the four print anthologies, to offer again almost an alphabet’s worth of the poems that appeared in those earlier publications. Rough math tells me that Plume, in that time, has presented in its pages, digital and print, some 1500 + poems, from, as I have taken to saying, the best work by the best poets writing today, nationally and internationally.
How did we — staff, poets, others, but especially I — select them? As usual, according to our own tastes, only. And a particularly difficult task: reason informs me that if I/we already had selected these poems on that basis alone, what might the criteria be for those that appear below? In truth, I’m not certain. Oh, true, we could have chosen works at random – and the results, in mastery of craft, some revelatory line or image, the ensorcelling power of the piece as a whole – might be indistinguishable from what you actually discover. Perhaps a glance at at our original and still-extant Mission Statement would be of assistance?
In brief, Plume is a magazine dedicated to publishing the very best of contemporary poetry. To that end, we will be highly selective, offering twelve poems per monthly issue. A provisional indication of our tastes – “what we are looking for” — may be inferred from the quoted passages (which will change often): a sense of the uncanny, foremost, and of the fineness of language, the huge absences to which it points and partakes of, and the urgency and permanence of its state of departure — the coattails forever – just now—disappearing around the corner. But also a certain reserve, or humility, even when addressing the most humorous or trying circumstances…
Yes, yes, all true, to this moment.
So, let’s just say, what? I – we — have combed through the issues and the anthologies, made lists and crossed them out, made others, amended, deleted, sifted, winnowed, considered and reconsidered…and these are the poems that remained. Remember, this is merely our list — if it differs from your own, Dear Reader, as certainly it will – so much the better!
Leave It Lay Where Jesus Flung It
—Jane Springer from Plume August 2012
What a colossal wrong fall she took—that mastodon caught
several stories down in underwater muck thought:
fuck. & wanted banjo—not this: fretted plunge towards fossil—
sun’s gold tone-ring diminishing. All summer archeologists
in wetsuits scope out ribs in the spring & miss the postmortem
marvel: silver fingerpicks dart bone sockets, grow gills
in her sawgrass wrapped cranium. That’s how bad she wanted
banjo—while sinking, archaeopteryx varmints circling
the surface. Small moon on which she strummed what would
evolve without her: Sparrow, savior, galax licks—air
bubbles blowing out her trunk. No not her trumpet—What
a Wonderful World’s—bright brass belongs to Satchmo &
she’d die anonymous as pearl inlay or those heroines drowned
in murder ballads. For all eternity’s a chorus of rogue
villains slipping roofies in your swamp when you’re a mastodon
clawhammering a busted clavicle past the watery brink
of boomalacka while Cro Magnons carve spears from the bank
& a butterfly sails past the alligator’s teeth. All the world’s
a neck drawn out the spring’s belly where docked glass-bottom
boats rock & research teams mark the dig site with yellow
tape—a crime scene to beached yokels, sweating August for the
long dismembering. Soldout little snackshop & the diving
platform’s closed. Leave her bones I want to say to the craneman
angling for a coccyx. What mastodon worth her salt would
want this climate controlled museum where she’s headed, Muzak
streaming out the artificial cave? But the hook falls in with
a twang. Think you know what’s possible? Each misstep unearths
a miracle: Where the mastodon’s still double thumbing away
her last mistake—algid currents whorl a bridge from her left tusk.
—Phillis Levin from The Plume Anthology of Poetry V 3
Eisenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin”
And aren’t we all like this at times,
Bumping helplessly down the stairs
Into a street surging with fire,
The one whose eyes were upon us
Out of control of the handle
Attached to our carriage?
Why are we shocked when
The glasses drop and the face
Of horror crowds the screen?
The reel crackles, there is
No end in sight,
Nowhere to flee.
We have seen them before,
People who look surprised
To have lived so long: open
An album, pass a wooden door.
Late summer, the quiet creatures
Scurrying through grass
Know it’s time to start over,
Theirs a genesis we cannot reenter.
Accidents will happen
—Bob Hicok from The Plume Anthology of Poetry V 3
A table. I wanted to make a table.
For books to sit on. I’d thought
table table table for weeks.
But when I picked up the wood,
when I marked, when I cut, a tree
came out. I made a tree
out of what had been a tree.
And took the tree inside.
And tried to put a book
in the tree but the tree said no,
the tree wanted a bird, the tree
was a traditionalist. It reminded me
of the time I thought I was going
to a dinner party but fell in love
with my wife before she was my wife.
When she was just a woman
in t-shirt and jeans
coming around a corner to claim
her share of the asparagus.
I got the tree its bird. In getting
the tree its bird, I got us singing
we didn’t know would make the ceiling
resemble the sky. Especially
where we painted it blue.
All over. Even in the hard
to reach places. Right under
our skulls, where no light goes.
Early Elegy: Telephone Booth
—Claudia Emerson, TWO POEMS from Plume March 2013
Its remains: a plexiglass crypt robbed
of confession, apology, despair, its half
of all conversation now a narrow
column of strictest clarity, a coinless
reliquary where the receiver dangles
like an unwatched hook, and the phonebook
hangs from its chain—obedient
to the numbered gravity of names.
Early Elegy: Cursive
Children train instead the small muscles
in their hands to strike—uniform, precise—
preformed fonts of their choice. Frail evidence
of ornamental scripts (and cloven nibs, hairline
serifs), the signature, still required, survives,
though poorly executed, its likely demise
the scan of a single fingertip—loops, inkless
whorls—one, incorruptible exemplar.
—Beckian Fritz Goldberg from Plume April 2012
—for Nancy and Bill
Sometimes sitting in a friend’s backyard on a fall evening
a thing comes to you. But then you second guess yourself.
You second guess yourself, and your grace is gone.
The cat dish is there by the step, overturned in the dry leaves,
the trees here taller than any trees in your dreams. You’re afraid
if you stay here they might talk. And these nights
you only want to hear someone say, Yes,
I think of these things too… Nine o’clock, cold,
I couldn’t see the stars for the trees, only the yellow light
of the back window doubled over on the ground. In it,
leaves laid with the kitchen. Then a figure passed:
My friend reaching up into the cupboard and looking lost
a little while. His wife bringing in a cup and dish. Both of them
standing by the sink talking maybe about buying apples tomorrow
or what movie or the jacket no one can find. Her hair
was still damp from the shower and haloed in the kitchen light
as he crossed into the next room blue with the blink of the TV.
That afternoon my friend had thought his cat was lost and we
searched for an hour but the cat had sunk into a deep pile of leaves,
lay half-covered and asleep. The cat who was not lost was named
Henry and he was dead a few weeks later of old age. At night
he’d come in the room where I was slept and sit
staring down at the heating vent and, hours later, if I rose to pee,
he’d still be there as if waiting for something specific to rise
through the floor. But life inside the house that night was golden,
though then the kitchen was lonely, the cereal boxes misaligned
on the shelf, a nest of white bowls, mugs upside down in a row.
I thought someone will be left to open the cupboards after
we are dead and there see everything has stayed the way
we left it. Say yes, you think of these things too. And that’s
when the thing that came to me came to me and when I
second guessed myself I lost what the thing was. Sometime
it might return, but for now I’ll say it was nothing. It was nothing.
Inside the house someone was asking, Did you take Avantix
and suffer heart failure? Do you live alone? Are you tired of carpet stains?
Do you need a loan fast? Yes. And yes and yes and yes.
I’ve thought of these things, too–standing at the window while skeletons
on TV marched toward a cartoon cowboy. It was even stranger
in the silence of early November, away from home. But life was gorgeous
in the house. The glazed red sugar bowl gleamed. Months
later, my friend told me sometimes he’d still mistake
the shadow, the wool scarf bunched on the chair, and think
it’s Henry. As if the mind believed absence is a trick. For it
can still see everything. But the world asks, Do you have crow’s feet?
Do you have enough to cover your funeral costs? Ever feel irregular?
Do you have trouble sleeping? That night the wind blowing
dead leaves sounded like a distant ocean, my fingertips
numbed with cold & the lit window held everything sacred
in its church. I saw that light the next day slanting as we walked
through an apple orchard and stopped at the mill for cider.
Farther on, we came to a large pond where pike and recluse sturgeon
lurked beneath the surface. On the bridge was a machine you’d put
a quarter in for a handful of food for the fish. I watched my friend
toss some in the water and the pond became alive with thrashing
bodies, the surface almost writhing with their gleams, the sound
of water laughing all around, and then they disappeared again,
the water like a shadow, deep, blue-green. And quiet. There was
a small breeze, an open field, a white clapboard building
on one side. Things are simple, that’s what we forget.
When I slept that night I left the door ajar for Henry
who would come upstairs late for his vigil, the warm air
floating above the vent from some underworld
benevolent beyond his dreams. And when I woke later in the dark
as sometimes you do in a strange bed away from home
in a strange town with a moon and trees, I could feel he was there
long before I could distinguish his shape, before I could remember
exactly where I was. It came to me this loneliness is something we take
with us anywhere and not that we aren’t loved, but that we aren’t
loved forever. Life demands much less. The fish is purely
fish and that’s enough. An apple wholly apple. Maybe it’s enough
to be human, leave the door open, wait for a soul–which, if it comes, comes
like the half of the conversation we imagined because we
can’t imagine that speaking is only speaking, even to the night,
the way we can’t believe death is only death, the way we can’t
stand outside a window on a fall evening in a pile of leaves in Kalamazoo
and not count ourselves among the missing. Are you single and looking
for your soul mate? Are you drowning in credit card debt?
Do you want more hair? Do you have trouble sleeping? Yes,
I have trouble sleeping. But, when it was my turn, I cupped my hand
and the machine filled it with food for the fish I scattered
over the water and they came like the rush of fat rain up
from the deep, glittering, swarming over nothing. It made me happy.
Then the green silence closing over them again. The little cat
waiting faithfully in the dark for his death and not complaining.
And us, knowing it is already a world without us, already a pond,
a cat, an orchard stuck with swords of light–
but the heart needs no reason for the beloved.
—Yves Bonnefoy, translated by Hoyt Rogers from The Plume Anthology of Poetry 2013
« Facesti come quei che va di notte… »
Il agitait une sorte de torche
Dont la double lueur déconcertait
Ces autres qui cherchaient derrière lui
À ne pas avoir peur, le long du gouffre.
Guide, pourquoi n’as-tu, sur ton propre corps,
Rien de cette lumière que tu offres ?
N’as-tu aucun besoin de percevoir
Le vide qui se creuse sous tes pas ?
Mais tel est le destin de l’allégorie :
Qui parle ne pourra ni ne doit savoir
D’où vient et où s’abîme sa parole.
Son pied cherche le sol à même le vide,
Son vol hésite et vire dans ses mots,
Flamme de moins de rêve que la cendre.
“Facesti come quei che va di notte…”
He brandished a peculiar torch:
Its double gleam perplexed the souls
Who groped along behind him,
Striving not to fear the abyss.
Guide, why have you never shone
On your own body the light you hold?
Have you no need to see the cleft
That opens up beneath your steps?
But such is allegory’s fate: its deviser
Never knows, and must not know, where
His words arise, and where they fall.
His foot seeks toeholds in the void.
His flights of speech veer and quake,
Like flames more dreamless than ash.
La dérision de Cérès
Par amitié pour les mots de sa fièvre
Il regarda par la vitre embuée
De son sommeil. On se parlait, dehors,
Il entrouvrit sa porte, il faisait nuit.
Ah, peintre, qu’est-ce donc que cette main
Que tu prends dans la tienne quand tu dors,
Pourquoi la retiens-tu, cette main d’enfant,
Comme si sa pression te délivrait
D’une peur qui ravage tes images ?
Moi, je rêve que tu en guides la confiance,
Jusqu’à celle qui juge, qui condamne,
Mais qui aime, et qui souffre. Que tu réconcilies
L’enfant et le désir. Qu’il n’y ait plus
D’étonnement dans l’un, de vindicte dans l’autre.
The Mocking of Ceres
Trying to befriend his fever’s words,
He peered through the clouded glass
Of his sleep. Outside, he heard talking.
He cracked the door: darkness, night…
Painter, whose hand is this you hold
While you sleep? Why not let go?
Can clinging to the hand of a child
Save you from the unrelenting fear
That blights your images? I dream
You will guide his trust to Ceres, who judges,
But also suffers; condemns, but also loves.
I dream you will make peace between desire
And the child: so his bafflement will cease,
And desire no longer lead him to his doom.
Four Pieces from Plume December 2101
Ödön von Horváth
Ödön von Horváth was once walking in the Bavarian Alps when he discovered, at some distance from the path, the skeleton of a man. The man had evidently been a hiker, since he was still wearing a knapsack. Von Horváth opened the knapsack, which looked almost as good as new. In it, he found a sweater and other clothing; a small bag of what had once been food; a diary; and a picture postcard of the Bavarian Alps, ready to send, that read, “Having a wonderful time.”
Brief Incident in Short a, Long a, and Schwa
Cat, gray tabby, calm, watches large, black ant. Man, rapt, stands staring at cat and ant. Ant advances along path. Ant halts, baffled. Ant back-tracks fast—straight at cat. Cat, alarmed, backs away. Man, standing, staring, laughs. Ant changes path again. Cat, calm again, watches again.
My Friend’s Creation
We are in a clearing at night. Along one side, four Egyptian goddesses of immense size are positioned in profile and lit from behind. Black shapes of people come into the clearing and slip across the silhouettes. A moon is pasted against the dark sky. High up on a pole sits a cheerful, red-cheeked man who sings and plays a pipe. Now and then, he climbs down from his pole. He is my friend’s creation, and my friend asks me, “What shall he be singing?”
Contingency (Vs. Necessity)
He could be our dog.
But he is not our dog.
So he barks at us.
THE HEAVEN OF LOST EARRINGS
—Molly Peacock from Plume Poetry 4
Go down the grate after the green
agate scarab with the frowny face,
then through the damp and the dark
—the heaven of lost earrings is not
a bright place. Curl with the crumbs
in the corner of a pocket in
the discarded clothing bin,
then climb up the unzippered flap
of a suitcase and meet me
next to the severed pearl.
In the velvet dark of reattachment,
through beach sand and grime
in lintballs, dustballs, dirtballs soft
as the earlobes they were lost from,
next to the carved blue lapis orb—
through the crack in the floor, beneath
the taxi seat, in the accordion seam
of a subway train, in the airplane toilet
on another plane altogether where a low
moan replaces the harp and keens,
“There must be two, there must be two,”
hurtling toward the midnight of reunions
where everyone forgets what started
their arguments, why one unclasped
so suddenly, or the other’s stud just
dropped without a sound to bury itself
in a carpet in a lobby and the loop
that contained the red droplet
with its cloisonné leaf sprang
down the cleft in an elevator shaft
after it, almost like Orpheus calling for
Eurydice, meet me.
of lost earrings is not a hell, though
it’s dark down there that becomes up here
on the other side of the world where
memories surface, carrying their own light
unlike the heaven of the airy risen.
This is a heaven of the fallen
where each fleck, each gold whorl,
each silver hinge gleams up in the murk
for its partner, searching through the rubble,
sniffing for the button-y smell of the other
till they click and clasp their clasps
or slide long wires into their studs at last
and glow not as on a stage or even in the light
of a windowsill, but as in the warmth
of an unmade bed just left by the gods
up hungry for their nectar, now
nestling alone, forgotten but for a stab
in the nerve-end lightning of a memory flash:
meet me down there in the fold.
—Sharon Olds from Plume April 2012
This time, Faust was a nursing mother —
on one arm, a nine-month-old,
by one hand, a four-year-old, and in the
backpack a Ph.D., now un-take-
backable. She was walking down the steps,
on which, four years before, in the Strike,
the English Department Administrator
had stood with the bandage around her head,
bloody where the night-stick had hit her when they tried to fight
past her to her students. Nursing Faust
descended, now, beside the Alma
Mater, who was no longer wearing her
Shirley Hess lookalike
red-blotched headdress. And no spirit
came up to the milk-fat graduate
to tempt her — she just spoke, herself,
to the one she felt within her, the one
she thought of as Satan. Give me my own
poems, she said, and I’ll give you back
all I have learned (forgetting she had learned
almost nothing), and the poems don’t have to be
good — just my own, the work of an ordinary
woman. Then they went to Tom’s, for pancakes —
the worn, vinyl booster seat
and the high-chair — and it was either Mary,
or Betty, who took care of them,
one on her feet all day, weighing maybe
300, one maybe 80 years old,
which was just the way things were, nothing
Faust would try to do anything about.
Pancakes for three, and bacon, and an extra
plate for the ego’s voice, in my day called Satan.
—Kwame Dawes from Plume Poetry 4
What is owed us, our bodies slumping
from years of labor, the promise of longevity
a lie? We cannot count the years
like others, so we flame in those
early years when our bodies are reliable,
when our strength can let us be
beaten, used and we bounce back,
bellies full of laugh, fists swinging,
this is all it is. At forty, we are
limping, the calculation is basic,
ten more years if we are lucky.
These are the times to make amends
for the wounds we learn to cry,
learn to say, “Don’t leave me,” learn
to drink in the dark, feel the rumbling
of death, learn to stare
at a wall for hours, to know
how comforting this emptying
of the brain can be, this silence,
how memory, played out in such
silences, can soothe. What is owed
this man with big arms, useless
shoulders, and dick that has
forgotten its own nature, a man
who has lived on the edge
of grand things? What is owed
him but his daily wage for
his labors, a safe path to walk
each day, the right to gather as a man
among men, get drunk, skip it off
and stare at walls, counting the days?
She is dead, the girl who carried
his seed; he has broken her. How happy
he was to see her glow with the swell
of the child in her, and then the way
she slipped away, a mattress soaked
in blood, the baby girl wailing,
his hands too clumsy to hold this
flesh; what is owed an ordinary
black man with nothing to show
for his life? In the dark, the wounded
wife planting geraniums and singing
hymns in the dark loamed garden,
the infant girl giggling in the sunlight,
the earth turning slowly; he allows
the blanket to cover him, travels
to the open lot of a ballpark, dust
dancing in the air, a clean sky
and the scent of mown grass—
this is all he is owed today.
THE UNMET LOVER
—Dennis Nurkse from Plume October 2012
Once I saw you in a freight elevator
and you turned away, pretending to be absorbed
in Diamond Fashion. Once I woke in Chelsea
and you were beside me, naked, breathing lightly,
but I had no memory of climbing the hundred steps.
Once you touched my shoulder, in a crowd
at a Knicks game-–Kobe at the charity line,
the box seats beginning to bay, full throated.
I flinched and tried to read your lips.
Sometimes you opened my mail. You borrowed my keys.
You carved my name in the great circle of elms
that guards the dead lake in Prospect Park
and added marks that meant: hypocrite. Shame.
Always I stared, in absolute darkness,
sensed your presence and called your name
and that was who you were: that shape of the lips,
that breath, late summer in a huge city,
those factories making mufflers and phone books,
those dusty storefront churches, that wheezing organ,
that drumbeat, that tambourine shivering with praise.
—Rae Armantrout from Plume March 2015
Says her Tarot reader says
she will soon have an experience
that will make her feel
more connected than ever.
Says blogs, Facebook,
have replaced poetry as ways
the private public.
Say the way the leaves
on the light mesh
of that window screen
—Two Views of Bercy, translated by Sarah Arvio from Plume Issue 57
Deux vues de Bercy
Il est evident que le soleil s’arrête et ne bougera plus.
Comme au fond de champs gris sous les tours se reposerait une faneuse,
sa face rose à travers les branches luit sur les toits de Bercy.
Je tourne entre le milieu du fleuve et le parvis blond de l’église,
je suis comme le démon variable de l’immobilité.
Là des sables adoucis marquent des étapes de la décrue,
paupières superposées vers le retour au sommeil de l’eau;
ici j’aperçois une timide servante de la lumière:
dans un recoin mauve de grange plein de mousse elle se penche de profil,
les mains au creux du tablier parce que l’ouvrage est faite,
et que dans le silence heureux de sa tête les derniers mots sont dits.
J’ai appelé un chat roux qui s’est assis par politesse,
que n’attend qu’un délai convenable pour pouvoir repartir.
Je le sens compréhensif mais la circonstance l’embarrasse;
il s’enfonce dans son poil et cligne bien chanoinement des yeux.
Alors une pie s’envole et, du pont de la gare de la douane,
roule le grondement d’un train moelleux, entre le fer et le pavé,
comme le corps assoupi du temps quand il se retourne en reve,
et rêvant qu’il s’entend dormir dans le silence de Paris,
où je fais grincer ce petit volet aux boîtes du bureau de poste).
Depuis quand n’a-t-on pas utilisé l’etroit banc de pierre
ménagé dans un retrait de la balustrade, au pont de Tolbiac?
Les constructeurs avaient de ces principes ou prévenances, naguère,
pour les enfants, les amoureux, les flâneurs assez rares
qui se contentent d’apprécier les tas de sable en bas sur le quai
du fleuve immobile tout pailleté de reflets impressionistes.
Une allée de gleditschias conduit jusqu’au pont du chemin de fer.
La surplombent d’un côté des donjons de style station thermale,
et de l’autre un avis de la lessive Saint-Marc qui nettoie tout.
On voit aussi des bancs mais en fonte et bois sous les arbres
dont la base se fourre de touffes d’herbe, folle comme autour d’un puits.
Mais on ne rencontre jamais grand monde non plus par ces parages;
même les clochards préfèrent des lieux d’une moindre austérité.
Seul le soir s’y prélasse, plongé dans une telle buée rose,
qu’elle rend en pâte de Sèvres les cubes qui broient la gare de Lyon
et que tous les platanes de Bercy croulent d’amour sur la rive.
Pourtant un peu de vent fait jouer, entre les piles du pont,
des mains dans des mailles de cheveux blonds qui flottent, comme à la proue
d’un chaland baptisé Paulhan, tout ce linge et le pavillon
noir à tête de mort blanche et deux os en X des pirates.
It seems that the sun has stopped and will move no more
a haymaker at rest in the gray field beneath the towers—
her pink face through the branches shines over the roofs of Bercy
As I rove between the river and the blond door of the church—
I am the shapeshifting demon of stasis—
The soft sands mark the phases of the lowering surge
with eyelids that rest on the water as it falls back to sleep
Here I see a shy servant of the light—
her profile bent in the violet shadows of the moss-grown barn
her hands in her apron folds because the work is done
and in the happy silence of her head the last words are said
I call out to an orange cat that has sat down demurely
and is staying for a few moments just to be polite
I feel he is discerning but that circumstances trouble him
he shrinks into his fur blinking his eyes like a monk
Then a magpie flies up from the bridge of the customs house
and a sleek train murmurs between the rails and the road
like the sleeping body of time as it turns in a dream
dreaming that it hears itself sleep in the silence of Paris
where as I lift it the lid of a letter box squeaks—
When has anyone last used the slim stone bench tucked away
in a crook of the balustrade on the Tolbiac bridge
In those days bridge builders had the manners or the grace
to think of children and lovers and the occasional loafer
happily admiring the drifts of sand below on the quay
by the still river spangled with impressionist gleams
A lane of gleditsias leads to the railroad bridge
On one side falling off steep are cells of the sort found in thermal baths ??
on the other the sign for the Saint-Marc laundry that cleans all
You also see benches in cast iron and wood under the trees
and tufts of grass growing lush and wild as though near a well
And yet you never meet anyone much in these places —
even the bums prefer somewhere a bit less austere
Evening hangs around sunken in such a haze of rose pink
that it turns the cubes crushing the Gare de Lyon into Sèvres plates ??
and on the riverbank all the plane trees of Bercy droop with love
Even so a breath of wind plays among the bridge piles
with its hands in the nets of blond hair floating as though at the prow
of a barge baptized “Paulhan”—all that laundry and the flag
black with a white death head and the two pirate bones crossed
Elegy for a Gopher
—Ellen Bass from Plume Poetry 4
The pads of your paws scrabble
as I drag you from the tunnel
clamped to the shiny green trap,
a baby, hell-bent on saving
your twist of life, spun
from the same cells as I am, the common
intelligence of fins, wings, limbs.
The first time you see the sun
you’re splayed on your back, the shadow
of my blade above you.
Your ears, tiny colorless petals,
and at the tips of your articulated fingers,
ten frantic claws. When I strike,
your mouth opens stunningly
wide, a scream so silent
all sound is sucked down the naked
whirlpool of your throat. I hate
that I can salvage nothing.
I can’t skin and eat you, stuff or display
your fur on the mantel.
I won’t carve a needle
from your bone. Bit of breath
I bury under a stone.
Scruffy soul, unlucky
scribble of life, guilty of nothing.
—Jane Hirshfield from Plume, Issue 38
The Conversations I Remember Most
The way a sweet cake wants
little salt in it,
or blackness a little gray nearby to be seen,
or a pot unused remains good for boiling water,
the conversations I remember most
are the ones that were interrupted.
Wait, you say, running after them,
I forgot to ask—
Night rain, they answer.
Silver on the fire-thorn’s red berries.
As A Hammer Speaks to a Nail
When all else fails,
fail with conviction,
as a hammer speaks to a nail,
or a lamp left on in daylight.
If two does not follow,
say three, if that fails, say life,
lacking iron, try shadow.
If shadow too fails,
if your voice falls and falls and keeps falling,
meets only air and silence,
say one, again,
but say it with greater conviction,
as a nail speaks to a picture,
as a hammer left on in daylight.
Obscurity and Providence from The Plume Anthology of Poetry V 3
The hand is immobilized
so the hand not usually in use
has to do all the work, has learned
to wait, to be quiet, to be still,
to receive memories; to tend
the fire; sometimes perceiving
a vague presence, the hand extends
in the perceived direction, retreats
pulls a sheet of paper from the drawer
that sticks, wet or dry;
scribbling fast at last, What
is he doing now, now that it is cold
where does he does he sleep.
When the dressing comes off
the smell is really pug.
Nimrod & the Flying Pig
—Norman Dubie from Plume Poetry 4
The king was burning the tall grasses
to market an exhaust, a gate
animals would spring from, Nimrod’s
archers dropping them in air,
in service to the autumn banquet.
It felt nearly a winter’s day and the king
looked into the black smoke of the sky
while a green flying sow
passed wildly overhead detailing
to the king that he was shameless
and truly cursed among men.
This pig threw this king off his need
for a harvest mead. He returned
a large cart full of grapes and wheat
to his old toothless mother
who he had imprisoned months earlier
somewhere in the southern swamp.
Nimrod began to fast. He shaved
his head and snorted myrrh with prayers.
Then the pig flew over again, over
Nimrod’s bath house
which was open to sky.
The pig told the king once more
he was doomed beyond remedy,
more than anyone who’d lived in recorded history.
(This limitation, its specificity
with reference to time emboldened
Nimrod who reached instantly for his bow, piercing
mortally the pig’s throat
with a long yellow arrow of pine wood.)
From that day forward the king
lived in perfect happiness
far into old age
and was blessed with six sons
who like their father were also cruel
The king said he was individually
charmed among men. Reports,
in fact, insist that his mother is still
living in a suburb of Annapolis—
‘flying pig’ is N.S.A.
code for something you’d seriously
rather not know. Now,
read our poem to its conclusion
but never tell a single living soul
of your exposure to it.
the pig’s name was Protobus.
Protobus is an anagram
of Hamlet. Thelma is an anagram
of Hamlet. Pity the poor pig.
Poor all of us.
—Kim Addonizio from Plume Poetry V 3
I could die at any moment,
so why not drink until I achieve
a state of incoherent idiocy
is a question that has been asked before,
but never satisfactorily answered.
Live the questions, Rilke counseled the young poet
who promptly disappeared into obscurity,
proving that literary advice is useless,
like explaining to your goldfish
how to use the remote.
Nevertheless, remember that many adverbs
are on drugs and trying to pick your pocket.
Because life is briefer than a squirrel orgasm
I would like to go to Lisbon
and get morbidly drunk in Portugese
beneath the statue of Pessoa
that wears a book for a face.
Whether we are swan flutes and lyre-shaped goblets
or random collections of beach glass
is another question that puzzles many.
Did I mention I could die at any moment?
Why not rape that girl and her mother
asks the soldier, after seeing his buddy
blasted open like a piñata.
Then again, asks nurse Whitman,
why not hold everyone’s hand
and enjoy the fresh towels?
Sometimes a car lets you into its lane,
sometimes you get a homemade Valentine
instead of a jury summons.
Stevens said death is the mother,
but what kind of mother is she?
Take a look at her children
and tell me what you see.
Ghazal, After Ferguson
—Yusef Komunyakaa from Plume March 2015
Somebody go & ask Biggie to orate
what’s going down in the streets.
No, an attitude is not a suicide note
written on walls around the streets.
Twitter stays lockstep in the frontal lobe
as we hope for a bypass beyond the streets,
but only each day bears witness
in the echo chamber of the streets.
Grandmaster Flash’s thunderclap says
he’s not the grand jury in the streets,
says he doesn’t care if you’re big or small
fear can kill a man on the streets.
Take back the night. Take killjoy’s
cameras & microphones to the streets.
If you’re holding the hand lightning strikes
juice will light you up miles from the streets
where an electric chair surge dims
all the county lights beyond the streets.
Who will go out there & speak laws
of motion & relativity in the streets?
This morning proves a crow
the only truth serum in the street.
THE HEAD TRANSPLANT
—Marianne Boruch from Plume May 2016
They walk in and out of the room,
the dead, though I don’t know why one of them
visits the bathroom. He fiddles around in there, doing
what–and way too long. Maybe he likes
replaying the movie of some
younger sister in 1952 howling at the door
but it’s an em-er-gen-cy! as he takes
all the sweet time in the world.
But world’s gone 21st century again, days
underscored in bold, beyond rumor,
the planet and everything in it sunk to distress.
Thus time, time faster, smaller, hardly
much of it really. So even the dead come forward
I suppose they get sick of it too, the dismay
and thump bang of every last word.
The looking away then, darkly down into a future.
And the loud-speakered alert from Disaster Central
obtuse and pointed as a stick:
We’re red! We’re orange!! But color in a bruise
Oh hope, oh little ragged pale flag over the fray is
a worn-out argument I’ve made: the world’s
ended before. We’re not that original.
Must be better banners or roundabouts or
beside the point after point.
You know what? We all need a head transplant.
I remember an old beloved colleague at dinner once
turning to our eight-year-old.
Will, he said, I like that you think that way. How about
we exchange heads? Mine sewed onto you,
and yours onto me….
Run it backward and forward, o ye possibilities!
His only a few hairs left, his looming
leaning forward, crooked glasses and raised
funny eyebrows while
our boy, not too alarmed, gravely considered.
Edna St. Vincent, M.F.A.
—Mary Jo Salter from The Plume Anthology of Poetry 2013
for Joseph and Carla Harrison
Chic and petite, blind to her destiny
of being hailed upon her death the worst
sometimes-excellent poet in history,
she ran the reading series, and ranked first
in her year despite some issues, namely those
pretentious, creaky sonnets emailed late
for workshop, densely wrought with “thee”s and “thou”s,
Apollo’s “dewy cart,” man’s “frosty fate”…
Her classmates listened, bored, without a clue.
Still, they liked her, partly because she friended
everybody who asked, and fucked them too,
lending them each some notoriety
by blogging through the night how things had ended.
Plus, she knew people at A.W.P.
WHAT THE POOR ARE FOR
–Thomas McCarthy from Plume April 2016
Permit me for a moment to abandon hope
Of poetry: you must not think as you read
These words that any enjambment of thought
Or music is more important than the rhythms
Found in speaking plainly. It is life that finishes
Our sentences; and it is this perpetual thought:
That the poor must have some purpose in the end,
The abject poor, surely, must have a reason
To be constantly there, like rain in Ireland
Or the certainty of mist after a very warm day.
That I was born to a poor mother is
Undeniable; and the malleability of my memory –
I mean the memories of a childhood –
Is proof of the pudding. Or lack of pudding.
It has always struck me how adroitly
The poor amplify memory in an effort, no doubt,
To conform to some bourgeois expectations.
Of Christmas, for example, that festival of child-
Like trust in things fulfilled. Of Christmas
A poor child would prefer less said. I mean
At Christmas every poor child waits
In the foyer of life but is never called
Forward. A poor child capable of labour
Will work in frost or rain to carry Christmas
To an idle father, or to a catatonic mother.
Accept this. Nothing shall be asked for.
It is important to remember that nothing
Is asked for, still. Memory is not important:
It will pass away in a flourish of choirs
Where the comforted go, one of life’s parades
Where the soul of the poor is an onlooker.
This is what it means to be poor; and when
I hear some well-meaning child
Of a bourgeois household, a child now
Grown to adulthood, a commentator
Upon the injustice of the world, a
Place-man from a long line of place-men
In Ireland, I am filled with a violent rage.
I am as violent as Hugh MacDiarmid
Or as violent as Knut Hamsun, that
Consumptive healing himself on his own,
On the roof of a fast-moving train.
I am exhausted with rage; and I am
Bitterly alone at the edge of this great cave
From which I emerged, one afternoon,
While God was busy looking after someone.
Even now I see God still shutting the cave
Doors, God in a rage that someone poor
Escaped. His Universities raising their fees,
His lists of the waiting. His hospital
Queues. There must be a purpose to this,
Don’t you think? There must be a purpose:
It can’t be without purpose that the best
Of our bourgeois sons, and of private schools,
Could manage four generations of public
Life only for us to end up like this –
I am thinking of all the jobs available
In the service of the Poor. I’m thinking, still,
Of the great passivity of the excluded.
Of the poor bringing purpose. Of everything.
In Order of Appearance
Jane Springer’s second book, Murder Ballad, won the Beatrice Hawley award and is forthcoming from Alice James Books. Her first book won the Agha Shaid Ali prize. Other awards include an AWP Intro Prize, a Pushcart, and the Robert Penn Warren Prize for Poetry.
Phillis Levin’s fifth collection, Mr. Memory & Other Poems, will be published by Penguin in April 2016. She is the author of four other collections, Temples and Fields (University of Georgia Press, 1988), The Afterimage (Copper Beech Press, 1995), Mercury (Penguin, 2001), and May Day (Penguin, 2008), and is editor of The Penguin Book of the Sonnet (2001). Her honors include the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award, a Fulbright Scholar Award to Slovenia, the Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Bogliasco Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Paris Review, Agni, The Atlantic, Southwest Review, Yale Review, The New Republic, Literary Imagination, Kenyon Review, and The Best American Poetry (1989, 1998, and 2009 editions). She teaches at Hofstra University and lives in New York City.
Bob Hicok’s first book of poetry, The Legend of Light (University of Wisconsin Press, 1995), received the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry and was named a 1997 ALA Booklist Notable Book of the Year. His other poetry collections include Animal Soul (Invisible Cities Press, 2001), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; This Clumsy Living (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007), winner of the 2008 Bobbitt Prize from the Library of Congress; and Sex & Love & (Copper Canyon Press, 2016).
Claudia Emerson received the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her book Late Wife: Poems (LSU Press, 2005). Secure the Shadow was published in 2012. She is also the author of Figure Studies: Poems, Pinion: An Elegy, and Pharaoh, Pharaoh; all volumes are published in Dave Smith’s Southern Messenger Poets series. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Southern Review, Shenandoah, TriQuarterly, New England Review, and other journals. She was the Poet Laureate of Virginia from 2008-2010
Beckian Fritz Goldberg is the author of several volumes of poetry including Body Betrayer, In the Badlands of Desire, Never Be the Horse, Twentieth Century Children, Lie Awake Lake, and The Book of Accident. Reliquary Fever: New and Selected Poems is due out in 2010. Her work has appeared in such anthologies and journals as The American Poetry Review, The Gettysburg Review, Harpers, The Iowa Review, and The Massachusetts Review. She has received the Theodore Roethke Poetry Prize, The Gettysburg Review Annual Poetry Award, The University of Akron Press Poetry Prize, the Field Poetry Prize, and a Pushcart Prize
Yves Bonnefoy, often acclaimed as France’s greatest living poet, has published nine major collections of verse, several books of tales, and numerous studies of literature and art. He has also served as the chief editor of an important dictionary of world mythology, in two volumes. He succeeded Roland Barthes in the Chair of Comparative Poetics at the Collège de France, and is perennially cited as a leading candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature. His work has been translated into scores of languages, and he himself is a celebrated translator of Shakespeare, Yeats, Keats, and Leopardi. Most recently, he has added the European Prize for Poetry of 2006 and the Kafka Prize for 2007 to his long list of honors. He lives in Paris.
Hoyt Rogers divides his time between the Dominican Republic and Italy. His poems, stories, and essays, as well as his translations from the French, German, and Spanish, have appeared in a wide variety of periodicals. He has published over a dozen books, which include his own poetry and criticism as well as editions and translations. His most recent translation from the French, Second Simplicity—a collection of verse and prose by Yves Bonnefoy—was published by the Yale University Press in January 2012. With Paul Auster, he is currently preparing Openwork, an anthology of André du Bouchet.
Lydia Davis has published a number collections of fiction, including The Thirteenth Woman and Other Stories (1976) and Break It Down (1986), a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award.She is a winner of the Man Booker Prize. Her most recent collections were Varieties of Disturbance, a finalist for the National Book Award published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2007, and Can’t and Won’t (2013). The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (2009) contains all her fiction up to 2008.
Molly Peacock’s newest book is Alphabetique: 26 Characteristic Fictions, illustrations by Kara Kosaka (McClelland & Stewart, 2014). Her latest poetry is The Second Blush and her recent nonfiction is The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life’s Work at 72. A former New Yorker and instigator of Poetry in Motion, she now lives in Toronto where she serves as Series Editor of The Best Canadian Poetry. She writes in dual genres and she is a dual citizen.
Sharon Olds’ collections include Stag’s Leap (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and the T. S. Eliot Prize; One Secret Thing (Random House, 2008); Strike Sparks: Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004); The Unswept Room (Alfred A. Knopf, 2002); Blood, Tin, Straw(Alfred A. Knopf, 1999); The Gold Cell (Alfred A. Knopf, 1997);The Wellspring (Alfred A. Knopf, 1995); and The Father(Alfred A. Knopf, 1992); which was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Ghanaian-born Jamaican poet, Kwame Dawes is the award-winning author of sixteen books of poetry (most recently, Wheels, 2011) and numerous books of fiction, non-fiction, criticism and drama. He is the Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner, and a Chancellor’s Professor of English at the University of Nebraska. Kwame Dawes also teaches in the Pacific MFA Writing program. Dawes’ book, Duppy Conqueror: New and Selected Poems will be published by Copper Canyon in 2013.
D. Nurkse is the author of numerous books of poetry, including The Border Kingdom,Burnt Island and The Fall. His work has appeared in The New Yorker,The Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, The American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review, The Times LiterarySupplement (London), Ploughshares, The Paris Review, and the Best American Poetry series. He has taught advanced workshops at The Writer’s Voice, The New School, and the Brooklyn College MFA Program. He teaches at Sarah Lawrence.
Rae Armantrout’s new book, Itself, was published by Wesleyan in February 2015. She has published eleven books of poetry and has also been featured in a number of major anthologies. Her book of poems Versed was awarded the 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Armantrout’s most recent collection is Just Saying.
Jacques Réda was born in 1929, was awarded the French Academy’s Grand Prix in 1993 for a lifetime’s work. In 1978 he became a member of Gallimard’s reading panel; he was editor of the Nouvelle Revue Française from 1987 to 1995. His prose work The Ruins of Parisappeared in translation by Mark Treharne in 1996. He received the Bourse Goncourt de la Poésie in 1999.
Sarah Arvio’s latest book is night thoughts: 70 dream poems & notes from an analysis, a hybrid work: poetry, essay, memoir. Her earlier books of poems are Visits from the Seventh and Sono: cantos.She has won the Rome Prize and the Bogliasco and Guggenheim fellowships, among other honors. For many years a translator for the United Nations in New York and Switzerland, she has also taught poetry at Princeton. She now lives in Maryland, by the Chesapeake Bay.
Ellen Bass’s poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, and The American Poetry Review. Her books include Like a Beggar, The Human Line, and Mules of Love. She co-edited the groundbreaking No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women and her nonfiction books include Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youth and The Courage to Heal. She has received a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. two Pushcart Prizes, The Lambda Literary Award and many other honors. She teaches in the MFA program at Pacific University.
Jane Hirshfield is the author of seven collections of poetry, including COME, THIEF (Knopf, 2011). Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Nation, The American Poetry Review, Poetry, McSweeney’s, Orion, seven volumes of The Best American Poetry (including the forthcoming 25th anniversary Best of the Best American Poetry volume), and many other publications. In 2012, she was elected a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and also named the third recipient of the Donald Hall–Jane Kenyon Award in American Poetry.
C.D. Wright published over a dozen books, including ShallCross (2016); One With Others (2011), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was nominated for a National Book Award; Rising, Falling, Hovering (2008); Like Something Flying Backwards: New and Selected Poems(2007); and Tremble (1996). She died in January, 2016.
Norman Dubie’s most recent collection of poems, The Quotations of Bone, is from Copper Canyon Press.
Kim Addonizio is the author of six poetry collections, two novels, two story collections, and two books on writing poetry, The Poet’s Companion (with Dorianne Laux) andOrdinary Genius. She has received fellowships from the NEA and Guggenheim Foundation, two Pushcart Prizes, and was a National Book Award Finalist for her collection Tell Me. Her latest books are Mortal Trash: Poems (W.W. Norton) and a memoir-in-essays, Bukowski in a Sundress (Penguin). She recently collaborated on a chapbook, The Night Could Go in Either Direction (Slapering Hol Press) with poet Brittany Perham. Addonizio also has two word/music CDs: Swearing, Smoking, Drinking, & Kissing (with Susan Browne) and My Black Angel, a companion to My Black Angel: Blues Poems & Portraits, featuring woodcuts by Charles D. Jones. She teaches and performs internationally.
Yusef Komunyakaa’s books of poetry include Taboo, Dien Cai Dau, Neon Vernacular, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize, Warhorses, The Chameleon Couch, and most recently Testimony. His plays, performance art and libretti have been performed internationally and include Saturnalia, Testimony, and Gilgamesh.
Marianne Boruch is the author of eight books of poems, including Cadaver, Speak (Copper Canyon Press, 2014); The Book of Hours (Copper Canyon Press, 2011), winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; Grace, Fallen from (Wesleyan University Press, 2010); and Poems: New and Selected (Oberlin College Press, 2004). Her new collection, Eventually One Dreams the Real Thing, will be out this coming July from Copper Canyon Press
A former editor at the Atlantic Monthly, poetry editor at the New Republic, and co-editor of the fourth and fifth editions of the Norton Anthology of Poetry, Mary Jo Salter is the author of many books of poetry, including A Kiss in Space (1999), Open Shutters (2003), A Phone Call to the Future (2008), and Nothing by Design (2013). Her second book, Unfinished Painting (1989) was a Lamont Selection for the most distinguished second volume of poetry published that year, Sunday Skaters (1994) was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award, and Open Shutters was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.
Thomas McCarthy has published eight poetry collections, seven of them with Anvil Press Poetry, including The Sorrow Garden, The Lost Province, Mr Dineen’s Careful Parade, The Last Geraldine Officer (“a major achievement”, in the view of academic and poet Maurice Harmon) and Merchant Prince, a combination of poems and a novella recounting the story of a Cork merchant, described as “an ambitious and substantive book” in Poetry Ireland Review. His new book, PANDEMONIUM, will be published by Carcanet.