May: and I trust this finds you well! Like at least some of you, I have found myself with time on my hands, and this issue represents the product of those extra hours. Here, a new format, as you’ll see, wherein we present a number of poets – I suppose “well-known” would be the most apt descriptor — each of whom, as per our habit, contributes a new poem. Then, this poet presents/introduces a poem by a, well, …”lesser-known” poet – one whom the former believes is deserving of a wider readership. So, for you, reader, the best of best worlds, an opportunity to meet once more those who have become Plume regulars and to encounter other poets and their work which might have been (though perhaps not) outside your normal orbit. In a phrase, something of the old order and the new. If this seems pleasing, we plan to use this as a template for the next print anthology, Plume Poetry 9, in 2021. In any event, we’d love feedback – don’t hesitate to contact me on FB or email me directly. Thanks, as always, for joining us on our little adventure – nine years now!
And with that, once again, I leave you to the latest investigation from Mr. Joseph Campana, whose subject this month is Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey – and, in the commenter’s marvelous phrase, his ”generous sorrow”. It’s exquisite.
The soote season, that bud and bloom forth brings
With green hath clad the hill and eke the vale;
The nightingale with feathers new she sings;
And turtle to her make hath told her tale.
Summer is come, for every spray now springs;
The hart hath hung his old head on the pale;
The buck in brake his winter coat he flings;
The fishes flete with new repairèd scale;
The adder all her slough away she slings;
The swift swalllow pursueth the flies small;
The busy bee her honey now she mings;
Winter is worn that was the flowers’ bale.
And thus I see among these pleasant things
Each care decays, and yet my sorrow springs.
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-1547)
At least it’s supposed to feel sweet, this season. So association dictates, often despite past circumstances or present realities. Times changes, climates warp. Still, I hope for spring. Each day my husband checks the little garden he cultivates on our balcony—basil for pesto, curry leaves for daal, purple hibiscus for show. April in Texas most often more intimates of the summer to come—the sharp sun, the wet air pressing your body down. This year? Cool, breezy, placid. We could use more rain but most things feel especially lush and verdant. And we all have extra time on our hands to watch what’s happening around us. It’s true, stirring begins amidst the shut-down. Our state announced some tentative openings starting as early as tomorrow. “When will the world start again?” and “What will be the cost?” ring in the mind—questions answerable only as time unfolds its consequences. Meanwhile, other lives, trees and flowers among them, flourish as we recede.
What Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, was thinking in this frequently anthologized poem is perhaps obvious. Spring, yes, but also desire, which in this era of poetry, largely thanks to Petrarch, is always frustrated. And, in fact, this poem loosely translates the master of erotic woe. Failure provides the dominant atmosphere of lyric, intentionally so, whether in direct translations of the Italian codifier of a certain poetic mood or in the wide dissemination of that sensibility. I find many things remarkable about “The soote season, that bud and bloom forth brings” but one is that I love it for what it doesn’t say. Myriad sonnets and quasi-sonnets and sestinas and canzone of all variety state rather baldly the core premise of this poetry. The inaccessible beloved frustrates the lover driving (almost always) him to insomnia and despair, weeping and wailing, devotion and resentment. Arguably, it’s the most passive aggressive poetry ever written, and poets like Wyatt and Surrey, who ushered lyric into England first through translation then through adaptation and variation, conditioned lyric with a plaintive mood that was not only dominant but expected.
So what I find striking here is that Surrey never talks about love. At first, there’s no time for love or failure. The profusion of the earth in springtime is unrelenting. “Bud and bloom” appear to be fiercer than the lover’s despair, at least at first. And what the earth brings forth in the patient and assiduous spring is a renewal it is easy still to hope for. The nightingale sings with new feathers, the fish flick through rivers with repaired scales, and the serpents slough their skins. New season, new day. At least for some. Bees and swallows go about their business of making honey and feeding on smaller creatures. The trees and plants couldn’t be more pleased and write their pleasure in the colors of the fields. The poem teaches us that seemingly pedestrian devices (inventories and catalogues—think shopping lists), offer an exquisite accumulation. It’s the use of anaphora—a trick of repetition—that allows for this effect. It does seem to pile up, like pollen, all that abundance.
And yet. Perhaps when we read the poem we’re already waiting for some souring or qualification of general joy. Maybe it was “the hart” who “hung his old head on the pale.” Spring seems not the season for the old. The poet knows what he’s supposed to feel “among these pleasant things.” All things rejoice, all creatures renew. Except the poet, his “sorrow springs.” It’s familiar, that feeling. I alone am sad while everyone else is happy. And it’s also familiar, that sense of isolation. In a poem like this, it’s a marker of singularity. I alone feel sorrow because I alone desire what I cannot have. And so readers might be tempted to say, “Join the club, your lordship.” In a sense, Surrey already had. He helped start a certain Petrarchan club, but what I love about the poem—which is strikingly different in many ways from it’s translated “original” is the way Surrey emphasizes a more generalized sorrow. It’s easy to assume the general will be weaker than the particular, especially in a poem, just as it’s easy to assume repetition dulls while invention quickens. Not so here. Petrarch ends his poem with a swipe at women. Surrey opens up the tent of grief and isolation, making it easier for more to huddle inside for a some feeling of being together alone or alone together, whichever seems to be the best phrase for current circumstances. I suppose it’s a way of saying Surrey envision a generous sorrow, allowing in all those people and those afflictions that can make one hesitate even in the face of the irrepressible spring.
For biographical material on Joseph Campana, A Plume Contributing Editor, see the staff page
For a bio of Surrey and a sampling of his works, see Luminarium.
Once more: If you enjoyed Joseph Campana’s piece in this newsletter, and last month’s — and how could you not? — all of the Plume newsletters are now archived under, well, Archives, on our homepage.
Alas, not much — although I’d be remiss in not noting with much gratitude the work our web guru Roberto Maiocchi has done to reorganize our Archives: richer, easier to navigate, and without perceptible loss of download speed.
Sadly, I have learned from many of you, readings, excursions, seminars have been cancelled. However – I urge you to consider our special half-price offer (with a gift!) on the print anthology Plume Poetry 8. Unable to promote the book with the usual round of readings, we believe it’s with great hope that you might find it worth your time. Details here: https://plumepoetry.com/anthologies/
(Almost) penultimately, again a request. As you will note, I try to highlight recent of soon to be published books by Plume contributors at the conclusion of this newsletter. My method for gathering these materials is haphazard, to say the least. Now, I want to rectify that to whatever degree that is possible. So – if you have a new book — or have won some award or grant or other, perhaps send me a quick email – I want to highlight your many wonderful achievements here. And a little PR never hurts, right?
Our cover art this month is Fred Herzog’s “U R Next” – a striking image, with its twilit solitary space and solemn barber and equally solemn customer, and the more than slight menace of U R Next. A prescient admonition, per our times. You can find more on the artist in a NYT article here.
And finally, as usual, a few new/recently/forthcoming releases from Plume contributors: