December: and (excuse me while I duck outside and scream Yes!) what feels like, if not a triumph, a post-election’s troubled moment’s reprieve, an iffy interregnum. I won’t linger on my reaction to our common travails (Covid chief among them though you know the others, too) but point instead to our cover art this month, “OOF” by Ed Ruscha, of which the artist notes: “The single word, its guttural monosyllabic pronunciation, that’s what I was passionate about…. “[l]oud words, like slam, smash, honk.” It seems…appropriate, no? What better than this comic book exhalation at the near-close of 2020? Yet also, the amplified sound of a thousand and one personal blows each of us has taken – at the top of my list, for example, news of the death of Stuart Friebert, of which I spoke briefly in a recent newsletter. A great loss, to be sure. And then, out of the blue, an offer from Dore Kiesselbach to gather Stuart’s many admirers for a literary farewell, offered to you, readers, in the form of this month’s Featured Selection, “Dear Stuart”; comprising essays from his colleagues, friends, and former students, for example, Deb Bogan,Marianne Boruch, David St. John, and Vijay Seshadri – and, let’s see, fifteen others. Many thanks to Dore, then, and to Bruce Weigl, especially, who contributed a marvelous introduction, as well as to Christina Mullin, who did the layout: above and beyond.
Which, here, is where I usually hand things off to Joseph Campana. But, as he is taking some much-deserved time away this month, I thought in lieu of one of his astute critical essays, I’d offer a taste of the Featured Selection advertised above, this one from Margaret Atwood:
Stuart Friebert: An Appreciation
I first met Stuart Friebert in the 1970s, through FIELD magazine. FIELD – of which Stuart was a co-founder – was a poetry magazine, one of those paper mushrooms thrown up by the vast underground network of filaments that connected poets in those days. Stuart himself was a poet, and an editor of poets, and a translator of poets, and an appreciator of poets.
In fact he was one of the world’s great appreciators: the ability to appreciate is a gift, and Stuart had this gift in abundance. I’m sure many received written appreciations from Stuart of the kind I myself received: capital letters, superlatives, exclamation marks. These appreciations were the obverse of hate mail, except that Stuart didn’t underline words with colored pencils.
Why was FIELD called FIELD? I haven’t wondered that until now. Force field? Field of endeavor? Or “field” in the democratic sense: level playing field, with all kinds of things in them – crops, lost dimes, cows, buttercups, thistles, old shoes, birds, discarded bottles, beetles rolling balls of dung. And such was Stuart’s FIELD: abundant, varied, with always some unexpected treasure.
I first met Stuart in person in 1977, when he invited me (and, perforce, my one year old) to Oberlin College to give a reading. He was then what we know him to have been since: considerate, kindly, funny, interested, and wildly enthusiastic about poetry and writing. I think of him as the best sort of a certain kind of middle-of-the-continent American – with a down-homey forthrightness and four-square honesty that would seem implausible if it were in a movie. Stuart felt familiar to me at this first meeting, as if I’d known him for a long time. I’d had uncles like that, though they hadn’t gone in for poetry.
We kept up with each other after that, mostly through the mails and then the emails, over the years that somehow went by too quickly, as years do. It was amazing how much Stuart wrote over those years – not only poetry – and how consistently well. There were hidden depths – everyone has some, and you can’t be a poet without sadnesses; rather, you can’t be a human being without them. In some poets regrets can turn to bitterness, but this did not seem to be true of Stuart. He wished well, to so many people, about so many things. Another gift, the ability to be so single-heartedly positive about the achievements of others.
His translations, too, have given me a lot of pleasure. I have just enough German to know how good they are. Very few are able to enter the linguistic universe of another, and transmute, and bring back treasure.
A week before writing this, I received a package in the mail. It was from German poet Ute Von Funcke – Shadow of Shadows, Selected poems, translated by Stuart; his last work. Ute enclosed a little note: I should think of this book as Stuart waving to me across the Atlantic Ocean, she said.
And so I do think of it this way, and I’m waving back. Hello and farewell, dear poet friend. It’s been an unmixed pleasure. Truly.
Ah! I think she’s taken the measure of the man — would that someone, let alone eighteen other someones, will have such words for us one day.
Several members of our crack staff have been batting around an idea, which I believe soon will be realized: Nancy Mitchell, John Ebert and Amanda Newell are in the last stages of incorporating audio/visual poet interviews and readings under the Plume banner. These will be embedded in the issues, soon, I imagine, and easily accessible. More, in the not too distant.
And perhaps a repeat is in order: After thanking the contributors to the next print anthology, Plume Poetry 9, for their “extra” work, probably I should elaborate. The anthology, to be released in April, will be presented in a new format, wherein 45 “established” (for want of a better designation} will offer a poem, then briefly introduce another “less established” poet’s poem. It’s my hope that turning the spotlight, as it were, on these too-little known poets will increase their readership. And the poets selected – for any of a dozen reasons — have been in my reading – uniformly, astonishingly good. I think this infusion of new blood will invigorative; I know I haven’t been as excited about a Plume anthology since the very first one – as I wish you will be. If this format is as successful – as interesting, as useful – as it is in my imagination, we will continue it in upcoming volumes. It seems to me it offers the best of two worlds – work from those poets we have come to think of as modern masters, and those who, some of them, will be immediately recognized as such, or one day join them in that company.
Our cover art this month is Edward Ruscha’s “OOF”. For more information on “the dean of California art,” as he has been called, a good start might be made here
Finally, as usual, several new/recently/forthcoming releases from Plume contributors: