Welcome to Plume Issue #114 —
February: and, yes, these… tumultuous last weeks in Washington, so shocking and everywhere-injured. We’re like the unfortunate who’s fallen beneath the wheels of a truck and survived: how in a daze she hurts head to toe at once, and reflexively pats herself here and there in a vain attempt to locate each specific cut or broken bone. Her whole body a blossom of pain, one might say, with Robert Creeley, below. Yet here, I think, we come to the line that separates our imagined accident victim from the poet. For while we, most of us, like our imagined accident victim, experience it as a general state, confusion, a blur of noriceptors washing over and through us, great pain for the poet is first and always particular: the thudding ache of her dislocated finger, nerves ablaze in the hole of a dislodged tooth, the hum of her punctured eardrum; as on our capitol’s grounds and in its hallways, too, even from afar on CNN, this fist,that epithet, this betrayal. A pity, and a blessing, I suppose. To feel each blessure so intimately, so discretely, surely only multiplies our suffering, our sorrow. But would you, reader, really have it any other way? Haven’t you, whether chosen or chosen by poetry, taken up this sensibility, turned this way not that on the path?
Better to look now, to a real thinker: the estimable Soren Stockman’s take on Robert Creeley’s to-the-bone poem “The Flower” —
Mystery echoes deepest into one’s conscience when its conditions and circumstances are clear and tangible; the poet revealing, rather than creating, the unknowable within the known. Brushing apart momentarily the foliage to reach the clearing, which existed before its witnessing and will remain afterward, which is remarkable for what it is not, and so in turn reverberates the surrounding is. That the unknowable be unadorned with bias so as not to privilege fear in the face of ambiguity. That the known contrast the unknowable perhaps at a slant angle, as in reality the two are not codependent, not day versus night, but instead year in the company of endlessness. And that this frame of the known and felt be delicate so as not to disturb the unknowable by determining one path by which to reach it.
I think I grow tensions
in a wood where
Each wound is perfect,
encloses itself in a tiny
Pain is a flower like that one,
like this one,
like that one,
like this one.
Creeley’s poem opens with a theory of the self (“I think”), one careful not to assume a greater authority than it possesses. Though we are all leading scholars in the field of ourselves, the field is far too grand. Line breaks occur along the fallible and incomplete fault lines of thought: “I think I grow tensions (are they familiar to me?) / like flowers (what do they mean?) / in a wood where (am I alone here?) / nobody goes.” The second stanza pivots toward the visual, burying its significant leap from “tension” to “wound” in the second word of a four line sentence, and retreats from the occupied self to a larger and more objective scope. The word “blossom” includes in its definition both the object of the flower and the state or period of flowering. It is both definitively formed and necessarily transitional, both gorgeous and invisible, and these opposites existing simultaneously as parallel truths allows the traction by which Creeley moves onward from “wound” to “pain.”
The word “pain” occupies the ending of one stanza and the beginning of the next, looming, almost pervasive in such a small space. Creeley immediately opens the word further, and includes within pain that it “is a flower.” Thus the unspoken mystery at the heart of the poem: how is this pain, found at the culmination of tension and wound, beautiful? Are pain and beauty truly opposites, and even if so, do they not exist at once? The poem has trained us well, is self-explanatory, and does not disrespect its mystery by trying to answer or solve it. Rather, the poem becomes animal, looking without the need to understand, and so achieves grace. “The Flower” takes up little space, does not distract from itself, and meanders naturally through its speaker’s mind, before arriving at the stillness of its particular clearing, in which reverberates its particular echo: “like this one, / like that one, / like this one.”
Creeley’s honors include the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award, the Frost Medal, the Shelley Memorial Award, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Rockefeller Foundation grant, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation. He served as New York state poet laureate from 1989 to 1991 and as the Samuel P. Capen Professor of Poetry and Humanities at the State University of New York, Buffalo. He was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 1999. On March 30, 2005, Creeley died at the age of 78.
Soren Stockman’s poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in The Iowa Review, the PEN Poetry Series, Tin House Online, Bennington Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Literary Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Columbia Journal, Southword Journal, BOAAT, Bellevue Literary Review, The Paris-American, and Narrative, which awarded him First Place in the Narrative 30 Below Contest, among others. His prose writing has appeared in Playboy, Kenyon Review Online, The Barnstormer and Fanzine. The recipient of fellowships from New York University, the Ucross Foundation, the New York State Summer Writers Institute, and the Lacawac Artist’s Residency, he works currently at the NYU Creative Writing Program.
Our annual anthology, Plume Poetry 9, is at the publisher’s now. Again, we look for an April release date.
We’re dreaming up a number of Zoom reading, as well – more on those when we frm up the schedule.
Our cover art this month is Billy Hickey’s “Thanksgiving” Especially apropos, in these pandemic days, no? For more information on the artist, a good start might be made here
Finally, some new/recently/forthcoming releases from Plume contributors – thank you to all, and to all our wishes for great, well-deserved success.