Welcome to Plume Issue #115 —
March: and, as I add the issue’s cover art from Chidinma Nnoli, “Daughter (Nwa Nwanyi), my eye is dawn again to that nimbus, that halo, which at first glance I took for the brim of a hat. Why? Memory, of course. My grandmother, head slightly upturned as she picked cherries from the tree in her backyard, while I, maybe six or seven, looked on, craning my neck. Behind her, for a moment, the midday sun filtering through her straw bonnet’s rim, golden. Also, the paper plates, colored Crayola-Maize or Goldenrod or sheathed in gold foil, affixed with wires to our collars for Christmas pageants. I remember, as a Wise Man one year, mine trembled as I walked gingerly toward the manger, and itched the back of my head; the unfortunates among us lost theirs and had to scramble in the plastic straw to retrieve them under the disapproving gaze of Sister Alberta. Then, too, in fourth grade, there was Johnny L —, Jesus Himself, pale and thin, who wore his with an unfathomable grace; he died of leukemia that summer. Not to forget a final association: much later, having left the Church behind in favor of poetry, at seventeen in the Louisville Free Public Library, I stumbled across the astonishing The Poetry of Surrealism: An Anthology. I can still see it: the stained red carpets, the as yet untouched Robin Egg blue cover of the book in my lap as I lounged in the stack, rapt in the company of. Desnos, Aragon, Reverdy…and Prévert’s little “La Cène” translated by the editor, Michael Benedikt, as “The Last Supper”:
At table, they eat not
nor do they touch their plates
yet their plates stand straight up
behind their heads.
Much better to hasten, now, to the always astute Mr. Campana’s commentary on Sonnet 73, from the master —
You’re cold, colder than you care to be, and there’s no relief in sight. At times it’s so cold you can’t think. At other times, you can do nothing but think. What can you think about in the cold? Shakespeare has one answer in sonnet 73, which he wrote it in an era referred to as the Little Ice Age, a couple centuries of planetary cooling and resulting climactic instability when winters were colder, storm and drought more common, crops more likely to fail. Shakespeare wrote this in that time. Dutch painters created winterscapes we still admire, squeezing beauty from the very ice.
I have a few answers of my own, my own cold thoughts, in our moment of planetary warming and resulting climactic instability which provoked the disaster here in Texas. Millions went days without power, water, or heat. Some still suffer greatly as others turn on the A/C to squeeze humidity from the air on nearly 80-degree days.
It’s not that winter is a surprise even for those who live in warmer climes. The image is clear and familiar. It is “that time of year” easy to anticipate when “yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang / Upon those boughs which shake against the cold.” Those line extend the chill in the bones as they contemplate the stages of dying off. First the leaves are yellow. Then they’re gone. Maybe a few remain.
But the poem has always been quietly turning from the vagaries of weather to the intimations of mortality in a leafless tree. Remember where it started: “That time of year thou mayst in me behold.” You can see the cold, the barren world, first in the body of the lover, who addresses his younger love. He knows he is aging, his leaves withering, especially compared to the beautiful youth. How alike trees and bodies are, their limbs and branches suffering time, although on different scales, as song progressively flees. Sunset, gorgeous and brief, fades. Then night comes, gorgeous too in its way, but also as a harbinger of the big sleep to come.
And that remarkable figure—the “bare ruin’d choirs”—which a scholar might tell you hints of the devastation wrought by the Reformation, as churches and monasteries burned in the light of religious fervor, leaving skeletal ruins behind. The sonnets structures so much loss in its brief ambit: branches, bodies, churches, birds. Remarkably, too, it is not simply that youth fades (although of course it does, especially in sonnets). It is that the lover offers his withering body to shield and warm him, as if he were kindling consuming itself for the sake of the beloved. The hope of the poem is that the younger beloved will love more fiercely what he knows he will lose, both the lover and his own youth; he can see consumption in action.
For the better part of three days, I huddled with my love before a little gas fireplace which had only ever, in the context of Houston heat, been ornamental. We were lucky, in the cold, to have that. Others were far less fortunate. What cheer we had came from the fire and the meals we cooked over it. Oddly enough, our Gulf Coast home suddenly had a hearth. Winds howled, pipes burst (thankfully, not ours) sending water spilling throughout the city, ruining homes, freezing the roads. Warm weather was coming, we knew. But it was quieter and darker than we expected. I am younger than my love. I do not fear our love extinguishing in time. I am lucky that way, and if you want to call love a fire, warm and bright, so be it.
In the cold and in the dark, I tried to keep my love warm, to keep despair away. I try not to behold in him intimations of mortality. How hard it is—at certain times, at certain times of life—not see love as that which fades. I try not to see leaves falling, birds shaking. I try not to see—in either of us or in the trees—bare ruined choirs, although I see them everywhere, and the birds were terrifyingly silent those cold days. They still seem muted even now, days later and so many degrees warmer. I fear the moment one of us “must leave ere long” and that it will come even sooner than I fear. Nothing comes of such fear but morbid anticipation and yet it persists. It’s been a cold year in the world for us all, more for some than others. The hope of this poem, to carry into twilight, is to see in love a fire blazing even amidst an unrelenting dark.
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
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.
As previously noted, our annual anthology, Plume Poetry 9, is at the publisher’s now. Again, we look for an April release date.
As promised last month, in support of the anthology, we are hosting, thanks to the good offices of The Writers Center, a number of interesting Zoom readings, each featuring two sets of “partners” from Plume Poetry 9, moderated by members of our crack Plume staff, Leeya Mehta, Amanda Newell, and Nancy Mitchell. (Not by me, you’ll be happy to learn.) Please consult the calendar at The Writers Center. All are scheduled for Saturdays, 5:00 – 6:00 PM.
March’s session will include Alberto Rios & Irena Praitis, and Dorianne Laux & Ariel Francisco.
We’ll PR on social media as the date nears, but for now, for those like to look ahead, there is this:
Station to Station Plume at the Writer’s Center March 13, 5-6pm EST, RSVP required.
Station to Station, Poet to Poet! For the Plume 9 anthology, Danny Lawless, editor of Plume, enlisted forty-nine guest editors, who offered a poem of their own, then selected, introduced and presented a poem from another poet. With this series, we bring you these pairings for a multi-session Spring celebration of poetry. Join our editors at Plume for the second in this series (followed by April 10 & May 16). The series is moderated by Plume editors Nancy Mitchell & Leeya Mehta.
Session 2: Moderated by Nancy Mitchell Featuring:
Alberto Rios & Irena Praitis
Dorianne Laux & Ariel Francisco
Our cover art this month is Chidinma Nnoli, “Daughter (Nwa Nwanyi)” (2020), from the Saint Series (Onye Di Aso) 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.