Newsletter #119 July 2021

Newsletter #119 July 2021
September 1, 2021 Christina Mullin

Jean Cocteau, Green Profile on Grey Background, 1955

July, 2021

Welcome to Plume Issue #119 –

July: and, at last, Plume Poetry 9 is out! Available for purchase from SPDAmazonBarnes and  Noble, and, as they say, at better bookstores everywhere, from Vrorman’s (Southern California’s Oldest & Largest Bookstore) to Powell’s.

For those in need of a recap —

,,, this year’s offering differs from past formats in that it employs a “partner” system: for lack of better words, a “well-known” poet offers his/her/their poem, then introduces a “less-well-known” poet” and his/her/their poem.  The intention was to bring to our readers the best of both worlds: established and “new” poets (although the latter only in the sense that their work might be unfamiliar to you, as many if not most have extensive publishing histories of their own). Also, we hope we have brought together a greater diversity of voices in its pages.  It’s my great wish that we have succeeded, or at least made some headway, in this endeavor.

As in the past, when bought in a group to be used as a class text, appropriate discounts will be available. Please email us at for details.

But enough.

Let’s welcome back Joseph Campana to this space, and his thoughts on D.A. Powell’s marvelous MEDITATING UPON THE MEANING OF THE LINE “CLAMS ON THE HALFSHELL AND ROLLERSKATES” IN THE SONG “GOOD TIMES” BY CHIC —

I was five in 1979 when Chic released its third album Risqué and with it their number one hit “Good Times.” Like many things, I experience belatedly the sound of a time to which I find myself drawn. Perhaps this, too, is some of how and why I love poems, which always feel immediate yet hailing from a time I don’t quite understand. It was, in some ways, a rather unassuming instance of sustainable disco-pedestrian charm with an irresistible list of just what the title promises. It’s one of those examples—”clams on the halfshell and rollerskates”—that inspired the inimitable D.A. Powell in his poem, a work whose title is itself a poem. And if you didn’t know the song, you might even think those objects were part of a workshop assignment premised on unexpected juxtapositions: write a poem about happiness in which appear clams on the halfshell and rollerskates.

Poets meditate constantly but why meditate on this line? Clams and roller skates aren’t so often paired in the life of the mind or in the anticipation of hedonism? Perhaps they were in 1979 or in some recollection of that moment in which these becomes obvious avatars of happiness. Of course, to relax into the extended edition of the song, as my husband often does when he cooks, you’d probably take nearly anything Chic offered. “Boys will be boys, better let them have their toys,” they half sing, half insist in that laconic way. You don’t have to listen too hard to hear a disco ball turning above them. On my husband’s playlist, it’s never too long before I hear Chic’s “Forbidden Lover” or Celi Bee and the Buzzy Bunch’s “Superman.”

Poets have, for millennia, struggled to be poets of the good life. In fact, one could call Chic the disco-inheritors of a whole carpe diem school of poetry: “Time marches on, just can’t wait /The clock keeps turning, why hesitate?” Whether we try to seize the day or not, we’re most often poets of the world that passes before our very eyes, the transitory world of the vanities of flesh and life. So much easier to talk about mortality than joy: hence that urge to seize. Look how quickly June whipped by us all as now July burns the coasts with its relentless heat. And what’s more joyless than a poem desperately shouting its joy or some generic joy of poetry? Thus Powell tells us, “even the business of dying must be set aside occasionally.” So, the poem tells us too, the poet who sets aside the insistent wheeze of mortality and seeks good times finds himself in love.

A poet once asked me if there were love poets anymore, like the sonneteers of old, by which I took her to mean the Renaissance. I said there were still sonnets aplenty but that every poet was a love poet as least part time. Maybe no one needs to be a love poet full time anymore. Powell teaches us that to be a poet of the good life is to be a poet whose love must extend to a sensuous world full of thriving and hunger. Love is a “palpable thing” and cities are “luminous” and full of kelp and mountain lions, also “clams on the halfshell and rollerskates, rollerskates.”

What I love about this poem is that it teaches us, irrespective of any referendum on the existential state of love poets, why we need love poems. Seduction is rarely the point since arguably love gives rise to poems more often than poems give rise to love. The world is old and hard, especially of late, and can make anyone feel exactly that way themselves. Thank goodness “it’s still 1980 somewhere,” somewhere Chic’s Good Times might play forever because “the mystery of the lyric hasn’t faded.  and love is in the chorus waiting to be born.” I may have only been six, but I suppose some love will always be retro. And why not? We spent most of our brief lives catching up with ourselves. So I find myself, on the edge of an odd, summer holiday weekend, moved by roller skates, clamshells, boys, toys, and all the hard won wonders of Chic and D A Powell. No better time to feel that than when touch (“that sensation I’d almost lost”) returns, again, to the world.

D.A. Powell


even the business of dying must be set aside occasionally.
glaucous-winged gulls drafting
the last ferry across the bay:  lights of the city growing more
luminous, more inviting

who could have guessed love’s a palpable thing:  a dark splotch
of kelp in the shoals
or a mountain lion that prowls the edge of UC’s cypress woods:
desires a young student
ivory mandible slack and slavering.    at the amber hour snarls its
empty bowels

touch:  that sensation I’d almost lost, or how to curl into another
body hermit-crab style
the grouchy old man in my mirror said “bare terror.” said “
who’s sharing your towels?”

go away, you bitter cuss.    it’s still 1980 somewhere, some corner
of your dark apartment
where the mystery of the lyric hasn’t faded.    and love is in the
chorus waiting to be born

For a biography of the award-winning D.A. Powell see here.

(Ah…” poems, which always feel immediate yet hailing from a time I don’t quite understand.” For me, a similar sense is attached to Chic’s durable hit “Le Freak”, which the University of Louisville Cardinals basketball team – the Doctors of Dunk, attired in rip-away MD smocks) demanded be played as their avant la letter walk-up song the year they won the NCAA championship. It really was 1980, and continues to be, often, in my reveries.)

Now, what else?

Perhaps you will notice, upon perusing this issue’s TOC, a new addition: a video Featured Selection. Our inaugural session has Nancy Mitchell interviewing the inimitable craftsman and raconteur John Skoyles. We dreamed up a number of questions for Mr, Skoyles, of which he chose three upon which to expound. A brief text in the Feature presents several of his poems, and an introduction.  Running time: seven minutes. (So, you can do this, right?)  In forthcoming issues, we’ll move this new column to the regular rotation of poems, and cleverly call it…”Seven Minutes with…”

Our cover art this month is, in memory of his birthday (July 5, 1889), Jean Cocteau’s Green Profile on Grey Background, 1955. For more on Cocteau’s life and art, a start might be made in a NYT article here.

That’s it, for now.

I hope you enjoy the issue!

Daniel Lawless
Editor, Plume