Newsletter #120 August 2021

Newsletter #120 August 2021
September 1, 2021 Christina Mullin

Claire Tabouret, The Grip, 2018

August, 2021

Welcome to Plume #120 –

August: and with this issue we reach our 10th year of publication (tin and blue sapphire, for those who wish to send a little something). I’ll spare you the heartfelt reflections, the drole origin story, etc. Rather, let me simply pause to extend my gratitude to all those who have made whatever Plume has become over the decade, Plume. First, to Jason Cook, in whose company the journal first took shape over a thousand coffees at Starbucks and Kahwa; aside from his work as our initial publisher (Ampersand Books) he was our first and only staff member for several years. Next up, Mark Vincenz, who as a friend, fellow poet, and publisher of MadHat Books took over that role; to him goes the credit, too, for the years in which Plume Editions published single-author books ( Paul Hoover, Tess Gallagher, Nin Andrews, W.S. Di Piero among others). Slowly, then, perhaps in our fourth or fifth year, we finally acquired an actual staff. I think Hélène Cardona surely was there at the start, followed by Brian Duffy, Nancy Mitchell, and Adam Tavel. After them, our current staff fell into place – Christina Mullin, Leeya Mehta, Chard deNiord, Amy Beeder, Sally Bliumis-Dunn, Mark and Chelsea Wagenaar, Amanda Newell, John Ebert. Mihaela Moscaliuc, and Joseph Campana. I should not forget to thank, either, St. Petersburg College, our webmaster Roberto Maiocchi, and more recently David Breskin and Chelsea Hadley of the Shifting Foundation, whose far-too-gracious grant funding has kept us afloat since 2017.And finally, our contributors and readers, blurbers and supporters of every conceivable stripe: honestly, what could I possibly write here that would do you justice? Merci mille fois.

Still, like those faux-astonished receptors of Oscars, Emmy’s, Golden Globes, and their ilk, this is where I say I’m sorry. I’m sure I’ve left off so many…
No doubt I have. You know who you are. And how much you have meant to me and to Plume.

Okay – enough.

Time now to turn to Joseph Campana’s thoughts on climate change, exterior and interior, in,Jorie Grahams “Tennessee June”.

Summer heat: that’s what we expect. To which one might respond with glee or weariness, heat being a spur to play or a signal to avoid the rigors of an ever-more punishing sun. What summer means depends on where you are, which we can forget in the surprisingly durable general invocation of seasons in poems. For winter, read devastation and frozen isolation. For autumn, anticipation of loss. For spring, renewal, etc. Variation from such archetypes was often best explained by irony or a trick of tone. Perhaps that worked for the twentieth centuries or earlier but only because of a lack of thoughtfulness about the where of poems, a tendency to assume some universality to seasons that only a certain rather predictable slice of the globe experience. Now, too, the planet and its transformations warp and distend those seasons. Heat bubbles trap the western states and towns in British Columbia seem to catch fire from the air. Meanwhile, Houston, until recently, was rainy, cooler than Portland in June.
New poems of new seasons (or the instability of seasons) are being written, to be sure, as change is increasingly experienced within those seasons, not just across them. Nuclear summers, polar vortexes, supercharged storms no longer shock. It certainly won’t be surprising to sing, as Prince did in 1986, “Sometimes it snows in April” (which might now be written “Sometimes it’s 90 in January.”). But for this month, I want to look back to 1980, to what may now seem, oddly enough, a simpler time for both the globe and the planet (or, to some, the beginning of our current crises).

I’m thinking about Jorie Graham’s “Tennessee June,” which appeared first in her remarkable and remarkably titled debut collection Hybrids of Plants and Ghosts. The poem locates itself not in some generic summer but in Tennessee in June. You won’t be surprised to hear how much I’m drawn to the poem’s opening gesture:

This is the heat that seeks the flaw in everything
and loves the flaw.
Were you drawn to it too, the idea that heat seeks something seems oddly comforting, not the implacable devastation (forests burning, towns exploding) but something more precise, a laser-like targeting of weakness? Yes, the weakness is likely in us, and we are the target, or at least the poet here sets herself up as that target without even saying so. But that too, being an intended object rather than a random casualty, that too can be comforting the way that it seems more comforting if a super-villain in a super-hero movie disrupts the seasons with a super-device of malevolent origins. Even more comforting is the fact that heat loves the flaw it finds: don’t most want to be loved, flaws and all?

As I read the poem, I wonder if that ambiguous “it” refers to the heat or the flaw. Is nothing heavier than heat (in a Tennessee June), which makes a kind of sense? Or is nothing heavier than a flaw? Yes. Both heat and flaws can “landlock” the body. And it’s here the poem may resolve that ambiguity, as heat produces daylilies and lawns that cycle, “bare, then falsely gay, then bare again.” And yet it’s in the breaks and gaps, flaws in the earth, that flowers arise. The flaw in the body maybe is its desire to surrender to the heat, which leaves the “mind wandering without its logic” and the “body the sides of a riverbed giving in.” Heat seeks something in the mind and in the body that wants to let go, to become indistinct relative to what surrounds. In heat, the body and the earth, the body and water, are one. Heat becomes the great equalizer: “no world can survive / having more than its neighbors.”

The poem, ultimately, is a plea for that surrender: “Oh / let it touch you…” And if it does perhaps the poet may be released from the strictures of self and flesh that separate humans from everything else. We sit on “sharply lit” porches that limn the “little box of the body.” But we want to swing on hammocks into a lush world Graham depicts, one eerie and enticing:

Beyond, the hot ferns bed, and fireflies gauze
the fat tobacco slums,
the crickets boring holes into the heat the crickets fill.
Rock out into that dark and back to where
the blind moths circle, circle,
back and forth from the bone-white house to the creepers unbraiding.

If heat finds the flaw in us that leads to a gorgeous collapse into the lush and redolent world around us, there’s still something lonely about sitting, in the heat of a Tennessee June. Or so it seems as I read those last lines:
We call it blossoming —
the spirit breaks from you and you remain.

What is it to be left behind, the mere remainder of blossoming? In some plants, death follows. In others, a whole new cycle of heat-quickened growth followed again by death. What then for the sad humans, the lovers of flowers and stable seasons? In the end, the poem invites us to the title of the collection, Hybrids of Plants and Ghosts. Perhaps that’s what we all are: flawed things that blossom and haunt in a rage of heat.

Tennessee June
Jorie Graham

This is the heat that seeks the flaw in everything
and loves the flaw.
Nothing is heavier than its spirit,
nothing more landlocked than the body within it.
Its daylilies grow overnight, our lawns
bare, then falsely gay, then bare again. Imagine
your mind wandering without its logic,
your body the sides of a riverbed giving in . . .
In it, no world can survive
having more than its neighbors;
in it, the pressure to become forever less is the pressure
to take forevermore
to get there. Oh
let it touch you . . .
The porch is sharply lit — little box of the body —
and the hammock swings out easily over its edge.
Beyond, the hot ferns bed, and fireflies gauze
the fat tobacco slums,
the crickets boring holes into the heat the crickets fill.
Rock out into that dark and back to where
the blind moths circle, circle,
back and forth from the bone-white house to the creepers unbraiding.
Nothing will catch you.
Nothing will let you go.
We call it blossoming —
the spirit breaks from you and you remain.

For biographical information and more on Jorie Graham, look here, first, I suppose.

Anything else?

Ah, worth a repeat:

First, as noted last month, 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 only 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.

Second, perhaps you will notice, upon perusing this issue’s TOC, we continue our new addition: a video entitled Seven Minutes With…  In this iteration, that would be time spent with the ever-intriguing Afaa Weaver, interviewed by Nancy Mitchell and edited by John Ebert.

Our cover art this month is Claire Tabouret’s, The Grip, 2018. For more on her life and art, a start might be made  here

Also, as usual, a brief list of some recent/forthcoming books from Plume contributors:

Amit Majmudar          What He Did in Solitary

Jim Daniels                Gun/Shy 

Dan O’Brien               Our Cancers

Laura Kasischke        Lightning Falls in Love

John Skoyles             Yes and No

That’s it, for now.

I hope you enjoy the issue!

Daniel Lawless
Editor, Plume