Newsletter #122 October 2021

Newsletter #122 October 2021
March 23, 2022 Christina Mullin

From the private collection of the Rimbaud scholar Alain Borer.

October, 2021

Welcome to Plume #122 –

October, and for those missing the sense of poetic community sadly often lacking in these Covid days (though Zooms are a valiant effort), we offer some solace, perhaps a bit of time capsule FOMO, too, in this month’s Featured Selection, in which Associate Editor Nancy Mitchell interviews Christopher Buckley, editor of  his recent book NAMING THE LOST: THE FRESNO POETS. It’s an astonishingly touching piece, both instructive, and in its way, elegiac, full of too many famous names to mention, shining in their early years in the communal forge of poetry that was Fresno, California, in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.  Here’s an excerpt from Nancy’s introduction:

…Not only is this labor of love a stellar, moving, epic tribute to the teachers, friends and fellows at Fresno of that phenomenal era, it’s the most essential collection any new poet will ever need; the essays by students and colleagues of the faculty are models of how real poets think and move through the world with unwavering dedication to the work and life in poetry. The craft talk in the interviews is the most brilliant, and precise and useful I’ve read anywhere. And lord, the stories, which testify to the openhearted generosity, inclusiveness, and fidelity that knit this remarkable community together. “What is astonishing about this community” C.G. Hanzlic writes, “is how little envy there is in it, and how much pleasure is taken by its individuals when another member of the community has a success of one sort or another. Most writers don’t have the good fortune to live among such support.”

Believe me, this is one you won’t be able to put down.


Time now to turn to Joseph Campana’s wide-ranging thoughts on Jack Spicer’s “Homosexuality”—and Lorca, and flowers and mirrors, and desire and death, among other things.


Roses that wear roses
Enjoy mirrors.
Roses that wear roses must enjoy
The flowers they are worn by.
Roses that wear roses are dying
With a mirror behind them.
None of us are younger but the roses
Are dying.
Men and women have weddings and funerals
Are conceived and destroyed in a formal
Roses die upon a bed of roses
With mirrors weeping at them.

Sometime last week the first cool breezes of autumn broke over Houston. Cool is a relative term. Here it can mean “80s” instead of “90s” and, if you’re lucky, diminishing humidity, cold fronts sweeping in overnight. Already, in upstate NY, my parents have unpacked their flannel sheets.

So, what now happens to the flowers?

I’ve never understood the growing season here, other than to say that things improbable in the northeast grow in months I still think nothing should be growing. Stems and branches have usually already cast off the weight of their floral obligations. My husband’s hyacinth just bloomed—gorgeous bright, one flower for now. Will there be more? Reminds me of that utterly devastating Paul Monette poem “Gardenias” from Love Alone, a poem full of flowers blooming perversely after the death of the beloved. Reminds me, too, that the equally gorgeous young man Hyacinth was loved by Apollo and died as most mortals did when they were loved by the gods.
I’m not really thinking of Apollo or Monette this month as autumn does and does not arrive in Houston. I’ve been thinking about Jack Spicer because my husband has been looking back at old issues of Manroot, an avowedly gay publication started in 1969 by Paul Mariah, that published Spicer and Genet and many more, and that was named with reference to number of plants associated with the name, from mandrakes (rumored to scream when unearthed since at least the Middle Ages) to morning glories. “Men,” as Shakespeare once wrote, “as plants increase.”

I thought I would be writing about his astonishing collection After Lorca, which the New York Review of Books just republished as a single volume edited by Peter Gizzi who has labored tirelessly this last decade to bring Spicer back to us after some years of neglect. How to resist the epistolary manifestos, as Spicer and his “Lorca,” write back and forth about the nature of poetry? “The dead are notoriously hard to satisfy,” Spicer’s ventriloquized Lorca writes back in the first of a series of letters that eventually condemn Spicer for his inaccurate translations. Or later, “a poet is a time mechanic not an embalmer,” which I always teach to explain to my students the various ways one can understand literatures that come before, whether by 5 or 50 or 500 years.

Spicer, like his spiritual and sexual predecessor Lorca, and like his compatriot Robert Duncan, grappled with a midcentury moment often not congenial to men who loved men. That’s quite an understatement, of course, but I want to spend our time here together, before all the blooms fade, with what that might have mean for Spicer’s lyrics. This early statement of a poem, “Homosexuality” launches into the world with an unmistakably clinical title ambiguously positioned relative to an exquisite poem. Then again, as Spicer writes in After Lorca, “Prose invents—poetry discloses.” What’s disclosed here? A love affair of flowers and shiny surfaces.

Is this homosexuality? The ornate layering of rose on rose, the devotion to mirrors? Is homosexuality the flower that blooms and fades like Hyacinth or is it more a matter of another sad young Grecian man, Narcissus, who became the name for self-love as he withered, self-absorbed, before the sharp lucidity of a lake? Are the roses therefore masculine or feminine or is gender even separable from sexuality or sexual desires?

Equally clear in autumn: the flowers are dying. Or, some have already died and others will even if your autumn last longer than probable. Likewise all of us: “None of us are younger.” And so a facet of “Homosexuality” for Spicer is a more intense experience of the evanescence to which all flesh is heir. Is it the case, for Spicer, that to be homosexual is to fade faster? To be more floral?

Whatever havoc desire has wrought upon the flesh, the flesh of any but let’s say especially the flesh of men who love other men and who, in Spicer’s idiom, think of themselves through flowers and mirrors, it is a “formal procession.” That is to say: death is the great organizer, the creator of schemes and the originator of form. Desire becomes a pursuit of form initiated by death.

I find myself wondering, in the end, how much the distinction holds in Spicer’s “Homosexuality” between what is and what is not homosexual. Here’s the poem’s rather stunning ending:

Roses die upon a bed of roses
With mirrors weeping at them.

Perhaps for Spicer to participate in homosexuality is to be part flower and part mirror. But I find myself thinking that, like so many historical sonnets, this is also articulates something broad and true about desire and death. Does that betray the specificity of what it meant for Spicer, in the paranoid 1950s, to imagine homosexuality? To imagine love between men? Like most poems, this one is a mirror, and I wonder how much of what I see is myself looking back.
In the end, I find myself wanting to say to Spicer what Spicer says to Lorca in one of the maddening epistles of After Lorca: “You are dead and the dead are very patient.”

You can find information about Jack Spicer here.

Anything else?

In promotion of the still-current anthology, Plume Poetry 9, we have another zoom Station to Station Reading coming up at 5 PM on 6 November. under the auspices of Washington, DC’s The Writers Center and its ringmaster, Zach Powers. Per usual, we’ll feature two sets of “partners” from the anthology – Amit Majmudar and Jane ZwartRon Smith and Stuart Gunter this time — reading their work and generally kibitzing for a bit. The series has been well-attended, and it seems attendees like the format: casual, but not… too.

By The Way Department: the anthology still is available for individual and group copies at most major and some independent bookstore online sites, but discounts can be found at here.

Here’s 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.

And just one blurb, of several…

Now more than ever is the time to hold two things in one hand.  The newest Plume anthology has pulled us in, two poets at a time, often talking to each other in a reflection of their own light—- or in some remarkable and unexpected dance. Like a fresh neighborhood to explore, you do not want to leave. What appears in this volume is impressive and diverse writing from all different stages of the poetic journey— known and unknown, old and new, and as we listen to these new neighbors we readers are brought into the conversation. Voices we should hear: as Komunyakaa claims, in a “movement of two minds at play, and the nature of this unfolding moment.”
–Sophie Cabot Black

In remembrance of the author’s birthday (20 October1854), our cover art this month is, obviously, a photograph of Arthur Rimbaud’s UNE SAISON EN ENFER (un franc!), which comes to us from the private archives of the Rimbaud scholar and poet Alain Borer, via Mark Irwin. We thank both for their generosity.

Finally, some recent/forthcoming books from our contributors:

Maxine Scates                       My Wilderness
Simon Armitage                     The Owl and the Nightingale
Tomaz Salamun,                    Opera Buffa
trans. by Matthew Moore
Paul Muldoon                         Howdie-Skelp
Troy Jollimore                        Earthly Delights

That’s it, for now.

I hope you enjoy the issue!

Daniel Lawless
Editor, Plume