Newsletter #124 December 2021

Newsletter #124 December 2021
March 23, 2022 Christina Mullin

Les Chiens de Maria, Sarah Moon, 2007

December, 2021

Welcome to Plume #124 –

December, and Thanksgiving behind us, we look toward the remainder of the holiday season with its inevitable hunt/s for just the “right” gift for this one and that –which for many of you will mean, of course, something quite specific: the right book. And even more particularly the right book of poetry. So, I thought I’d ask some members of the marvelous Plume staff for their choice: what one book of poetry most pleased/astonished/enlightened/moved you this past year? Their responses, along with a link to their publishers, follow below, with the hope that these selections will be further extended in the January issue.

Amanda Newell,  Associate Editor Special Features and Social Media
Our Cancers  Dan O’Brien

Leeya Mehta, Associate Editor-at-Large
frank: sonnets  Diane Seuss

Sally Bliumis-Dunn, Associate Editor-at-Large
Dear Specimen  Wendy Herbert

Amy Beeder, Editor-at-Large
Thrown in the Throat  Benjamin Garcia

Chelsea Wagenaar, Reviews Editor
Madrigalia, Lisa Russ Spaar

Daniel Lawless, Editor
Eccentric Days of Hope and Sorrow  Natalka Bilotserkivets
tr Ali Kinsella and Dzvinia Orlowsky

And with that, we turn now to Joseph Campana’s thoughts on – well, so many things, as he offers two poems by Mark Strand. I especially like the former’s “the way loneliness, like a beautiful shard of glass, glitters and cuts all at once. You hardly notice the blood until it blooms on white snow.” Enjoy.

It’s December, the time of year I start to miss where I grew up in the foothills of the Adirondacks. The ritual, this time of year, is that I exchange temperatures with my parents, the low here in Houston usually topping the high up there. Autumn into early winter, redolent with apple (cider or pies) and an array of familiar spices. Frost on windshields, air that sears lungs. Here, in Houston, the sun beats down. It seems sharper every year even in December, when I expect it to fade.

Even here the many holidays clustered around the winter solstice must struggle against the emptying out of the season. The streets gradually quiet as December proceeds, people scatter, and a hush briefly falls over the world. So much furious motion stopped. That’s what I like most about holidays and associate with those light, early winter snows I almost never see in Texas. That makes me think of some poems from Mark Strand’s 1978 The Late Hour, a moving and melancholic book. Perhaps melancholic is too strong. Perhaps these are just poems content with solitude, aware of the way loneliness, like a beautiful shard of glass, glitters and cuts all at once. You hardly notice the blood until it blooms on white snow. Here’s “Snowfall”:

Watching snow cover the ground, cover itself,
cover everything that is not you, you see
it is the downward drift of light
upon the sound of air sweeping away the air,
it is the fall of moments into moments, the burial
of sleep, the down of winter, the negative of night.

So much of winter is watching—what motion persists in the quiet time. The poet stands apart from this landscape. Or, maybe, the landscape stands apart, taking care of itself, covering itself with no concern for the poet. The light drifts down, the air sweeps the air, moments fall into moments. A whole world unconcerned with the lonely poet. I’m struck, especially, by that final phrase, “the negative of night,” which clamors for attention at the end of this spare and quiet poem. A blanket of white—on the ground or in the air—is like the negative of the dark night. The world is what it seems and its own opposite at the same time. Therefore, too, loneliness is not loneliness. It is a standing apart to see anew.

Even so, “Snowfall” tunes into a familiar melancholia. Even in sun-drenched Texas it is an isolating time. It may not be snow upon snow but Delta upon Omicron. The masks come back, the distances increase again, the doors and windows close. Isolating times call for a little light, a little holiday cheer.

A few nights ago, my husband and I started lighting candles for Hanukkah. We’ve done so for a few years now, ever since I discovered that my mother’s mother, now deceased, was Jewish. She was adopted, which we always knew, but never otherwise spoke of it—not to my mother, not to her siblings. She was born in 1931. From three months to nearly four years old, she lived in the New York Home for Hebrew Infants. In 1952, she married my grandfather in Fort Ann, NY. Where was she between? How did she make her way to this tiny town of exhausted farms hours from New York City? Everyone from that generation is gone. The time before she married my grandfather is unknown to us and most likely, unknowable. Each night we light candles but the mystery of her life remains like darkness and night.

So, here’s a holiday bonus—another poem—full of words about bringing light to mysteries and to dark seasons and exhausted times. Strand opens The Late Hour, with its intimations of burgeoning darkness, begins almost optimistically with “The Coming of Light”:

Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.

Love and light—perhaps that’s a little too easy. But when the hour grows late and as winter creeps close, stars, dreams, and bouquets are a relief. Even bones shine. But then there’s this final sentiment: “tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.” Is that the poet? Are we all just tomorrow’s dust? Perhaps. At least, tonight, there are candles.

For more information on Mark Strand – as if you need it – you might begin at The Paris Review, The Art of Poetry, No.77

All right.

Anything else?

Yes, yes, I know, I promised. But – just now – I thought, why not add to the list of poetry books above, Plume Poetry 9?  As they say, it would make a fine holidays gift. (E.g., someone just ordered nine copies for herself, as presents.)
Available for purchase on our homepage under Anthologies from SPDAmazonBarnes and  Noble, and, as they say, at better bookstores everywhere, from Vrorman’s (Southern California’s Oldest & Largest Bookstore) to Powell’s.

And 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.

Also, our latest online reading was quite a success, I am happy to say. Much gratitude to poet-partners from Poetry 9 Plume Sydney Lea & Katie Moritz, Ron Smith & Stuart Gunter, and Amit Majmuder & Jane Zwart. Also, thanks to our moderators, Leeya Mehta, Nancy Mitchell, and Amanda Newell, and to Zach Powers at The Writers Center. For those who missed it, it’s available on YouTube here

Our cover art this month is Les chiens de Marie, from Sarah Moon. For more on the artist, you might begin here 

That’s it, for now. See you, um, next year.

I hope you enjoy the issue!

Daniel Lawless
Editor, Plume