Newsletter #132 August 2022

Newsletter #132 August 2022
March 13, 2023 Christina Mullin

George Shiras III, Untitled c 1900

August, 2022

Welcome to Plume #132 –

August, and, as successive glances at last month’s cover art and this issue’s might suggest, I have fallen a little too hard for a certain subject of “nature” photography” — night, with animals. It’s true, obviously, that those elements are present in both Michal Dyjuk’s, from Cows can smell the scent of death and George Shiras III’s, Untitled. Yet, how different in mood! Where in the former we read fear, watchfulness, an all but invisible group drawing inward and away from danger, in the latter there is to my eye the opposite: a kind of seen joy, a spontaneous exuberance, of springing outward. (I thought alternately of Rilke’s panther and of the first line of a poem from Josephine Jacobsen: “At night, alone, the animals came, and shone.”) I suppose I had it in mind to offer a sort of leveling up or recalibration of the scales of the night’s cruelties and pleasures. Yet somehow it occurs to me that the photographs, despite their superficial differences,  actually are merely opposite reactions to the perception of the same unseen predator: a human. Such is life.

Anyway, enough of that.

Allow me to hand things off to Joseph Campana who will, well, address the inquiries and acuities demanded of the reader of Elizabeth Willis’s poem “Address”.

Elizabeth Willis

I is to they
as river is to barge
as convert to picket line
sinker to steamer
The sun belongs to I
once, for an instant
The window belongs to you
leaning on the afternoon
They are to you
as the suffocating dis-
appointment of the mall
is to the magic rustle
of the word “come”
Turn left toward the mountain
the boat is in the driveway
A little warmer, a little stickier
A little more like spring

You might think this poem is about what it means to speak to someone. It seems to tell us it is. After all, it’s called “Address” and nothing, immediately, makes one think that it refers to a physical address, like the house you grew up in. Instead, it starts with a game of analogies: imagine standardized test were with poets in mind. After all, poets have been trying to understand relation in language for millennia. So, in Elizabeth Willis’ “Address,” you always feels so close to a truth that slips away. What relationship between a “river” and a “barge” makes sense of the relationship between an “I” and a “they”? The barge relies on the river for buoyancy and transit. Does a “they” depend on an “I” in the same way? A barge might very well pollute the river. Is that relevant here? What is the relationship of a “convert” to a “picket line” anyway? Is the “I” too easily likely to join a crowd, in this case a picket line?

What I appreciate about Willis’ poems, this one especially, is that the moment I feel I might be worrying these analogies to death is the moment I think I begin to understand the kind of relational acrobatics the poems demand of me. It’s the attempt to fling the mind into motion that counts, not necessarily the landing. And just as I nearly land on that as an idea, the poem asks me to move on. The “I” is still there but the sun belongs to it just “once, for an instance.” So this “I” knows a lot about how elusive experience can be. The sun may belong to the “I,” but the window belongs to “you.” Finally, there’s a “you” in the poem, and maybe I can understand the nature of “address.” But what is this you doing, “leaning on the afternoon”? I’m not quite sure, but I like the idea of leaning on an afternoon, as if light could sustain a body or as if a body could hasten the passing of time to that golden hour of light so kind to the face and which photographers love.

And then it really is a poem about what it means to speak to someone. The “I” and the “you” can’t seem to get together under the pressure of this looming “they” who not only want “I” to join a picket line but are like “the suffocating dis- / appointment of the mall.” That line break—what is it exactly? An assault on the idea of disappointment? Or merely a resentment of how it’s length would violate the tidy lines of the lyric? Maybe both. And while I’m thinking of that, the “I” and the “you” have made their escape. The alternative to the mall is “the magic rustle / of the word “come.” And suddenly the poem is in motion again, never content with the statement of an analogy. If analogy may be the engine, but the poem still needs to go somewhere. So the poem of address offers some directions, starting with “Turn left.” It might seem aggressive, if we took the mode of address between and “I” and a “you” to be a set of instructions, but this is an invitation that paints a picture of a retreat from the poison of aggregation. Suddenly, it feels like someone is describing how to get to their house. There’s “a boat in the driveway” and it’s almost as if once you set the scene, priorities have changed. It’s not that the “I” and the “you” don’t’ matter. It’s that they’ve arrived somewhere finally, where what matters is the weather and the season. It’s warmer and spring hovers near, even if only in a simile.

There’s a kind of bewilderment in these poems, poems that dress themselves in the garb of logic. I’m bewildered all the time of late. It’s not the good and generous bewilderment I find here. The one destroys. The other brings the mind back to life. So maybe, after all, it is like spring.

For information on Elizabeth Willis see the Poetry Foundation or the Academy of American Poets.

Now, to revive a too-long neglected newsletter feature, a couple of recent publications by members of our stellar staff – congratulations!

Chard deNiord   “Tablet”   Paris Review
Icarus Films: Ruth’s Stone Vast Library of the Female Mind

Sally Bliumis-Dunn  “Ouija” and “Sleep Training”  32 Poems

And: the latest on Plume Poetry 10. As previously noted, we now have a release date of September 1– 15 — sooner if somehow things now fall into placePartnered readings from the book will begin soon at various locales.

Again, our cover art this month is from George Shiras III, Untitled (c 1900).  For more information on the artist, a good start might be made here and here.

Finally, as usual, some recently published/forthcoming books from Plume contributors:

Jorie Graham             [To] the Last [Be] Human
Eleni Sikelianos        Your Kingdom
Jenny Xie                  The Rupture Tense
Stephanie Burt          We Are Mermaids
Jana Prikryl               Midwood
Ted Kooser                Cotton Candy: Poems Dipped Out of the Air

That’s it, for now.
I hope you enjoy the issue!

Daniel Lawless
Editor, Plume