March – and, again, just as our February issue found its way into mailboxes and social media sites, I learned, too late, of another passing: Linda Pastan, on 30 January. Linda was..well, you know. Of course, you know. So I won’t add to the encomiums and reminiscences ; instead, as Linda was a regular contributor to Plume, I’ll offer this wry and prescient poem from our archives, of her later work.
My Obituary ~Linda Pastan
Will it merit a full column in The Post or The Times
or just a squib by a relative late for work?
Will it mention awards I didn’t win,
poems that didn’t quite scan,
and how a student asked me once
if “To a Daughter Leaving Home”
was my penance for driving a daughter away?
It will surely say I was born in the Bronx,
spending the first few weeks of my life
in the hospital nursery, alone. Which may
account for my chronic melancholy
and why I keep blaming my surgeon father
who tried to do his best for me
but whose anger always mirrored mine.
Some obituaries written years in advance
are stored in the newspaper’s basement vault,
like turkey vultures asleep in their nests,
just waiting for death to catch up with life.
Let any newspaper where my obituary appears
be used to keep the floor clean under the dog’s dish.
And let my “survived by…” children remember me
not by a list of ambiguous facts collected
like so much mathematical data, but by my usual
obsessions: rising bread and falling leaves.
Next, an essay from Joseph Campana, finally freed from his busy schedule to present us with a timely meditation on A.R. Ammons’ “Thaw.”.
Waiting for the thaw, such a common pursuit in the colder seasons. This year, as Los Angeles froze, spring came early in Texas but also in New York. Seasons bring change but now the seasons themselves shift. Will there be seasons in years to come or will constant change rule?
It’s exhausting to think about. Even harder than intense cold or intense heat—hard as they are—might be instability. So easy, then, for the mind to reach for easy stories of the body in weather, the body in winter, the body in spring: as if those are constants.
Thaw would seem to be a good thing, the release of the world from the grip of the cold and the burst of new life from well-rested soil. Like most myths, this leaves so much out. There is the haunting life of winter, which is just another form of life.
I take A.R. Ammons “Thaw” to be a cautionary poem of a kind, one that wants to be sure the reader doesn’t leap to easy conclusions. It isn’t just the body that shivers in the depths of winter but the mind as well, which can become “ice-bound” and may not be ready for spring when it comes. “Better not warm up too / close to the sun”: a brain might be another Icarus, too likely to burn in the flames of hastiness. Ammons keeps focusing attention on the mind, the brain itself, even “the good / firm country of the brain” which is of a piece with frozen land and might “shatter” or “melt.” By the end of the first stanza, I can’t tell if I’m an icicle or the glint of sun on it as it melts.
But there I go again, leaping forward into metaphors of what’s next. Why should a thaw be, necessarily, fast? What if it’s happens gradually? And the poem keeps warning me: “go slow, / bend with the gradual movement, / let sap flow.” Even here Ammons cautions again—don’t leap out of the experience into the anticipation of what’s next. Even the mind might go glassy with the heat of thought.
First the mind is glassy, perhaps like eyes glazed over. But then the mind is light, slight, prone to being drawn into flight by the winds of the season. By the end, I can’t quite tell if I should wish for a time of thaw. It seems so tantalizing, the idea of staying “solid brilliant ice.” How to understand the lines that follow? If the land, if the mind stays “solid brilliant ice” then “tulip root / warn in coming / will splinter it.”
Is this the right warming, the right thaw? Tulips roots mean, eventually, tulips. The roots, planted in fall, sleep all winter to bloom in spring. What if spring is not just blooming but shattering? And where does the solid brilliant ice of the mind go once the thaw begins?
Winter over, ice-bound
mind better not
rush to a spring-meet fast;
might trip, stiff thoughts,
better not warm up too
close to sun;
might melt, run, gullies
caking off the good
firm country of the brain.
Better go slow,
bend with the gradual movement,
let sap flow but
keep an eye on any
thermal swell rising at
If it gets loose wind
will take it
riddling through the underbrush,
but if it stays
solid brilliant ice
warm in coming
will splinter it.
For information about A.R. Ammons see the Poetry Foundation website.
An interesting take, Campana’s “not blooming but shattering” — that recalls (to my mind, and somewhat distantly) Stevie Smith’s “not waving but drowning, perhaps?
Only one announcement, for now: The marvelous Angie Estes, who was featured in last month’s issue, will read with the equally wonderful Plume staff member (and interlocutor in that piece) Nancy Mitchell, for the Dali Museum Reading Series. The reading, with a Q & A, will be filmed and premier on the museum’s YouTube channel Tuesday, March 9, 6:00-7:30 PM., EST.
Our cover art this month is Max Beckmann’s Doppelbildnis, 1923. For more information on the artist, a good start might be made here
Finally, as usual, a few recently published/forthcoming books from Plume contributors: