Newsletter #145 September 2023

Newsletter #145 September 2023
November 6, 2023 Christina Mullin

Helene English, Lightnin’ Hopkins Texas Blues Man
Oil on Canvas
15” x 15”

September, 2023

Welcome to Plume #145!

August, and has this happened to you? Something – a passerby, a fallen tree — brings to mind a line from a poem, which you cannot place.  But why – had it always been there, awaiting its moment?  And what of the rest, before or after? For a little while, at least, a mystery. Such was the case this morning, as the winds picked up on our walk to the harbor before the expected  visitation of Hurricane Idalia. And then just a moment ago, it came to me. The line is the last, the poem entire from the great Laura Jensen’s “Bad Boats” – ah, yes! — the very one so many of you had announced was one of your own landmarks, in response to a social media query I made some weeks ago. And so, before the lights flicker off for good, here it is: enjoy, and marvel:

Bad Boats

They are like women because they sway.
They are like men because they swagger.
They are like lions because they are king here.
They walk on the sea. They drifting
Logs are good: they take their punishment.
But the bad boats are ready to be bad,
to overturn in water, to demolish the swagger
and the sway. They are bad boats
because they cannot wind their own rope
or guide themselves close to the wharf.
In their egomania they are glad
for the burden of the storm the men are shirking
when they go for their coffee and yawn.
They are bad boast and they hate their anchors.

And now, some sad news, just received: Maureen Seaton, a long-time contributor to Plume, passed away on August 26th. Thinking to memorialize her, I went to her website, and corresponded with her great friend, colleague, and collaborator, Denise Duhamel. But, as with most poets, it’s her work that perhaps best serves this purpose. So, I direct you to her poems in our archives, and offer this short but somehow fitting one, from Fish Tales, published in her book Fibonacci Batman:

She used to think the sea was omnipotent
She prayed to its depths, and sometimes
She would float on a turquoise wave, and imagine herself
A pearl in the cup of an enormous palm.
After the fourth hurricane, the one that pushed her Honda
all the way to the Pussycat Boutique, she realized God
was not in the sea, but in the wind, and the wind
was a freak.

You’ll be missed, Maureen.

Let’s turn now to Jospeph Campana’s thoughts on  what might be called “maladaptive guilt”,  William Carlos Williams, and “hurricane poems” and why we write them.

It’s storm season now, now in earnest. Idalia swept through Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas before churning out to sea. Who knows which is next or if any of the conventional wisdom about the hurricane season remains true. Hurricanes never hit Houston after the first of September, people told me after I moved there in 2006. Hurricane Ike hit September 13, 2008. Each year, as it becomes less and less plausible to memorialize hurricanes (so many hit us now), strange superstitions rise as do the complex forms of barter with fates (and weather patterns) that no one can really change. “Not this year,” you might say to yourself, “last year was bad.”

But rarely is anyone thinking “I guess it’s our turn, New Orleans got hit last year.” Every time the hurricane misses me it hits someone else. It’s not that I feel responsible. It’s that I feel aware of my safety being uncomfortably and inevitably tethered to the suffering of others. Or sometimes, other conditions make you wish for a bit of storm. Last week temperatures in Houston hit 109. We’ve been in extreme drought ( or “exceptional drought,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which is worse) for months.

If you catch yourself wishing for a little of that recent hurricane and you should start biting your tongue. Every fall, for the last five years, so many things feel like tempting fate. Or tempting climate change. So, hurricane poems. Any subject is a subject, sure, and might not the intensities of storm particularly cry out for the singularity of a poem?  I’ve written some myself—odd poems, awkward poems. All began after Hurricane Ike and most I’d never show anyone. A couple appear in Plume this month. So many poets writing so extraordinarily in the anticipation or in the aftermath of wind and of watery devastation. The one I’m thinking about this month is new to me, although it feels so thoroughly a William Carlos Williams poem it almost feels as if I’ve read it before: brief, direct, elusive, and with a twist.

The violence of storm might feel so far away—how quietly a tree destroys a building! It just “lay down” as if the dropping pressure of a storm approaching made it sleepy. It lay down, it stretched out, and then it spoke: “You / have your heaven, / it said, go to it.” Even that could seem, out of context, gentle or encouraging. This is how the tree kills. This is how the storm kills, with an inevitability that might, from afar, feel sweet or compassionate. And perhaps it is easy to feel that this is simply how things ought to be. Maybe for William Carlos Williams, it might have felt like this is simply how the universe with its habit of uncanny accidents works. Maybe for Williams a hurricane was a species of randomness or chaos. In 2023, it’s all feels like tempting fate or tempting climate. Living near a coast, living in the Gulf Coast: even insurance companies are running scared from this little corner of the world. No more writing policies in some states.

But, I suppose, if we’re going to be living on this increasingly precarious planet, some forms of tempting fate seem worth the risk. So go on: write a poem. Write a hurricane poem. Write a storm song. Poems help us process what hits, what recedes, what leaves us wondering what to do now. Let there be more poems than storms.

For a biography of and poems by William Carlos Williams, see the Poetry Foundation or the Academy of American Poets.

What else?

A reminder, while they last — free Books! We have copies of the Plume Anthologies 7, 8, 9, and the most recent, Plume 10 — and they are yours, if you like. Just email Mary Bisbee-Beek at and let her know the #, your addresss, etc. She’ll fill you in on the details.

Our cover art this month is Helene English’s Lightnin’ Hopkins Texas Blues Man.

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

Sydney Lea                              What Shines
Jules Jacob                             Kingdom of Grass $ Seed
Nicole Sealey                          The Ferguson Report: An Erasure

Major Jackson                        Razzle Dazzle: New and Selected Poems 2002–2022
John Hoppenthaler               Night Wing over Metropolitan Area
Maurice Manning                   Snake Doctor
Jane Hirshfield                        The Asking

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

Daniel Lawless
Editor, Plume