February: and the thought occurs as I write that there is cold-weather reading, even here in Florida, where that chill, empty light suffuses the…I was about to say soul. But, no, that won’t do here: I am imagining poems and prose divested of that dreary hygge, that ornament. And I don’t mean cold-as-subject – not as found in Knausgaarde or his Scandinavian thriller cohort; not necessarily Calvino or Gregerson or Li-Lee Young or Zagajewski. But some of each of them, and all those authors who body forth, yes, a mind of winter – I am thinking of Édouard Levé’s Suicide; my beloved Cioran; certain poems of Angie Estes, of Trakl, and, of course, Transtromer – what is it he says in “Vermeer”?
Gold-headed tacks flew in with astronomical speed
and stopped smack there
as if there had always been stillness and nothing else.
For those tacks, words. The stillness of the white page. Is there anything worthier of contemplation, even worship?
But: enough. Another poet to adore now, Roger Reeves, with his
I belong to the pigeon/who darns the stray threads/of the last evening on earth/just above a soldier’s helmet, in “Of Genocide, or Merely Sound”—so insightfully, lovingly introduced by Plume contributor Danielle DeTiberus, below.
Danielle DeTiberus on Roger Reeves’ “Of Genocide, or Merely Sound”
A few days after we all sat in shock, eyes glued to our screens as Nazis cut their way through Charlottesville, I returned to Roger Reeves’ poem “Of Genocide, or Merely Sound.” I think I picked up his book King Me again because those poems move so expertly in and out of history, forcing the reader to see how it informs our present. How we inherit and reenact past power structures in an almost impossibly predictable cycle.
This is why a poem published in 2013 can feel so strikingly relevant today. This poem was written before a white supremacist massacred congregants in my adopted home of Charleston, before Nazis marched bare-faced and unashamed through American streets, before the most deadly anti-Semitic attack in US history at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Before the coded language of systematic oppression from our elected officials became the norm. Before many of us had to admit just how precariously close we are to great acts of violence— at least, those of us privileged by our race or gender or sexuality.
I have long admired Reeves’ work, and yet, this poem has drastically transformed for me over the years. It was wiser than I was when I first encountered it. I had to learn hard truths in order to really hear the horror in those starlings trapped in a box or the tinny pang of red pomegranate “seeds/ pebbling a white plate.” This is one of the great gifts of poetry. It continues to breathe over time.
This poem barrels through associative leaps, implicating both speaker and reader in a complicity that—at this moment in history—feels tangible. I love it too because the language is so beautiful, and in a way, its beauty distracts from its warning, not unlike the way we distract ourselves from what is too painful or unfathomable to admit.
“Of Genocide, or Merely Sound” hangs in my office now, gaining more prescience with each day. It reminds me to stay vigilant and to use my voice. Because sometimes I don’t feel powerful, and need to be reminded to question my desire to silence myself. To challenge myself to say what I’m afraid to say. To speak even when—especially when—we have something to lose.
Of Genocide, or Merely Sound
How much saying nothing
gets you a starling or a jewel.
Gather enough starlings
in a box and you have a factory
of genocide, or merely sound
unraveling like a wing.
Gather enough people
in boxes on a train
and you can watch a country
disappear into the husks of anise
seeds and the morning frost
just outside Poland or Germany.
I’m not allowed to speak
for people in boxes stacked
on boxes stacked on rails
because I have not been pierced
by stars or gas or hunger.
I belong to the pigeon
who darns the stray threads
of the last evening on earth
just above a soldier’s helmet.
I belong to the silence of a pomegranate
just cut open, the red seeds
pebbling a white plate.
In other words, I am a suicide
rather than a murder,
a could confused for a cloud.
If allowed, I might say
this is how genocide begins.
Roger Reeves‘s poems have appeared in journals such as Poetry, Ploughshares, American Poetry Review, Boston Review, and Tin House, among others. Kim Addonizio selected “Kletic of Walt Whitman” for the Best New Poets 2009 anthology. He was awarded a 2013 NEA Fellowship, Ruth Lilly Fellowship by the Poetry Foundation in 2008, two Bread Loaf Scholarships, an Alberta H. Walker Scholarship from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and two Cave Canem Fellowships. He earned his PhD the University of Texas-Austin and is currently an assistant professor of poetry at the University of Illinois, Chicago. His first book is King Me (Copper Canyon Press, 2013).
Danielle DeTiberus lives in Charleston, SC, where she teaches creative writing at the Charleston School of the Arts. Her manuscript, Better the Girl Know Now, was selected as a finalist for Black Lawrence Press’ 2018 Hudson Prize. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Missouri Review, [PANK], Rattle, River Styx, The Southeast Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Tar River Poetry, Waxwing and elsewhere.
Brrrr. a could confused for a cloud.
And, so: what else?
Plume Poetry 7 is well on its way to publication; we have the cover art by Kirsten Weber; a marvelous Preface, from Donald Revell; some truly embarrassingly glowing blurbs, courtesy of Bruce Smith, David Lehman, T.R. Hummer, Kwame Dawes, Rae Armantrout, Carol Muske-Dukes, Judy Katz, and Afaa Weaver. Like its predecessors it will debut at AWP, this time in Portland in late March. Also as with its forbears, there will be an off-site reading, with a stellar – if I may use that descriptor – roster of Plume poets. So – set the date:
Thursday, March 28, 2019 Plume Launch: Plume 7: New Poems 2018
6 to 8 PM (Come Early To Browse and Shop!)
CARGO 81 SE Yamhill St, Portland, OR 97214
The East Coast launch of the anthology is scheduled for a few weeks later; also with a splendid roster in the making – details shortly. Many thanks to Jo-Ann Mort, Stephanie Valdez, and Sally Bliumis-Dunn for putting this together.
Penultimately, again a request. As you will note, I try to highlight recent of soon to be published books by Plume contributors at the conclusion of this newsletter. My method for gathering these materials is haphazard, to say the least. Now, I want to rectify that to whatever degree that is possible. So – if you have a new book — or have won some award or grant or other, perhaps send me a quick email – I want to highlight your many wonderful achievements here. And a little PR never hurts, right?
Our cover art this month comes Taylor O. Thomas. Ms. Thomas was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and now lives and works as a visual artist in Tampa, Florida. Her abstract paintings and drawings have been exhibited in galleries and private collections across the United States, in Italy, Spain, and China. Thomas most recently exhibited at the LaGrange Art Museum in LaGrange, Georgia, and during her 2018 solo exhibition at Sozo Gallery in Charlotte, North Carolina. In 2012, she graduated magna cum laude from Davidson College with a BA in Studio Art, and has since used gestural painting as a means of making manifest human tendencies, expression, and the interconnection between the body and the mind. Thomas notes, “My paintings are launching points for viewers to consider their own concepts of personhood, contemporary expressionism, and the deeper concerns that arise when we let ourselves be present.”
Thomas has been awarded a Peripheral Vision Publication Fellowship by Peripheral Vision Press, a role as Publication Juror for Friend of the Artist, a Regional Artist Project Grant by the Arts and Science Council of Charlotte, North Carolina, and a residency fellowship to attend Benaco Arte in Sirmione, Italy. Other residencies include MassArt: Art New England and Deli Grocery New York. Thomas is a recipient of the University Graduate Fellowship from the University of South Florida, where she currently serves as a Teacher of Record and MFA Candidate.
Select works are represented by Deli Grocery New York (Queens, NY), Emily Friedman Fine Art (Los Angeles, CA), and Nomad Collective (Nashville, TN).
For more information or inquiries, please visit: taylorothomas.com.
And finally, per usual, a few new releases from Plume contributors:
José-Flore Tappy’sTrás-Os-Montes (Éditions La Dogana, 2018) has won 2019 Prix suisse de littérature, the highest Swiss literary distinction. A poem from this book is presented in the current, February, issue, translated by the endlessly remarkable John Taylor, a long-time Plume contrubutor.
That’s it, for now.
I do hope you enjoy the issue!