Welcome to Issue # 24 of Plume.
As you will soon see, this issue marks an anniversary: we are two years old. And with what does one commemorate such a (meager) milestone? Why a “special” issue, of course: a dreaded term, yes? And one I have promised to avoid — and until now a promise I have kept: no contests, no advertisements, no themes, no speâ€¦ah. There. Still, forgive me if just this once we produce a Plume just the slightest bit out of the ordinary: we will return to form in July. But for now — as a gift to ourselves, but also to you, readers, and in gratitude for those who believed in Plume from the outset — took a leap of faith — we reprise our initial issue, featuring most of the poets represented there: Amy Gerstler, Christopher Kennedy, Denise Duhamel, Kimberly Johnson, Mark Jarman, Nin Andrews, Rae Armantrout, Stuart Dybek, and Terese Svoboda. Ricardo Pau-Llosa, John Skoyles, and Juan Felipe Herrera make an even dozen. Or thirteen, including as we do our “Featured Selection” poet Rachel Hadas. Charles Bernstein’s submission arrived too late, alas, to be included in this issue as it would have been, but, as his recent email states, he is with us “in spirit.” We’ll run his poem next month.
This month’s cover art is from Robaldo Enrique Rodriguez, (b. HolguÃn, Cuba, 1964) a graduate of the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana. He left Cuba for Spain in 1991, where he had a distinguished career. He presently lives in Miami. More at: robaldorodriguez.com.
The above-noted “Featured Selection” this month is “Ten Poems”, from the marvelous Rachel Hadas. Along with the works themselves we include an email interview I conducted recently with Ms. Hadas.
To whet your appetite, a brief review of her new book, The Golden Road, from the NY Times Book Review:
THE GOLDEN ROAD
By Rachel Hadas.
TriQuarterly/Northwestern University, paper, $16.95.
Hadas is sometimes classified as a New Formalist, but it’s a misleading and restrictive label, seeing as how she has mixed free and formal verse ever since her 1975 debut, “Starting From Troy.” Some of her previous 14 volumes possess cool, classical surfaces and meditate like essays in abstract language. Still, her best poems have always used form to control the undercurrents of feeling and have increasingly fixed on the personal – love, loss and the sublime, including the uncanny power of dreams, her own and “some unguessed-at stranger’s.” The most powerful poems in her latest book, “The Golden Road,” build from “Strange Relation,” her 2011 memoir of her husband’s decline into dementia. “Boston Naming Test” reprises the facts of one chapter but transforms them forcibly: her husband’s silence becomes “a sheet of paper either blank / or scribbled over with an alphabet / nobody can read” and “a calm sea / closing over your head.” Her array of metrical forms is impressive too, but she deploys them flexibly so that some seemingly free poems are really measured, with varied line lengths. This powerful, autumnal book ends elegantly: the title poem makes Hadas’s personal story universal through the archetypes of season, sunlight and a curving road, where the speaker sees her son coming the opposite way and grasps how “the living pass the dead.”
Matthew Brennan is the author of “The House With the Mansard Roof,” a collection of poems, and “The Sea-Crossing of Saint Brendan,” a verse-narrative.
And it seems this new “Featured Selection” has caught on — a number of readers have commented that is their favorite section of Plume. Who knew? As usual, an idea that popped into my very small mind one day, and after making the usual rounds of our various staff committee, and upon receiving and poring over their well-considered reportsâ€¦ I kid: we just thought it might be good and so here it is. In fact, aside from those already in the queue, we have on tap a multi-media presentation (visual art/jazz improve accompaniment to the poems) from Hank Lazar and an intriguing poem series written from the POV of Gregor Samsa from Christopher Kennedy. As you know, we remain open to your suggestions: if you have an extended-form project — review, graphic poems, collaboration, video, etc. — that you believe would suit the format, please do send to us at email@example.com.
We are happy to note that David Cudar return with book recommendations this month, with, on the horizon, occasional long-for reviews of books of interest. Many thanks to Ron Slate for allowing me to make a few recommendations of my own (along with 29 other poets, editors, and reviewers) on his website, The Seawall.
Here are David’s selections for this month:
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
Sedaris has entered the Pantheon of comic satire. There is a quality about his writing which, like a hybrid of Montaigne and Thurber, is sophisticated and devastatingly hilarious. His deprecating “auto-biographical” accounts of everyday life allow virtually all of us see ourselves within each anecdote. This book, like all his others, is simply brilliant.
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
A coming-of-age story, which asks the question: “What happened to the world while I was growing up?” The story is a smart and nuanced novel about the ritual of childhood, the promises we make to never lose our connection. The Watergate scandal and the post-American loss of innocence anti-rhythms offered a counter narrative. The Virgin Suicidespeppered with The Big Chill. It is ambitious, stealthy, and perceptive, but most of all authentic.
The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
An epic and daring novel that subverts identity and will dazzle the reader with an unforgettable landscape of North Korea, making it more than a news sound-bite with a fill-in-the-blank bad joke. Winner of the Pulitzer for its penetrating look into the secret spaces of the human heart.
The Blood of Heaven by Kent Wascom
A most impressive debut novel, historical fiction unruly with inventiveness, The Blood of Heaven tells of the formation of US south, an area once called West Florida. The author, only 26, has crafted a gripping love story of a young man struggling through the tangled religious ferocity to find his place in the turbulent and violent world of a young America. Cormac McCarthy and O’Connor come to mind.
Cities Are Good for You by Leo Hollis
Hollis has written a book that indicates cities are where 70% of the world’s population will be living by 2050. The book is a mélange of interviews, history, scientific data, and anecdotes, which sometimes hint and other times claim: that cities are the way of the future. Unlike the vegetable paradise of our own, the Romantics or the terrified speculations of the Modernists, Hollis, like Buckminster Fuller, presents evidence that cities are good for us. An interesting book, but I’m still stock-piling my bunker with water.
The Unknown University by Roberto BolaÃ±o
The Unknown University is the deluxe edition of BolaÃ±o’s poetry. Poetry he always considered as the superior art form. Like many geniuses, BolaÃ±o wanted the outlet he could not fully possess, and had he been a less brilliant novelist, this book would be as excellent in many ways indeed: he freely crossed boundaries writing stories in verse, poems in prose, and pieces of micro-fiction. And as is the case with any master, BolaÃ±o was sui generis. This book, like all his others, is well worth reading.
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
As the title suggests, this is a book about the language of flowers, the Victorian language for flowers. A debut novel that opens a field of lost signification. Certain flowers have meaning: romance, grief, mistrust, solitude. Traveling back and forth in time within the narrative, the reader learns the history of the semiotics of flowers, but also the possibility of redemption for a lost soul.
My Struggle: Book One by Karl Knausgaard
Part one of a six-part series. Knausgaard, 44, has been compared to Proust. Knausgaard is something of a rarity, speaking painfully and plainly honestly of his desires to consider death, fear, failure, love. Painfully honest, ruthless, and avoiding irony, he wrestles with the sheer banality of life, those ordinary moments that flitter by because we cannot tolerate them. Like a surgeon operating upon himself without anesthesia, Knausgaard wants to find the vivid spot where life lives without denial — a masterpiece!
Oblivion by Hector Abad
Twenty years in the writing, Héctor Abad Oblivion is a memorial to the author’s father, Héctor Abad GÃ³mez, whose criticism of the Colombian regime led to his murder by paramilitaries in 1987. The book paints an unforgettable picture of a man who followed his conscience and paid for it with his life during one of the darkest periods in Latin America’s recent history.
Home by Toni Morrison
A luminescent book. Morrison’s gifts are as visionary and majestic as they have ever been. There is a starkness about her prose that loses none of her signature gorgeous and poetic heft. It seems that her concision has only made her prose better, and touches on themes from The Bluest Eye to Beloved. It is a wonderfully executed and unflinchingly examination of the painful human condition.
For new work received — apart from the generous offerings of those already noted — poets who, by the way, had a very small window to get their work to me, as, well, the idea to do a “special” issue did not arrive in my mind until a few weeks ago, per usual — please see the Editor’s Note.
Last — the list below, admittedly repeated in that Editor’s Note (I wanted to reach everyone, and if you’re like me, the Editor’s Note is not always the first item to which I turn): a list of all who have appeared in our pages since that initial issue or soon will— poets, translators, visual artists. I must say, I’d never seen, or thought to look for, the contributors in a single setting. To say this is an impressive roster would be boastful, I know — so I’ll refrainâ€¦ And yet, much, much less about Plume’s success, such as it is, than an opportunity to recognize and to thank — at once — these generous artists for their work.
Agodon, Kelli Russell
Black, Sophie Cabot
Booker, Stephen Todd
Du Bouchet, Andre
Di Piero, W.S.
Freeman, Molly Lou
George, Alice Rose
Goldberg, Beckian Fritz
Hecht, Jennifer Michael
Herrera, Juan Felipe
Knox, Jennifer L.
Lee, Karen An-hwei
Rodriquez, Robaldo Enrique
Rosser, J. Allyn
Å alamun, TomaÅ¾
Salter, Mary Jo
Spaar, Lisa Russ
Taren, Michael Thomas
Young, C. Dale
Many thanks, as always — and I do hope you enjoy the issue — despite its frightening “special-ness.”