Newsletter Issue #35 May, 2014

Newsletter Issue #35 May, 2014
May 19, 2014 Plume

Readers —

Welcome to Issue #35 of Plume.

Russel Edson

So: another passing: death, I mean. Russell Edson’s, on 29 April.  And thus a double memorial, with Nina Cassian’s, in this issue’s Editor’s Note.  Two vastly different poets, and yet each has held me enthralled from the moment we “met.” In the case of Edson, that would be through the good offices of Michael Benedikt, in his seminal The Prose Poem: An International Anthology, (Dell, 1976) which he edited and in which many of his translations appear. There, among a staggering assembly of poets of every voice and inclination, from Valery and Jarry to Erica Pedretti, to Cernuda to Szymborska to Transtromer to Voznesensky to Takahashi…  there,  was Edson’s little

.”The Signal Man”

A woman said to her mother, where is my daughter?
Her mother said, up you and through me and out of
grandmother; coming all the way down through all women
like a railway train, trailing her brunette hair, which
streams back grey into white, waiting for the signal man to
raise his light so she can come through.
What’s she waiting for? said the woman.
For the signal man to raise his light, so she can see
to come through.

…and a few pages later

“The Family Monkey”

We bought an electric monkey, experimenting rather recklessly
with funds carefully gathered since grandfather’s time for the
purchase of a steam monkey.
We had either, by this time, the choice of an electric
or gas monkey.
The steam monkey is no longer being made, said the monkey
But the family always planned on a steam monkey.
Well, said the monkey merchant, just as the wind-up
monkey gave way to the steam monkey, the steam monkey
has given way to the gas and electric monkeys.
Is that like the grandfather clock being replaced by
the grandchild clock?
Sort of, said the monkey merchant.

So we bought the electric monkey, and plugged its
umbilical cord into the wall.
The smoke coming out of its fur told us something
was wrong.
We had electrocuted the family monkey.

I recall vividly where I was at the time: the Robert Worth Bingham Poetry Room at the University of Louisville. Deserted, per usual, one winter afternoon. The weather typically dreary; I typically high — this was 1977. Punk had just crept into town — albeit almost unnoticed — and my head was full of the Sex Pistols, The Damned, and Television, as I recall, all struggling to free themselves and us from the grip of rock dinosaurs, of disco and glam and folk and every other insipid pop trope. And Russell Edson seemed a part of that… tearing away: laceratingly funny, absurd, enigmatic, and yet familiar in a way as well: American, distinctly. None of the Rococo flourishes of Lautreamont.  Looser than Michaux, less self-regarding than Ponge. (Closest in spirit, I think, to Péret). American as Pere Ubu and the Stooges were American, and soon the Dead Kennedys and The Cramps would be. And as with these musicians, whose LPs and EPs and cassettes I devoured, so, too, Edson became an obsession, and before long I had in my hands one way or another  The Reason Why the Closet-Man Is Never Sad,  The Intuitive Journey and Other WorksThe Childhood Of An Equestrian, Ceremonies. These were works that exploded in my hands, as Parra’s Poems and Anti-Poems did, and One Hundred Years of Solitude, Cioran’s A Short History of Decay, and Barthes’ Writing Degree Zero, Bly’s Silence in the Snowy Fields, Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask, and Gass’s In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, among others. And if some have lost their fire power (Bly, for example) Edson has not: I read him regularly, still. He never wavered. Never grew stale. Mattered, to the end.

But, to business at hand:

Thank you to Tess Gallagher and Lawrence Matsuda, whose reading for the second annual PLUME Poetry Series in Saint Petersburg was a success in every way. Their re-enactment of “Pow! Pow! Shalazam! — the collaboration originally published in our pages — in particular, was a delight.

Up next: a PLUME Reading New Orleans, 11 June @ 6 p.m: Peter Cooley, Carrie Causey, Ben Lowenkron, Chris Shipman, and Brad Richard. Please, drop by if you are in the vicinity.

Also: as I mention in the Editor’s Note, several poets who teach creative writing have taken to using the Plume Anthology of Poetry 2014 in their classes — and more will do so in the fall. If this interests you in the slightest, you can purchase a copy at our STORE on the PLUME Website or through our publishers at  or online at Amazon (where there is an extensive Look Inside feature, and many other sites, as well).

Next up, after this issue’s Featured Selection from Amit Mujmudar, look for work from James Richardson, with Nin Andrews and Linda Pastan in view. (Here, too, again, let me add as always: those with projects that might be suitable for the Featured Selection, please do contact us with your proposal at )

For a list of new work received this month, please see our Editor’s Note.

We conclude with recommendations for your reading pleasure from the now-well David Cudar:

1.A Place in the Country: W.G. Sebald, Jo Catling: 9781400067718: Books
A Place in the Country by W. G. Sebald
The last work of this master to be translated is a meditation on the subtle influences other writers had upon him. Formally reminiscent of Kundera’s essays on the past as sensibility and the ambivalence of exile, however, Sebald is sui generis: his sentences uncanny and inscrutable. Soon ‘Sebaldian’ will become, like Kafka-esque, an adjective of distinction.

2.Updike: Adam Begley: 9780061896453: Books
Updike by Adam Begley
An engaging and intimate biographer of the New England Nabokov, Begley does a superb job evoking the spirit of Updike’s life and his fiction. “Updike” is critical biography of the first order, unpacking the overlaps between the written and the lived.  A piece of counterintelligence on the ‘spy of suburban America’.

3.A Fighting Chance: Elizabeth Warren: 9781627790529: Books
A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren
A revealing memoir of one of the smartest women in the public eye: her modest beginnings and her rise to prominence.  Part autobiography and part insider sidebar, Warren’s book is engaging and readable, and powerfully depicts her as a tireless advocate for those whose voices are heard least.

4.The UnAmericans: Stories: Molly Antopol: 9780393241136: Books
The UnAmericans: Stories by Molly Antopol
An exceptional collection of stories, with historic sweep and intellectual depth.  Antopol’s writing is simply beautiful and that beauty carries an emotional and moral complexity rarely seen in novels — let alone a collection of stories. A debut of promise.

5.In Paradise: A Novel: Peter Matthiessen: 9781594633171: Books
In Paradise by Peter Mattiessen
Matthiessen’s novel brings the reader to Auschwitz in the mid-1990s for a ‘spiritual retreat’.  The irony of the title reveals the initial distance between memorializing and remembering.  The novel’s power is its unflinching consideration of the horrific and how trauma must be faced and the consequences of that encounter.  The return of the repressed rendered with intensity and life.

6.Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues (9780805098105): Martin J. Blaser: Books
Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues by Martin Blaser.
With the news buzzing about MERS, Blaser’s book seems more relevant than ever.  As the title suggests, the overuse of antibiotics has created super-strains of diseases that are impervious to our medications. Blaser believes that a symbiosis, epochs long, has been systematically erupted in the last 200 years, moving us closer to catastrophe.  Thankfully, he does have suggestions to avoid them which do not involve bunkers or hazmat suits.

7.My Struggle: Book Three: Karl Ove Knausgaard, Barbara Haveland: 9781935744863: Books
My Struggle: Book Three by Karl Ove Knausgaard
The third installment of Knausgaard’s six part autobiography has been compared to Proust and called a masterpiece — and it’s only halfway finished.  There is little I can add to the praise that “My Struggle” has garnered and continues to have lavished upon it, except to say it is all true.  There is a genre-defying mesmerism about these books that leaves the reader breathless and panting for the next volume.

8.Can’t and Won’t: Stories: Lydia Davis: 9780374118587: Books
Can’t and Won’t: Stories by Lydia Davis
The awesome and terrifying queen regent of Laconia, Davis can write stories that make Carver seem prolix. ‘Bloomington’ is a story of one sentence.  Like Barthelme, Davis can explode language with ideas; like Stein, she can denature a sentence. She translated Proust and like Beckett turned the telescope the other way around.  I can’t and won’t say she is ‘like’ these other writers, but I can and will say she is a phenomenon.

9.All Our Names: Dinaw Mengestu: 9780385349987: Books
All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestus
A winner of the MacArthur grant, Mengestus considers the African revolution with profundity and lyricism. Examining the manner in which the social and the individual intersect and the conflict arising from that event, Mengestus lays bare the human heart within the political struggle. It is a novel of Foucauldian ideas written with the passion and grace of Naipaul.

10.How About Never–Is Never Good for You?: My Life in Cartoons: Bob Mankoff: 9780805095906: Books
How About Never -Is Never Good for You? : My Life in Cartoons by Bob Mankoff
A hysterical and wonderful memoir of Mankoff’s career as an illustrator for the New Yorker.  The cartoons are sardonic and witty as one would expect, but the commentary about the idea and production of the humorous, as well as his personal anecdotes, make “How About Never” something well worth looking at.

As always, I do hope you enjoy the issue!

Daniel Lawless
Editor, Plume