Welcome to Issue #39 of Plume Poetry.
September: and if you have endured yet another of my little misadventures in this issue’s Editor’s Note, you will be relieved to discover that that particular figure of mawkish recollection will not tap at your shoulder here. No: especially in these restless days when school again pounds its gavel and calls from the bench that the court of childhood is in session — Department of Dislocations and Ineffable Sadnesses — the vicissitudes of youth (though not only youth) are best left, I think, in the hands of professionals. And so our “secret poems” this issue are from two indisputable masters, James Richardson, who has lately graced our pages, and Philip Levine, who hasn’t, despite my semi-annual entreaties.
End Of Summer
Just an uncommon lull in the traffic
so you hear some guy in an apron, sleeves rolled up,
with his brusque sweep brusque sweep of the sidewalk,
and the slap shut of a too thin rental van,
and I told him no a gust has snatched from a conversation
and brought to you, loud.
It would be so different
if any of these were missing is the feeling
you always have on the first day of autumn,
no, the first day you think of autumn, when somehow
the sun singling out high windows,
a waiter settling a billow of white cloth
with glasses and silver, and the sparrows
shattering to nowhere are the Summer
waving that here is where it turns
and will no longer be walking with you,
traveller, who now leave all of this behind,
carrying only what it has made of you.
Already the crowds seem darker and more hurried
and the slang grows stranger and stranger,
and you do not understand what you love,
yet here, rounding a corner in mild sunset,
is the world again, wide-eyed as a child
holding up a toy even you can fix.
How light your step
down the narrowing avenue to the cross streets,
October, small November, barely legible December.
– James Richardson, from The New Yorker, 3 September 2007
I walk among the rows of bowed heads–
the children are sleeping through fourth grade
so as to be ready for what is ahead,
the monumental boredom of junior high
and the rush forward tearing their wings
loose and turning their eyes forever inward.
These are the children of Flint, their fathers
work at the spark plug factory or truck
bottled water in 5 gallon sea-blue jugs
to the widows of the suburbs. You can see
already how their backs have thickened,
how their small hands, soiled by pig iron,
leap and stutter even in dreams. I would like
to sit down among them and read slowly
from The Book of Job until the windows
pale and the teacher rises out of a milky sea
of industrial scum, her gowns streaming
with light, her foolish words transformed
into song, I would like to arm each one
with a quiver of arrows so that they might
rush like wind there where no battle rages
shouting among the trumpets, Hal Ha!
How dear the gift of laughter in the face
of the 8 hour day, the cold winter mornings
without coffee and oranges, the long lines
of mothers in old coats waiting silently
where the gates have closed. Ten years ago
I went among these same children, just born,
in the bright ward of the Sacred Heart and leaned
down to hear their breaths delivered that day,
burning with joy. There was such wonder
in their sleep, such purpose in their eyes
dosed against autumn, in their damp heads
blurred with the hair of ponds, and not one
turned against me or the light, not one
said, I am sick, I am tired, I will go home,
not one complained or drifted alone,
unloved, on the hardest day of their lives.
Eleven years from now they will become
the men and women of Flint or Paradise,
the majors of a minor town, and I
will be gone into smoke or memory,
so I bow to them here and whisper
all I know, all I will never know.
–Philip Levine, from Alfred A. Knopf; Reprint edition (April 21, 1992)
And this, which I cannot help but append, from W.S Merwin’s “Youth of Grass”:
â€¦and the owl cries across the new spaces
to the mice suddenly missing their sky
and so the youth of this spring all at once is over
it has come upon us again taking us
once more by surprise just as we began
to believe that those fields would always be green.
So, you, reader: on what exile do you ponder, now? Squeak, Memory!
And so to business.
The fall reading in Los Angeles is now, in fact, firmed up: Mark Irwin, Arthur Vogelsang, Mark Svenvold, Ralph Angel and Marci Vogel at Beyond Baroque, LA, 19 September, 8:00 p.m., kindly emceed by Marie Lecrivan. Copies of the Plume Anthology of Poetry 2013 will be available for purchase.
And Paris, too: Marilyn Hacker Molly Lou Freeman, Emmanuel Moses, Jeffrey Greene and perhaps Claire Malroux. The American University of Paris. Grand Salon, Oct 30 at 6:30 p.m. I will be speaking with university students at AUP on the 29th, and reading with the group on the 30th. Again, copies of the Plume Anthology of Poetry 2013 will be available for purchase.
Many thanks to all of these PLUME contributors!
Look for a review of the anthology from Tomi L.Wiley forthcoming in New Letters, with others to follow.
If you’re in the vicinity, consider stopping by the Brooklyn Book Festival —Brooklyn Borough Hall and Plaza 209 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn NY 11201 Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014 10.a.m.– 6 p.m. Plume will be represented at the MadHat Press booth, with — once more, copies of the Plume Anthology of Poetry 2013 available for purchase. From the festival’s website:
The Brooklyn Book Festival is the largest free literary event in New York City, presenting an array of national and international literary stars and emerging authors. One of America’s premier book festivals, this hip, smart diverse gathering attracts thousands of book lovers of all ages to enjoy authors and the festival’s lively literary marketplace.
(Again: on the off chance that you, poets, are interested in reading for PLUME or might want to organize a reading in your own neighborhood, please, again, email me at email@example.com — we’ll make every effort to accommodate you, I promise.)
Our cover art this month marks the return of work from David Mondedeu, a Spanish-American photographer born in Houston, Texas, who now lives in Madrid. He has published three books of photography: Sonnets of 40 Winters and 40 Springs, From the East, Light and Further South than Planned. He is currently printing Variations on a Song. All of his photographs are printed as photogravures in limited editions and are sold at Ivorypress in Madrid.
Next up, after this issue’s Featured Selection, a collaboration from James Daniels,with photographer Charlee Brodsky and an introductory interview conducted by our Associate Editor Nancy Mitchell, look for extended work from Glenn Mott; Daniel Bourneand Tadeusz Dziewanowski in collaboration; Gennady Aygi and the great Russian Tatar painter Igor Vulokh, also in collaboration; Linda Pastan; Chris Kennedy; Tess Gallagher and Lawrence Matsuda; and Nin Andrews, with others just appearing on the horizon. (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 firstname.lastname@example.org ).
For a look at New Work Received this month please see that Editor’s Note, mentioned above.
And last, a departure: Rather than offer his usual reading recommendations, this time David Cudar reviews Michael Laub’s novel, Diary of The Fall.
Brazilian author Michel Laub’s first work translated into English is a thin novel entitled Diary of The Fall. Part memoir, part meditation, Diary of The Fall is a carefully constructed narrative about three generations of men, all of whom have suffered a tragedy and must deal in some manner with the return of the repressed events.
The ostensible story is the unnamed narrator’s account of the horrific event of maiming the only Catholic boy in a Jewish school; however, the plot of this “novel” — more a series of meditations and notes upon those meditations — transcends the experiences recounted. The influence of writers such as Borges, Calvino, Camus, and Kundera seem present but only in the best and most abstract sense. There is no cribbing, and Laub’s work is wholly original. The story, told in vignettes with titles such as “A few things I know about my grandfather” and “A few things I know about myself,” recalls Godard’s “One of Two Things I Know About Her.” Like that film the plot is less concerned with telling a linear story than allowing life to emerge through the juxtaposition of events in an essayistic manner. Laub’s writing is synergist as episodes ramify and reconfigure one another as the book continues.
The basic structure of the novel, for lack of a better term, is the dairies of three men: the narrator’s grandfather, an Auschwitz survivor; the narrator’s father, a seemly inchoate person who succumbs to Alzheimer’s; and finally the narrator, who cryptically hides himself while considering the diaries of his two elders. Laub’s consideration of forgetting and remembering is as refined and exponential as Invisible Cities. Each section of his book works like a prism allowing information and situation to subtly alter as meaning accrues. As in Borges’ work, Laub’s story is both economical and dangerous to take a face value. Our narrator is unreliable, but the more he explains, the more we realize the true about all he wishes to obscure.
At the center of the story, all the sections and all the dairies, is an idea about “the nonviability of human experience at all times all places and the inevitable fate met by all those who [come] in contact with it.” The sections on his grandfather forever remind the reader that Auschwitz is never mentioned in his grandfather’s diary. Likewise, the accounts of his father, whose Alzheimer’s seemed to be the defining factor in the man’s life, is consistently absent from his personal writings. The narrator considers and reconsiders these events and these men’s lives while constantly revisiting the trauma of his early life when he was part of a vicious prank that left a non-Jewish boy named JoÃ£o terrible injured. Few contemporary works seems so willing or so effortlessly to weave the circle of violence human from the inexpressible (Auschwitz) to the incurable (Alzheimer’s) to the banal (childhood malevolence). The book is not pessimistic in nature but realistic, and there is honest bravery in the unflinching manner in which Laub considers the Holocaust and the personal as events of lasting trauma.
Laub’s examination of the pain we must shoulder to move through life, the things we must forget in order to remain sane and the narratives we must construct to produce the identities of those we live with as well as ourselves, make’s Diary of the Fall as profound and original as it is concise. This sort of story, both delicate and unflinching, announces greatness and demands we take notice of a talent that will continue to produce masterpieces.
As always, I do hope you enjoy the issue!