Welcome to Issue # 44 of Plume:
First: a last wave to Philip Levine — the news received too late to do more now, but we will address his passing next issue.
So, for now:
February, and I find on my office desk this week a copy of Florida International University’s Magazine, in which P. Scott Cunningham’s exploits in disseminating poetry are detailed: aside from the usual venues — reading series and bar-room events — he and his compatriots, I learn, have had custom poetry produced and retailed on street corners; and “sewn poems into thrift store threadsâ€¦ flown poetry banners behind planes, snuck poems onto drink coasters, placed poetry parking tickets on carsâ€¦rained poems written in vegetable ink on biodegradable paper from a helicopter, [even] belted out poems using a bullhorn while driving a red convertible Lamborghini on Ocean Drive in South Beach.”
Interesting — especially to me, as Scott’s experiences in “guerilla” publishing echo in some ways another such endeavor undertaken by your present correspondent some thirty-five years ago, the memory of which was not altogether unhappy and soon resulted in the little narrative that follows, and our “secret poem” this month.
February, then, 1977. I was twenty-three, and had taken to heart all too well Cioran’s observation: “By all evidence we are in the world to do nothing.” I had just graduated from the University of Louisville, in mid-year due to some attendance irregularities, and with no prospects beyond graduate school in the fall, found myself in San Francisco, courtesy of a rich girlfriend’s family, who wanted to look me over. Needless to say I was found wanting, though the trip itself ( about which I write in an upcoming essay to be published I think in the wonderful literary journal, B O D Y, thanks to its poet-editor Chris Crawford) was — there is no other word for it — life-altering, if only briefly. For it was in that city that punk first stamped its initial impression on me, and not only the music and its purveyors — The Offs, Negative Trend, Dead Kennedys, et. al — either, but, oddly for one so innocent of visual acuity, their, what? promotional materials. Concert announcements, specifically, pasted to walls and windows and mailboxes and slipped under windshield wipers and doorways, but most memorably stapled to telephone poles, which they encoiled like multi-colored serpents, and shuddered in the over-ripe breezes of the then-squalid Mission and the Tenderloin: ransom notes in the Suprematist style, accosting fans and sundry passersby indifferently. I was enthralled. Here was public art, anticipating by a year or two the presence of NYC-based graffiti that would make its way westward a few years hence, and the revival of muralism that would follow after that; art created and distributed by the artists themselves, free for the taking.
So: home, where the image of these posters would not leave me. How could they, when pried from their moorings with a borrowed nail file and stuffed in my suitcase, they adorned the walls of my apartment like some nightmarish wallpaper? But, it was cold in Louisville, and distracted as I was by the exigencies of chronic unemployment, it was not until the following autumn that the project slowly taking shape in my mind after that trip finally found purchase in reality. My venue of choice — paste seemed too sloppy and windshields and doorways insufficiently democratic, if I can use that term –those telephone poles: unmolested as yet in Louisville by my fellow citizens’ own versions of that seditious publicity, as punk would take another year or so to arrive in the provinces.
My first ventures were confined to the few ragged blocks that comprised what passed for our bohemian quarter, and my advertisements were for myself: my own poems, signed with the stamp of a fantastical bird — not entirely unlike the one that poses upper-right on the homepage of Plume, by the way. Soon enough, though, having exhausted my own small inventory of surrealist knock-offs and solemn Blakean visions, I turned to the poems of others, poems that I loved and wanted to share with anyone who might happen upon them and find in them the beauty I had — and appropriate them as I had, too. (Which they did, as I witnessed more and more often as the months passed, affixed with magnets to refrigerator doors and pinned to bus shelter walls –wood in those days — among other sites.) Poems from what I could have named as my heroes and heroines if the term had not been so debased even then: Rilke, Merwin, Edson, Strand, Berrigan, Simic, Levertov, Follain, Queneau, Li Po, Corso, Calvino, Sabines, Bly, Pavese, Transtromer; passages from Cioran, of course, Coetzee, Merton, Peter Weiss, Bernhard, Foucault, Baraka, Marcuseâ€¦
So: from one of those early sorties, as promised, this month’s “secret poem,” by the incomparable César Vallejo — “A Man passes by with a loaf of bread on his shoulder”:
A man passes by with a loaf of bread on his shoulder.
I’m going to write, after that, about my double?
Another sits down, scratches, picks a louse out of his armpit, kills it.
What’s the point of talking about psychoanalysis?
Another has entered my chest with a club in his hand.
Shall I speak then about Socrates to the doctor?
A cripple goes by giving his arm to a child.
After that, I’m going to read Andre Breton?
Another shivers with cold, coughs, spits blood.
Will allusions to the Profound ever fit here?
Another searches the gutter for bones, rinds.
How shall I write, after that, of the infinite?
A laborer falls from a roof, dies, and no longer eats lunch.
Innovate, then, on the trope, the metaphor?
A merchant cheats his customer by a gram of weight.
Speak afterwards of the fourth dimension?
A banker falsifies his balance.
With what face shall I weep in the theater?
An outcast sleeps with his foot behind his back.
After that, won’t someone talk about Picasso?
Someone goes sobbing to a burial.
How, then, go into the Academy?
Someone is cleaning a rifle in his kitchen.
What’s it worth to talk about the Beyond?
Someone goes by counting on his fingers.
How shall I speak of the Not-I without screaming?
from Poemas Humanos, translated by Clayton Eshleman, Grove, 1968
Yes, how indeed?
But to the news, scant this dreary month:
The previously announced “new look” has beenâ€¦tabled. As a final check — something I should have done at the outset, of course — I took it upon myself to survey a number of our regular readers/contributors, who responded with characteristic alacrity and generosity. The consensus: Don’t change anything. So, we won’t, not now, at least. Oh, we’ll darken the font a bit, I think — make for an easier read against the grey-green background — which an astute or at least creative reader likened to seeing the words forming in her mind rather than merely delivered to her eye. I liked that. Many expressed approval of our site’s simplicity — “sparse,” “spare,” “elegant” seemed to be the descriptors of choice. I liked that, too. “Plume lets the poems speak for themselves” another frequent comment, and precisely what I hoped for when we laid out the site several years ago. Even the logo got a thumbs up. And the French. Who knew there were so many Francophiles among you? So, the experience of Plume will be what is has been since its inception, into the foreseeable future. I don’t think we’ll do photographs (never a fan, especially when I have to view my own in other journals). Nor will there be recordings of the poems by their authors — too many tainted for me by those spoken iterations. In the end, perhaps it’s my own preferences that have been validated by your comments: I much prefer the silence of the printed page, alone. (Could I get away with it, I might even dispense with the biographical material. Although I understand its practical necessity, in my own reading I rarely want to know anything at all about the authors — all the more so when I love them: I want their works to be unencumbered by the ghostly presence of their human creators: art as pure gift: ex nihilo.) I suppose we will address the Archives, too; aside from the font issue they remain an ongoing project, and we will turn our attentions to it shortly. To all those who so kindly responded to my tardy query: thank you!
An announcement: Alex Cigale’s position has been changed to Contributing Editor for Translations.
Many thanks, Alex!
And once more — in part to be certain they receive the credit they deserve: as an aspect of that re-launch, you might notice the acknowledgment of the support provided by Saint Petersburg College, where I have taught for some twenty years, and which has graciously agreed to fund Plume in both its online and print anthology incarnations. Special gratitude extended to our college President and Dean of Communications, Doctors William Lawand Martha Campbell respectively. In many ways, Plume has found a home, and due also to the efforts of our publisher Madhat/Evolution Arts, and Marc Vincenz in particular, seems poised to enter the coming years on solid financial footing. You will see the Saint Petersburg College logo appearingâ€¦somewhere on our site and in the print anthology in months to come.
And, again— AWP. A reminder: Friday, April 10, 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. in the Minneapolis Convention Center, Conference Room 209 A & B, Level 2, there will be a joint reading with Plume & Fulcrum (with a full bar). My request for readers has been answered — many times over, I’m afraid. (How generous our contributors!) As noted, on a first come, first served basis as their emails arrived in my Inbox, the line-up (with perhaps a bit of tweaking in order yet) is as follows:
Page Hill Stargazer
Please come by if you can: I plan to be there and hope to meet so many of you who have remained far too long faceless presences on my computer screen!
And another entry in your calendar, if you are in the Saint Petersburg area: Richard Blanco will be the featured poet at the third annual Plume Poetry Series reading, 23 March, @ 7: 30, The Palladium Theater. Details TBA.
The Plume Anthology of Poetry 2014 is all but completed and will be sent for layout shortly. Preface from Terese Svoboda, with an extended Featured Selection of new work by Afaa Weaver. An astonishing (to me, at least, and why thisâ€¦generosity, I continue to wonder, but then recall that line from Simic — don’t wake the damn cards!) compendium of new work from some of the best poets working today, national and international. Again, more to come. For the moment: much gratitude to both — and all.
I know, I know — but it bears repeating!
Our cover art this month is from José Luis Telot, who was born and raised in Miami, Florida and is an alumni of the prestigious New World School of the Arts, an art magnet program, where he studied the visual arts. He is a recipient of numerous awards and scholarships, among them, National Endowment of the Arts; National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts (NFAA); and Scholastic Art & Writing Award. In 1993, he received a Full-Tuition Scholarship award to continue his fine art studies at the Cleveland Institute of Art in Cleveland, Ohio and continued his studies at New World School of the Arts College in Miami, Florida. From there, Telot has participated in various group exhibitions in galleries spanning the United States – among them, Alexey von Schlippe Gallery of Art at the University of Connecticut, the Coral Gables Museum, and the Coconut Grove Arts Festival Gallery in Miami, FL. His work has been published in the Mystic River Press, Latin Network for the Visual Arts and has been featured in the local Miami New Times. He is a co-founder and member of the group GUILD under the curator and director Ricardo Pau-Llosa.
Next up, after this issue’s Featured Selection from Luljeta Lleshanaku, translated by Ani Gjika, with an introductory interview with the author and translator conducted by Plume’s Nancy Mitchell; Nin Andrews; Gennady Aygi and the great Russian Tatar painter Igor Vulokh, also in collaboration, translated by Alex Cigale; Kelle Groome,Linda Pastan; Chris Kennedy; Tess Gallagher and Lawrence Matsuda; 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 ).
Finally, New Work Received this month includes pieces from Will Stone, Angie Estes, Andrei Codrescu, Cathleen Calbert, Davis McCombs, Donald Revell, C. Dale Young, Eric Pankey, Mark Jarman, Jehanne Dubrow, Jay Parini, Michael Homolka, and William Olsen.
Here, though, before we come to David Cudar’s book recommendations this month, let me inject a rare personal appreciation for a book of poetry that recently has come my way: Ah, Wind, by Carolyn Stoloff: beautiful, odd, and fearsome: “â€¦the building fills a space/it occupied before the bricks/even the workman’s hours/persist in websâ€¦” I think you might like it as much as I do.
1. Against the Country: A Novel: Ben Metcalf
Against the Country by Ben Metcalf
A novel Flannery O’Connor would’ve been happy to pen, Against the Country is a Southern Gothic tirade on America: “A great sorceryâ€¦at work all around us.”
The unnamed narrator of the novel is one of the more inspired characters to emerge from modern American letters.
2. Station Eleven: A novel: Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
An elegant book that slips forward and backward through time from an apocalyptic flu pandemic to twenty years prior. Mandel allows us to fully understand what is essential and what is superfluous in our natures by denaturing our world.
3. All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel: Anthony Doerr
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Set in WWII, Doerr’s novel is about love and adversity. Lyric in its portrayal of characters and history, All the Light We Cannot See is a swift-moving, tightly composed narrative.
4. Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir: Roz Chast
Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? By Roz Chast
New Yorker Cartoonist Roz Chast’s memoir of her relationship with her parents in their last years. Funny, poignant, honest. The kind of book that speaks the unspoken and never simplifies it.
5. Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free: Héctor Tobar
Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar
A taut and chilling exploration of the Chilean mine collapse by Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Hector Tobar. The reader can feel the suffocating darkness with each page.
6. Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience: Shaun Usher
Letters of Note by Shaun Usher
A brilliant book of letters from people as diverse as Jack the Ripper to Ghandi. Each letter is given a short introduction. Blogger Usher has produced a rare curio of a now dead art, both captivating and enlightening.
7. Essays After Eighty: Donald Hall
Essays after Eighty by Donald Hall
The laconic lyricism of former Poet Laureate Donald Hall as he reflects upon life and growing older. There is wisdom in his wit and a mastery of language that makes a reader look to her laurels. Would that we could remain so perspicacious in our eighth decade.
8. The Book of Strange New Things: A Novel: Michel Faber
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
A complicated, often genre-confounding book about a missionary with a sordid past, that David Mitchell calls “a masterpiece.” Faber’s novel is at once about the future, about faith and about love. A narrative that is truly out of this world.
9. The Laughing Monsters: A Novel: Denis Johnson
The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson
Johnson has never found the lyricism of Jesus’ Son, but he has worked arduously
to become a masterful novelist. His métier is the failed hopes of the lost and ruined. Part Raymond Chandler, part Raymond Carver, The Laughing Monsters is as fine a novel as Johnson has written.
10. The Truth About Trust: How It Determines Success in Life, Love, Learning, and More: David DeSteno
The Truth about Trust by David Desteno
Perhaps a bit too academic at times, Professor Desteno considers the trustworthiness of others and ourselves, how these certain cues are used to determine trust and its importance to our success in life. Trust me, the book is insightful and engaging.
As always, I do hope you enjoy the issue!