Welcome to Plume, Issue # 46.
April: and to begin, you’ll be happy to find below, as we begin this brief newsletter, again not my own ramblings but Dore Keisselbach’s beautiful and considerably more coherent presentation of our “secret poem” — Stuart Friebert’s“Submarine Poem.” Next up, Marc Vincenz. (And let me note again, should anyone out there be so moved to introduce his or favorite poem — most important, most fondly remembered, etc. — please, contact me at email@example.com and we’ll see about signing you up for a future installment.) I will confine my own remarks to the Editor’s Note for a while.
In “Submarine Poem,” Stuart Friebert takes on a world deprived of its elementality. Technology and history threaten to run the table. The human moment is elusive. The tribe is a group of tourists, its language, like a commodity, is “piped.” First published in the Paris Review in 1975 and collected in the volume Uncertain Health (1979), it feels even more contemporary to me today than it did when I first encountered it as a student in the mid-1980’s.
In the first section, the reader is given the keys to a dream kingdom: a large and unlikely problem must be solved. Ludicrous really–moving the Eiffel Tower?!–except for the notes of war. I’m familiar enough with Friebert’s work to know that when the narrative is strangest and least likely it is often literally real: an actual captured German submarine, the U-505, can be visited in Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.
In section two, the scale shifts and the focus narrows. Big logistics out of the way, it’s time for a closer look. At this level, the problem is more intimate and less soluble, a nearly-neuronal welter of connections leading who knows where. Even the ostensibly comforting “checkered blue linen” on the bunks is about as simple as Desdemona’s handkerchief. The interpreter can’t take the pressure any more and departs. Where are we now?
There is more blue cloth in section three. (Friebert has written about the importance of the “nagging” detail in his compositional process.) A kind of claustrophobia seems to have followed us ashore. We learn how the “enemy captain” got away from it all, cleansed himself and declared a kind of peace.
Do we need to be taught again that we aren’t always our own worst enemies, that we have much more to fear than fear itself? I still sadly agree with Friebert that we do.
Conducting research to prepare for this introduction, I discovered two resonant details that the poet wisely left out. Per Wikipedia, U-505 “had the distinction of being the ‘most heavily damaged U-boat to successfully return to port’ in World War IIâ€¦and the only submarine in which a commanding officer took his own life in combat conditions.’”
I say “left out” but of course these details are just below the surface.
You think of moving the captured submarine
to a permanent berth alongside the museum
in your city. A retired engineer who spent
years on a plan to move the Eiffel Tower
volunteers a practical suggestion, so you
stop traffic on a lovely night in summer
and, as thousands watch, you inch the sub
across the outer drive. When it’s in place
you introduce a famous naval commander
whose dedication address is piped ashore.
At first, the interior of the sub seems
unbelievably complicated, a maze of dials,
valves and gauges, every available foot
of space occupied. But listen to the guide:
though you lose a good deal of what she says,
and she talks too much of how cramped
the quarters are, running her hand over
the checkered blue linen on the bunks,
and seems to idolize the enemy captain—
carefully she points to a picture of him
sitting on a horse on his farm in Bavaria—
she will quit her job just before the tour
is over and press past you. Miss, stop!
Stop, Miss! everyone cries, plunged in grief.
The movies you see later in the museum theater
are official navy films taken during actual
battle. You press both hands to the slatted
wooden seat and stare up at the waves. They
go higher and higher and your mind pitches
to the folding top of the washstand which
became the captain’s desk when he lowered
the lid and drew the tiny blue curtain.
Ah — that “lowered the lid and drew the tine blue curtain.” Yes.
And so: home from AWP as many of you are, no doubt. My first and last, I imagine. A last-minute stand-in for Fenton Johnson on Merton: the contemplative life, solitude and writing: 200 souls in attendance — some irony there, perhaps, but my fellow panelists were a delight: many thanks to Diane Aprile, Maurice Manning, Gregory Wolfe, and Mary Murray McDonald.
And of course the Plume reading for the launch of The Plume Anthology of Poetry V 3 — on sale now.
Honestly, I can’t imagine a more generous, gifted bunch: much gratitude to David Baker, Rae Armantrout, John Skoyles, Page Hill Starzinger, Clare Rossini, Robin Behn, Dore Kiesselbach, Patricia Clark, and Marc Vincenz. A good time had by all, I hope.
And how kind of you, Helene Cordona, Alex Cigale, Marc Vincenz, and Nancy Mitchell, to take a turn at the MadHat/Plume booth!
Lots ofâ€¦contacts, matching faces with the names that have appeared only on my screen, some promising publication ventures that should come to fruition in the near future. A joy, as I said, but for me, probably one to be savored rather than repeated. We shall see.
More on this next issue. We will be scheduling readings in conjunction with the anthology launch soon — a swing through the Northeast, the West, and London and Paris, I think. Poets, if you would like to read for Plume, or organize a reading, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more on this issue’s cover art — which I find spectacular — and forthcoming Featured Selections, please see the Editor’s Note.
Finally, New Work Received this month includes pieces from JÃ¼rgen Becker, translated by Okla Elliott; Philip Metres; Paul Nemser; Peter Leight; Suzanne Lummis; Brian Swann; Elaine Equi; Lloyd Schwartz; Sydney Lea; Margo Berdeshevsky; Jerome Sala, and others.
Our rereading recommendations from David Cudar will continue below, but I want to give a shout out to one of our early adopters and regular contributors, Peter Cooley, whose new book Night Bus to the Afterlife is a treasure. A consideration of death — its forebodings and surreal imaginings. In fact, allow me to include here an excerpt and a poem from that work, and see for yourself:
from, To My Immortal Soul
What will it be today, immortal one —
to smile at the checkout woman’s stare,
Medusa turning me to stone right there?
Probably something much more indescribable.
And, this, the title poem:
Night Bus To The Afterlife
There is the music of the cold stone floor,
the greater music of the screw and rack,
sweetest music the insignificance
of what might go unnoticed but for you,
this word darkness is afraid to speak
to the fat lady who takes up three seats
on the bus: you ask her to move over
so the child on crutches can sit down.
Most of our lives shine, smaller than we think,
in light we never know, between the cracks
the sidewalk offers up, where stars appear.
I’ve seen the whole face of the sky some nights,
depositing my small stash at the curb
Between spaces I’ve seen constellations.
And from David Cudar this month:
1. The Buried Giant: A novel: Kazuo Ishiguro
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
Ishiguro’s first novel in a decade is, in its way, akin to Eco’s Name of the Rose. It is at once a mystery, a historical novel, a love story and an allegory. Set in the years just after the death of King Arthur, The Buried Giant is a subtle and masterful examination of the tensions between love, politics, and honor. It is his best work since Remains of the Day.
2. The Discreet Hero: A Novel: Mario Vargas Llosa
The Discreet Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa
The latest from the Nobel prize-winning author follows the lives of Felicito and Ismael. One a victim of extortion, the other a victim of his sons’ greed, who together try to reclaim control of their respective lives.
3. Skylight: José Saramago
Skylight by Jose Saramago
An earlier, unpublished (or lost) novel by the late, great master. Probably not the novel you should use as an introduction to Saramago’s work, but if you’re already a believer then rub your hands in anticipation.
4. Crow Fair: Stories: Thomas McGuane
Crow Fair by Thomas McGuane
An outstanding writer who sadly, like Salter, has not found mainstream success. McGuane, a rancher and a writer’s writer, here takes to Big Sky country to artfully examine nature and family.
5. It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War: Lynsey Addario
It’s What I Do by Lynsey Addario
Photojournalist Addario’s memoir of most of the major wars since 9/11. Breath-taking and thought-provoking.
6. Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life: William Deresiewicz
Excellent Sheep by William Deresiewicz
Academics are like mobsters: they tend to kill their own. Here, Yale professor Deresiewicz lays bare the fundamental lack of creative originality among our graduating elite. His claim that the Ivy League is concerned more with creating conformity than independent thought is well-argued and suggestive.
7. Nora Webster: A Novel: Colm Toibin
Nora Webster by Colm Toibin
Toibin’s seventh novel is set in Ireland and tells of widowed Nora: overwhelmed by sorrow and constrained by the small town in which she struggles to raise her children. Calls to mind Bovary and Karenina.
8. God Help the Child: A novel: Toni Morrison
God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
From another winner of the Noble, Morrison’s latest novel has certain affinities with Sula, yet her earlier work seems a bit more satisfying. Concerned with race and politics, this short novel will, no doubt, please the converted but may leave others wanting more.
9. Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief: Lawrence Wright
Going Clear by Lawrence Wright
The first truly bare-knuckled exposé on L. Ron and his minions. Everything you thought about Scientology is true and that’s merely the beginning.
10. First as Tragedy, Then as Farce: Slavoj Zizek
First as Tragedy, Then as Farce by Slavoj Zizek
Zizek’s critical eye is on 9/11 and the financial meltdown of 2008. Insightful and infuriating, Zizek considers the ideology of late Capitalism and its possible future. No one thinks or writes like him.
That’s it for the moment.
As always, I do hope you enjoy the issue!