July: and for once — ah, but no, the recent loss of James Tate has just reached me as I write, and so many tributes and farewells I’ve been reading, ours will have to wait for another month to pass. So: we turn instead to our usual form — presenting a secret poem, first, this time by Suzanne Lummis, who explains — beautifully — her love for a small poem by Lynn Sukenick, “The Poster,” this way:In order for me to explain why I admire and take such pleasure in Lynn Sukenick’s straight-forward little poem I must back up a bit–to ancient times and into the 16th century, then, in patches, up to the 1820s. I must make a case for the Irish rat-rhymers.
Rat-rhymers, itinerant poets-for-hire, were the low-end, cultural descendants of powerful tribal bards once feared and revered for their ability to wield language–to praise or scorn, bless or cast curses. The rat rhymers did not hold such a high station, but their scalding rhymes incanted with spot-on timing could annihilate the rats in one’s barn. Or, at the very least, they’d motivate the rodents to take shelter elsewhere. (Surely this was quite useful, so no one back then needed to compose mediations around the question, “Can Poetry Matter?”)
For this news I’m grateful to the literary study Praises and Dispraises by Terrence Des Pres, his chapter on “Yeats and the Rat-Rhymers”. Des Pres goes on to note that subsequently the less benign powers of this poetic tradition would pass to the satirists whose “rapier wit” was thought to be capable of pricking one’s vital parts.
In our age, the praise poem flourishes while its darker, or at any rate duskier, twin has all but disappeared. Perhaps the banishing of Bad Poem has its basis in ideology, but there’s also this: it’s damned hard to write a good smack-down poem. While I don’t long for a return to spell-casting curses, it does seem that in the more sanctioned tier of contemporary poetry (not, surely, in the scrappy open mic realm), a certain bracing spirit of mischief is in short supply.
For its mischief and cunning wit I still love, after these many years, Sukenick’s “The Poster,” included in one of the first feminist era anthologies, Rising Tides: 20th Century Women Poets, 1973. Particularly in the superior second sequence–those delectable closing lines– even as the speaker appears to cast herself as victim, at every turn she displays her bardic powers. This figure, this oppressor, real or imagined, is effectively pinned and bested.
He does not have the experiences
which are in his poems.
under any conditions.
He is wanted by more women than any other man,
for the mustache
hidden in his mustache.
He gets away with it.
He goes by the name of “Winner”.
Watch out for him.
He speaks to me with his knuckles
on my head.
He tells me I am boring.
He hollows out a space inside my chest
as a whittler would do it,
whistling a tune
everyone knows and likes.
He ties up my body
to be shipped somewhere
in a heavy string
and greasy brown butcher paper.
He is blonde
as a nazi.
Each time he looks at me with his frosty eyes
an animal dies in the local forest
and someone puts on a uniform.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Lynn Sukenick (1938-1995) taught at CSU San Diego, UC Irvine, The New College of California, and other colleges and universities. Her books of poetry include Houdini (Capra Press, 1973) and Water Astonishing (Ragnarok Press, 1974). She also published criticism, and in 1997 Zoland Books brought out a collection of her short stories, Danger Wall May Fall.
Shall I stoop, after that, to rank commercialism? Alas, I shall — though before I do, allow me then to express my gratitude to those of you who have indicated they will, indeed, be using the anthology as a text in their various creative writing classes — you know who you are!
In this issue’s Editor’s Note you’ll find more on availability, price — and some very kind words on its contents.
Next — if you are not in the habit of reading Plume’s Editor’s Note (and why would you be?), you might want to make an exception this issue, for there you will find a short look backwards at Ron Slate’s much-loved The Chowder Review, and two poems by Kelly Cherry that represent, for me, the quality of the work Ron and company (and what company!) were publishing a couple of decades ago: still dynamic and of the moment, as I think you will see. CR was in many ways a precursor to our little effort (though I didn’t know of it until Ron sent me some old copies found in a box in his basement), and I wanted to acknowledge that and celebrate it — Ron, I know, is cringing as he reads these words: a humble, gifted man in any number of ways.
And, of course, most assuredly not to be overlooked:
POEMS FROM DAVID CLEWELL
INTERVIEW CONDUCTED BY: NANCY MITCHELL
Last, two reminders that you will find in that Editor’s Note, but which, in case you do not choose to go there, as they say, but of fairly high importance, it seems to me:
To contributors, let me remind you that Plume is setting up readings for the fall (mid-September through late November) in support of The Plume Anthology of Poetry 3. Many of you, I know, are on summer hiatus, but should you feel so inclined — and some of you already have asked to be included — please, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know if you would like to read, and where. NYC, Boston/ Cambridge, and New Orleans definitely are on the schedule, as are London and Paris; venues will be announced in the not too distant future. Our readings have been, well, successful, in the past, with rosters of poets that constituted a sort of dream team in each of those cities. I remain open, of course, to suggestions for other sites — Asheville, Chicago, Providenceâ€¦the West Coast.
Plume in conjunction with Bob Devin Jones at Studio@620 will be organizing a monthly, or even twice-monthly, series of poetry readings in Saint Petersburg, Florida. The Studio is a wonderful site, near downtown (suddenly hip, if you can believe it), and the readings I have been to there in the past have been well-received. Should any area poets, or poets touring in our vicinity, be on the lookout for a venue, please keep us in mind, and contact me at email@example.com to get on the calendar.
We at Plume are contemplating some design changes — it’s been four years now (!) since we launched, and I think a little “refresh” is in order. Although the format of twelve poems and Featured Selection will not be altered, nor will we be running advertisements or holding contests, the “look” may very well be reconsidered, and perhaps — I don’t know. This is an invitation to you to tell us what you would like to see in Plume: either in design/layout or content. If you have comments or ideas, and find yourself for a few moments with absolutely nothing better to do (hard to imagine) please send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you— I look forward to hearing from you, should the spirit move, as I say.For more on this issue’s cover art and forthcoming Featured Selections, please see, well, you knowâ€¦