Newsletter Issue #54 January, 2016

Newsletter Issue #54 January, 2016
January 5, 2016 Plume
Steven Gus Page. “I’ll tell you this.” 2010
Welcome to Plume, Issue 54
January: “Another year over…” But not really. Not yet. As this Newsletter arrives in your Inbox, 2015 no doubt lingers in the vestibule, out of the cold but not fully ready to enter the house of 2106, with its shadows and pageantry. Nor will it do so for some, for many, for some time yet, its signature remaining on our checkbooks, our calendars paper and mental. And so as you chit-chat with others ghostly or fully corporeal — that little crowd huffing and stamping its feet — in the ante-chamber — here, to give you something to talk or at least think about, out “secret poem” —  Mark Strand’s “Elegy for My Father,” lovingly introduced by Plume contributor Frannie Lindsay, who is more than up to the task — or for her the privilege, I’m sure.

Mark Strand’s “Elegy for My Father”
a commentary

Frannie Lindsay

The hands were yours, the arms were yours,
But you were not there.
The eyes were yours, but they were closed and would not open.
The distant sun was there.
The moon poised on the hill’s white shoulder was there.
The wind on Bedford Basin was there.
The pale green light of winter was there.
Your mouth was there,
But you were not there…

Mark Strand read “Elegy for My Father” to us on a summer evening in the shed at Bread Loaf during my first writer’s conference there in 1973. His father having died in 1968 and The Story of Our Lives appearing in 1971, it could still be considered a newish pieceIt was the first time I had ever heard Strand read, and he was as imposing as the poem was austere. I was only beginning to consider that I might become a serious poet. Graduate school at Iowa was not on my horizon yet. I hadn’t published anything, and much of my own work was informed by the negligibly tragic exit of this or that boyfriend.

And so I was deeply uncomfortable sitting in my metal chair as “Elegy” went on and on, its slow drumbeat, the room silent save for the whine of a few sleepy mosquitoes and the evening birds calling back and forth in the meadow beyond. I wanted Strand to finish. I wanted this particular father to finish dying. I wanted to join the hip in-group for a glass of Almaden on the porch. I did not like knowing (and I did know) that I would remember this poem for years to come.

What remained with me for decades after hearing Strand read “Elegy” was the refrain in section 3, “you went on with your dying”:
Nothing could stop you.
Not the best day. Not the quiet. Not the ocean rocking.
You went on with your dying.
Not the trees
Under which you walked, not the trees that shaded you.
Not the doctor
Who warned you, the white-haired young doctor who saved you once.
You went on with your dying.
Nothing could stop you. Not your son. Not your daughter
Who fed you and made you into a child again…

I would not know, until witnessing the deaths of three of my immediate family, how relentless, unstoppable, how constant the continuo of dying becomes beneath the bustle of lives being carried on haplessly above it. How the living resent it.

First my mother, then my father, then my sister died at their leisure. Or rather, death claimed them at its own courtly pace, as if it were somehow superior to the familial conflicts becoming less reconcilable as the living scrambled to resolve them; superior to bitterness and misgivings; and finally, superior to heartbreak itself, impending no longer.

Most 24-year-olds cannot apprehend the great dirge of dying, its force, its indifference, its perverse dignity. I had never lost anyone. I could only imagine horror at the gradual otherness of a dying person. I could only fathom railing against death. But Strand’s speaker was not horrified, and certainly no “railer”. And so the poem, interminable as it seemed (in print it is seven pages), heard aloud that evening against the backdrop of old yellow clapboard houses and Green Mountains, forced upon me a gravity I was too young for, but one that finally informs my writing.

It was only years later, when I sat with “Elegy” for an afternoon, and then a day, and then days on end – as I do with poems that eventually become part of my writerly DNA – that I found it to be a sweeping, existential meditation on love unrequited.  For don’t all of the dying join monogamously with something unknowable as they prepare to leave us? Isn’t their increasing unavailability essential to that permanence?

When I teach the poetry of grief, once my students seem ready for it, I teach “Elegy for My Father”. I tell them to write antiphons: interrogate their dead as Strand does in section 2; encounter their insistence on going; win them back for one more round of beer or lovemaking; lose them and form an intimate union with their stillness:

Why did you lie to me?
Because the truth lies like nothing else and I love the truth.
Why are you going?
Because nothing means much to me anymore.
Why are you going?
I don’t know. I have never known.
How long shall I wait for you?
Do not wait for me. I am tired and I want to lie down.
Are you tired and do you want to lie down?
Yes, I am tired and I want to lie down.

I have now met each of my dead countless times in my work. I still find new dialogues underway. When I finish working on a poem I am alone, another conversation over. On a riverbank. In a childhood cabin now empty. In a hospice room where the bed has been stripped. Or in the rocking chair where I sit to scribble my early drafts; my departed simply gone again, but the peace new.
There is starlight drifting on the black water.
There are stones in the sea no one has seen.
There is a shore and people are waiting.
And nothing comes back.
Because it is over.
Because there is silence instead of a name.
Because it is winter and the new year.

–Frannie Lindsay, December 2015

Now, to business, I suppose. In brief:

As you open the homepage of Plume this month, you will find at the bottom we have a bit of a new look: alongside the Featured Selection is Reviews — which marks the debut of Adam Tavel as our Book Reviews Editor. Adam takes on two books of considerable import, both of which have caught the reading public’s eye: Cyclorama by Daneen Wardrop and Bastards of the Reagan Years by Dwayne Betts. I suggest you search the sofa cushions or fire up Amazon Prime again: you’ll want to buy these books, I think. I did. Adam has other books in the queue, I know — he likes to work ahead — but I think the paragraph below bears repeating, for those new to Plume or those with books pending or just published:




We are excited to broaden the mission of Plume to include reviews, criticism, and book notes by members of our staff. While we will not consider unsolicited submissions in these areas, we invite presses and authors to submit complimentary copies of poetry collections, chapbooks, verse translations, and studies on poetics–published within the past twelve months–for possible review. Diversity and inclusiveness are among our core values, so we are particularly interested in receiving titles from small presses, first-time authors, and poets from underrepresented backgrounds. Books will not be returned and receipt of materials in no way indicates an intent or obligation to review. Works that fail to pique our interest will be donated to local schools and charities. Please direct queries to Adam Tavel, Reviews Editor, at, and direct review copies to the postal address below. Magazine submissions and extraneous correspondence sent to either address will be deleted unread.

Adam Tavel, Reviews Editor
P.O. Box 80
Quantico, MD 21856

Speaking of, again — the Featured Selection —this month is from a work long-simmering: “The Chinese Menu Poems” from Dick Allen. Also, Associate Editor for Special Projects, Nancy Mitchell — tells me her interview with Emmanuel Moses (translated by Marilyn Hacker) is going extremely well.  Look for Cynthia Cruz and Brian Swann among other notables in future issues.

Poetry by: Dick Allen
Again, too, when the January issue is released, and for subsequent bi-monthly reviews, look at the bottom of the homepage, where it and they will find their place alongside the Featured Selection.

Speaking of which — the Featured Selection — we continue to receive fascinating submissions from a wide variety of poets: Christopher Buckley — with an introductory interview conducted by our Associate Editor for Special Projects, Nancy Mitchell  —  this issuewith work from Cynthia Cruz, Richard AllenBrian Swann, and Emmanuel Moses (translated by Marilyn Hacker) recently received.

Our cover art this month comes from Steve Page. Mr. Page was born in 1976 in Youngstown, Ohio. He attended Youngstown State University where he received a B.F.A., and later attended Hunter College where he received his M.F.A in painting while being awarded the Provost Graduate Award. He has attended the Yaddo Colony, School of Visual Arts Summer Residency and the Yale University Summer Program. He was a visiting artist to Skidmore University and received the Russel Madick award for experimental work. He has also received the Jon M. Naberezny drawing award, the Christopher Stanazak Honors award, and the Clyde Singer Prodigy Award. His work has been exhibited in shows across the country, including the 2008 Biennial Southwest Exhibition at The Albuquerque Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico, also included in Reconfigured at the Basement Gallery in Knoxville, TN. and Papers in the Wind, curated by David Gibson at the RealForm Projet Space in Williamsburg, NY.
The print Plume Anthology of Poetry V 4 is all but completed —though, still, we have yet to settle on a Featured Poet, and both the preface and introduction remain unattended… The release date, once again: March, in LA, at AWP. As noted, Plume will be represented there, and we have scheduled a reading for the book. Anyone interested in reading, please send me an email at

Once more, Plume in conjunction with Bob Devin Jones at Studio@620 organized a 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. The remarkable Jay Hopler kicked things off in late September.  So a heads up to any area poets, or poets touring in our vicinity, on the lookout for a venue, please keep us in mind, and contact me at to get on the calendar.

That’s it for now.
As always, I do hope you enjoy the issue!Daniel Lawless

Editor, Plume

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