Newsletter Issue #55 February, 2016

Newsletter Issue #55 February, 2016
February 4, 2016 Plume
Nancy Mitchell “Script”
Welcome to Plume, Issue 55
February: month in which for one, at least, Florida reveals its single appeal: 72 degrees and a soft breeze, the windows open. Yes, the weather — its all-enveloping yet somehow tiny cry against the criminal adventures of our politicians and cops, and cultural malfeasances of every sort. Our Harvard, our Apple, our MOMA, our Grolier and Powell’s, our El, our Yankees and Cubs, our Derby, our Monticello, our Rum Club. How we pop our coat buttons speaking of it — those vacuous sunsets, these velvetized afternoons with their Disney get-along and their flashing Silver Alerts. Ah — enough.  North, East and Westerner’s, you, too, have your lamentations, I’m sure, your bills of complaint.

So let’s move on, shall we?

To, first, this month’s  “secret poem” —  Seamus Heaney’s “Mid-term Break,” with some thoughts on the poem from Plume contributor Ed Meek.

Mid-Term Break

I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o’clock our neighbours drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying–
He had always taken funerals in his stride–
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were ‘sorry for my trouble’.
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o’clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four-foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four-foot box, a foot for every year.

On Seamus Heaney’s “Mid-term Break”

I had the pleasure of seeing Seamus Heaney a couple of years ago at the AWP Conference in Boston, not long before he died.  His poem, “Mid-term Break” is one I go back to every now and then. I’m half Irish and half Scottish and the song like quality of the poem appeals to me along with the emotional power that comes across, particularly at the end.  He wrote it in 1963 (the year, of course, JFK was assassinated). Heaney was only 24. It was the tenth anniversary of his younger brother Christopher’s death.  Part of what makes the poem so effective is that the title indicates it’s going to be a light poem. We think of mid-term breaks as party time, but in this poem, it’s when Heaney returns home for his little brother’s funeral.

The tone changes right away with the first stanza: “I sat all morning in the college sick bay/Counting bells knelling classes to a close.” Immediately, the poem begins to sound a little ominous with the knelling bells and the closing of classes.  That second line is near perfect to my ear–from the repeated sound of the personified bells, to the alliterative closing of classes.
By the second stanza we know he’s home for a funeral and even “Big Jim Evans” says it was “a hard blow.” Still, we’re not prepared when the speaker himself visits the corpse and sees the “poppy bruise on his left temple.” The adjective makes it seem so slight an injury. And then the devastating ending encapsulated in the last three lines. “He lay in the four-foot box as in his cot./No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear./ A four-foot box, a foot for every year.” The monosyllables hammer home the gravity of the awful event.

Yet, throughout the poem, Heaney uses soft, quiet, reassuring language: “candles soothed the bedside,” “My mother held my hand,” “the baby cooed and laughed.” That language runs up against the harshness of the ending: the rough, unyielding consonants, knocked, foot, cot, box. The speaker has his family and neighbors there for emotional support, but there is no answer to someone who dies so young. Notice there is no blaming anyone in the poem. Of course we all have friends, classmates and relatives who died young. There’s no getting over those deaths and no answer for why they died really, but the shared experience and the beauty of a poem like this softens the blow.

One more comment. There is no question that we’re reading poetry here. Heaney had a great ear. He was able as Merwin put it, “to listen for the poem.”  We’re not always so good at listening, these days in America.

–Ed Meek, December 2015

And now to a few other matters:

As you open the homepage of Plume this month, you will find we’ve been tweaking again — no not that, but noodling around with our home page. We have a bit of a new look: the Editor’s Note, the Featured Selection, and Reviews up top now, as they probably should have been all along.  The Search function seems to be working well enough.  And we have a new addition to the Menu — Contributors, but, alas, that still is under construction. Soon! And those Archives — they have not escaped our attention, either, and I expect incremental progress on that front, as well. Fingers x-ed we have the excerpts figured out.  The rest is aesthetics — less white space around the Plume, a sharpened logo image, and the like.

Many thanks to Scott Karabenick at Massiveant — a wonderful tech guru and an amazing company — quick responses, calm, and patient — and expert at what he and they do. Sounds like a commercial, yes? It is, of sorts. If you find yourself in need of a tech company (and some of you already have asked me for a reference for such) to construct, overhaul, or tweak your website, this is the place to go — in  my non-tech-y opinion.

Speaking of those Reviews — this month Adam Tavel takes on Greta Stoddard’s Alive Alive O.

Alive Alive O by Greta Stoddart
Bloodaxe Books Ltd.
$24, 64 pages
published June 2015

A sample from the review to whet your appetite — for it and the book —

Alive Alive O, much to its credit, rejects the tidy binaries of ache and closure that so often define elegiac books. “The Curtain,” its opening poem, employs Shakespeare’s metaphor for life as a grand performance. What instantly ensnares the reader, however, is Stoddard’s tactile fixation on the liminal space between the spotlight and darkness, where our loved ones, once their parts end, must transition back into the cosmic mystery:

No tears then. Just one of us to hold
aside the curtain — here we are, there you go —
before letting it slump majestically back

to that oddly satisfying inch above the boards
in which we glimpse a shadowy shuffling dark.
And when the lights come on and we turn to each other

who’s to say they won’t already be
in their dressing room, peeling off the layers,
wiping away that face we have loved,

unbecoming themselves to step out
into the pull and stream of the night crowds.

For books submitted for review, please see the About page on the Menu for guidelines.

Speaking of, again — this time the Featured Selection. This month’s is from Emmanuel Moses, translated by Marilyn Hacker, and introduced by Nancy Mitchell.

Poetry by: Emmanuel Moses tr. by Marilyn Hacker

M. Moses appears above, should you be the type who wishes to carry an image of the writer in mind as you read the work. (‘I’m not. In fact, I make a point of discarding the dust jacket that might feature such an image before I begin to read.)

Look for Cynthia Cruz and Brian Swann among other notables in future issues.

Our cover art this month comes from the multi-talented Nancy Mitchell. Appropriate, no, given the recent inclementies?  (I just made that that one up.)  And sternly beautiful.

And — our New Work Received will resume soon — so many contributors to the anthology there hasn’t been room to note even the start of them.

The print Plume Anthology of Poetry V 4 has been completed — with W.S. Piero as the Featured Poet this year, and a marvelous Preface by Daniel Tobin. Many, many thanks to both. 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. Here’s the tentative roster and venue details:

Marilyn Kallet
Phillis Levin
Ralph Angel
Kelli Russell Agadon
Susan Rich
Andrea Cohen
Patricia Clark
Helene Cardona
Arthur Vogelsang

LACE gallery in Hollywood
6522 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028
Date/Time:  Wednesday at 7 pm.

We’ll have the space for 2 hours. Wine and food will be available. The gallery offers 45 chairs and a few benches.

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.

The Series will continue on March 8 with a reading by Terese Svoboda.

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

Editor, Plume

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