Newsletter Issue #56 March, 2016

Newsletter Issue #56 March, 2016
March 2, 2016 Plume
“The Weiqi Players” Alex Hooks

Welcome to Plume, Issue 56
Readers: Welcome to Plume Issue # 56—

March: Madness, yes — although of a clinical nature, as considered in this month’s Editor’s Note — a too-long remembrance/birthday greeting to my brother, M. Still, inspired by this month’s cover art, “The Weiqui Players,” I found myself somewhat agog among the ghosts of that peculiar childhood of mine, a subject which I note there has not succumbed to my efforts to address in poetry, try as I might. And so this introductory note will be brief, in recompense for my long-windedness — futile, perhaps, too, but well-intentioned. Instead, let me fill this blank page with real news: refreshing, no? Lots to relay: information regarding the new print Plume Poetry V 4, readings in support of its launch at AWP, Plume Editions, our Featured Selection, and other adventures.

So let’s move on, shall we?
To, first, this month’s  “secret poem” from one Plume poet to another —  —  Linda Pasten’s “Why Are Your Poems So Dark?” introduced by Plumecontributor Kelli Russell Agadon — the essay beautiful itself, with an instantly relatable childhood memory (for the morose legions of poets) and insightful ruminations on this remarkable piece.

Falling in Love with the Shadows: 
Observations on Linda Pastan’s Poem, “Why Are Your Poems So Dark?” 

For years as a poet, people asked me why I wrote so much about death. And for years, I didn’t have an answer. I have always been drawn to darker subjects. Just as some people ache for the buzz of morning or the stretch of sunlight, I have always been thankful for the silent moon and the dead of night.

Even as a child, when other girls were dressing in pink dresses and satin jackets, I’d ask my mother if we could stop at 7-11 for slurpees, then to drive to the old cemetery with the wrought-iron fence to spend a few moments to look inside. Together in her car, we’d sit in front of the locked gate with arm-sized chain–my mum sipping her coffee and me with my slurpee almost spilling on my lap as I tried to read the names on the cracked headstones. Finally, when her coffee was done and she couldn’t spend another moment doing nothing, she’d say, “Did you get enough ghosts for the afternoon?” And I’d answer, “Almost.” And together off we’d drive into the afternoon.

When I began reading and writing poems, it wasn’t a surprise that I was drawn to the darker subjects. Sylvia Plath pulled me in with her Dying / Is an art, like everything else. / I do it exceptionally well, Anne Sexton whispered her suicides have a special language in my earwhile Emily Dickinson spoke loudest to me when she said, If I should die,/And you should live. Even now, if you ask what’s my favorite image from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” I will tell you it’s the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

As much as these poets gave me permission to write about the darker elements in life, I never felt I had a good answer when people asked about the darkness in my work. But I have learned many times, it takes another poet to help a poet, so when I stumbled upon Linda Pastan’s poem, “Why Are Your Poems So Dark?” I realized someone else had been questioned too, and she had written my answer.

In this sixteen-line poem, Pastan answers the question with beauty, the question I’ve been trying to answer all my writing life:

Why Are Your Poems So Dark?

Isn’t the moon dark too,
most of the time?

And doesn’t the white page
seem unfinished

without the dark stain
of alphabets?

When God demanded light,
he didn’t banish darkness.

Instead he invented
ebony and crows

and that small mole
on your left cheekbone.

Or did you mean to ask
“Why are you sad so often?”

Ask the moon.
Ask what it has witnessed.

Here, darkness is celebrated–in the radiance of ebony and crowsthat small mole / on your left cheekbone. In this sparse poem, Pastan confronts the questioner with what most people are really asking the poet: Why are you sad so often? Or perhaps, “Are you sad?”

It is easy to confuse the narrator in any poem for the poet, but as Marvin Bell has said, “The speaker isn’t the poet, just someone who knows a lot about her.” Lucille Clifton once told Pastan she thought her poems do “have an edge of darkness.” And Pastan herself has admitted she was a “gloomy adolescent…a gloomy child.” But as poets, this is how our lives, our obsessions, our passions spill over into our work. Maybe it’s an internal darkness, a temperament, maybe it’s curiosity–seeing how close we can get to the darkness without losing our light. As poets, it’s our job to write what we need to write, even if what we write about makes others uncomfortable.

I believe many of us read (and write) poetry to remind ourselves we are not alone in the world. Some of us carry sorrow, some darkness, some anxiety, some a mix of all of the above. I have learned poetry is meant to explore all the places in our minds we’re not supposed to talk about. And when we hold a light to anything, some of us will fall in love with what’s been illuminated, but many of us still fall in the love with the shadow, and that’s okay too.

In this country, happiness has always been viewed as a destination, something we should want to achieve–the pursuit of happiness–but sometimes we need a reminder that we can see the sacred in the darkness. And sometimes, we need a poet like Pastan to write our answer for us, to remind the questioners when they ask about darkness in our work to ask the moon, and let us be.

–Kelli Russel Agadon, February 2016

And now to a few other matters, mostly regarding the upcoming reading in support of the about-to-be-released Plume Anthology V4. Our latest efforts include a beautiful (to me) new-look cover design from Marc Vincenz, an as-expected marvelous preface from Daniel Tobin, over 100 some poems, our Featured Poet W.S. Di Piero, and a few words from me.  But, most important — the same astonishing quality of work by the best poets in the world — at least the ones I could round up. We’ll make our debut at AWP, but for a sneak peek at the cover:


Speaking of those Reviews — this month Adam Tavel takes on the work of Yehuda Amichai:

The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
$35, 576 pages
Published November 2015

A sample from the review to entice you to read it in its entirety — and the book that is its subject:

When Yehuda Amichai died in 2000, the international literary community mourned the passing of Israel’s greatest post-war poet. For those of us turning to his work for the first time, The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai encompasses an exceptional career. Spanning five decades and over five hundred pages, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux’s retrospective gathers twelve previous books and represents the efforts of thirteen Hebrew translators. Though his is a dense and daunting oeuvre for any reader to traverse, Amichai accomplishes a feat only two other poets achieved in the 20th century. Like Pablo Neruda and Seamus Heaney, Amichai wrote unapologetically about his private life, his native landscape, and his national identity, yet his poems speak across the boundaries of language and culture to realize a remarkable universality. The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai presents, for the first time in English, the true scope and enormity of his poetic talents, and simultaneously captures the intricacy, vivaciousness, and struggle that defined Israeli life over the last half-century.

Amichai’s earliest poems are psalmic entreaties about the fate of Israel and the Jewish diaspora, notable for their balance of pride and political criticism, and themes of identity recur throughout each of his books. As editor Robert Alter notes in his introduction, “in the Israeli War of Independence of 1948-49, he saw frontline action (as he would again in 1956) in the Negev, and thought it would be wrong to say that he suffered from posttraumatic stress, the experience certainly haunted him for the rest of his life.” Poems that document a soldier’s duty, honor, and fear dominate Now and in Other Days, Amichai’s debut collection from 1955. In the best of these, including “Autobiography in the Year 1952,” “I Waited for My Girl and Her Steps Were,” and “Two Poems About the First Battles,” we confront the perpetual tension and uneasiness of a young man–and indeed a young country–struggling to secure his fate even though threats of violence remains a daily reality. In the closing stanza of “My Non-Credo,” Amichai articulates his growing agnosticism, which alienates him from the very cultural foundation he loves and defends:

I still show kindness to the god of my childhood.
In my life’s weariness I have turned into
a speech impediment: it is hard
for Him to praise His world in me.



Featured Selection this month from the marvelous Cynthia Cruz — and introduced in an interview conducted with the author by our Associate Editor for special Projects, Nancy Mitchell.

Poetry by: Cynthia Cruz
Look for the final installment — Blue Cocoon — from Tess Gallagher and Larry Matsuda’s  three-part collaboration as our next Featured Selection, and note that we have, now, on the near horizon the great Irish poet Thomas McCarthy, thanks to Hélène Cardona. 

Plume Editions will be bringing out the above-noted trilogy as its first venture, published in conjunction with MadHat Press. Next up, Albert Goldbarth. More on that next issue, and others in the queue.

Our cover art this month, “The Weiqui Players,” comes, with much gratitude, from Alex Hooks. Please see the Editor’s Note for biographical material.

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

Finally, an update on the Plume V 4 launch readings, now firmed up, beginning with AWP in Los Angele and moving around the country and beyond. Other dates to follow, but for now:

AWP/Los Angeles

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

The roster as it stands now — stellar:

Ralph Angel
Hélène Cardona  
Patricia Clark 
Andrea Cohen
Lynn Emmanuel
Marilyn Kallet
Phillis Levin
Susan Rich
Arthur Vogelsang

Hélène Cardona will emcee the event.

There will be a second reading in which Plume will participate with MadHat Press and White Pine Press, its readers equally accomplished:

Library Bar 
630 W 6th St., #116A   Los Angeles, CA 90017
(At the corner with S Grand Avenue, only a few blocks from most hotels, the Marriott and the Convention Center.)
Date/Time: Time:  Thursday   8:30 – 10 pm
(213) 614-0053

Readers there will include

Patricia Spears Jones
Hélène Cardona  
Marc Vincenz
Jeffrey Lee
John Hennesy
Bill Yarrow
Alexis Levitin
Salgado Maranhão
Sally Bliumis-Dunn

Elena Karina Byrne will emcee.

Non-AWP readings as follows:

Cambridge, MA

Grolier Poetry Book Shop, 6 Plympton St, Cambridge, MA 02138, United States (map)
Tuesday, March 8, 7pm — 9pm


Dzvinia Orlowsky, 
John Skoyles, 
Marc Vincenz, 
Afaa Michael Weaver

Saint Petersburg, FL

Plume Poetry Series

The Palladium, 253 5th Ave N, St. Petersburg, FL 33701   (727) 822-3590
Monday, 21 March  7:30 — 8:30 

Current U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera will be the sole reader.

Studio@620  620 First Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 727.815.6620
Wednesday, April 13    7 p.m.

Terese Svoboda will be the featured reader.

Paris, France

Shakespeare & Co   37 rue de la Bûcherie 75005 Paris, France
Monday, May 30   7 p.m. 


Marilyn Hacker
Marilyn Kallet
Emmanuel Moses 
Chantal Bizinni

Notice of other readings will be posted in the April issue of Plume.

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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