Newsletter Issue #57 April, 2016

Newsletter Issue #57 April, 2016
March 28, 2016 Plume
“Dancing in Eleggua” by Reynier Llanes
Welcome to Plume, Issue 57
Readers —April — and the cruelty this time not of the month even metaphorically but lying instead in the fact of what I must lay at your feet: actual news — in a Newsletter. A relief to most of you, surely: my own ramblings put aside so that we might speak of…business. Yes, let’s call it that. Much of what will follow — though not all, by any means — will reappear in this month’s Editor’s Note, I should warn you.

But first, something that will not appear in that Editor’s Note: our “secret poem” — Ted Hughes’ “Crow Hill“ marvelously introduced by Plume contributor Jonathan Weinert:

On “Crow Hill,” by Ted Hughes
Jonathan Weinert

I’ve often noticed, without making a theory out of it, that a number of my favorite poetry books were published in 1959 and 1960. The list includes James Merrill’s The Country of a Thousand Years of Peace, James Wright’s Saint Judas, and W. S. Merwin’s The Drunk in the Furnace. Robert Lowell’s game-changing Life Studies–a book that I admire but don’t especially love–also appeared, famously, in 1959, but it would be a few years yet before it actually changed the game.
I don’t consider these the most important books of poems ever written, or the best; they’re not even necessarily the best or most important books by these particular poets. And yet there’s something about their style, sensibility, and seriousness of purpose that speaks to me, right into my privatest ear. My abiding delight in these collections has nothing to do with schools or arguments or philosophies, and everything to do with pleasure and gravity and a certain electrification of the language.
Someone may well have written about the years 1959 and 1960 as a kind of pivot in American poetry; I was busy getting born in 1959, so I have none of my own experience to apply. It seems to me, though, that poetry was just shaking off its thralldom to the chilly triumphalisms of High Modernism, and hadn’t yet put on the hectic and glittering garments of its various “postmodernisms.” There was a return, at least in these books, to a more intimate register, to a more forthright approach to subject matter, to a formalism more traditional than conceptual. In certain moods, there’s nothing I prefer more.
A recent addition to this cluster of beloved books from my inaugural year is Lupercal, by Ted Hughes, which Harper & Row brought out in the U.S. in 1960. I sometimes suspect that nobody in America reads Hughes, because of the whole Sylvia Plath story–even now, twenty years after his death and more than fifty years after hers. I certainly avoided him for decades, only half on purpose, as an involuntary “Plathian.” I came by my Plathianism honestly, I suppose: I grew up about two miles from Plath’s house in Wellesley, went to the same high school, heard her mother’s name occasionally from my mother, who knew her mother slightly. I vividly remember my sister, two years my elder, swanning around with a much-fingered copy of The Bell Jar, which I believe had been assigned to her at school shortly after its U.S. publication, in 1971. My sister must have been in the 9th or 10th grade, at the onset of her own series of hospitalizations for psychosis, and her own suicide attempts, so I always associate Plath with my generation, even though she was really my mother’s age.
Whatever the case, I was certainly aware of Plath from childhood. The ugly first edition of Ariel was the only book of poems in the house, next to A Child’s Garden of Verses and some unreadable editions of Pushkin and Yevtushenko that my mother, a Russian translator, kept on hand. It may well have been the first book of poems by a relative contemporary that I ever read. That would have been quite the baptism. I can’t accurately situate the memory in time, but I do recall puzzling over “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus” and the baby going like a fat gold watch. Nobody in my house was going to be able to explain any of that to me. But it must have gotten into me somehow–both the beauty of the language and the darkness of the vision, a darkness that chimed, in a distantly audible way, with my own experience. Plath’s example also hinted that a person like me could take poetry seriously and make a life of it. It was a kind of permission.
I was not so aware of Hughes, except as a sort of shadowy presence in the background of the Plath story. I was pleased, therefore, to discover a significant kinship of sensibility in his early work. Gravity, for sure, but also pleasure and, like Plath, beauty of language in the service of a dark vision.

It’s difficult to get the news from poems, and sometimes, when you do, you discover that the news is bad. In a Ted Hughes poem, the news is often dire. The voice that delivers the news, however, can be gorgeous.

Crow Hill

The farms are oozing craters in
Sheer sides under the sodden moors:
When it is not wind it is rain,
Neither of which will stop at doors:
One will damp beds and the other shake
Dreams beneath sleep it cannot break.

Between the weather and the rock
Farmers make a little heat;
Cows that sway a bony back,
Pigs upon delicate feet
Hold off the sky, trample the strength
That shall level these hills at length.

Buttoned from the blowing mist
Walk the ridges of ruined stone.
What humbles these hills has raised
The arrogance of blood and bone,
And thrown the hawk upon the wind,
And lit the fox in the dripping ground.

I take in the charged language of this poem before I get the news from it–or, rather, the language of the poem takes me in, before delivering its payload of woe.
Curious disruptions in the syntax trouble what might otherwise pass as a straightforward description of an agrarian landscape and its strong weathers. If you think this is a simple pastoral, you’re not paying attention. The precipitous enjambment of the first line, while mimetic of the “sheer sides” of the “oozing craters,” destabilizes the poem’s formal arrangement from the jump. Sentences ramify unexpectedly across the line breaks, refusing parallelism. The rain will “damp beds,” but the wind does more than “shake / dreams” (notice, too, how Hughes has advanced the terms of description from thing to state). Farmers, cows, and pigs appear in orderly fashion but possess radically unequal powers, described in unequal phrases (the cows and pigs are clearly mightier). Hughes pushes his sentences almost to illegibility in the third stanza. It takes some time to absorb the fact that the phrase “What humbles these hills” does not introduce a question, but rather a key statement about the poem’s true subject–a subject which Hughes doesn’t directly name.
The poem’s conclusion never fails to detonate. Hughes sets up a delicious little explosion partly via clever management of off-rhymes and an irregular tetrameter, with plenty of inversions and headless lines. The last three lines approach resolution by settling into a strong regular tetrameter, but veer away from it by withholding the perfect rhymes that end the first two stanzas. The a and b rhymes sort of “ooze” into the c rhyme, which echoes both the a rhyme’s concluding “t/d” sounds and the b rhyme’s concluding “n” sound. Internal rhymes stitch the thing up, with seams running crosswise to the cut: “bone” and “thrown,” but also “hawk” and “fox” and, a bit more distantly, “wind” and “lit” and “dripping.” This kind of stuff makes a prosody wonk like me go all gooey inside.
But more than prosody is at work here. The genius of Hughes’s word choices is a perpetual astonishment, and the wonder of these lines is the verbs, which go straight to the heart of Hughes’s project in Lupercal. The hawk, who presides over Hughes’s first book, and who lords it over the entire food chain in the poem “Hawk Roosting,” is here subject to an infinitely greater force. The hawk is “thrown,” like a toy, or like trash. The force that throws her is the force that both “humbles these hills” and brings “The arrogance of blood and bone” into being (arrogant because it believes, as the hawk does, that all of Creation resides in her foot). That force can only be time, that makes a ruin of stone and “level[s] these hills at length,” or else it’s some blind and irresistible process within time, out of which everything emerges–hills, farms, humans, animals, ridges, moors–and into which everything subsides. Ridges end in ruins, hills end in ooze, life ends in the ecstasy of death. If this is news, it’s the sort of news a prophet would deliver, not a reporter for the local papers.
To my ear, “And lit the fox in the dripping ground” is as sublime a line as any in poetry. To begin with, it’s stunningly visual: the fox is not just lit, but spotlit, by the verb. But “lit” also indicates a fire, or a fuse. The fox is aflame with violent life, and that life is here, at the root, in the very ground. To celebrate the fox is to embrace the whole matrix of which the fox is a part, the whole extraordinary, beautiful, bloody, sensuous, fatal, implacable business. In “Crow Hill,” all life–crows, foxes, pigs, cows, hawks, humans–plays out “Between the weather and the rock,” in a temporary interstice where farmers can “make a little heat,” and where humans and animals alike have enough time to arrogantly forget where the true power of the world resides. But the world will remind them soon enough.
Hughes’s deep attention to nature as a system may be more recognizable now than it was in 1960, when he was rather ahead of his times. In Lupercal, Hughes emerges as a sort of “ecopoet” avant la lettre. I put “ecopoet” in scare quotes because, even though it’s a convenient shorthand, I have reservations about its use as a category. Poetry “with a strong ecological emphasis or message”  is still “just” poetry, or better be: subject matter can be no determinant of poetic style. I resist “ecopoetry,” too, because it often presumes that some sort of placid harmony can be achieved, and that it represents the natural order of things. Against this notion, Hughes places his thrushes, which are “More coiled steel than living”–“Nothing but bounce and stab / And a ravening second.” Against the fantasy of a world made comfortable for humans, Hughes places “the decomposition of leaves– / The furnace door whirling with larvae.” Against the apparent stability of landscape, Hughes places hills that, instead of standing still to be admired, “Must burst upwards and topple into Lancashire.”
Hughes is neither a comfortable nor comforting poet, combining beauty and terror in equal measure. Only the “Dead and unborn are in God comfortable,” writes Hughes. If that’s an acknowledgment of heaven, it’s distinctly not a heaven on earth, of which human beings have made a kind of hell. The living, both the thrown and the lit, must live here, and they must live otherwise. As a late prophet of this news, Hughes deserves to be read more widely–even in America.

Wonderful, yes? Thank you, Jonathan!

And now to other matters, mostly regarding the upcoming reading in support of the about-to-be-released Plume Anthology V4 and AWP.

But first, many thanks to Juan Felipe Herrera for reading for Plume 21 March at the Palladium in St. Petersburg — a marvelous night in every regard.

Please, if you are at AWP, stop by our booth – shared with Madhat: we’re at Booth # 754.

The anthology will have its launch in Los Angeles, at AWP. Here’s the poster for that event, from Hélène Cardona. It will be held at the LACE Gallery(Again, please use your computer’s zoom Feature to view.)  Wine, snacks — poetry from a stellar group!

There will be another off-site event, as well: a combined MadHat-Plume-White Pine Press Reading, on Thursday, at the Library Bar:

Two other reading on the schedule — but no flyers yet! —are as follows:

Saint Petersburg, Fl
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. 
Margo  Berdeshevsky, Chantal Bizzini, Marilyn Hacker, Marilyn Kallet, Emmanuel Moses.

More readings to come — Boston/Cambridge, NYC, et cetera, announced as plans are firmed up.

What else? Ah — yes!

Many, many thanks to Dzvinia Orlowsky, John Skoyles, Marc  Vincenz,  and Afaa Weaver for  reading for Plume at Grolier, in Boston,  on Tuesday, 8  March. Although I was unable to attend, I have heard from all — and many present –that it was a wonderful gathering — a full house, marvelous speaker, exquisite work.

Reviews — this month comprise shorter notes on four works from our Review Editor Adam TavelBruce Bond’s For the Lost CathedralMarsha de la O’s Antidote for Night;   Joe Denham’s Regeneration Machine; and Zarah Catherine Moeggenberg’s To Waltz on a Pin.

Here, an amuse-bouche — an excerpt from the first, Mr. Tavel’s take on Moeggenberg’s To Waltz on a Pin

To Waltz on a Pin by Zarah Catherine Moeggenberg
Little Presque Books
$14, 78 pages
published November 2015

With titles like “Fucking Against the Bookcase” and “When I Tell a Lover I Have an STD,” Zarah Catherine Moeggenberg’s debut poetry collection To Waltz on a Pin refuses to shies away from its gritty candor about queer intimacy. Moeggenberg’s best poems channel the changeless, decaying landscapes of Richard Hugo’s Midwest and the ragged-hearted confessionalism of Anne Sexton in their examinations of sexuality, abuse, intoxication, and familial dysfunction. Though an uneven book–Moeggenberg flirts with melodrama, and poems such as “Promises to a Son” and “Mohawk” cry out for greater concision–To Waltz on a Pin remains a courageous first book that transgresses taboo and poetic restraint in its search for self-discovery and a nuanced articulation of queer romance that moves beyond cultural stereotypes. Poems such as “Drawing Her,” “A Story I Never Told You,” and “Hendrix” reveal a poet with a deft command of the free-verse narrative, marked by their richness and keen intuition of what details readers can do without…

Next up for Plume Editions: Albert Goldbarth’s breath-taking The Loves and Wars of Relative Scale. Its principle subject and gathering center-point: “Anoni (or Anton) van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723), the Dutch fabric merchant, local bureaucrat, and (as of circa 1671) self-taught lensmaker,” per the author. Watch this space.

And: Great review at Bookslut by Patrick James Dunagan of Plume contributor Ben Mazer’s critical edition of Hart Crane’s The Bridge: The Uncollected Versionpublished by MadHat Press

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:
A very special note: Our Featured Selection this month is Blue Cocoon, a collaborative work from Tess Gallagher and Lawrence Matsuda, with an introductory interview conducted by Associate Editor Nancy Mitchell. Blue Cocoon is the third installment of the trilogy entitled Boogie-Woogie Crisscross. This marks the debut of Plume Editions, which makes me very happy. We plan to put out three or four volumes annually.

Our cover art this month, “Dancing to Eluggua,” comes, with much gratitude, from Reynier Llanes. Please see the Editor’s Note for biographical material.

For New Work Received see the Editor’s Note.

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

Editor, Plume

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