June: and you’ll note: no editorial commentary in this one — I’ve reserved that for the Editor’s Note, a practice I should have thought of many issues ago, and one I will now continue. So — if you’re not massively bored (hard to believe you wouldn’t be) by my usual ramblings (childhood misadventures, thoughts on Merton, the pleasures of claustrophilia, and the like) head on over to the issue.
Actual news, here, yes — but first: our “secret poem”, Erika Burart’s “Bird. A Thanks.” most compellingly introduced by Plume contributor and International Editor Marc Vincenz.
Almost ten years ago in a little corner of the Reykjavik library, I discovered the work of the Swiss poet, Erika Burkart. I have been translating her ever since (four of her collections to date). I never had the good fortune to meet or even correspond with her–she passed away two years earlier–but apparently she had a good command of English (her very first job was working as a governess for an Irish family) and was a great admirer of Whitman, Dickinson and Frost. Later, I became acquainted with her life and literary partner, Ernst Halter, and spent many hours in her study, standing at her window that looks out onto the moor of AlthÃ¤usern bei Aristau in the Canton of Aargau.
Erika Burkart’s poems often commence with tangible images of nature, much of which she viewed from the window of her study in the Haus Kapf where she lived almost all her 88 years. Her poems appear to be concise and straightforward lyrical testaments to the natural world–yet, behind her birches and owls, beyond her snowflakes and flowers, there is something far-reaching, more elusive, at work.
Her contemporary Pirmin Meier suggested, “… with her word-magic she was attempting to repair that broken thread between man and nature. […] I see in her poetry a late attempt–possibly in the last hour–within a world of suffering, brutality, aggression, and destruction, to read nature’s signatures with awe and admiration.” There is another “broken thread” that appears repeatedly in Burkart’s writing, however, and I would propose that it constitutes the source of her approach to natural imagery: namely the unbridgeable divide between human perception and language’s ability to convey it in its entirety. Erika’s poems are compelling in their evocative language and their imagery, not only as testaments to the subtle power of nature, but also to the way that sensory information approaches elucidation. At times there is a sense that the poet is mistrustful, almost regretting her use of human words to approximate the glory of nature–and yet, there is also an acknowledgment that there are few ways available to capture some part of what will soon be lost. Over and over, Burkart demonstrates how language, thought, and that fleeting moment of observation are all one aspect of the natural process and are inextricably intertwined. An example of this poem-as-process is “Bird. A Thanks.”
To be invisibly present,
then, in a wink, elsewhere;
this I learned, bird, from you,
the open blue, the fervent red,
that pale black agglomeration
of the apocalypse,
archangel-black in white light.
I let you take my soulâ€¨
as you swooped by the window,
that writes with feathers in the sky,
that wavers on wings,â€¨
luster and shadow,â€¨
sketching and measuring in flight,
a word that evades me.
This image of a bird writing a word in the sky–a word the poet is trying to pinpoint but is unable to–suggests that Burkart regarded the natural world itself as a language, a compendium of phenomena consisting of interwoven patterns whose structure and sense is legible to us in varying degrees. In a linguistic sense, her poems correspond to a process of converting fleeting impressions into words. Yet the inverse of this idea is equally applicable in this context: the notion that language itself is a natural process among processes, and thus subject to the same set of principles. Throughout her work, Burkart seems to be searching for a golden mean between the word and the interconnectedness of all things–between nature, the cosmos, and human history; between the passage of time, the finiteness of life, and the phenomenology of human perception.
Although she was also a successful fiction writer and memoirist, Burkart lived for her poetry. One might say that through her poetry (and a lifelong endeavor to reinvent and hone her craft and ideas), she sought to illuminate a metaphysical connection between the duality of life and energy, of the inner and outer nature of things; of how fragments and shards (fleeting snatches of memory, images, myths and legends) expressed through the imprecise medium of words are the only clues we have to puzzle together a semblance of what the world may be.
24 May 2016
Erika Burkart was born in Aarau, Switzerland, in 1922. Throughout her career she published over twenty-four collections of poetry, eight prose works, and was awarded numerous literary prizes, including the Conrad-Ferdinand-Meyer-Preis (1961) and the Gottfried-Keller-Preis (1992). She was the only woman ever to have been awarded Switzerland’s highest literary prize, the Grosser Schillerpreis (2005). She passed away on April 14, 2010.
Marc Vincenz is Swiss-British and was born in Hong Kong. His most recent chapbooks include The Propaganda Factory, or Speaking of Trees (Argotist, 2011) andPull of the Gravitons (Right Hand Pointing, 2012). His translation of Swiss poet Erika Burkart’s collection Secret Letter is forthcoming from Cervena Barva Press. Recent publications include Exquisite Corpse, Spillway, Poetry Salzburg Review, elimae, andMiPOesias. In 2011, his poetry was nominated four times for the Pushcart Prize.
Wonderful, yes? Thank you, Marc! By the way, this “secret poem” feature has become, well, quite popular; I receive feedback constantly. I know of no finer readership (poets/contributors, many, as well as our faithful audience) than ours at Plume, and the Newsletter subscription keeps growing: currently 1000+ If you’re interested in introducing a poem, please contact me. The Guidelines are simple:
1. Choose literally any poem that delights or perplexes you, one which has haunted or moved you — new, just read, or a treasured companion of longstanding — a poem that makes you want so say to your reader: ”Hey, take a (or another) look at thisâ€¦” Reproduce the poem (and the original if a translation) to run at the start of or interspersed within your introduction.
2. Write. 400-1000 words. The style — academic, personal, hybrid, other — is up to you.
3. Send along with a bio note for you and the poet whose work you are presenting. And a jpeg photo of that poet, if possible.
I look forward to fielding inquiries.
Our upcoming reading in Paris — here’s the press release in case you missed it on Facebook:
Shakespeare & Co
37 rue de la BÃ»cherie
75005 Paris, France
Launch of the Plume Poetry 4 anthology
30 MAY 2016, 7:00 PM
Join us for the launch of Plume Poetry 4, with editor Daniel Lawless and poets Chantal Bizzini,Emmanuel Moses, Margo Berdeshevsky, Marilyn Hacker and Marilyn Kallet.
I’d love to see you there!
Next, a small thing, I realize: have you noticed the little slide-out tab on the poem pages? It allows you to instantly share the poem on your Facebook page, on Twitter, or the indispensable Google+. Small, but important, I have discovered: our reader views have increased significantly since we’ve added this option, which means more people will have access to the poems in Plume via this truc, and when, to paraphrase Billy Collins, has that ever been a bad thing?
Also vaguely in the same vein: an apology: that email blast! That sales pitch! So unlike us, I hope you understand — and not likely to be repeated anytime soon. But, as noted therein, Plume is, well, a business, I suppose. And we need to sell books, I’m told.
On the other hand — how can I thank sufficiently those of you who were prompted by that button-holing to write back with kind words for our little journal? How happy it makes me to receive your encouragement — and offers to send new poems: an unintended but altogether delightful consequence. And the news that many of you will, in fact, purchase copies — for yourselves or friends — and for your classes! Please know how much I appreciate these things.
WATCH THIS SPACE DEPARTMENT:
We’re toying with the idea of making the first four volumes of Plume anthologies available as boxed set, with covers in the style of the present one, so well-received by so many — a testament to Marc Vincenz’s sharp eye — Marc, a real Renaissance figure — poet, critic, translator, musician designer — and probably a few other things as well, that I don’t know about yet. Also, we’re considering adding the Plume Editions books to that offering. Tess Gallagher’s and Lawrence Matsuda’s Boogie-Woogie Crisscross is out now at MadHat, on Amazon, etc., with another volume on the way, and anotherâ€¦
Also, in September, look for a new column to appear at the top of the homepage — “Essays and Comment.” I won’t reveal the author(s) or the additional staff member, just yet. I think you’ll enjoy it; Plume will be more of a full-serve establishment. Be assured, however, the design of Plume will not change — clean, sparse, without advertisements — those have been our watchwords for the site and will remain so.
Our Featured Selection this month is from Ira Sadoff, with an introductory interview conducted by Associate Editor for Special Projects, Nancy Mitchell. The piece comprises our first retrospective (albeit a mini one) of a poet’s work — I think you’ll like it as much as I do.
Our cover art this month comes from George Etheridge. Mr. Etheridge is a freelance photographer currently living in Asheville, NC. He was recently awarded the 2016 photography internship at The New York Times, is a participant in the national traveling exhibition, Looking At Appalachia, and is also an alumni of The Eddie Adams Workshop XXVIII. Clients and publications include: The New York Times, CNN, Modern Farmer, The Weather Channel, Collective Quarterly, Asheville Citizen-Times, and UNC Asheville Magazine, among others.
Work Received this month includes new poems from Angela Ball, Laurie Lamon, Linda Pastan, Ira Sadoff, Pamela Alexander, Paul Guest, Paul Hoover, San Juan de la Cruz (tr Paul Hoover), Bradford Tice, Dara Weir, Hsia Yu (tr Steven Bradbury) and Kelly Cherry.
That’s it, for now.
As always, I hope you enjoy the issue!