Newsletter Issue #60 July, 2016

Newsletter Issue #60 July, 2016
July 1, 2016 Plume
Muhammad Ali with his mother Odessa Grady Clay at her home in Louisville in 1963. 
Credit: Photograph by Lin Caufield. UofL Photo Archives

Readers:  Welcome to Plume, Issue 60

July: and again you’ll note: no editorial commentary in this one — I’ve reserved that, such as it is,   for, well, the Editor’s Note. So — if for some reason you’re in search of my musings re: various childhood (and later) misadventures and such — or on Mohammed Ali, this issue — head over to the issue.
Actual news, then, to follow — but first: our “secret poem”: Gwendolyn Brooks’ “The Life of Lincoln West,” winningly introduced by Plumecontributor and Cynthia Schwartsberg Edlow.


This is a poem that should be re-read often. I’m assuming you’ve read it, because Danny Lawless has assured me PLUME’S  audience is an erudite, can’t-put-nothing-past-‘em,  they’ve-seen-it-all-and-then-some, highly well-read, deep-thinking, “we’ve-taught-everybody-or-been-taught-by-everybody” audience.

Dr. Einstein once remarked something about if you can’t say something clearly, and sharply crystal, essentially, you don’t have a handle on it. You do not know your element. That’s me, paraphrasing. Now, I’ve read five “secret poem” features from the special section the journal publishes each month as a tribute to one poet and their work. Those examples were just fine, mighty academic, and some rather insightful, and the poems they led me to were good, some very good indeed. They’ve also given me an actual sense for how this “essay” of mine might shake out.

I’ve always felt my job as a poet is to be able to speak to the heart of a ditch-digger as sincerely as I speak to the heart of an ambassador because there’s no difference between the two or anyone else in-between or along the margins. When I write introductory comments such as this, my biggest hope is to stay clear out of the way of the brilliance I’m about to present. Frankly, if I were the audience, after reading the title of this commentary, I’d skip straight down to the poem. I would. This poem, and for that matter, any poem, will always reveal more about the poet and the poet’s intentions than any exposition claiming to reveal better its posture and leaning.

Her name was Gwendolyn Brooks. The poem is “The Life of Lincoln West.” I first read it early in my own young academic life. It doesn’t matter where, but, of course, it was Chicago, my own, and her own, beloved “home home.” I reeled across this poem like I’d struck my head square on the bucket of a commercial frontloader, and I was going down for the final count. I could envision every action described, every feeling felt, every word unsaid or intended. I loved that the poet had mercy for everyone in the poem. Mercy for the world.

I once met, or actually saw, Gwendolyn Brooks at Northeastern Illinois University, in Chicago. She was there to give a poetry reading. I was so afraid to look at her that I only sideeyed her, as she sat composed in a chair against the wall, while all the faculty and writing students yakked it up in the middle of the room. I am not a person who is afraid of very much in this world. There are people who will testify to that. But I was young, and I was afraid to approach Gwendolyn Brooks. I’ll never forget how still she sat. Hardly anyone spoke to her directly, if I remember correctly. I know I remember for sure her hands were gently folded in her lap. She sat very straight in her chair.

On those days when a reader is tired, worn out and through with the sometime fad of fragmented, difficult, fractured, poetic shards of jagged, oblique confusion, they can fortunately turn to Miss Brooks. There is so much power in each photographic moment, the energy is as if it leaps from the page right into the mind. Every single line jam-packed with affecting, mellifluent notes. The cinematic enchantment of the vivid, magical image. And the reader lucky, lucky, to discover the essence of the authentic “tell.”

Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow
June 20, 2016

The Life of Lincoln West

Ugliest little boy
that everyone ever saw.
That is what everyone said.

Even to his mother it was apparent–
when the blue-aproned nurse came into the
northeast end of the maternity ward
bearing his squeals and plump bottom
looped up in a scant receiving blanket,
bending, to pass the bundle carefully
into the waiting mother-hands–that this
was no cute little ugliness, no sly baby waywardness
that was going to inch away
as would baby fat, baby curl, and
baby spot-rash. The pendulous lip, the
branching ears, the eyes so wide and wild,
the vague unvibrant brown of the skin,
and, most disturbing, the great head.
These components of That Look bespoke
the sure fibre. The deep grain.

His father could not bear the sight of him.
His mother high-piled her pretty dyed hair and
put him among her hairpins and sweethearts,
dance slippers, torn paper roses.
He was not less than these,
he was not more.

As the little Lincoln grew,
uglily upward and out, he began
to understand that something was
wrong. His little ways of trying
to please his father, the bringing
of matches, the jumping aside at
warning sound of oh-so-large and
rushing stride, the smile that gave
and gave and gave–Unsuccessful!

Even Christmases and Easters were spoiled.
He would be sitting at the
family feasting table, really
delighting in the displays of mashed potatoes
and the rich golden
fat-crust of the ham or the festive
fowl, when he would look up and find
somebody feeling indignant about him.

What a pity what a pity. No love
for one so loving. The little Lincoln
loved Everybody. Ants. The changing
caterpillar. His much-missing mother.
His kindergarten teacher.

His kindergarten teacher–whose
concern for him was composed of one
part sympathy and two parts repulsion.
The others ran up with their little drawings.
He ran up with his.
tried to be as pleasant with him as
with others, but it was difficult.
For she was all pretty! all daintiness,
all tiny vanilla, with blue eyes and fluffy
sun-hair. One afternoon she
saw him in the hall looking bleak against
the wall. It was strange because the
bell had long since rung and no other
child was in sight. Pity flooded her.
She buttoned her gloves and suggested
cheerfully that she walk him home. She
started out bravely, holding him by the
hand. But she had not walked far before
she regretted it. The little monkey.
Must everyone look? And clutching her
hand like that. . . . Literally pinching
it. . . .

At seven, the little Lincoln loved
the brother and sister who
moved next door. Handsome. Well-
dressed. Charitable, often, to him. They
enjoyed him because he was
resourceful, made up
games, told stories. But when
their More Acceptable friends came they turned
their handsome backs on him. He
hated himself for his feeling
of well-being when with them despite–

He spent much time looking at himself
in mirrors. What could be done?
But there was no
shrinking his head. There was no
binding his ears.

“Don’t touch me!” cried the little
fairy-like being in the playground.

Her name was Nerissa. The many
children were playing tag, but when
he caught her, she recoiled, jerked free
and ran. It was like all the
rainbow that ever was, going off
forever, all, all the sparklings in
the sunset west.

One day, while he was yet seven,
a thing happened. In the down-town movies
with his mother a white
man in the seat beside him whispered
loudly to a companion, and pointed at
the little Linc.
“THERE! That’s the kind I’ve been wanting
to show you! One of the best
examples of the specie. Not like
those diluted Negroes you see so much of on
the streets these days, but the
real thing.

Black, ugly, and odd. You
can see the savagery. The blunt
blankness. That is the real

His mother–her hair had never looked so
red around the dark brown
velvet of her face–jumped up,
shrieked “Go to–” She did not finish.
She yanked to his feet the little
Lincoln, who was sitting there
staring in fascination at his assessor. At the author of his
new idea.

All the way home he was happy. Of course,
he had not liked the word
But, after all, should he not
be used to that by now? What had
struck him, among words and meanings
he could little understand, was the phrase
“the real thing.”
He didn’t know quite why,
but he liked that.
He liked that very much.

When he was hurt, too much
stared at–
too much
left alone–he
thought about that. He told himself
“After all, I’m
the real thing.”

It comforted him.

A fine biography source for Gwendolyn Brooks can be found at the Poetry Foundation Website.

Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow’s collection: The Day Judge Spencer Learned the Power of Metaphor (Salmon Poetry). Chapbook: Old School Superhero Loves a Good Wristwatch (Dancing Girl Press). She is the winner of the 2014 Tusculum Review Poetry Prize, the 2012 Red Hen Press Poetry Award, the Willow Review Prize for Poetry, and a Smartish Pace Beullah Rose Poetry Prize. Poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in: American Literary ReviewThe American Poetry ReviewBarrow Street, Cimarron Review, Folio, Fourteen Hills, Gulf Coast, Iodine Poetry Review, Smartish Pace and Tahoma Literary Review. Her next full-length verse collection: Horn Section All Day Every Day, forthcoming in 2017.

Wonderful, that, yes? Just the tonic. By the way, this “secret poem” feature has become quite popular; I receive feedback constantly. I know of no finer readership (poets/contributors, many, as well as our faithful audience, as Cynthia notes) 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 this…) 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.
C’est fini!

I look forward to fielding inquiries.

Onward —

Our reading in Paris was, okay, I’ll say it: an unqualified success — hurriedly adding that this had nothing whatsoever to do with me, of course (rather, despite it, given my less than magnetic presence and risible public speaking skills). People filled the small room, and then spilled down the stairway and filled another small room, to hear the marvelous poets: Chantal Bizzini, Emmanuel MosesMargo BerdeshevskyMarilyn Hacker and Marilyn Kallet. Many thanks to Shakespeare & Co for hosting the event and to Adam Biles for managing every facet of it expertly, gracefully. (By the way, Adam’s first novel, Feeding Time, will be published soon by Galley Beggar Press.)

Here again is the cover of the new anthology, which served as the pretext, at least, for this marvelous gathering. Contributor’s copies are en route as I write, but I ask for your patience: many contributors, too few helping hands.

A reminder: We’re considering making the first four volumes of Plumeanthologies available as boxed set, with covers in the style of the present one, so well-received by so many. 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 from Nin Andrews, and another…  a book of interviews from the Featured Selections, and an extended talk (with poems) with Jean Valentine.

Also as mentioned, 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.

What else?

Ah — the issue itself, this one.  Our 60th — five years.  Impossible. I have rehearsed our humble origins elsewhere (and that word does not do justice to those initial utterly fumbling, amateurish efforts, believe me), so I’ll spare you that particular aide-memoire. Suffice to say, over the years, many changes, from staff to design, additions (a Featured Selection, book reviews, the print anthologies) and deletions (the slideshow quotations!). A journey, yes, and if you’ll permit me this personal aside, one that has changed my life for the better in ways I cannot begin to enumerate.

How to mark this milestone? My initial thought was, as always, to demur. Self-effacement. Draw no attention to yourself. Those Catholic prescriptions. But, a few others convinced me we should do something.

So: I have gathered some of the contributors from that original issue, who were kind enough to send new work and their good wishes this month. They include Amy Gerstler, Kimberly Johnston, Nin Andrews, Christopher Kennedy, Denise Duhamel, Rae Armantrout, and Charles Bernstein. Imagine these poets, taking a flyer on an obscure little start-up journal such as Plume. I was mystified — astonished — when my first tentative solicitation was met with an acceptance. And another. And another.  And remain so (astonished, that is): I mean, why?  I’ve learned, or keep learning, not to ask. Because it kept — keeps — happening, issue after issue. Year after year. Oh, I suppose I could offer a hypothesis or two: Jason Cook’s early layout contributions, the digestible twelve poem format, Al Gorman’s and Laurie Simmons’ remarkable cover art. But, honestly, I know it was you, poets, to whom any success Plume has enjoyed is attributable. As it is today, as I write. And our staff:

  • Marc Vincenz , International Editor (and all-around read-everything, invaluable source of publishing wisdom, marvelous poet, and publisher, from MadHat Press)
  • Nancy Mitchell , Associate Editor for Special Projects, also a fine poet and photographer,  and indispensable force behind the Featured Selection interviews, which (see above) will be collected and published under the Plume Editions imprint in 2017.
  • Helene Cardona, Co-International Editor   Another of those hyphenate whirlwinds: poet-actress-translator-interviewer-promoter — everything she touches turns to gold. I’ve often chided her — When do you sleep? A satisfactory reply has yet to be provided.
  • Alex Cigale,  Contributing Editor for Translations   One of the earliest  Plume advisors and partners, Alex maintains a superhuman schedule, translating Russian poets, mostly — and introducing them to Plume readers.
  • Adam Tavel, Reviews Editor   Our newest “hire” (as if money were changing hands) — Adam’s reviews have become must-reads — one of the finest book reviewers working today, in my opinion, and we are exceedingly fortunate to have him.
  • Steven Elder — Copy Editor extraordinaire. (Did I spell that right?)

You’ll find more about each of them on the —sigh — still under-construction —  Staff page.

And, to continue the celebration of our 5th year, our Featured Selection this month departs from the usual format of taking an in-depth look at the work of a single poet or singularly aligned group of poets. Instead, we — staff, readers, some fellow poets, I (mostly) — offer a limited retrospective of poems drawn from those years, 2011-2016, both online and print.  Not a “Best of the Best” but some personal favorites, poems that have resonated with us and our readers. Honestly, I suppose I could have picked poems out of a hat, as it were, such is the consistently high quality of the work we have received since the very beginning of our little adventure.

Our cover art this month comes thanks to Bill Carner, former “photo wrangler” at the University of Louisville Photo Archives. It’s titled Muhammad Ali with his mother Odessa Grady Clay at her home in Louisville in 1963 and was shot by Lin Caufield. (Uof L Photo Archives).

Work Received this month includes new poems from Max Ritvo, Stuart Friebert, Flavia Rocha, Nance Van Winckle, Rosa Alice Branco (tr Alexis Levitan), R.T. Smith, Troy Jollimore, David Wojahn, Adrian C. Louis, Diane Vreuls, Cynthia Hogue, Chard deNiord,  Joseph Campana, Betsy Scholl, Sian Dafydd, Sherod Santos, Lawrence Raab, Amy Beeder, Jules Gibbs, and Lee Upton.

Last: much, much gratitude to our steadfast readers, early and newly arrived; the reviewers and social media boosters; and the good offices (and stipend!) of Saint Petersburg College; all who helped in a myriad of ways make Plume a delight to publish, truly — with a special shout-out to Sally Bliumus Dunn, Kathleen Flenniken, Martha Collinsthe two Marilyns — Hacker and Kallet, and above all, Ron Slate, to whom I turn first with all questions aesthetic and business,  and, if I can embarrass him, my friend.

That’s it, for now.

As always, I hope you enjoy the issue — and many more to come, if that is allowed by the Great Whoever or Whatever is in charge of such matters.

Daniel Lawless
Editor, Plume

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