August: and in a moment, again, actual news. For those masochists among you, however, turn to the Editor’s Note, where you’ll find — I can hear that sigh — a few thoughts regarding a childhood experience, as threatened last month. “Cigarettes and Shame,” it might’ve been titled.
But first: our “secret poem”: Thomas Kinsella’s staggeringly fine poem “Ancestors” introduced by long-time Plume contributor Floyd Skloot.
My mentor, the Irish poet Thomas Kinsella, is 88 now. In the 1950s and 1960s, he emerged as one of Ireland’s finest poets, the successor to Yeats, building an international reputation for his powerful lyric work in traditional forms and structures. But as the ’60s ended, he moved away from the manner that had brought him acclaim and began to turn inward, the work finding its own organic structures out of the formlessness of genuine experience and emotion. It became a poetry of the psyche at work, dynamic and open.
“Ancestor,” from his 1973 collection Notes From the Land of the Dead, is an early and stunning example of Kinsella’s new, mature achievement. Looking back to a childhood scene where the young Kinsella observes his paternal grandmother as she sits on a stool in her shadowy Dublin sweet and fruit shop, barely holding herself together, “staring into herself,” not caring for anything or anyone around her, taking the occasional nip of whiskey. It stays very close to the boy’s perceptions, not allowing anything–imposed structure, adult interpretation or explanation, the urge toward neat closure–to get between him and the material at hand. The poem is full of mystery, ominous and eerie, hushed, threatening but with love and a kind of wonder also fully present. Confusion mingles with familiarity, and the poem lives out the force of deep connection the poet feels with both his ancestor–she of the “black heart” and her sighs–and his childhood self.
I have never ceased to be moved or amazed by this poem, struck by how much Kinsella is able to get into the brief encounter–dense with detail, with character, explosive with nouns and verbs doing the work of excavation.
I was going to say something,
and stopped. Her profile against the curtains
was old, and dark like a hunting bird’s.
It was the way she perched on the high stool,
staring into herself, with one fist
gripping the side of the barrier around her desk
–or her head held by something, from inside.
And not caring for anything around her
or anyone there by the shelves.
I caught a faint smell, musky and queer.
I may have made some sound–she stopped rocking
and pressed her fist in her lap; then she stood up
and shut down the lid of the desk, and turned the key.
She shoved a small bottle under her aprons
and came toward me, darkening the passageway.
Ancestor. . . among sweet- and fruit-boxes.
Her black heart . . .
Was that a sigh?
–brushing by me in the shadows,
with her heaped aprons, through the red hangings
to the scullery, and down to the back room.
– Thomas Kinsella
Thomas Kinsella was awarded the Freedom of the City of Dublin in 2007 and has received honorary doctorates from the University of Turin and the National University of Ireland. His COLLECTED POEMS and LATE POEMS are among his most recent books, along with his own fascinating commentary on his life and works, A DUBLIN DOCUMENTARY. He edited THE NEW OXFORD BOOK OF IRISH VERSE in 1986 and translated the Irish Epic THE TAIN in 1969.
Floyd Skloot has won 3 Pushcart Prizes and the PEN USA Literary Award. His recent collections of poetry include APPROACHING WINTER (2015), THE SNOW’S MUSIC (2008), and THE END OF DREAMS (2006), all from LSU Press, and CLOSE READING (2014) from Eyewear Publishing in the UK. His novel THE PHANTOM OF THOMAS HARDY will be published by the University of Wisconsin Press in October.
Ah, Floyd —wonderful, as expected! By the way — again — this “secret poem” feature has become quite popular; I receive feedback constantly. I know of no finer readership (poets/contributors, many,) 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 to 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, and have received work already.
Not much news, actually, this month: just a few brief notes:
You’ll notice the August issue contains an extract from the unmatchable Jean Follain’s Canisy — Plume’s original name, by the way, as it seemed to embody our mission and our motto: Â«le jardin reste ouvert pour ceux qui l’ont aiméÂ» — i.e., to provide a space where poets whose work has been neglected or too little appreciated these last years, where its admirers and followers-on might once again stroll among the greenery. To that end — and I don’t know why we haven’t done this before now (of course I do: I’m not that clever) — beginning with this issue, we’ll run — what to call it? oh, OK, a “classic” poem — among our twelve selections. Sometimes I will choose the poem, but I’d like input from you, too, readers. In the last few weeks, I have received several excellent submission; you’ll see them appear as the months press forward, as they do. So — if you have a poem that you believe deserves a second look, please, send it to me at email@example.com I’ll credit you when your selection is published, of course. And if you wish to say a few words about the poet and/or the poem, so much the better — I’ll run that, too.
In September, we will be debuting a new column, “Essays and Comment” — though I’ll keep the editor of that effort under wraps for now. I believe it will be a wonderful and much-needed addition to Plume. That editor will write a handful of entries, and has recruited a stellar roster of other essayists (names you’ll recognize) to do the same. I hope you’ll find this as exciting as I — we’ve set aside a space at the top of the homepage, alongside Adam Tavel’s Book Reviews and the Featured Selection (a real stunner this time) — Jean Valentine in conversation with Nancy Mitchell, with remarkable photographs and new poems!
Travel plans: We are in the process of making up our fall itinerary of readings in support of Plume Poetry 4, the print anthology (still available at MadHat) and much gratitude to those of you who, in increasing numbers, have adopted it as a text for their creative writing classes. Also there, Tess Gallagher’s and Lawrence Matsuda’sBoogie-Woogie Criss-Cross, under the Plume Editions imprint. Next up: Nin Andrews.
Oh, and why not another peek at the cover?
Our cover art this month is Claes Oldenburg’s “Extinguished Match,” 1990 — for reasons you will discover should you venture into the thickets of my Editor’s Note. But, certainly, unnecessary — I’m sure Mr. Oldenburg’s work can be viewed quite profitably without that particular prefatory misery.
New Work Received this month includes poems from Denise Duhamel, Paul Lisicky, Max Ritvo, Jan Freeman, Danielle Blau, Floyd Skloot, Dzvinia Orlowsky, and Terese Svoboda.
That’s it, for now.
As always, I hope you enjoy the issue!