September: and perhaps you are growing accustomed to the new look of this newsletter: actual news, with my own thoughts reserved for the — yes, Editor’s Note. Though those notes comprise not my own ramblings this time (a relief, I’m sure) but a reprinted essay from Plume contributor Philip Meters, “Beyond Grief and Grievance,” which serves as a sort of overview of the responses to the events of fifteen years ago, and contextualizing Dore Kiessellbach’s remarkable work in his poetic meditations on September 11, to be found in this month’s Featured Selection.
News, such as it is, then, to follow — but first: our “secret poem”: Chase Twichell’s “Inland,” introduced by Gail Hanlon.
“Inland”: an Ode on Melancholy
Initially, Chase Twichell’s “Inland” resembles a lyric poem, with its attachment to feeling, but then it takes a different tack, distancing its readers, calling attention to itself as an artifact, and complicating its argument. The title seems like an extended metaphor, flickers, and is abandoned. When we reach the startling final line — “I love painting more than poetry” — we look again, backtracking as if it provided the ultimate clue in a scavenger hunt. Is love (or a lack of love for her medium) the central issue then? It hadn’t seemed to be.
More concept than image, the title “Inland” immediately makes us think of the coast, the other half of that binary, and it sets up a series of oppositions: inland/ocean, prairie/sky, love/not love, I/you, present/future, interior/exterior, music/noise, sound/silence. And, finally, and unexpectedly, poetry/painting.
My first impression of the title was “stranded,” away from the coast, and I wondered if it might be a metaphor. But not everyone feels trapped inland; for midwesterners, I imagine it means something like being closer to the center of things. In the opening line, the speaker places herself squarely on the “blond prairies” (1), but her gaze is decidedly elsewhere, on the sky where “the future” (3) (notably not her future) is forming. Since she is thinking of somewhere else, we wonder whether she wishes to be elsewhere. To escape. Like its physical location (which moves from the midwest to the coast, and back), the poem’s chronology is not fixed — floating restlessly from present to future, blurring space and time. Everything shifts and rambles. Like the mind? Especially since “inland” also means “interior,” suggesting the life of the mind?
The tone is melancholy, but also surprisingly assertive and changeable. Initially, I was puzzled by the first stanza’s careless sheaf of generic words, “sky,” “color,” “water,” “future” (lines 2-3), and its unadorned lexis. “Blond prairies” (1), yes, but then railroad-car syntax and nouns without adjectives, e.g., “the sky is all color and water” (2). I began to suspect that the flat, almost syllogistic tonal register was designed to create distance, to set up the precise terms of agreement between the “I” and the “you.”
In the second stanza, the tone relaxes, more personal and lyric: “This is a noteâ€¦.” (5), but our rising curiosity about the speaker’s relationship to the unnamed “you” (8) is quickly dispelled. This is “not love” (9), she admonishes, a signal that she is not interested in engaging “you” (the reader?) except at a safe distance–only “trying” to “include you” (8) and, by implication, failing. Especially if the poem is an extended metaphor for writing, she is laying out the terms, describing her own role (in stanzas Â¬2 and 3) –“I speakâ€¦,” then the reader’s role (in stanza 3)–“You might thinkâ€¦”–and, eventually, the troubled state of her work/practice and consequent “sadness” (49).
The third stanza’s instruction: “I speak of privacyâ€¦” (12) draws attention to her role as speaker, analogizing “privacy” to a house (i.e., a protective faÃ§ade? a sort of euphemism?) that protects the “loneliness” she enjoys (12). It does not really illuminate her liking for being alone, but it does relegate readers to a distance, rather than inviting us in.
She continues in a melancholy tone that is reinforced by negatives: the aforementioned “not love” (9), a puzzling reference to love not being “needed” (41) in the future, and a final declaration, almost an outburst, that the sound of the ocean “means nothing” (52) to her.
The many hints of disorder, chaos, and neglect also magnify the melancholy tone: the fence with “barbed” vines going “haywire” implies something out of control, and the adjective “barbed” suggests its noun pair: “wire” (stanza 5). The image of the “abandoned orchard” (31)—unpruned, littered with rotting pears — reinforces the idea that things are in a state of neglect. And, inside the house, dusty piano keys suggest a failure to practice one’s art, making both the interior and exterior a possible metaphor for the speaker’s art/process, untended, dropping only inferior “fruits” (work): “wormy and tart” (33).
Given that the orchard is portrayed so negatively, I initially speculated that the ocean might be linked to inspiration (or poetry as a whole), e.g., wild and untamed. Instead, it is also portrayed negatively, especially in the last stanza, when she declares it “nothing” (52), sheer cacophony– “broken glass” (22), a “roaring descant” (53)–clearly not the first dictionary meaning, “melodious counterpoint,” more like yammering discourse, from the Latin “discantus” (dis- “asunder, apart” + cantus “song”). Broken song. The waves “multiple concussions” (54): violent blows capable of producing loss of function, especially to the brain, echoing the theme of disuse and failure to practice one’s art.
In keeping with its conceptual bent, the poem runs through a panoply of poetic devices, even the Keatsian pathetic fallacy from “Ode on Melancholy” (“Clouds â€¦ / spill out my sadness”)(48-49), torqueing them with irony and license, even as it rails against poiesis. “Making” even as it laments making. In this way, the speaker’s authority as someone who creates and names is foregrounded. She alone defines what words do or do not mean.
Although the overriding tone of melancholy unifies many of the poem’s contradictions, ultimately “Inland” resists explanation. If the “abandoned orchard” (31) forms an extended metaphor for an unproductive state, why mention the ocean whose oxymoronic “timeless trash” (51) is also worthless to her? And if the ocean is a metaphor for inspiration (or poetic discourse), is it worthless only because the speaker feels unable to write well? It is difficult to say. Abandoning the inland metaphor in the final line, not yet having spoken of any of the arts directly (aside from passing references to “music”  and “still life” ), she declares a love for painting. Confused but intrigued, we wonder whether what she loves is the absence of words, though they comprise her medium.
Why is the poem so powerful? Perhaps in part because it is so stubbornly authoritative, even as the speaker decries the limitations of language with Whitmanesque brio— “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself”â€¦. do I speciously attribute human emotion to inanimate things, very well thenâ€¦. Puzzling as “Inland” is, it feels instructive. Even though it is emotionally restrained, the speaker’s passion emerges. I find myself returning to it. I like how it speculates that I will read it incorrectly. And its walled-off quality. The way it refuses to charm us. But entrances anyway. The lyric “I” emerging from the rubble.
— Chase Twichell
Above the blond prairies,
the sky is all color and water.
The future moves
from one part to another.
This is a note
in a tender sequence
that I call love,
trying to include you,
but it is not love.
It is music, or time.
To explain the pleasure I take
in loneliness, I speak of privacy,
but privacy is the house around it.
You could look inside,
as through a neighbor’s window
at night, not as a spy
but curious and friendly.
You might think
it was a still life you saw.
Somewhere, the ocean
crashes back and forth
like so much broken glass,
but nothing breaks.
it is quite powerless.
Irises have rooted
all along the fence,
and the barbed berry-vines
Unpruned and broken,
the abandoned orchard
reverts to the smaller,
harder fruits, wormy and tart.
In the stippled shade,
the fallen pears move
with the soft bodies of wasps,
and cows breathe in
the licorice silage.
It is silent
where the future is.
No longer needed there,
love is folded away in a drawer
like something newly washed.
In the window,
the color of the pears intensifies,
and the fern’s sporadic dust
darkens the keys of the piano.
Clouds containing light
spill out my sadness.
They have no sadness of their own.
The timeless trash of the sea
means nothing to me–
its roaring descant,
its multiple concussions.
I love painting more than poetry.
Chase Twichell grew up in Connecticut and the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. She is the author of seven books of poetry, most recently Horses Where the Answers Should Have Been: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2010). She has received fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts (twice), the Artists Foundation, and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Her work received a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; The Snow Watcher won the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America. She was awarded a Smart Family Foundation Award in 2004 for poems published in the Yale Review. In 2010, she received an honorary doctorate from St. Lawrence University.
Gail Hanlon’s poetry has appeared in Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, Cincinnati Review, CutbankOnline, Iowa Review, New Letters, Verse Daily, and Best American Poetry, among other journals and anthologies. SIFT, a chapbook (Finishing Line), was published in 2010, and she was a finalist for the Iowa Review Award (2013)and a semi-finalist for the Tomaz Salamun Prize at VERSE magazine (2015).
Such a fine poem, and a remarkable commentary, I think!
(If you’re interested in introducing a poem, please contact me for cursory guidelines at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Now: that promised news — brief, as poets, many of you/them teachers, prepare for the new semester.
Most obvious is the new addition to Plume: the column at the top of homepage titled “Essays and Comment” — which as its name promises will present the same on a variety of literary topics. Robert Archambeau will write for and edit the column; we’re lucky to have him aboard the little ship Plume — admire his biographic material here or a considerably shortened version on the Staff page. Robert’s first essay is the self-penned “The Barbarian Invasion of Poetry (Hurrah!).”
October’s issue will see Lawrence Raab’s “Poetry and Stupidity.” And we’re off and running. I think you’ll enjoy the essays and commentary, as I have.
Next, readings in support of the print anthology Plume Poetry 4 — details to follow, but a cursory look:
In order of appearance, those readings include
Cambridge, MA 22 September Cambridge Public Library 6:30 — 8:30
Asheville, NC 21 November The Altamont Theater
Roster and times TBA
AWP, 8-11 February Washington, DC
(Come see us at Booth 321-T, opposite Copper Canyon and Grove/Atlantic. We are listed as MadHat Press / Plume Poetry.)
Our cover art comes thanks to Don Monroe: “Photograph of the Gossamer Albatross under construction”
Our “classic poem,” Martinus Nijhoof’s “The Child and I,” translated by Cliff Crego, was kindly suggested by Plume contributor Benno Barnard — a lovely poem.
Work Received this month includes new poems from Phillip Fried, Nomi Stone, Lynne Potts, Katherine Soniat, Lisa Rose Bradford, Chantal Bizzini (tr Jerome B. Anderson) Scott Withiam, Joan Houlihan, Katheryne Nuerenberger, Chris Forhan, and D. M. Thomas.