Newsletter Issue #67 February, 2017

Newsletter Issue #67 February, 2017
February 2, 2017 Plume
Jeff Skinner, “Josie” 2016
Readers:  Welcome to Plume, Issue 67

February: and perhaps even more than usual a good amount of Plume activity to report, centering on the launch of our latest print anthology and its attendant readings at AWP, but first, as always, our “secret poem”: this month it is Anthony Hecht’s “A Birthday Poem,” wonderfully reconsidered by Plume contributor Steven Kronen:

On  “A Birthday Poem” by Anthony Hecht

Anthony Hecht’s deeply affecting poem to his wife, “A Birthday Poem,” begins as a wise, scholarly, 3rd-person discourse on temporal and spatial perspectives and how the eye susses out its foreground, leaving us “unable certainly to say// what lies behind it, or what sets it off/ with fine diminishings.” Yet, the poem’s unassuming title suggests to me the eternal notes of Time and Self, the same frequencies coming through Matthew Arnold’s 1851 “Dover Beach” window (its frame manufactured by Darwin & Marx Inc). All of history — from Sophocles’ Aegean ennui (much like our own, that’s the point) to the Sea of Faith’s long withdrawal toward its Nietzschean shingles – lies before us. In its last stanza, Arnold’s sweeping observations finally funnel to his famous “Ah, love/let us be true/ to one another” — “love” of course, both a fleeting sweetheart, and a universal constant, LOVE.

Hecht’s Birthday poem, likewise, takes the long view, “sub specie Aeternitas,” focusing (he actually mentions Zeiss binoculars) on power, politics, the rise and fall of empires, literature, religion, and art as when Mantegna depicts Jesus’s crucifixion “[o]n that mid-afternoon of our disgrace.” Only late in the poem, a la “Dover Beach,” in the eighth of Hecht’s 12 meticulously rhymed stanzas, do we arrive at Hecht’sparticular love:

It’s when we come to shift the gears of tense
That suddenly we note
A curious excitement of the heart
And slight catch in the throat: –
When, for example, from the confluence
That bears all things away I set apart
The inexpressible lineaments of your face

That tense shift is away from the grand historical to the poem’s present and the personally historical, the face of his wife in a photograph, or rather, the face of his future wife on her fourth birthday “as it once was years ago, /Back in some inaccessible time and place.” She is joyfully focused on a new pair of sneakers, a birthday present. Here, through the window frame of the poem, we gaze at Hecht gazing through the borders of a picture, at his wife gazing at a pair of humble shoes. The poem’s earlier horrific “Verduns and Waterloos/ The man-made mushroom’s deathly overplus” that monstrously repeat themselves “[a]s if all history were deciduous” is benignly re-enacted here and undone in the annual celebration of his beloved wife’s birthday. Hecht’s earlier professorial “we,” now shifted to the earned and earnest 1st-person “I” late in the poem, moves me every time I read it. It’s like watching Mr. Darcy bear his heart at last to Lizzie Bennett.

Both “Dover Beach” and “A Birthday Poem,” in their manner, defy their times. “Dover Beach” with its helter-skelter rhyming and varied feet some 100 years earlier, presages (Whitman aside) the coming of an English vers libre. Hecht’s 1976 tightly structured poem (scanning iambically as it scans the world) bucks the free verse imperative set fully in motion during the 50s which so often compelled the “I” to the top of the poem, literally and figuratively, without so much as a blush or hint of reserve.

You can read Hecht’s own paean to “Dover Beach” in his “The Dover Bitch” which mocks the professorial stiffness of Arnold (and possibly of Hecht himself, who was a man of great reserve, but also a sly sense of humor) via the woman in their respective poems.

A BIRTHDAY POEM by Anthony Hecht

June 22, 1976

Like a small cloud, like a little hovering ghost
Without substance or edges,
Like a crowd of numbered dots in a sick child’s puzzle,
A loose community of midges
Sways in the carven shafts of noon that coast
Down through the summer trees in a golden dazzle.

Intent upon such tiny copter flights,
The eye adjusts its focus
To those billowings about ten feet away,
That hazy woven hocus-pocus
Or shell game of the air, whose casual sleights
Leave us unable certainly to say

What lies behind it, or what sets it off
With fine diminishings,
Like the pale towns Mantegna chose to place
Beyond the thieves and King of Kings:
Those domes, theatres and temples, clear enough
On that mid-afternoon of our disgrace.

And we know at once it would take an act of will
Plus a firm, inquiring squint
To ignore those drunken motes and concentrate
On the blurred, unfathomed background tint
Of deep sea-green Holbein employed  to fill
The space behind his ministers of state,

As if one range slyly obscured  the other.
As, in the main, it does.
All of our Flemish distances disclose
A clarity that never was:
Dwarf pilgrims in the green faubourgs of Mother
And Son, stunted cathedrals, shrunken cows.

It’s the same with Time. Looked at sub specie
, from
The snow-line of some Ararat of years,
Scholars remark those kingdoms come
To nothing, to grief, without the least display
Of anything so underbred as tears,

And with their Zeiss binoculars descry
Verduns and Waterloos,
The man-made mushroom’s deathly overplus,
Caesars and heretics and Jews
Gone down in blood, without batting an eye,
As if all history were deciduous.

It’s when we come to shift the gears of tense
That suddenly we note
A curious excitement of the heart
And slight catch in the throat: –
When, for example, from the confluence
That bears all things away I set apart

The inexpressible lineaments of your face,
Both as I know it now,
By heart, by sight, by reverent touch and study,
And as it once was years ago,
Back in some inaccessible time and place,
Fixed in the vanished camera of somebody.

You are four years old here in this photograph.
You are turned out in style,
In a pair of bright red sneakers, a birthday gift.
You are looking down at them with a smile
Of pride and admiration, half
Wonder and half joy, at the right and the left.

The picture is black and white, mere light and shade.
Even the sneakers’ red
Has washed away in acids. A voice is spent,
Echoing down the ages in my head:
What is your substance, whereof are you made,
That millions of strange shadows on you tend?

O my most dear, I know the live imprint
Of that smile of gratitude,
Know it more perfectly than any book.
It brims upon the world, a mood
Of love, a mode of gladness without stint.
O that I may be worthy of that look.

Anthony Hecht was one of the major American poets of the latter half of the 20thcentury. Born in 1923, he fought in Germany during WWII and helped liberate the Buchenwald concentration camp; his war experiences haunted him for years. Hecht served as U. S. Poet Laureate between 1982 and 1984. He won the Pulitzer, the Bolligen, and nearly every major poetry prize for his work. He died in 2004. Watch a short video of Hecht discussing poetry at .

Steve Kronen’s two collections are Splendor (BOA), and Empirical Evidence (University of Georgia). His work has been published in Poetry, APR, The American Scholar, The Georgia Review, Little Star, The New Republic, The New Statesman, The Georgia Review, The Yale Review, Poetry Daily, Plume, and other journals and sites. He has recently completed two new manuscripts, Gimme That. Don’t Smite Me, and Cain on the Moon, translations/

What a fine introduction, and the poem haunts and delights me, still, after a fifth reading this evening. I mean,

And with their Zeiss binoculars descry
Verduns and Waterloos,
The man-made mushroom’s deathly overplus,
Caesars and heretics and Jews
Gone down in blood, without batting an eye,
As if all history were deciduous.

That deciduous is something, yes?

So, to the news – and here I’ll allow the flyers (thank you, Marc Vincenz) to do the talking for a bit –only pausing to thank all the poets who will be reading for Plume – and for MadHat Press and White Pine Press, and to urge all you readers of our little journal and this newsletter to come out. The venue is but a four or five minute walk from the convention center, and from what I have learned, gorgeous.  I’m sure we’ll repair to some bar or other after each reading, too.

First, a look at our newest print anthology, Plume Poetry 5 – 400+ pages! Many poets you will know as old friends, some acquaintances, others you will meet for the first time. It’s available now at MadHat Press, with rather steep discounts for group purchases – classes and such, where the book already is finding its place for upcoming semesters.

Next, the three readings we will  host at AWP – stellar rosters all! Each reading’s location and starting/ending times are the same.

The Atrium  (just across the street from the Convention Center) 
Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church
900 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001

7:00 – 9:30 pm

Reading 1: February 8

Reading 2: February 9

Reading 3: February 10

Come, enjoy – free!

Oh – if you are at the conference, please – come to one or all of the readings. Or, stop by our booth:  Booth 321-T, opposite Copper Canyon and Grove/Atlantic. We are listed as MadHat Press/Plume Poetry. I’d love to see you!

And – what else to tell you this month?

In this issue’s “Essays & Comment” (helmed by Associate Editor for Criticism and Essays Robert Archambeau) we offer Michael Anania’s moving, instructive brief history of the emergence of a local poetry scene — When Buffalo Became Buffalo.

Our Featured Selection this month focuses on the work of David Lehman, with a freewheeling interview – as usual — with the author by our own Nancy Mitchell,Associate Editor for Special projects.

In this issue’s Book Reviews, Adam Tavel reviews Anna Świrszczyńska’s Building the Barricade.

Our cover art this month — “Josie” 2016 – comes from the multi-talented Plumecontributor (and slated Featured Selection poet), Jeffrey Skinner.

Again, I hope to see you in Washington, DC, soon.

That’s it – I do hope you enjoy the issue!

Daniel Lawless
Editor, Plume

Copyright © |PLUMEPOETRY_2016| All rights reserved.