June: and some news to follow, but, first, our “secret poem,” Jayne Anne Phillips’ “Shaping,” introduced by recent Plume contributor Rebecca Goss:
Born in West Virginia in 1952, Jayne Anne Phillips is a novelist and short story writer. Her pamphlet-sized collection Sweethearts was published when she was in her early twenties and is referred to as a collection of ‘pieces’. I’ve always read these pieces as prose poems. Many of them went on to be included in her acclaimed short story collection Black Tickets where I first read them, but it was my lecturer at university who retrieved her copy of Sweethearts from the back of a filing cabinet, offered it to me, knowing I was an admirer of Phillips’ work. I held its velvety square in my hands, the buff front cover yellowing at the edges. What I read inside left me heady and amazed. Now with my own copy, Sweethearts remains my most precious book, and still commands the biggest influence on my own writing.
In ‘Shaping’ a mother and daughter bake and talk. Nothing unusual about that, but something happens. Woman and girl establish a confidence through their actions and the kitchen morphs into a confessional space. The poem opens with small, concentrated movements:
‘We stand in the kitchen making crescent rolls. She shapes pale dough
into twisted moons. I color them yellow
with my buttered brush, its bristles
dig tiny patterns
in the smooth white.’
I love the synchronized intimacy to it: ‘She shapes…I color’. Words like ‘making’, ‘buttered’, ‘dig’, ‘smooth’ emphasise the notion of touch and closeness. As these figures twist the dough, Phillips twists the poem itself. Line breaks carefully curve and wind. We read at a pace that reflects the considered time taken to prepare the goods, and let a story unfold.
“I felt nothing
but relief the day my father died.”
In this shift from raw ingredients to raw emotions, a man is remembered. A man who ‘lost his money and his mind slowly.’ Episodes of erratic, alarming behaviour are described:
‘I bought myself a chinchilla coat. One night
he put it on and went out to the barn to spread fertilizer’
Phillips creates dramatic tension with coat seams ‘splitting’, trash ‘burning’, a pitchfork ‘blazing’ and the story builds to its conclusion:
‘A couple of weeks later a guard knocked him down
and he died.’
By this point ‘the cookie sheet of crinkled moon is full’. Mother and daughter have not stopped baking; I imagine not even turned to look at one another, as words spilled out into this warm, domestic space. The poem is ‘moving’ constantly with the act of cooking, the progression of memories the mother is recalling, her father’s actions. We can’t ignore the relevance of the title and how this poem embraces the act of making. Not only biscuits being made here, but also an attempt to make sense of the past, hold it; give it some sort of form. Even the coat with its ‘color of honeycomb’ makes us think of bees, nature’s ultimate makers. The baking, itself a domiciliary feat, becomes a source, a spring, from which mother and daughter can share something difficult and haunting.
I love the way this poem is full of hands. They twist dough, pull at sheets, carry buckets, knock a man down. At the end of the poem, hands open an oven door and there is a pouring of heat into the room ‘like a pealing of bells’. A peal is a sound that can only come from hands taking hold of a sally, pulling that tail stroke down, a series of rings released into the sky. And this is what I always feel, every time I come to the end of this poem, that we have witnessed a release. An emotional understanding has been reached, and a new, more healing memory made.
We stand in the kitchen making crescent rolls. She shapes pale dough
into twisted moons. I color them yellow
with my buttered brush, its bristles
dig tiny patterns
in the smooth white. “I felt nothing
but relief the day my father died.” My mother’s
voice is broken. “He was much older than mother,
lost his money and his mind slowly. When my friends
stayed with me he used to stride into the room
pull the sheets off us and tell them to
get dressed, he didn’t want
strangers in his house at night. In highschool
I bought myself a chinchilla coat. One night
he put it on and went out to the barn to spread fertilizer. I
remember standing by the window
watching him carry buckets of manure from cowyard to garden, the
shoulder seams already splitting
the color of honeycomb. ‘Leave him alone,’
mother said, ‘He doesn’t know
what he’s done.’ Then one autumn we were
burning trash up on the hill. He
picked up a pitchfork of blazing leaves
and chased mother around the fire. After that
we had to have him put away.
The morning they came and got him
he turned at the door and said calmly, ‘Gracie,
aren’t you coming with me?’
A couple of weeks later a guard knocked him down
and he died.’ The cookie sheet of crinkled moon is full. She
picks it up and bends
to the oven. As she
opens the door its
heat falls into the room like
a pealing of bells.
(from Sweethearts, by Jayne Anne Phillips, Wingbow/Truck Press, 1976).
Jayne Anne Phillips was born and raised in West Virginia. Her first book of stories, Black Tickets, published in 1979 when she was 26, won the prestigious Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction, awarded by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Featured in Newsweek, Black Tickets was pronounced “stories unlike any in our literature…a crooked beauty” by Raymond Carver and established Phillips as a writer “in love with the American language.” She was praised by Nadine Gordimer as “the best short story writer since Eudora Welty” and Black Tickets has since become a classic of the short story genre.
Her works have been translated and published in twelve foreign languages. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, a Howard Fellowship, and a Bunting Fellowship from the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College. She has taught at Williams College, Boston University, Harvard University, and Brandeis University, and is currently Distinguished Professor of English and Director of the Rutgers Newark MFA Program (www.ncas.rutgers.edu/mfa) at Rutgers-Newark, the State University of New Jersey.
And now – how paltry it seems after the above — for a bit of our news.
First, a new little feature we’ll call Staff Announcements – publications, awards, readings, etc. – which we’ll run occasionally. We’ve got quite an accomplished crew and – I should have thought of this long before now.
International Editor Marc Vincenz’s translation of Swiss poet and author Jürg Amann’s Lifelong Bird Migration(Amann’s last book) was just released by Spuyten Duyvil. Jürg Amann was a poet, novelist, essayist, literary critic, dramatist and children’s author. His prodigious oeuvre spans well over 40 literary works. He won many awards, including the Ingeborg Bachmann and Conrad-Ferdinand-Meyer prizes and two awards from the Swiss Schiller Foundation. He died in 2013.
Co-International Editor Hélène Cardona has had a busy and productive year. Some recent events:
* Her translation of Five Poems from Liberty Walks Naked by Maram Al-Masri, with the original French, in the current issue of Anastamos Journal. Five Poems from Liberty Walk Naked by Maram Al-Masri in Anastamos *Ms. Cardona’s translation of Five Poems from I Look at You by Maram Al-Masri, with the original French, in the current issue of Hayden’s Ferry Review (Issue 59).
* A review: Beyond Elsewhere, my translation of Plus loin qu’aileurs by Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac is reviewed in the current issue of World Literature Today.
Reviews editor Adam Tavel has won the 2017 Richard Wilbur Award for his third poetry collection, Catafalque, which will be published by the University of Evansville Press this winter.
In May, 2017, Associate Editor-at-Large Leeya Mehta’s poems won an International Publication Award with the Atlanta Review. New work was also published in District Lines, an anthology of Washington DC based writing from Politics and Prose Bookstore.
Contributing Editor, Translations, Alex Cigale recently published his first full book, Russian Absurd: Daniil Kharms, Selected Writings in the Northwestern World Classics series. A selection of his translations of three poets (Mikhail Eremin, Shamshad Abdullaev, and Amarsana Ulzytuev,) all of them having previously appeared in Plume, were featured in the April Poetry Month issue of Words Without Borders. His translation of Osip Mandelstam’s “January 1, 1924” in the current print issue of Michigan Quarterly Review is featured online, and translations of 3 poems by Arseny Tarkovsky (“the filmmaker’s father”) are in the online Omniglots feature of the Harvard Review. The first chapter of his first full translation of a Russian novel, about the siege of Donetsk Airport in Russia’s conflict with Ukraine, is online at The Odessa Review.
Associate Editor for Special Projects Nancy Mitchell has a new book of poetry, The All Night Body Shop, forthcoming in 2018 from MadHat Press and Plume Editions.
Errata Department: last Newsletter, I offered a woefully incomplete list of upcoming Plume Editions books, published and forthcoming. Here’s the updated version – it’s surprising to me, to say the least, how far we’ve come in so short a time – due entirely to the poets, of course, and the hard work of Marc Vincenz and his team at MadHat Press:
Published to Date:
Plume Poetry 5
Plume – The Interviews
Nin Andrews,Our Lady of the Orgasm
Tess Gallagher and Lawrence Matsuda,Boogie Woogie Criss-Cross
W.S. DiPiero — The Man on the Water
Upcoming for 2017-2018:
J. T. Barbarase, True Does Nothing
J. T. Barbarase, After Prévert.
Sally Bliumis-Dunn, Echolocation
Robin Behn, Quarry Cross
Paul Hoover The Book of Unnamed Things
Jennifer O’Grady, Exclusions and Limitations
The Plume Long-ish Poetry Anthology, Eds. Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum and Matthew Silverman
Several others are in process; we’ll announce those as soon as the contractual work is completed.
We’re working on fall readings for Plume Poetry 5 (summer is slow) now: so far, Cambridge, NYC, perhaps Providence, Chicago. September-November. If anyone would like to read or has suggestions for other cities, well, that would be quite nice – under Plume auspices, and we’d help, but I am free only to attend readings in these cities; my college has been generous, but. not that generous). Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Might I take another moment to hawk the new print anthology? I think all contributors now have their copies – I have seen a number of “book selfies” on FB, Twitter, etc. and read somewhat red-faced some very kind comments. Should you know a reviewer who might want to…well…enough. Reviews of anthologies are hard to come by. But, please do see below, again. If you like, purchase a copy for yourself, a friend – or as some already are doing, order in bulk for your writing class (with attendant discount). Available through our Store on the Plume homepage, MadHat Press, Amazon, B&N, et cetera.
Our cover at this issue, Muybridge’s galloping horses, of course. A belated but no less heart-felt tip of the silver julep cup to the fastest two minutes in sports, set in my hometown, Louisville, Kentucky. For an account of the shenanigans that transpire there, I’d recommend a look at our favorite son Hunter S. Thompson’s “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved,” with Ralph Steadman’s hallucinatory illustrations. My only trip to that grand affair ended badly: I was 16, and one still could sneak liquor into the infield with relative ease. We arrived at 9 AM; I missed the actual race by a mere four hours.