Newsletter Issue #72 July, 2017

Newsletter Issue #72 July, 2017
July 2, 2017 Plume
Al Farrow “Arm Bone of Santa Guerra
Readers:  Welcome to PlumeIssue 72

June: and a bit of news to follow, but, first, our “secret poem,” a fresh look at Sylvia Plath’s “Tulips,” introduced by recent Plume contributor David Thacker:  

How free it is, you have no idea how free

Forgive me. I’m turning your attention again, if you’ll stick with me, to Sylvia Plath, and Plath it seems is either reviled or adored these days. I seem to be one of those few who once reviled but now adores (small confession: “Daddy” still makes me cringe), and “Tulips” is a poem I’m always eager to talk about. Here’s why: beyond her often celebrated verve with voice and stance, and her impulse for the melodramatic, in “Tulips,” as elsewhere, Plath deploys metaphor in ways that open access to the mental state of her speaker. Do I dare assert she allows a reader to access her subjective experience from the inside? I think I do.

It’s no secret Plath’s metaphors come fast and heavy and in configurations that can be difficult to parse (which is, I think, the primary reason she can be a difficult read, and I wonder if perhaps she leans on the melodramatic as a countering, grounding antidote). The poem opens with “The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.” That “too excitable” does extraordinary work personifying the tulips as unruly children, making “here” a social scene with strict behavior codes, and turning “winter” from a season defined by bitter cold to one defined by propriety. Plath also here inverses typical values: tulips, uninhibited excitement, and spring, typically all positives, become negative, and winter and inhibiting social expectations, usually negative, become positive. And my goodness it’s only one line!

You might protest that such metaphors only come because they are germane to the voice, and true enough: we can’t have personified tulips without a speaker voicing complaint. But here’s another favorite, this from the second stanza:

They have propped my head between the pillow and the sheet-cuff
Like an eye between two white lids that will not shut.
Stupid pupil, it has to take everything in. (8-10)

The visual precision here is dazzling, and subtly the speaker suggests a lack of control that motivates her turn to self-directed invective. This second example speaks to metaphor at a deeper level than occasioned by performance, a level that, in fact, shapes performance. Beneath a speaker figuring herself as an eye unable to close (or as a student, or both) is the metaphor ‘the self is a container,’ a metaphor that is at the root of the speaker’s conception of who or what she is. It is a conceptual metaphor that shapes (maybe ‘determines’ is the more accurate verb here?) everything that happens in the poem.

Conceptual metaphors help us make sense of the world at a most fundamental level. The conceptual metaphor ‘the self is a container’ is common enough (it’s behind thinking like “I’ve got all these great ideas just bursting to get out” or Whitman’s “I am large, I contain multitudes”), and it is Plath’s metaphor work at this conceptual level that makes “Tulips,” like so many of her poems, grab me by the collar and yank me to new understanding, new empathy. She consistently reorients me in regards to my self-conception. Something about this particular speaker-container motivates her to want to empty herself of everything, to give herself away (as is plain in the first stanza). Something about being a container, for this speaker, is palpably, inherently painful, and because Plath is true and honest about the conceptual metaphors as they affect this psyche (and I’m willing to believe it is her psyche) those of us who comfortably employ these metaphors get to see how violent they can be on bodies different from our own. The poem is an interior drama wherein the speaker struggles with all she can muster to resist common, and to her painful, conceptual metaphors (another worth mentioning is ‘the self is a possession’) and assert new ones that she can’t, because of culture and biology, sustain. As the speaker returns to herself in the final lines, after allowing us to inhabit with her—briefly, through her metaphor work—a struggle to assert a different way of being, her ambivalence toward life is now understandable from the inside:

The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea,
And comes from a country far away as health.

I feel a deep reverence every time.

Sylvia Plath

The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in.
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.
I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.
I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses
And my history to the anesthetist and my body to surgeons.

They have propped my head between the pillow and the sheet-cuff
Like an eye between two white lids that will not shut.
Stupid pupil, it has to take everything in.
The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,
Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another,
So it is impossible to tell how many there are.

My body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water
Tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently.
They bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep.
Now I have lost myself I am sick of baggage—
My patent leather overnight case like a black pillbox,
My husband and child smiling out of the family photo;
Their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks.

I have let things slip, a thirty-year-old cargo boat
stubbornly hanging on to my name and address.
They have swabbed me clear of my loving associations.
Scared and bare on the green plastic-pillowed trolley
I watched my teaset, my bureaus of linen, my books
Sink out of sight, and the water went over my head.
I am a nun now, I have never been so pure.

I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted
To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.
How free it is, you have no idea how free—
The peacefulness is so big it dazes you,
And it asks nothing, a name tag, a few trinkets.
It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them
Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet.

The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.
Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe
Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.
Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.
They are subtle: they seem to float, though they weigh me down,
Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their color,
A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck.

Nobody watched me before, now I am watched.
The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me
Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins,
And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow
Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,
And I have no face, I have wanted to efface myself.
The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.

Before they came the air was calm enough,
Coming and going, breath by breath, without any fuss.
Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise.
Now the air snags and eddies round them the way a river
Snags and eddies round a sunken rust-red engine.
They concentrate my attention, that was happy
Playing and resting without committing itself.

The walls, also, seem to be warming themselves.
The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;
They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat,
And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes
Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of me.
The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea,
And comes from a country far away as health.

David Thacker is a PhD candidate in poetry at Florida State University and holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Idaho. A Pushcart Nominee, a finalist for the Berkshire Prize, and a recipient of the Fredrick Manfred Award from the Western Literature Association, his poems have appeared in Best New Poets 2015, Ploughshares, Plume, Subtropics, and elsewhere.

Sylvia Plath’s Ariel is one of the great poetry collections of the 20th century. Originally published under the guidance of Ted Hughes, an edition restored to the order and selection of Plath’s intentions was published in 2007. She studied with Robert Lowell and is widely regarded as one of the influential figures of the so-called Confessional movement. Her first collection, Colossus, was published in 1960, and her semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, appeared in 1963, the year of her death. In 1982, The Collected Poems was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

A wonderful take on this classic, I think – thank you, David!

And now – how paltry it seems after the above — for a bit of our news.

First, a new feature of the newsletter: each month we will list those with new books, awards, positions, etc.  – if they email us at  before the end of each month. Send!

I’ll kick things off with an announcement of Lloyd Schwartz’s new book of poetry, Little Kisses, out from the University of Chicago Press.

Addition  Department: last Newsletter, I offered  a revised list of upcoming Plume Editions books, published and forthcoming. But, time to add another title – a forthcoming chapbook from DeWitt Henry.  We seem to keep rolling along – here is the current roster:

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

DeWitt Henry Title TBA

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

Again, we’re working on fall readings for Plume Poetry 6 (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

Also, if you can believe it (I can’t, really –the type to book flights at most a week ahead – not nine months), Plume is now securing venues for our AWP readings in Tampa, 7, 8, and 9 March. Once that is complete, I’ll be asking after those interested in reading. We live just across the bay, in St. Petersburg, so I imagine we’ll be around quite a bit.

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 homepageMadHat Press, Amazon, B&N, et cetera.

Our cover art this issue is from Al Farrow’s haunting, powerful  series “Reliquaries”:

Arm Bone of Santa Guerra
Wood Santo Arm, Artillery Shell,
Bullets, Steel, Glass, Bone
25″h X 9″dia

Al Farrow has had numerous solo exhibitions since 1970, and is currently represented by Catharine Clark Gallery in San Francisco. His work has been in group shows at the Oakland Art Gallery, the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, Falkirk Cultural Center in Marin, the San Francisco Art Institute, and the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, among many others. He has over 20 years of bronze casting experience. His work is in many important public and private collections around the world, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the di Rosa Preserve in Napa, and other collections in New York, Germany, Italy, and Hong Kong.  (Courtesy Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco. Photo credit: Jock McDonald.)

That’s it for now, I think.

As always, I do hope you enjoy the issue!

Daniel lawless

Editor, Plume

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