April: and, God, I’d forgotten this Norman Dubie poem! Many thanks for Adam Tavel’s recollection below. I had the same reaction, or nearly, rereading it just now. And I wonder how many of us could follow suit, or are, as we read Adam’s introduction – that poem, the one that, if only imaginatively, finds us once again “barg[ing] into the conference room, offer[ing] a token apology for my tardiness, and read[ing] the poem aloud, indifferent to the grimaces of those offended by my breezy entry”? Yes? Mine – Desnos’s “If You Only Knew” –mid-seventies, alone in what passed for a studio apartment in Louisville. Yours? Where and when? Ah, but –perhaps a column for another day. For now, Mr. Tavel, please. Then turn to the Featured Selection, where more delights await.
I know definitively that the first Norman Dubie poem I ever read was “The Pennacesse Leper Colony for Women, Cape Cod: 1922” because it made me late for a college meeting. It was my first year teaching. I sat enraptured at my office desk, marveling at the poem’s lush imagery, authoritative persona, and intricate narrative that suggested far more than it revealed. When I glanced at the clock and saw that I was several minutes behind schedule, I printed the poem and hustled down the hall. I barged into the conference room, offered a token apology for my tardiness, and read the poem aloud, indifferent to the grimaces of those offended by my breezy entry.
Ever since, Norman Dubie’s poems have remained a vital, enduring presence in my imagination. His sheer range and inventiveness are a constant draw—late at night I often find myself pulling one of his well-worn collections from my shelves, as I did last month when a foot of blizzard snow swirled and swallowed the Delmarva Peninsula. And like hundreds of other young poets, Dubie’s example looms large for me: his formal dexterity, his expansive diction, and his moral compass confront the direst human experiences with courage and precision. For those whose poems turn to memory and history, he is an essential master. Perhaps no other American poet of the 20th century has captured the viciousness, oddity, and yearning of our species with such heart and grandeur. For that, and his endless bounty of wonders, he has my enduring gratitude.
The Pennacesse Leper Colony for Women, Cape Cod: 1922
The island, you mustn’t say, had only rocks and scrub pine;
Was on a blue, bright day like a blemish in this landscape.
And Charlotte who is frail and the youngest of us collects
Sticks and branches to start our fires, cries as they burn
Because they resemble most what she has lost
Or has little of: long fingers, her toes,
And a left arm gone past the elbow, soon clear to her shoulder.
She has the mouth of sea perch. Five of our sisters wear
Green hoods. You are touched by all of this, but not by us.
To be touched by us, to be kissed! Sometimes
We see couples rowing in the distance in yellow coats.
Sometimes they fish with handlines; we offend
Everyone who is offended most
And by everything and everyone. The five goats love us, though,
And live in our dark houses. When they are
Full with milk they climb the steps and beg that
They be milked. Their teats brush the steps and leave thick
Yellow trails of fresh milk. We are all females here.
Even the ghosts. We must wash, of course, in salt water,
But it smarts or maybe even hurts us. Often with a rope
Around her waist Anne is lowered entirely into the water.
She splashes around and screams in pain. Her screams
Sometimes carry clear to the beaches on the Cape.
For us I say so often. For us we say. For us! We are
Human and not individual, we hold everything in common.
We are individual, you could pick us out in a crowd.
You did. This island is not our prison. We are not kept
In; not even by our skin.
Once Anne said she would love to be a Negro or a trout.
We live without you. Father, I don’t know why I have written
You all this; but be proud for I am living, and yet each day
I am less and less your flesh. Someday, eventually, you
Should only think of me as being a lightning bug on the lawn,
Or the Negro fishing at the pond, or the fat trout he wraps
In leaves that he is showing to someone. I’ll be
Most everything for you. And I’ll be gone.
Norman Dubie, “The Pennacesse Leper Colony for Women, Cape Cod: 1922” from The Mercy Seat: Collected & New Poems 1967-2001 (Copper Canyon Press, 2001). www.coppercanyonpress.org
Adam Tavel won the 2017 Richard Wilbur Book Award for Catafalque (University of Evansville Press, 2018). You can find him online at adamtavel.com
And now, a moment to thank all who read for Plume and MadHat at AWP – and to say how we missed those stranded in the Northeast, in hotel rooms and on roads and tarmacs. The roll call for the three evenings:
Angela Ball, Robin Behn, Bruce Bond, Michelle Bitting, Patricia Clark, Nicole Cooley, Peter Cooley, Carrie Etter, Alice Friman, Steven Kronen, Leeya Mehta, J. Allyn Rosser, Daniel Tobin.
Marilyn Kallet, Matt Babcock, Karren LaLonde Alenier, Mark Irwin, Elizabeth Hodges, John Warren Smith, Kevin Gallagher, Michael Anania, Marc Vincenz, Marc Scroggins.
F. J. Bergmann, Philip Fired, DeWitt Henry, Paul Hoover, Nancy Mitchell, Carol Moldaw, Joyce Peseroff, Terese Svoboda, Adam Tavel.
An impressive bunch – and so much fun! Thanks a million, all.
Upcoming, we will schedule a number of readings in the Spring and Fall as we launch the print anthology, Plume Poetry 6. Dates/times announced in the not too distant. Many thanks to Marc Vincenz for designing the cover and to Maurice Manning for his lovely introduction.
Our cover art this month comes from Elizabeth Koning. Of the Netherlandish photographer, Vogue Magazine’s Joanne Carter notes that
It is apparent that Koning’s images tone down the bright areas and lighten the dark ones, producing a soft and imperceptible shift between the differing tones. The models themselves appear as ethereal, it is not possible to contextualise them, they appear to be eternal and immortal. By grace of ambiguity, Koning’s photography fascinates on an entirely alternative level to that of beauty. Renaissance portraiture of Rafaela and Holbein spring to mind when viewing Koning’s photographs along with heavy undertones of Pyke Koch’s magic and realist manner.
Much of Koning’s portraiture includes objects within each image, a model with a boat, or with a cat, for example, suggestive of a special meaning. The viewer enjoys a heightened breadth and physicality within each photograph as they search for the true veracity and interpretation.
Koning’s photographic vision is strongly influenced by associations with 15th Century Master Painters, namely the early Renaissance and the Flemish Primitives. Taken in isolation, juxtaposed between the layers of the foreground, the backgrounds in Koning’s images are bursting with information. Landscapes immersed in an estranged transparent atmosphere. Koning’s model’s appear, surrounded by cloudy skies. Clearly influenced by the 17th Century Dutch Landscape Master Painters too, her work fuses together the abstract as well as the figurative. Photographic Perspective is a masterstroke and key to Koning’s photography.
Born in the Netherlands in 1966, Koning has developed as an artist, first she became a model, working in front of the camera, later she managed a modelling agency and moved on to become an assistant of a fashion magazine. Her future was shaped and influenced by experiences of living between Milan, Italy and London, UK. All the while, during these years of artistic development, her imagination was running ahead of her work, formulating ideas for future photography before embarking on a full time photographic career.
In an art historical way, the borderline between art and photography is one that Konings is challenging and one that she infuses with a sense of abiding gentility.
“A photo can capture the essence of a person, sometimes in just one frame. This is an enormous challenge. But when it is achieved, it’s an incredible thing. Sometimes it takes a series of photos to express the nuances of that person, but either way photography has a way of showing those subtleties that can be hard to describe in words”.
Interview by Joanne Carter, Founder and Editorial Director of The AppWhisperer.com