Newsletter Issue #94 June 2019

Newsletter Issue #94 June 2019
June 21, 2019 Plume
Peter van Agtmael, “Disco Night Sept. 11”

June, 2019

Readers Welcome to Plume  Issue #94 —

June: and deviating from my habit of linking this brief opening remark to our “secret poem”, I find the cover art this month more than worth the moment: emblematic as it seems to me of a certain strain of envy that runs through my – and I imagine every writer’s veins: our product’s  linearity, versus the visual arts’ – as our Humanities instructors would call it — all-at-onceness.  For isn’t Peter van Agtmael’s photograph a narrative paralyzed, in a way? All of the elements are there, in an instant instantly available: tone, character, irony, symbol, even diction – the deliciously frivolous “disco” with its “lite”-like “nite.”.  One could imagine the poems that would ensue upon receipt of this image – but how many would be an improvement upon it? Not many, I’d suggest. In any case, there it is. Decide for yourself.  In the meantime, let’s turn our attention to D. Eric Parkison’s incisive, revelatory introduction to one of Karl Kirchewey’s finer efforts, “Airbus.”

D. Eric Parkison on Karl Kirchwey’s “Airbus”

Time is a formal element of poetry. That has to do with the process of reading and the play of grammar in syntax. There is, for example, an odd sense of ongoingness when a main action is deferred or postponed. Until an action has been named, nothing has happened, despite the passage of time. The effect is mimetic, I think, when a poem is situated in an airplane. The length of a flight seems bracketed, or is time outside of the flow of everyday time. Likewise, poetry situated in flight invites us to experience the suspension of the forward rush of our day, even as it invites us to experience the passing of time as an accretion of meaning.

Karl Kirchwey’s “Airbus,” from Stumbling Blocks: Roman Poems, is an exemplar of this conceit. The poem explores this eternal-event quality of flight by unwinding as a continuous, difficult, smart, and beautiful sentence. What is striking is a generosity of emotion paired with an unwillingness to condescend to the intellect. Time, memory, nature, divinity and the drive to create, the drive to comprehend: all are evoked and coordinated in ways difficult to explicate. A reader needs to take this flight more than once, needs to experience the time of this poem and the poem in time. It is extravagant in its propensity for working in all directions at once, and that makes reading “Airbus” an endlessly rewarding endeavor.

Listen to how it opens: “In a dove-gray nave/(the leather seats are blue)…” The radiation of religious connotation from “dove” and “nave” aren’t offset by the much more secular, material kind of noticing in the second line. Instead, between the categories of attention suggested in those phrases, we have an encapsulation of the argument that animates the whole. In our lives, quotidian, aesthetic, and divine experience (despite our attempts to disentangle them) are irrevocably, and necessarily, braided with each other. The boldness of this assertion doesn’t, as it very well might, foreclose all the other sorts energies at play. Even a kind of humor isn’t impossible to recognize:

“… in a hush
that is hardly devotional,
but in which the soul,
captive only to its wish

to be elsewhere, feels the roaring
and brutal friction of it…”

At one moment, the stanza break seems like a joke about the lowered expectations of soul-bearing in a secular age: our suspended question, what wish is the soul captive to? is answered wryly, to be elsewhere. At the next , that humor blends into a truth about a sort of dysphoria we experience as alienation from ourselves. That we are made to feel both at once suggests just how powerfully the poet has transcended sequence in this piece. The whimsical and Jarrell-esque “… realm of gauge and toggle,” is a moment of similar sweetness. That realm coordinates the “cloudscape” observed near the center of the poem, and the “vague bay or winter-brown/forest at afternoon” of the ending. This constellating of spaces is mimicked in other exciting pairings, as with the understated pattern of rhyme throughout. And the thinking that happens in those rhymes! How often the precondition for wishing or prayer must be a hush. Or, here in the last stanza:

“… in each blind and loving face [the boy]

read his eventual landfall,
at what vague bay or winter-brown
forest at afternoon
he can no longer tell.

The poem resolves itself in a sort of stitching up rhythm: three perfect iambs, that allow tell to ring sonorously with landfall. The piece ends as it begins: confident in its choices and nuanced in its treatment of ideas and feelings. A forest at afternoon rather than in the afternoon conflates spatial and temporal landscapes, as does the inability to “tell,” which is as likely some internal prohibition against saying as it is an admission of the opacity of our own memories. “Remember” is the word that most colloquially would end the sentence, but replicating contemporary speech is not what Kirchwey is about: he has crafted, instead, this moving, complex poem “… according to… certainties…” that will reveal themselves to you. It just takes time.


In a dove-gray nave
(the leather seats are blue),
being hour after hour resigned to
the perfect boredom of

their own passage, in a hush
that is hardly devotional,
but in which the soul,
captive only to its wish

to be elsewhere, feels the roaring
and brutal friction of it,
five hundred knots
across each naked fairing,

they have drawn the shades deep,
as if to spare themselves from
the sight of Elysium,
its brilliances of cloudscape,

where hooded Bruno walks,
taught by fire, and Borromini,
drawn forever upward by
his own ideas’ helix:

all those who have built,
according to their certainties,
somehow in that high place,
appareled in daylight

—even the boy once led
down the narrow aisle
to the realm of gauge and toggle
over which presided

those who signed his book of life
and gave him a silver pin,
worthless now, but for one
whole day, he counted himself

a king of infinite space
and, returned through the cockpit door
to his mother and father,
in each blind and loving face

read his eventual landfall,
at what vague bay or winter-brown
forest at afternoon
he can no longer tell.

Karl Kirchwey’s most recent book is Stumbling Blocks: Roman Poems. He teaches at Boston University, where he is Associate Dean of Faculty for the Humanities. His anthology Poems of Rome appears in the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets series in April 2018.

D. Eric Parkison received his MA in English from the University of Rochester. His poetry has appeared in American ChordataB O D YHawk & Whippoorwill, and Crab Creek Review, among others. His work is forthcoming in the Antigonish Review. He completed his MFA at Boston University in 2016, and lives in Lynn, MA.

What else?

To re-re-repeat: If you enjoyed Eric’s piece, all of the Plume newsletters are  now archived under, well, Archives, on our homepage.

And to re-repeat: Plume Poetry 7 is in hand! Please note the drop-down on our homepage, offering a 40% discount. I am very pleased to note that several poets who teach will be using Plume Poetry 7 in their classes in the Fall.

And why not a peek, again, at Kristen Weber’s gorgeous cover?

(Almost) penultimately, again a request. As you will note, I try to highlight recent of soon to be published books by Plume contributors at the conclusion of this newsletter. My method for gathering these materials is haphazard, to say the least. Now, I want to rectify that to whatever degree that is possible. So – if you have a new book — or have won some award or grant or other, perhaps send me a quick email – I want to highlight your many wonderful achievements here. And a little PR never hurts, right?

Our cover art this month comes from Peter van Agtmael. Mr. Agtmael was born in Washington DC in 1981. He studied history at Yale.  His work largely concentrates on America, looking at issues of conflict, identity, power, race and class. He also works extensively on the Israel/Palestine conflict and throughout the Middle East.  He has won the W. Eugene Smith Grant, the ICP Infinity Award for Young Photographer, the Lumix Freelens Award, the Aaron Siskind Grant, a Magnum Foundation Grant as well as awards from World Press Photo, American Photography Annual, POYi, The Pulitzer Center, The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, FOAM and Photo District News.  His book, ‘Disco Night Sept 11,’ on America at war in the post-9/11 era was released in 2014 by Red Hook Editions. Disco Night Sept 11 was shortlisted for the Aperture/Paris Photo Book Award and was named a ‘Book of the Year’ by The New York Times Magazine, Time Magazine, Mother Jones, Vogue, American Photo and Photo Eye.  “Buzzing at the Sill,” a book about America in the shadows of the wars, will come out in Fall 2016.  He is a founder and partner in Red Hook Editions. Peter joined Magnum Photos in 2008 and became a member in 2013. You can fine more of and on his work here.

And finally, per usual, a few new releases from Plume contributors:

Gregory Orr                     The Last Poem I Will Ever Write 
Kate Daniels                     In the Months of My Son’s recovery: Poems 
Dean Young                      Solar Perplexus
Jana Prikryl                    No Matter
Campbell McGrath      Nouns & Verbs: New and Selected Poems

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

Daniel Lawless
Editor, Plume

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