Carrie Chappell and Amanda Murphy on translating Sandra Moussempès:
The feminist and multi-voiced dimensions of Sandra Moussempès’ work inspired us to collaborate on translating Cassandre à bout portant (Flammarion, January 2021). As academic and poet, respectively, and as two women originally from the United States, we felt especially drawn to the plurality her poems insist are a part of women’s lives and artistry. It is this channeling of women’s voices, as they disembody and re-embody in language, that we aim to continue in giving “body” to Moussempès’ work in English. “The similarity of hair” and “Human pool” also evidence — through their imagistic and sonic breakage and layering — Moussempès’ fascination with the corporality and orality of women-being and poem-making. As her translators, we have followed these utterances and constructions closely, believing that the poet has, in her way, left us signs for how to “pronounce” her verse in our version of her text.
Christopher Bakken on “White Zinfandel”
I recently confessed to my brother that one of my recurrent anxiety dreams involves working at a restaurant called The Hatchcover in Middleton, Wisconsin—only to learn that he often has a version of the very same dream, since he also worked there. Do all recovered waiters carry these wounds in their subconscious? My second recurrent anxiety dream—involving poetry readings—also came up in our discussion, though my brother has been spared that particular sort of literary suffering.
A few weeks later, I stumbled upon a rather obscure James Merrill poem called “The Mad Scene,” which begins with the line: “Again last night I had the dream called Laundry.” I replaced one word in that line and this meandering cascade gushed forth during a morning of writing at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. The poem remembers a moment in the late 1980s when it was suddenly fashionable to drink white zinfandel. I have changed some names (but very few of the actual details) to protect the guilty.
I would love to say it’s about peace, hope, freedom or any other good thing in the world. But it’s not. It’s about hatred, pure and deep, saturated with animal instinct.
After all this time, I can now tell, – nothing has changed. My heart, just like the hearts of all our people, is wild and furious.
At this point we don’t want peace. For every man, woman and child killed since February we want war.
Stewart Moss on “The Afterlife of Breath”:
Although I’ve written some poems in which my late father – with whom I had a close and loving relationship — appears, I’ve always meant to write a piece that explores a moment of profound grief when I spoke my last words to him as his body lay on a gurney in the hospital. The attending nurse had encouraged me to speak to him because, as she believed, “his soul is still here, floating.” Over the years, I’ve often revisited that moment and realized that, while I don’t necessarily believe in the theological notion of “the soul,” I do sometimes wonder if breath, which in the Hebrew ruach is both breath and spirit, has a kind of transcendent existence. As I thought about this one early spring day while I sat on my porch observing the living world exuberantly renewing itself, this poem came to me … and so I quickly wrote down the first draft in a nearly single exhalation of words. And, as has happened with several of my poems at this latter stage of life, I let the poem interconnect some of the places, people, and phenomena I’ve encountered on my journey.
Mark Vincenz on “Trudy Cooks Fish” and “The General”:
These two prose poems, “Trudy Cooks Fish” and “The General,” are essentially fragments from a novel-in-verse I am working on entitled Coalition No. 9. The world envisioned in this book is one of toxic waste and intoxication, of unionization and lionizing: in other words, I immersed myself into the most noxious world and wrote poems from the perspective of the characters who call it their home, here in Coalition No. 9. Of course many of the sensations and atmospherics have been drawn from my time working in factories in China, Russia, Czech Republic and Bulgaria: the oil- and coal-drenched walls of the buildings, the soot in ever crevice and pore, the constant chunk-chunk of the machines creating more things to fabricate yet more superstructures—and so their flavors too. Trudy’s fish sounds just right here on this enchanted grimy evening.
In some uneasy sense, Coalition No. 9 is a critique of Capitalism with his capital “C”; in another, a wide-eyed view of Socialism with her capital “S” (surely everything spelled with a capital is worthy of extra attention). And isn’t it admirable how human beings can get adapt to virtually any condition or circumstance as long as their basic needs are met.
The real question is: is there beauty to be found in the grime and dust and effluents of an “advanced” civilization?
Ron Smith on “Rizal Stadium, World War II”:
I guess my “Rizal Stadium, World War II” is another attempt to imagine the unimaginable, to say the unsayable. I’ve never been in combat, but my father landed on Guadalcanal in the first wave. He was eighteen. We were close for the final twenty years of his life; still, I could never quite lift the veil on his feelings about the war. This poem started with the astonishing quotation that became its epigraph and it never quite figures out how to think or talk about the momentous—or, maybe, how the momentous “takes place / While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along,” as Auden says. I only just now thought of “Musée des Beaux Arts” (probably nudged by the title of Virginia Konchan’s poem in the table of contents this issue of Plume). It seems to me that a poem like “Rizal Stadium, World War II” can be seen to take issue with Auden’s neat package-making. Auden employs the calming beauty of great art to tame “even the dreadful martyrdom.” But the mind in my poem can control itself, its memories/fantasies/defensive jokes, only intermittently—and then only through the somewhat chaotic remembered performance of a poor baseball player.
Daisy Fried on “Quickies in Widowhood”:
My husband was always my first reader, and told me the truth about my drafts. When he died in 2020 after a long illness, I was trepidatious about writing without him. I also felt—no surprise—rather fragmented. This may be why, instead of developing complex narratives or trying for high polish, I wrote quick, sometimes single-gesture, tumble-down-the-page poems. The idea was to get in and out fast, make it textured, make it vivid, make odd little scenes in which I could stage the poem’s speaker, or other people, and see what they did. I suppose I also wanted to figure out how I was feeling (grief is complicated and can be interesting). The result: pops of action, interaction, emotion, and maybe a sense of roughness and speed that could be part of the poem’s intention. My “Quickies” seem to me to tell a sort of patchwork story, in their way.
Bruce Bond on his poems in this portfolio:
Out of these poems, the one entitled “O” came from an earlier period of my life and will, if all goes as planned, one day find its home in a different manuscript. Among other things, I wanted to commemorate a friend and, in so doing, investigate circles as signatures of both loss and consolation, the kind associated with music and culminating in the form of the mixtape as gift. What is less obvious is the influence of my wife’s practice as a Guided Imagery with Music therapist, where music is used to facilitate a waking dream that is then followed by the clients’ drawing of mandalas. The circle provides a container, as does music with recursive and clear harmonic and progressive features, such that imaginative life, rendered safe, aesthetically held, can explore new paths of intra-psychic connection. Circles throughout my poem provide not only a frame for the otherwise unbearable and chaotic, but also a door to a passage, a process. The other poems in the portfolio deploy a stricter sense of rhyme and meter and so embody another frame within which elements of disorder can be negotiated and explored. Those works all come from a cycle entitled “Crematorium of Toys” which I wrote during the beginning of the pandemic, and although the pandemic is referenced in just a couple, I like to think it helped bring priorities into focus, especially the elusive nature of charity and empathy and the alienation and brokenness that puts them at risk.
John Wall Barger on “A Hole in My Backyard”:
I like poems that do impossible things and move in impossible spaces. The literal context of “The Hole in My Backyard” is real: it’s the house I grew up in on Allen Street in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Those were my actual neighbors and I did, briefly, want to dig a hole in the yard. I love how a poem, out of a fork in the road, can step in both directions. The poem doesn’t have to choose but can just ask, What is in the hole that never existed?
Michael Torres on “Yet Another Life” Origin Story:
The university where I teach is also the university where I earned my MFA. I believe it was after I was awarded an NEA that my university reached out, asking if I’d like to be part of a student retention campaign that hoped to share alumni “success stories” in the form of a plexiglass cutout photo of willing alums with mention of achievements underneath their picture. I agreed, took a photo, and months later there I was, or at least my plexiglass cutout down the hall from where I taught. What I wasn’t aware of was that every few months the university would rotate to different parts of the campus these various ads. One day in class a student told me: Your poster, I pass it every day—it’s not there anymore. Curious, I later went down the entire hall, wondering where I went. The line, “And then one day I was gone” came to me. Almost immediately I leapt to how I’d moved away from my hometown of (and a whole life in) Pomona, California to southern Minnesota to pursue writing and then teaching. The original draft of this poem is dated February 8, 2020 and the draft accepted for publication here was saved on July 17, 2022.
Linda Muhlhausen on her review of The Sound Boat by Judith Vollmer:
To review a book is an act of love. A consummation. An intimate synergy. Because why commit time and labor to a book you don’t love? It starts out the same way each time – a leisurely taking in of the cover art, fondling the smooth cover and spine, feeling the slight resistance at first opening. Scents of new paper and ink. The first shy introduction to the work and then, if you’re lucky, that heady sensation of falling – hard – for poetry that has, you know, that certain something that makes you gasp entering a state of contemplative bliss. And so it was for me when I read Judith Vollmer’s The Sound Boat, New and Collected Poems. A review was a perfect excuse to pore over, unravel, re-experience, let others know how wonderful – but wait, a review was a serious responsibility, and surely my trifling efforts would be found lacking. I clutched my pencil tightly and jotted notes, then more notes. Looked up unfamiliar references. And when I did make a start, alarming non-specific words like “gastronomically” and “symphonically” refused to go back to whatever murky recesses of my brain had called them up in the first place. Really, this was a mistake, a hubris in a way. But I reminded myself to touch the literary earth of technique as much as my understanding allowed, and in time there it was, a series of sentences bearing the impressions of a lover content to worship from afar, hoping it may prove a small gift in return for the much, much larger one so generously given.