Culver, Berdeshevsky, Cader, et. al.

Culver, Berdeshevsky, Cader, et. al.
April 26, 2024 Plume

Ralph Culver on “October, and the sun burnishes”:


More than anything else, “October, and the sun burnishes” is a poem of grieving. Grief, it seems to me, is generally pretty straightforward and uncomplicated, and I hope the reader finds the poem to be the same. Of course, our relationships with the objects of our grieving can be, and often are, anything but straightforward and uncomplicated.
The Louise in the poem’s dedication is Louise Glück, who died–I nearly wrote “fittingly”–in October of 2023. She and I knew each other a long time, a little over fifty years. I was one of her very first students in her first teaching job, at Goddard College in Vermont in the early 1970s, I an undergrad in my late teens and Louise not yet thirty. When we met she had published only one book, Firstborn, and although she was already on her way to becoming a matchless poet, it would be fair to say she was unsure about teaching, whether she was suited to the field and if it would appeal to her. We all know how that worked out: her reputation as a teacher over the ensuing half-century came nearly to rival her renown as a poet, if such a thing were possible. It’s laughable for me now to think how fortunate I was to have been in that place at that time. 

As for the bones of the poem, I’m a big fan of the second-person point of view; it’s particularly well suited to those moments when you need to convey intimacy and distance simultaneously. One of the great themes of Louise’s oeuvre is examining how we make our commitment to facing the fact–the raw actuality–of our mortality, and I hope the poem embodies that motif or at least has it as an undercurrent. The last thing I’ll mention is that the poem is in a nonce form I’ve been working with a lot lately: one hundred words, ten lines of ten words each. It’s a form I like for a bunch of reasons, a couple of big ones being that because of its brevity it makes stringent demands with respect to compression, and you have to be very aware of rhythm and cadence to avoid ugly enjambments since the form has fixed line breaks.



Margo Berdeshevsky on “Kintsugi after an aphasia”:


A shaman friend said, “Margo, poetry is your healer.” And I listened. There are those times, when the brain and the mind and the heart and poetry shock … say stop … wait … maybe I will be back, but for a moment …wait for help. Such a time was a Friday night in Paris, I was having a glass of good wine with my French translator, laughing, and suddenly my words made no sense at all, in English, or French, or any other! Soon I was surrounded by strange angels and machines to announce that a bit of the brain that controls my languages, both or any—was going awry. That was in the fall of the year. And I listened. “Poetry is your healer.” And, so it was, and has been, and the poem offered here came with all its words intact, and others followed and others returned. Different, but still my voice. Today, it is spring, the park blossoms explode, and speech therapists, and my reading of everything from nursery rhymes to bi-lingual prayers to Susan Sontag’s “Regarding the Pain of Others” … all aloud… visited me … and I can speak very well again, heeding Hamlet and my own heart to “speak the speech I pray you!”  A victory in so many ways.


Things happen. Our bodies or brains or the world and its pain and healing and promises — dark ones, and the light ones — come to remind us. Poetry returns. Forgetting happens. Memory goes, and then somehow invents or returns! One of the things I learn from the shock that roused me is that our bodies, our minds, our frailties, all happen. And sometimes, there is a searing light at the end, sometimes, a slow and gentler one, and we stand in it dumbstruck, and speak again. Sometimes, Kintsugi must fill the breaks and cracks with gold of different kinds. I am as I ever was, a work in progress, and “KINTSUGI after an aphasia,” is one of its poems of repaired gifts.



Teresa Cader on “Three Poems”:


In Bruno’s Schulz’s phantasmal world, the dead can still be alive. One bleak winter day, I happened to be reading the Collected Stories when, in a Schulzian sense, he appeared to me in a liminal state, evoking his past in Poland and his current perspective on America. The long lines of “Bruno Schulz from the Bardo” took shape quickly.

I wrote “To the Young Protestants Holding Portraits of Martin Luther on the Steps of the Catholic Cemetery in Bielsko on All Souls’ Day” after visiting my cousins in Poland in 2017, the year of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, which initiated the Protestant Reformation. My Polish immigrant father and Irish mother had converted to Protestantism when I was young; growing up I felt, to some extent, like an oddity in both cultures. Seeing the portraits and those enthusiastic young people did not awaken in me a sense of identification, however, as much as immediate pain and anger at the suffering and wars caused by religious dogma.

“The Cycle” speaks to both poems and exonerates no one, especially myself.



Annette Barnes on “Almost” and “Caught Out”:

A person, a long time neighbour, passes, as does a moment at a dinner. Finding words, my way of holding on.



Megan Nichols on “[There was the way his mother]”:


I was thinking about a past relationship and how I saw both of us as victims of each other and victims of our parents. Throughout the poem, there is a belief that a vulnerable inner child is waiting to be coaxed out, even if the narrator never sees him. The belief is enough to sustain a dangerous situation. There is resentment towards what the parents created by being cruel to their son, and resentment towards the son for being cruel. The poem is written in the past tense, so we can hope the narrator eventually stopped trying to mother the baby that was never supposed to be their responsibility to begin with.

This was always a prose poem, and it flowed easily from the beginning, though it was much longer at first. I spent weeks peeling off the lines that weren’t needed. When I read this poem aloud, I always read it quickly. From the first line, it feels to me like the grape is lodged, and the faster I read, the faster we are made safe.



Steven Ratiner on “Gott im Himmel” and “The Corner of Bellington Street and Sparta”:


I can say a little about one of my two poems appearing here in Plume, and next to nothing about the other.

I have a number of places and routines during my week that I use to open myself up to writing poetry––and one is that quiet time after waking when the night’s dreams are evaporating and the day begins to make its first impression.  I’ve always relished those hours, immersed in the notebook and, if the words were flowing, breakfast might wait until two or three in the afternoon.  But often, sitting up in bed, I’d remember that my neighbor across the street was positioned in his bed as well––though not out of choice.  He was ill with pancreatic cancer and, stopping to think of what he was going through, I was not surprised that he found his way into several of my poems.  Sometimes bearing witness to another’s suffering is all you can do.  I attempt to do that here, in “The Corner of Bellington Street and Sparta”, using an echo of antiquity to convey the great dignity of this individual.

“Gott im Himmel” is what I refer to as a ‘gift’ poem: it seems to be spurred by something beneath my conscious attention, and arrives in a rush––an offering from an unknown resource.  But, hearing it spoken in my ear and then erupting on the page, I knew it was all about sound and texture––and, only later, many drafts on, did I feel the full weight of this memory: my paternal grandmother, visiting our household when I was a boy––and my father, her eldest son, recently dead at fifty (a fact that colors but is not mentioned in the poem.)



Julie Danho on “In Waterplace Park on Our 15th Anniversary”:


I often incorporate research into my poems, and as I revised this one, I read a 50-page report on the construction of Waterplace Park in Providence, Rhode Island. Even though I’d been born in the state and lived outside of Providence most of my life, there was so much I didn’t know about our capital city and the park that helped revitalize it. Some of the report’s details made it into the poem, like the city demolishing miles of streets to uncover the river. But I eventually had to cut my favorite fact—that the paved-over river had been considered the world’s widest bridge.

For almost twenty years, I walked by Waterplace Park on my way into work. Sometimes I’d imagine seeing it as a tourist—how surprising and lovely it would be. The footbridges, the gondolas, the curved stone sofas built along the cobblestone walkways. Even though I was a teenager when it was built, I don’t remember what the city looked like before it.

I was waiting for my husband on our anniversary when I wrote the first draft, but it went through a number of revisions before he appeared in the poem, then became the focus. Now I think of it as a double love poem.



Marilyn Johnson on “Remnant Tongue”:

I was sitting in a coffee shop in NYC, sharing some of my poems with a fellow poet. She wanted to hear them read aloud, and I told her I’d rather not, because of my tongue.
What’s wrong with your tongue?
Oh, you know.
No, I don’t.
It felt horrible to say out loud that I’d had part of my tongue removed. Have you written any poems about this? she asked, and no, I hadn’t. She started writing down what I told her. You know you put your hand in front of your mouth when you talk about this, she said, and sent me out the door with the command to write a poem about my cancer.
I wrote the first draft on the train on the way home. It was as if this friend had physically pulled my hand away from my mouth, and the poem crawled/spilled out of me, extended by a dream in which I could not get into my childhood friend’s house and could not reach my dead, though I was closer to them than ever. Remnant Tongue is about things I don’t want to say.