Lea, Ackerman, Stanton, et. al.

Lea, Ackerman, Stanton, et. al.
June 22, 2024 Plume

Sydney Lea on Seven Slovene Poets Special Feature:

I’ve had a long association with Slovenia by way of pure serendipity. In 1992, when I had a Fulbright to Budapest, my family befriended another American family, whose male adult worked for the U.S. State Department. Ten years later, I was teaching at a small college called Franklin in Lugano, Switzerland, and my diplomat friend invited my wife, me, and our three younger children back to Hungary for a reading and an Easter week visit. On our way to the airport at the visit’s end, my friend asked if I wanted him to notify his colleagues in other nations of my presence in Europe. I thought, why not?

Among other places, I visited Ljubljana, Slovenia, where I got a more than gracious treatment. Prior to my reading, I was interviewed on national radio by Marjan Strojan (for whose stunning credentials, see my preface to the Slovene feature here). We went out for coffee after the show,  and part of our conversation involved Marjan’s having worked for 25 years on a selection of Robert Frost poems, the hardest task he had ever assigned himself, he said, the iamb uncommon in Slovenian. However, he said with patent joy, the book would be appearing soon.

I shortly received a note from him, however: Henry Holt meant to charge a fee his publisher couldn’t pay for international rights, and my friend’s project appeared to be permanently stalled. That’s where serendipity showed up. Frost’s literary executor, Peter Gilbert, is a former student of mine and a friend. I’m not privy to the details, but he persuaded Holt to charge something nominal.

For me, the whole affair involved a 30-second email; for Marjan, it meant the redemption of a quarter-century’s work, and in gratitude, he kept finding ways to invite me back. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been, but after the first two or three, Marjan and I became very, very close friends. I last visited in October of 2023, which is when I conceived the notion of a Slovenian feature for Plume. The excellent Danny Lawless was receptive, and the feature is here before you.



Stephen Ackerman on “Happiness on Earth”:

I think it is not uncommon, especially if one is traveling or recently home from traveling, to awaken from sleep and not know, not immediately, where one is. I remember at least one day in childhood when I woke up not knowing who I was. That temporary amnesia was, in my case at least, a source of magic, not panic. It allowed me to apprehend the world through the senses, not through reason (there was no “irritable reaching after” my identity). That slow flood of sensations was sensual, and pleasurable. And if that morning happened to be a summer morning, which it was, then the freedom of the day beckoned, with urgency, but without haste. This, I think, was a privilege of childhood (and perhaps a privilege only of a privileged childhood), of one not yet beset or beleaguered, only bewitched by the world. “Happiness on Earth” attempts to evoke that experience.



Maura Stanton on her two poems:

Walking Backwards:  I read an article about the practice and history of walking backwards on the BBC website, then did some research, and decided to try it—good for both the body and the brain.  I began walking backwards in my living room, which is also where I paint.  I was working on a portrait of Raymond Carver—I knew him years ago when I taught at Humboldt State—which is why he got into the poem, along with Tom Lux, a long  ago classmate, and Dean Young, a long ago student, as walking backwards turned from an activity into a meditation and became a poem.
The Neighbor’s War:  I’ve lived in the same house for over forty years—the neighbors across the alley have lived in their house for over fifty years.  I always see their TV flashing the news when I stand at my kitchen sink doing dishes, especially in the winter when the trees are bare.



Bruce Cohen on his brief portfolio:

As the Dadaists theorized, art is reaction. To love. War. Death. The absurdity of life. But is it a reaction to previous art or to experience? And, of course, art is constantly evolving. I have to imagine Michelangelo would scoff at Jackson Pollacks’ paint drippings? Perhaps if everything is art, then nothing is art. Nonetheless, to any amateur people-watcher, every-thing is a kind of art and art is everywhere. The fortune cookie unread, the ink bleeding in a puddle of spilled tea. The stumbled upon pile of sea debris and driftwood someone orchestrated into an impromptu sculpture on a people-less beach on a gray winter day. The way the loud-mouth deli-guy hand-slices pastrami without looking. The boy telling his father what the clouds look like. Etcetera.

No matter what city or country we visit, the art museum is always a prime destination. However, one cannot help but see art in the minutia of daily life. The little girl whispering a secret to her doll, the poster of Dali in a window in Rome exclaiming “I AM NOT MAD.” In all the many art museums I’ve toured, NOT ONE does not have a sign on particular exhibits that states PLEASE DON’T TOUCH THE ART. What it is that compels us humans to touch. Do we want to the art to transfer into our bloodstream? Does it become more real once it touches our skin? I know in pragmatic terms that touching a painting or multi-media piece diminishes its lifespan. But I also believe that touching art someone increases my own longevity!

My friend once took me to a cave in Arizona to show me some amazing Anasazi cave paintings he’d discovered. We imagined no one had seen them for thousands of years. Of course, my first impulse was to touch the walls, which I did. And I somehow felt connected to these previous people who I could only imagine. I thought about how this desert had once been and inland sea during the second glacier period and thought about how these ancient people must have unearthed crinoid steams and trilobites and shark teeth fossils and fashioned them into jewelry without any sense of where they came from.

I would never own a kindle. I have to fondle an actual book before I read it. Smell it. Why does the intoxicating odor of old bookstores transport me? The way I most enjoy music is listening on my record player and handling the album covers, looking deeply at photos of the musicians or the cover-art. I like the restaurants where you get to sit across from the cooks and are able to watch them cook. I love watching the precise, economical hands of the sushi chef.

How can one witness a cloud of starlings suddenly shift in uncommunicated geometrical unison, defying physics, and not find that infinitely beautiful, dare I say poetic? What does poetic even mean? I vow to never use that term again until I can even define it for myself.

Is the purest art natural or humanmade? Don’t we have the impulse to caress the face of someone we love, kiss the head of our newborn baby. What is the intrinsic value of art? Why do folks, who can afford to do so, fork over a gazillion dollars to own an original Picasso?

These poems from this brief portfolio are from a recently completed collection titled PLEASE DON’T TOUCH THE ART. I wanted to explore some of the different ways one perceives of art. How I can’t help but see art in everything. It overwhelms me. I wanted to question my own sense of prosody and pose the question of what makes art, art, a poem a poem. However, shouldn’t art pose impossible to answer questions which, maybe, is our connection to one another? Becoming comfortable in doubt, the not-knowing? What Keats called Negative Capability.



Diana Conchado (translator of Juana Ramos) on translation:

I have often felt that translation, for me, is a healing practice. I know it has been so at critical junctures of my existence when I thought I was quite literally falling to pieces. The task of ripping a text to shreds and then putting it back together in a new way makes me feel as if it were me that was being given a new life, a new way of being in the world.  I suspect that my perspective on the matter is somehow, albeit weirdly, related to my fondness for getting lost. While others despair at not knowing their physical coordinates, I’ve always relished being oblivious to where I am. Recently, while rereading Edith Grossman’s passionate and lucid Why Translation Matters, Alastair’s Reid’s beautiful poem “Lo que se pierde / What Gets Lost”, quoted at the end of her book, asked me to meditate, once again, on the subject of translation and loss. For Reid, it’s not a question of what gets lost in translation but of what gets lost in language, in words themselves. For me, the spaces in between languages allow me to get lost in places where I can rest and find solace, where I can heal.



Jessica Greenbaum on her three poems:

Wall text at the Metropolitan Museum’s Pierre Bonnard show some years ago included the delicious morsel that Bonnard always painted a room the very first time he stepped into it. That, together with the last lines of Sharon Olds’ early poem, “Feared Drowned,” which read “Once you lose someone it is never exactly / the same person who comes back,” stay with me as two examples of how perception is influenced by how familiar we are (or aren’t!) with what we’re seeing, and how the anticipation of loss throws its own eulogetic gloss over  . . . well, anything. Some geese, some grass. Love we were given and love we tried to offer.  How the mystery of walking into adulthood can be framed by those around us, because we are seeing autonomy for the first time, ironically, through them. How we don’t know exactly when people will leave us—by growing up, growing away, or growing old— but we want so much to see them fully while they’re here.



Mark Irwin on Jean Follain’s “Vie”:

I’ve been obsessed with this brilliant poem ever since I first glimpsed it in a Paris bookstall along the Seine in 1977. It’s a kind of epic written by a miniaturist? Here, I use the term to reference both literature and the visual arts, for many of his poems display painterly aspects, each regaining itself from an almost still life, then moving on the way a paper bag might, hesitant in the wind. Follain married a painter, Madeleine Dinès, the daughter of another painter, Maurice Denis, who was somewhat of a symbolist. Follain practiced law briefly in Normandy, and then became a judge in Charleville, the birthplace of Arthur Rimbaud. The austere brevity and reductive power of Follain’s poems may have been influence by his familiarity with legal briefs, especially as a judge, but I by no means wish to underestimate the high artistry here.

The protraction and collapse of time in “Vie” is uncanny. The watercolor of this “great landscape” is hardly dry before the infant becomes a “dead soldier,” and yet this is where the poem/painting beautifully backtracks: “this was the man / we saw appear and set down / a heavy sack of apples. I’m reminded of Heidegger’s notion that “the happening of being” moves toward death.

The weight of many autumns along with Eden is there in this desperate and terrifying middle of the poem: “two or three of which rolled / making sound among sounds of a world.” May they never be picked up and keep rolling, for it is our commerce with the world, our touch with it, that keeps us/it alive. The French literal translation, “bruit parmi ceux d’un monde” (sound among those of a world), but I like protracting the sound within the sound, the seconds within the minutes: “making sound among sounds of a world.” And of course all of this, this one sentence, this one life is poured into the “monde/world”  “where the bird sang on the door’s / stone threshold.” Yes, where the entry to house is magically transposed to gravestone. The entire poem shivering within the parenthesis of life and death. —A sentence beyond the scope of any judge, except for this poet.



Christine Byrne on “Delilah Miklave”:

I wrote this poem last summer. I had just finished my first year of grad school in Iowa, and everyone pretty much cleared out as soon as May came. I wanted to be writing, so I decided to drive to a nearby lake, which I’d heard was bad water (from a boy who talked to a few of local famers). But, all the time, people were swimming in the lake anyway. I wanted to sit by it. I’d just had my second of two big heartbreaks that year, and honestly it felt like some big brave thing to do to bring myself there. On the way, I stopped at a Walmart to buy a folding chair. Then I went, and no one was around. There was a wrong feeling to it. I hadn’t worn a swimsuit. I think it was still June then. I’m from Connecticut​I’ve never really swan in lakes. But it got so hot, I decided to just go ahead and swim in my underwear. I walked into the water backward, watching the beach, feeling like someone could see me. And I remember I made a kind of kneel, so my body was underwater up to my chin. And then I thought of the line “you think that you know baptism” and I knew that was a line I wanted, so I repeated it to myself until I felt like coming out. I wrote the poem later that night. It was an exciting piece to write, because it turned into a part of a much larger series that I’ve been working on for the past year. This was kind of where the story began for me.