Hunt Hawkins on “To the Poets Dropped from the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry”:
In addition to creative writing, I taught literature for many years, including courses in “Modern Poetry.” Like many teachers, I assigned the Norton Anthology as the most comprehensive and authoritative, almost conferring immortality on the included. Then over the years as the Norton progressed from the First Edition in 1973 to the Second in 1988 and the massive two-volume Third in 2003, I noticed it was not only adding poets but dropping them. Fifty-three were missing from the Third who had appeared in the earlier two, leading me to ponder poetic immortality. My poem was originally much longer, naming more of the fifty-three, but I had to pare down, dropping some of the dropped, a harsh double-drop.
Over the years I also realized I had fallen into the common professorial practice of “explaining” poetry like the Norton by grouping poets into “schools” and mapping their succession. But this practice collided with the Norton’s decision to drop, which gradually whittled down the schools to nothing. The obvious (to me) conclusion is that we shouldn’t aim for immortality but instead appreciate each individual poem in its writing, reading, and sharing.
Scott Withiam on “Ever Wish We’d Gone Beyond Being Friends?” and “My Auto Dealership”:
“You exaggerate, friends write back, friends who’ve never lived here. I don’t think I can do either anymore— exaggerate or live here— not after the story I heard today . . . ,” the speaker in a recent draft of a prose poem I’m working on states. I’ve had my eye on those two sentences for quite a while, first, because after reading about paralyzing national or international events, or even witnessing local exchanges on the street, that’s sometimes how I feel: I can’t do either, exaggerate (what’s happening; it feels exaggerated enough) or live here (in what the already unbelievable is or creates). Second, I began to isolate just the phrase “exaggerate or live here,” in the second sentence of that statement, as a command, and then as a possible title of a manuscript; and then it occurred to me that exaggeration in poems is exactly how I often live here, that is, to cope, my first instinct is exaggeration, which, in some circles, is scoffed at as backing away from action or issues, but I would say exaggeration elicits the problem or problems differently, and as these resolve themselves in a poem, it helps me, possibly others, find some resolve, if not an alternative solution. Anyway, what I describe above may be at the heart of both poems in this issue of Plume.
Nicole Cooley on “Trash”:
During the pandemic, I have been studying trash. Like many people, I found myself taking long walks during the past fifteen months, and as I walk, I tell myself to pay attention. But instead of studying gardens or the sky or architecture, I train my eyes on trash. What’s left behind on the sidewalk. In the gutter. Outside of a dumpster. In a city trash can. On someone’s lawn. To keep myself anchored to the world, all this hard year, I listed the trash I found on the notes app on my phone as I walked. Hair extension. Green teething ring. Tiny whiskey bottle. Notes on trash became a kind of meditation, and the language sparked poems, a series or maybe a book, all with the title “Trash.” Studying trash didn’t necessarily help me to make sense of the brutal world we have been living in throughout 2020 and 2021, but it strangely comforted me by compelling my imagination again, and in that way returned me to myself.
Megan Marshall on “Amaryllis”:
It was a long winter, the second since my partner Scott Harney’s death in May 2019. I’d felt lonely through the first, but now the pandemic cut off friendships too. How many days had it been since I’d sat with anyone else at my kitchen table—at any table? A friend sent me an amaryllis bulb in January, and I set its pot in the kitchen’s sunny window. He’d gotten one for himself too, and we compared their progress. My friend and his amaryllis were just across the Charles River in Boston, but he might as well have been in California at his teaching job (he was teaching remotely now), or Paris where he’d have preferred to spend his winter break. One day he sent me a draft of a poem, “My Amaryllis.” I hadn’t written a poem since 1977, when Scott and I were student poets. But something compelled me to respond, and my “Amaryllis” is the result. I’m grateful to my friend for the gift of inspiration, to Scott for nearly fifteen entwined years, to Plume for giving us an afterlife together on its website (see Scott Harney’s “Norumbega Park”).
Jeff Friedman and Meg Pokrass on How We Wrote “What You Can’t Fix”:
While I was emailing Meg the beginning of something, she was emailing me the beginning of something else. “Do you want to finish the story I sent you?” she asked. “Sure,” I said, but what if it’s a prose poem? And what about the piece I sent you?” She said she would work on my beginning if I work on her beginning, but then I said, “Instead of working alone, why don’t we put the two pieces together; one will be the beginning, the first paragraph, and one will be the ending, the second paragraph.” She laughed. “But what about the middle, the curvaceous bump that makes it all work? What about the dog scratching at the door who wants to become part of this story.” “We have a sculptor and a sculpted,” I said. “Do we need a dog in this piece? Meg reminded me that I’m the one always talking about Ruby, my dog, and was it fair to leave her out of this? “I’ve got an idea,” I said. “Let’s make it one paragraph, and then no one will notice that it’s missing a middle. Besides I only like beginnings and endings.” “Okay, she said, “but only if the sculptor is pregnant, but it’s too early to tell, and only if she is so beautiful, that when the sculpture looks at the sculptor he realizes that’s he incomplete without her.” “I agree,” I said, and “let’s have the sculpture become a human or the human become a sculpture.” She agreed, but then she stopped emailing me for a few hours. We didn’t write another word.
Hoyt Rogers on “Heard in Caravaggio”:
When I take young people to art museums, especially those who have never been to one before, the painter to whom they immediately respond is Caravaggio. This tells me that he embodies the spirit of our age better than any other master, old or new. His obsession with himself, manifested in countless self-portraits; his emphasis on violence and theatricality; his erotic ambiguity, which suffuses his art both sacred and profane—all these currents mirror the tendencies of our time, and make him seem almost like a contemporary of Francis Bacon. In my three ekphrastic poems, inspired by canvases from Caravaggio’s early period, I have explored the last-named dimension in particular. I have sought to highlight his treatment of a still-life as a sensual encounter, and his conversion of a memento mori into an act of love.
Quelques mots à propos des poèmes « Visages connus, 1960-1966 »
et « Petites amies »,
du recueil Dioramas de l’enfance,
Nous étions au printemps et nous ne sortions plus, ce qui me permit de me concentrer sur ce qui nous ravit toujours : l’otium, le loisir studieux ; je veux parler de la lecture, de l’étude, de l’écriture, de la musique.
Et pour retraverser, en pensée, le chemin parcouru, depuis l’enfance, je suis partie à la recherche des présences, gestes, objets, dont j’étais alors entourée.
Je n’habite plus ces prairies fraîches, mais une terre désolée, et cette traversée m’a fait mesurer cet écart, si elle ne m’a pas permis de le comprendre.
Ces poèmes sont nés de ce voyage, remembering things past.
Qu’est-ce que l’inspiration, je l’ignore, mais ces poèmes me sont venus comme un rêve éveillé, une ronde de visages anciens revenus me visiter.
Ils appartiennent au domaine de l’enfance que je n’avais auparavant jamais exploré. Leur musique (Fauré, Satie, Debussy, Ravel…) et leur prosodie, également, sont françaises. Ayant toujours en esprit les poètes français (La Fontaine, Verlaine et Proust, en particulier), je dois les éloigner pour ne pas qu’ils se penchent trop sur ma page.
It was spring, and we could not go out anymore, so I concentrated on otium, studious leisure ; that is reading, studying, writing and making music. Looking over the path I took from childhood, I went back looking for the presences, the gestures, the things that surrounded me then.
I no longer haunt these fresh meadows, but a waste land, but this journey enabled me to measure this gap, if not to understand it.
These poems originate from this voyage, a remembrance of things past.
I don’t know what inspiration is. These poems came like daydreams, like faces from the past dancing around me.
They belong to the as yet unexplored realm of my childhood. The music (Fauré, Satie, Debussy, Ravel…) and prosody are French. Because French poets are always on my mind (La Fontaine, Verlaine and Proust, above all), I have to keep them at a distance, forbidden from looking over my page.
Claudia Monpere on “Doorbell 5:14 AM”:
After my husband took his life, I was obsessed with light and flowers. A successful attorney, he never thought he was good enough, and he struggled with mental health issues throughout our long marriage. When he moved out, thinking he’d be happier living alone, I fantasized that the tiny, light filled house with its yard of tumbling flowers—even a bamboo fountain!—would make him well. My fifteen-year-old daughter was awakened by the policeman’s early morning doorbell. She stood behind me as he said the words italicized in the poem. I accompanied the policeman to where my husband had been living: bedsheets strewn about, a journal with desolate entries tucked within them. His laundry was neatly folded. His pressed suit back from the drycleaners hung on the door knob. I struggled with this poem for a long time—too many images jamming themselves inside it. I’d written many more poems about my husband with less effort, avoiding overt narrative. But this poem insisted on storytelling. And the image of my husband’s suit as a judge’s robe finally opened the poem up for me.
Boris Kokotov on translating Mandelstam:
Osip Mandelstam’s poetry, including the two remarkable poems presented here, was translated into English many times. The first piece, “Save forever my words for the taste of a smoke and disaster,” was written in 1931. It reflects the author’s views on history and culture, and on the role of the poet. We can also clearly distinguish in it the motif of sacrifice, a presentiment of his own fate. The second, the so-called “Stalin epigram,” was written in 1933 and led to the poet’s imprisonment and, five years later, to his death in a labor camp. Almost every line of these poems has been analyzed, interpreted, and commented by literary critics over the past 50 years. Hidden meanings and parallels have been discovered, and critics have shown that the literal (verbatim) translation of these poems is not always the most meaningful and proper. Here is just one example to illustrate the above. The last line of the “Stalin epigram” reads “и широкая грудь осетина” (a wide-breasted Ossetian) which is a bit confusing even for Russian readers. In fact, Stalin was short and not particularly strong. And he was Georgian — not Ossetian (contrary to some rumors). Nevertheless, most translators rendered this line literally. In reality, these definitions (“wide-breasted” and “Ossetian”) do not relate to physique and ethnicity, but rather to Stalin’s political power and ruthlessness — and my translation corresponds to this notion faithfully.
Patricia Clark on “Waking to 1939, I Study Those Standing” and “Oxygen”:
“Waking to 1939, I Study Those Standing”
Rarely have I written a poem that came out of a dream. Usually the details are incoherent and amount to nothing more than chaos. Sometimes, though, the subconscious can’t be ignored. There was someone I had loved—loved as a teacher and as a friend. I grieved his loss alone, not able to attend the memorial service in another state. The news of his death came to me first on Facebook one morning.
For me, it felt complicated. He was a poet and teacher known by many, loved by many. How could I compete? Growing up in a large family, one of eight children, I competed for my parents’ love and attention—growing weary of it, finally, but never, ultimately, finishing with it. Did this feel the same?
I told myself that it was not about competition: feelings are feelings. And so they are. I had my memories of times we spent together—a breakfast at a conference, a phone call, a visit or two to my campus. It was enough. And so, the dream. It came to me whole, of a piece, and it stuck with me, not fading on waking like many (or most) dreams. There was no speaking in the dream, no dialogue. It was just a scene, as described. And I knew, the way one knows in dreams, that it was 1939.
Did I know right away the dream was about him? I’m not sure. I must have, though, because I Googled his name and there was his birth year, in the small town of Barnesville, Ohio. I had wanted to write an elegy for him; in fact, I’d made a couple of starts on one, starts that didn’t go far. So here is mine, an elegy for Stanley Plumly, whose work probably changed my life and whose life enriched mine by knowing him.
I took a painting class one summer at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. From the GRAM class I only have a couple of memories. First, I remember that I was exquisitely sensitive to the teacher’s comments, when she would walk around the classroom looking at what we’d drawn. One day we’d gone outside and used watercolor to try a capture an image of a nearby building, for example. If she said “good work!” that was enough to put me on cloud nine. Anything less than that and I was subject to the blues. One class period we were going to draw with a broken off dowel dipped in ink: time studies; i.e., little sketches. And she gave us 30 seconds, as I recall, and then 60 seconds for another and then 90 seconds, for a third. I loved this assignment more than the outside “draw a building” assignment. And I believe the day of the timed studies we also had a nude model. It reminds me of some exercises I assign, from time to time, in creative writing classes. Because the time is short, because the work is completed quickly, judgment seems to go away. What can anyone have accomplished in such a short time? Everyone is on equal footing. So I loved my little dowel sketches of our nude model that day.
The connection with “Oxygen” is that I was trying to do a quick “study” here myself: just write something, do an anaphoric series of stanzas, and work quickly, without thinking, without (initial) revision, and see what results. This poem is a bit atypical for me, and I like it for that reason. I worked quickly, almost “in plein air” too, at least in my mind in a “free” kind of place, and the leaps I made were quick, felt quick, and still surprised me by where the poem ended up.
Irina Mashinski on “The Solid Objects of Stagnant Empires”:
First came a poetry collection which was supposed be my first English book and which I completed (or so I naively thought) in 2008. I was still not ready to let go of it years later, even with a publisher on board. In 2020, when life suddenly acquired unexpected clarity for many of us, I began writing prose fragments, which I thought of as small light bulbs, illuminating the poems, and, to the horror of a few friends, insert them between poems (“Just a few!” I’d say). Soon it became clear to me that music would – and already had! – become an important character, that prose and poetry would interact, creating parallels, counterpoints, and ripples, and that patterns would glide over the text the way rays of light of a night trolleybus glide over a wallpaper’s tessellations. Skryabin’s Vers la Flamme, the first musical epigraph, was on my mind when I worked on this book in the cold April of 2020, in a thin-walled house in NE Pennsylvania. As I fed the woodstove (often with the book’s drafts, for I would always run out of kindling), scenes and stories began to emerge before me right in the flames: those faces and voices, the resilience, and all the strange patterns of a family myth. Before I knew it, there was a prose text in front of me and now the poems had turned into small light bulbs connecting these prose segments, like scarce street lights in a familiar but dark neighborhood.
Ilya Kaminsky and Katie Farris on the translated poems of Boris and Ludmila Khersonsky
These poems by Boris and Ludmila Khersonsky come from different books, different time periods, and they respond to different situations. And, yet, translating the work of these two poets, we were struck by the unity of perspective in their work: it is as if theirs is a writing that responds to crisis via lyric moment, giving us a poet’s book of days in the time of troubles. For these two writers, there have been many troubles, indeed: they have lived most of their lives under totalitarian regime, saw the fall of USSR, the nearby war in Moldova in 1990s (Ludmila Khersonsky’s mother lives in Tiraspol, the capital of break-away and unrecognized republic of Transnistria), the Russian invasion and occupation of Crimea, and war in the Donbass region of Ukraine. Khersonskys, who are married, live in Odessa, the largest Russian speaking city in Ukraine. They are outspoken in their protest against Russian colonial politics. Their willingness to speak out is a brave and not always safe thing to do: not long ago the door to their apartment was burned, and police never found the culprits. These poems, which are a part of a longer collection that’s forthcoming next year from Lost Horse Press, do not speak to these events directly; these aren’t narrative poems. The approach here is sometimes a lyric, sometimes koan, sometimes dreamlike-fragment. It is the accumulation of these fragments, as they come together, page after page, that strike one as inimitable: this is a record of inner life in a time of crisis. The crisis described here might be in Ukraine, or it might be on any other place of the planet–but wherever the reader might be, the tremor of a hand that makes music out of fear, that makes melody out of abrupt whisper, that makes a premonition out of notation is recognizable at once.