Richardson, Withiam, Riedinger, et. al.

Richardson, Withiam, Riedinger, et. al.
September 24, 2018 Plume

Nota Bene:


Readers — As you are here, just a word about the new website, so long in the works. I think you will find it much more user-friendly – more easily searchable and navigable, with a complete archive, author profiles with biographical notes and photographs, easily identifiable icons for audio/visual material, and the like.

As for the print side of Plume: per the Hiatus Newsletter, we have exited Plume Editions and MadHat Press, to strike out on our own. Many thanks to Marc Vincenz for all of his hard work in year’s past – but it’s time. We will publish under Canisy Press, and SPD will distribute. I have assembled a new design team, and we have acquired a new staff member to handle publicity: Amanda Newell, whose title is Associate Editor for Social Media.  Expect an upgrade in promotions and publicity: we hope to steadily increase our readership across all platforms, both online and print, in the next anthology – renamed to play to our strength, that all work is new and previously unpublished, unusual for an anthology. Henceforth the title will be Plume 7: New Poems 2018, and so on.  Month in and month out, year by year, Plume publishes some of the best contemporary poetry in the world, and we want to give the likes of BAP and Pushcart a little run for their money. The new anthology will debut at AWP in Portland, 2019, with Plume readings and author signings – I hope to see you there!

Finally, this little note would be remiss if it did not announce, as well, our reinvigorated commitment to publish an even more diverse array of poetries. Issues and Featured Selections will include not only our usual rosters of established and emerging poets, but a greater range of voices.  Poets Under 35, African-American Poets, Latinx Poets, LGBTQ poets, Poets of Africa, and Contemporary Chinese Poets, for example, already are in the planning stages.


Ok, fin.

To what you really are here forThe Poets Speak!


James Richardson on “Ode to the Paper Clip”

The odes of Keats and Neruda’s wonderful Odas Elementales  have some interests in common — birds, seasons, indolence — but Neruda’s nightingale is a sea gull, and he celebrates not Psyche or Melancholy but socks and artichokes, salt and watches, a ship in a bottle.  The modern ode, that is, has been shading towards the daily and the ironic.  It’s no longer even mildly cheeky to write an “Ode to the Paper Clip.” You’d be much more surprised by another “Ode on a Grecian Urn” or “Ode to the West Wind.”

The old ode made big claims.  Shelley’s apostrophes (“O wild West Wind…!), his tumbling lists of names (“Wild Spirit,” “destroyer and preserver”), surge toward an invocation of the wind, of himself, and of the reader: “Hear, O hear!”   He aims to enlarge and enliven life, to enlarge and enliven us.  Seems to me the Modern Workshop Aesthetic regards such apostrophes and their accompanying exclamation points as somewhere between amateurism and invasion of readerly privacy.  Whatever.  It’s still fun to put on the old robes, even if their gold embroidery is a little much for the subway.

So maybe I’ve written an aw-shucks version of the Romantics.  But is a paper clip intrinsically less poetic than the wind?  Yeah, probably!  We do what it comes to us to do.


Scott Withiam on “Becoming Hat”

Well, I always wanted to do something about that hat, and in the end it did something for me


Failing to creatively fix one past I sort of succeeded in redeeming another


One cannot live in Massachusetts for too long without feeling and putting to work the Puritan ethic . . .

along with Colonial architecture, many periods of art and art history, tourism, sea lore, boat talk, and everywhere the influence of great ports and great poets. Funny, looking back, how I set this poem up. The speaker’s presumptuous creative desire to revive a former gem of a city gone tourist trap is an impossible task (Who can compete with great poems?), a foil, so that the impossible task turns into a possible poetic task, reckoning, creatively, with an old friend. I’d hoped that simple human act made a bigger mark than all my foolish desires for great outcomes or improved civilization, desires which I’m so often guilty of—Puritan ethic.


Bonnie Riedinger on “Trompe L’oeil–Not a Painting”

“Trompe L’oeil–Not a Painting” was constructed over several years like a jigsaw puzzle laid out in the spare room. The puzzle pieces were images jotted down on scraps of paper. My hourlong commute is ideal for collecting images. One fall, the roadsides were littered with dead animals. I’d tried not to look, but then forced myself to look in the hope that the heap in the gutter was just trash. I began fitting the highway images with other jottings that explored my interest in perception, illusion, and expectations. Most of the poem came together quickly, but the ending eluded me. I put the poem and all my other writing aside for about 8 years. Last year, my elder sister, an artist who had once put her creative life on hold, urged (harried) me to write again. A rebellious younger sibling, I rarely took her advice, but this time I did. After rewriting the ending at least ten more times, I completed the poem in 2017. Although my sister knew about as much about poetry as I did about her abstract paintings, we showed our work to one another and celebrated our successes. My sister was thrilled when I told her this poem would appear in Plume. She did not live to see it, but I read it to her in hospice last summer.  I’ve been writing steadily since then and my sister is the focus of the chapbook I just completed.


Carol Moldaw on “Scales”

 Why “Scales”? What kind of scales? If I teeter between meanings, does it all come out in the balance, the wash? The title stands at a remove from the poem, oblique at best.  Fish scales, a friend suggested. Though I hadn’t thought of that before, once she suggested it, fish scales had an appeal—I could apply it to the title after the fact. Scales: overlapping, glistening, forming armor. But it wasn’t true and didn’t fit the poem. For a long part of its drafting, “Scales” harbored a section on insomnia, of scaling the letters of the alphabet backward, to fall asleep, of their making their own kind of scale. The image never worked, but the word, the idea, of scales stuck. I think what I thought of when I thought of it wasn’t even what it means. I knew what practice scales on a piano were, but really I meant tinkering around. In the end, I can see that each section involves a weighing of one thing against another, that each section is its own set of scales. And then, the poem itself has an inner logic and progression—musical scales after all.


G.C. Waldrep on “South Hole”

South Hole is a fossilized medieval village, today a sprawling farmstead and some cottages, in Hartland, a large, rugged parish in northwestern Devon.  From the South West Coast Path a walker can look down into it, nestled into a tiny valley of its own, protected somewhat by cliffs from the sea.  The site of the long-vanished medieval chapel, dedicated to St. Heligan, is still legible in the landscape, if one knows where to look.


“Play / the motif / with the prayer / hand” is an allusion to John Taggart, who writes, in “All the Steps” (in Standing Wave),

There is this problem with cutting off the prayer hand

there is this problem with the other hand.

I was thinking of this couplet as I walked, as a kind of koan or troparion.  Taggart also notes, elsewhere:  “Ives was trying to protect a fading transcendentalism behind all the noise, no?  That’s the unanswered question.”  I admit I’m not very interested in unanswered questions, or in Transcendentalism.  But I am interested in music, and in Ives, and in Taggart, and in prayer, and in obscure Cornish saints–and in knowing where to look, though if the agent of one’s sight is the hand rather than the eye, one runs into difficulties.  How the body heals itself is not a condition of music, but we would perhaps be better off if it were, I mean, if we assumed it were, if we assumed music could somehow be enough.


Chase Twichell on “Fireworks or Gunfire?”

 For many years my husband and I split our time 50/50 between Miami Beach and the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, as far north and as far south as we could get without leaving the country. It would be hard to find two places with less in common. Each became a dream when I was in the other. Having grown up in the northern mountains, Miami was completely alien to me, almost hallucinogenic. Yet when I was there, the strangeness of my native territory became clearer to me, especially the ritual murder of animals that takes place every fall. Miami’s violence was mostly human on human. The sound of fireworks, those beautiful aerial destructions, had always conjured gunfire for me. In this poem I was exploring the associative overlap between the two kinds of killing, and the irony of shooting calling up the sound of fireworks instead of the other way around, which seemed to me a reversal of the natural order of things.



Stephanie Burt on “Bleeding Hearts” 

“Bleeding-Hearts” is the latest in a series of poems about animate or talking flora that I now realize I’ve been writing for something like 20 years; I’m not a gardener, just a plant fan. The subject chose me.


The poem also belongs to a set of poems in which plants and animals and inanimate objects speak about, or for, some aspect of trans or queer identity; in this case the plants are nonbinary teens and young people, and every aspect of the literal plant that the poem describes stands for something important to some of the nonbinary young people I’ve had the good fortune to meet, or hear, or read. Some of them may be sending Plume their own poems, if not now, then soon.


Some of them are also– like me– X-Men fans; cisgender X-fans may never know (though I want them to know) how thoroughly X-Men stories can seem to fit trans people. In particular, and relevant to this poem, there’s some transmasculine symbolism available in the character of Logan, who is the best-known Wolverine– a good teacher who has had to survive and claim his masculinity for himself, and who is both uncommonly testosterone-fueled and (when well-written) compatible with feminist ideals! There’s also a good deal of trauma survival, escape from birth family, and taking-control-of-your-own-body in the story of Laura, who is also Wolverine (though she’s sometimes called X-23; please don’t call her that yourself– it’s a long story). Readers familiar with either or both Wolverines may be able to see super-powered teachers trying to keep their mutant students safe, as well as some Wolverines and other X-characters, in what is (or so I hope), for other readers, a poem about trans and nonbinary identity, and resilience, and growing up, and blood-red flowers, that makes sense if you never see any mutants inside.


Also it rhymes. Rhyme is fun, for me. Very few of my favorite contemporary US poets use rhyme a lot (a few do!), so I’m using it frequently until somebody arrives from the land of rhyme to ask for it back.