The Plume Anthology of Poetry 2013, ed. Daniel Lawless. Asheville, North Carolina: MadHat Press. 286 pages. $19.95, paper.
When I was a child, I would spend hours gazing into my View-Master, clicking through image after image and then clicking through them again. Each image seemed to transport me to this other world, where the landscapes and characters were distinct but unified by a certain slant of light. I wanted to stay in that world as long as possible. Reading The Plume Anthology of Poetry 2013 reminds me of that experience. Containing the work of more than a hundred poets, the anthology presents a diverse and abundant offering of poetic greatness.
In his introduction, Daniel Lawless mentions that a contributor thanked him for “letting him join the club,” and he speculates about exactly what kind of club Plume might be. He also mentions that many readers comment on how eclectic Plume is, and one certainly finds in this collection the work of poets who wouldn’t normally appear in the same anthology. Lawless states that the only password into this “club” is “beauty.” This is true, but after reading the anthology a few times, I was able to see beyond the diversity of styles in it and see that almost all of the poems exude a particular kind of beauty. Each poem renders the world with such clarity that it, paradoxically, becomes strange.
Lawless organized the anthology alphabetically by author, and Kim Addonizio’s “Creased Map of the Underworld” opens the collection. The poem begins, “Nothing is so beautiful as death, / thinks Death.” Later in the poem, she writes, “Lovely / is the nearly expired star,” and “lovelier the supernova / tearing itself apart / or collapsing like Lana Turner / in Frank O’Hara’s poem.” The poem concludes:
Down rivers of Fuck yous and orchids
steer lit hearts in little boats
gamely making their way,
spinning and flaming, flaming
and spiraling, always down—
down, the most beautiful of the directions.
Of course, it’s complete chance that Addonizio’s poem is the first in the anthology, but it sets the tone for the rest of the book. The poem is playful and heartbreaking—perhaps heartbreaking because of its playfulness—and the imagery is crushingly beautiful. The poem disturbs and comforts its readers, as do many of the poems anthologized here.
Stylistically, Bianca Stone might be the antithesis to Addonizio, yet her three untitled poems in The Plume Anthology resonate strongly with “Creased Map of the Underworld.” The second of Stone’s poems consists of an illustration of a man, a woman, and lion walking together with the caption “THESE PEOPLE IN YOUR BURNED-DOWN DREAMS” and a second illustration that shows a lion walking upright with its front legs extended, along with the caption “THESE PEOPLE COMING AT YOU WITH THEIR ARMS OPEN FOR ETERNITY.” The juxtaposition of the sleepwalking lion and the caption leaves me both amused and haunted. The ambiguity of the caption alone leaves us wondering whether we should run from these people or toward them. They are “coming at you,” yet their arms are open. Is this a gesture of welcome or a threat? The truth is that it’s probably both.
Lawless includes a few translations in the anthology, including ten of Stuart Friebert’s translations of Karl Krolow’s poems and translations of poems by Tomaž Šalamun, Alexander Ulanov, and Hsia Yü. Krolow’s “Abyss of the Minutes” tells us, “Love’s noises / are always too loud” and ends:
Bang on: I’m happy.
The words, the words. We plunge
all tangled up like a skein
into the abyss of the minutes.
You’re insanely good all right.
Abuse me. I’m dying.
The poem captures both the pain and the pleasure of love. Krolow’s poem takes the downward spiral of Addonizio’s poem and accelerates it so that “[w]e plunge.” “[A]ll tangled up like a skein” is one of the best images of lovemaking I’ve read, capturing its abandon and intimacy. Another striking feature of this poem and of the anthology as a whole is the varying levels of diction: the rather archaic “abyss” knocks up against “[y]ou’re insanely good all right.”
The poems in The Plume Anthology of Poetry are insanely good. Whether it’s Beckian Fritz Goldberg’s long narrative lines or Kimiko Hahn’s prose notes, every poem teaches us the “Lesson of Reconnected Events,” as the title of Angela Ball’s poem has it. Steve Bradbury translates the refrain in Hsia Yü’s “Even a Punkster Should Excel at Something”:
We can love
Until we come to understand each other
We can waste to
That poem ends, “There are still so many mornings you and I could rise / Like babies opening their eyes.” The desperate love of the dying (which is all of us) renews the world. The same could be said of the reader’s descent into this outstanding anthology.
Jordan Sanderson grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and earned a PhD from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi. His work has appeared in several journals, including Better: A Journal of Culture and Lit, Gigantic Sequins, Red Earth Review, burntdistrict and Caketrain, and he is the author of two chapbooks, The Formulas (ELJ Publications, 2014) and Abattoir (forthcoming from Slash Pine Press). Jordan’s critical work has appeared in The Hollins Critic, Heavy Feather Review, and Alehouse, among other journals. He currently lives on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.