Saturday, September 12, 2009

this was posted on Edward Byrne's blog yesterday:

As we recall today the events of September 11, 2001, I thought the following poem by Stanley Plumly would be appropriate to bring again to readers’ attention. “’The Morning America Changed’” first appeared in the Fall/Winter 2002-2003 issue (Volume IV, Number 1) of Valparaiso Poetry Review, and it was later published in Plumly’s excellent 2007 collection of poems, Old Heart (W.W. Norton). Although eight years have now passed since the terrible incidents of that infamous day, Stanley Plumly’s fine poem still resonates with its intimacy and immediacy, and its lines remind me once more of the intense rush of emotional reactions caused by those images seen on television screens all around the world.


Happened in the afternoon at Villa Serbelloni. 

We’d closed up shop on the work for the day 

and decided to make the long descent down 

the elegant stone switchback path into Bellagio 

for coffee and biscotti. It was still Tuesday 

and a quarter to three and a good quarter hour 

to the exit gate or if you stopped to look 

at the snow on the Alps or at “the deepest 

lake in all of Italy” or looked both ways 

at once—as we say crossing a street—five, 

ten minutes longer. This day was longer 

because it was especially, if redundantly, 

beautiful, with the snow shining and the lake 

shining and the big white boats shining 

with tourists from Tremezzo and Varenna. 

And the herring gulls and swallows at different 

layers, shining like mica in the mountain rock. 

And the terra cotta tiles of the village roofs 

almost shining, almost close enough to touch. 

Judith was already in the pasticceria 

and I was looking skyward on Via Garibaldi, 

the one-way traffic lane circling the town, 

when I heard the rain in the distance breaking 

and then her voice through the window calling 

and then on the tiny screen inside 

pillars of fire pouring darkly into clouds. 

—Stanley Plumly 

Posted by Edward Byrne at Friday, September 11, 2009



to me, the only thing that "resonates" about this poem is how bad it is . . .

frankly I find it disgusting—it's not just that the plotting of it is a direct steal from O'Hara's The Day Lady Died,

which I find offensive—

a list of things I hate about this poem would include every line:

"Villa Serbolloni"— what the fuck is the Villa Serbolloni? whose "villa" is it? is it Plumly's? does he own it? is he renting it? is it a hotel, or what?

"We’d closed up shop on the work for the day"— who the fuck is "we"?

Me, Stanley Plumly, and who else?

and what on earth is this line saying, literally I mean—

what work? "we" are working on what?—

("closed up shop"—what does "closed up shop" mean? is this cliche phrase meant to foreshadow the "shop" at the end of the poem:

"Judith was already in the pasticceria"

(and who the fuck is "Judith"?))


these incomprehensible first two lines

are followed by utterly boring and banal descriptive blather—

oh yeah that "stone switchback path" down which we make "the long descent" from our swanky "villa"

is just so elegant, don'tcha know—

jesus yuck.

O'Hara's digressive aporia in the Holiday poem are at least well written/intriguing/interesting, and filled with evocative suspense depending/suspending from the ominous title,

but Plumly's inconsequential trivia is just maddeningly pointless: its "poignancy" is calculated derivative and a worn-out literary device . . .


depressing to me that Edward Byrne finds merit in this trite verse . . .

Byrne's book "Along the Dark Shore" is a book I admire and have reread at since its publication—

Ashbery contributed a foreward to it, in which he aptly praises the "particulars" of Byrne's poems . . .


contrast Plumly's specious, dishonest smarminess

with a poem by a real poet—this one by Robert Pinsky:


We adore images, we like the spectacle
Of speed and size, the working of prodigious
Systems. So on television we watched

The terrible spectacle, repetitiously gazing
Until we were sick not only of the sight
Of our prodigious systems turned against us

But of the very systems of our watching.
The date became a word, an anniversary
That we inscribed with meanings–who keep so few,

More likely to name an airport for an actor
Or athlete than “First of May” or “Fourth of July.”
In the movies we dream up, our captured heroes

Tell the interrogator their commanding officer’s name
Is Colonel Donald Duck–he writes it down, code
Of a lowbrow memory so assured it’s nearly

Aristocratic. Some say the doomed firefighters
Before they hurried into the doomed towers wrote
Their Social Security numbers on their forearms.

Easy to imagine them kidding about it a little,
As if they were filling out some workday form.
Will Rogers was a Cherokee, a survivor

Of expropriation. A roper, a card. For some,
A hero. He had turned sixteen the year
That Frederick Douglass died. Douglass was twelve

When Emily Dickinson was born. Is even Donald
Half-forgotten?–Who are the Americans, not
A people by blood or religion? As it turned out,

The donated blood not needed, except as meaning.
And on the other side that morning the guy
Who shaved off all his body hair and screamed

The name of God with his boxcutter in his hand.
O Americans–as Marianne Moore would say,
Whence is our courage? Is what holds us together

A gluttonous dreamy thriving? Whence our being?
In the dark roots of our music, impudent and profound?–
Or in the Eighteenth Century clarities

And mystic Masonic totems of the Founders:
The Eye of the Pyramid watching over us,
Hexagram of Stars protecting the Eagle’s head

From terror of pox, from plague and radiation.
And if they blow up the Statue of Liberty–
Then the survivors might likely in grief, terror

And excess build a dozen more, or produce
A catchy song about it, its meaning as beyond
Meaning as those symbols, or Ray Charles singing “America

The Beautiful.” Alabaster cities, amber waves,
Purple majesty. The back-up singers in sequins
And high heels for a performance–or in the studio

In sneakers and headphones, engineers at soundboards,
Musicians, all concentrating, faces as grave
With purpose as the harbor Statue herself.