Below are three poems from Willis Plummer’s forthcoming chapbookMons Pubis, published in the U.S. by Stupendous Books.
Andrew mists a block of sod
Obligatorily the artist is present
Everyone sweats windowless
The factory is windowless
I don’t sweat in open-toed shoes
My cat vomits on the towel
That stands in for a bath mat
Five AM again in Eco-mode
The AC in Eco-mode
Shifts in and out of gear
Alcohol will do that at Six AM
Alarm clock type beat
Dry soles suddenly in focus
With a pause I’m thinking
About my dry feet
Enamel recedes daily
With lack of intention
These teeth get coarser
These teeth get
An armored shark in lava, I move on all fours across the rug
While your daughters leap over me, shrieking.
With an unblinking eye, I feel the heat of the earth rise—
Its erupting egg, yolk-rug and the shore of the bed, as we play.
That night you wake up to tell me you were sinking.
Half-asleep, I say, water in dreams always means emotion.
I think I feel a pair of cool hands pressing on my temples,
A vial of cooking oil in my pocket.
Strong was born and raised in South Florida. Her first novel, Hold Still, was released by Liveright/WW Norton in 2016. Her nonfiction has been published by Guernica, Los Angeles Review of Books, Elle.com, Catapult, Lit Hub, and others. She teaches both fiction and non-fiction writing at Columbia University, Fairfield University, and the Pratt Institute.
The dreams I’ve been having have trickled into reality in the hides of false memories. At work, all the electricity went kaput and I bushwhacked the dark to find the urinal. I’m unsure where the mice are getting in from but a strong guess is the extinct fireplace. When Under The Skin was released in 2014, a mouse in the theater darted past my socks. I remember that so vividly but not simple things like I have to eat meals. The people from apartment 1 and apartment 3 and apartment 4 have all vanished. Unsober, I floated through the rooms of 4 and discovered a replica of my extinct fireplace. Their kitchen lent more counter space and their bathtub had claws and a window beside it. Now, I refuse to be dead before eating raspberries in my very own claw-footed bathtub. In January, the roses addressed to Leslie Walton died on 4’s welcome mat. A subscription service meal kit got delivered to 3 and it’s been rotting in the vestibule. Someone moved it to the stoop then someone moved it back inside then I threw it out. Sarah J. said she didn’t have the attention span for movies, so I eased her in with short ones. We watched Jonathan Glazer’s The Fall and the first segment of Todd Solondz’s Storytelling. We came very close to swapping out a tire, we went out to her car and everything, but didn’t. Storytelling is a fitting preface for the remainder of my year because I’m taking 2 workshops. I enjoy Chelsea Hodson’s course because it’s pushing me deeper into what I’m already doing. But I won’t write about the most emotionally intense moment I’ve experienced, it isn’t mine. Just as I won’t describe the plan I’ve devised to get to the life I want to live, in case I can’t.
In an interview published in The Sun (June 2018) you said:
I don’t believe anything is over. The Civil Rights Movement was a core moment. The lessons it taught us — about social activism and political engagement and strategy — are still very much in play. Many of the people who were active in that movement are alive today — and not particularly old, either. Ruby Bridges, the kindergarten student who helped desegregate schools in New Orleans, turned sixty-three last year. She’s not even old enough to retire!
The Civil Rights Movement became a model for the Women’s Movement, the Gay Rights Movement, and much of the anti-war and anti-poverty movements. Who we are as activists today was shaped in many ways by the Civil Rights Movement. And the fundamental questions it raised have not gone away. As a culture, we are still learning how to be civil and how to acknowledge each other’s rights.
Is this still true for you?
It is! It’s all still true. (Though Ruby Nell Bridges Hall will actually be 66 in September of 2020, so I suppose now she is old enough to retire. It is past time for us younger folks to be doing the hard work, and thankfully many are rising to the occasion.) This is why so much of my poetry, which is in many ways about the moment we are living in right now, is also so deeply steeped in history. History stays with us every step of the way.
Last week, a woman smiled at my daughter and I wondered
if she might have been the sort of girl my mother says spat on my aunt
when they were children in Virginia all those acts and laws ago.
Half the time I can’t tell my experiences apart from the ghosts’.
A shirt my mother gave me settles into my chest.
I should say onto my chest, but I am self conscious—
the way the men watch me while I move toward them
makes my heart trip and slide and threaten to bruise
so that, inside my chest, I feel the pressure of her body,
her mother’s breasts, her mother’s mother’s big, loving bounty.
Tell us more about the title of your book. Why Ugly Music?
The title was taken from a line in my poem “Diary Entry #1: Revisitation”: “You’ll fall on the world / like and ugly music.” I didn’t realize how influential music was to my poetry until putting together this manuscript. Not only have individual songs influenced my work, but also the language of music appears over and over in my poetry. To me ugly music lives in the space between cacophony and euphony. It’s not exactly inharmonious nor is it beautiful. This book is my tribute to all the sounds of my life, the songs, the noises that have added up to this moment when I must play them all at once.
I haven’t stopped stealing chapsticks from Target. I haven’t
stopped questioning the afterlife. My mother
sings to me every year and I’m still
dying. I’m measuring distances
by the ache in my throat, the border
of my body, navel to pussy. Is this
my punishment for slipping the small cylinders
so easily into my pocket? I have faith
that all the pretty people
are prettier than me and all the pretty people
are geographically out of reach.
Mr. Adams was our seventh-grade woodshop teacher. He lived on the hill with his wife and two kids. He had a false eye and once showed us a video of himself riding a homemade hovercraft on the high school soccer field. He had a soft spot for girls and would always ask if they could help him clean up the classroom. Many did and asked for extra credit, and he gave it.
A guidance counsellor walked into our class after Christmas break and didn’t say anything about what happened to Mr. Adams. It’s not like he had to. Facebook was new, and everyone had already seen and shared the post. It happened the week before Christmas. At least that’s what people said. None of us were there. Most of us only saw his mugshot on the county bookings website and made up our own versions of what happened. Apparently, Mr. Adams had been looking into people’s windows and videotaping them naked. Or having sex. Or maybe it was little girls in their bathrooms. The only foundation validating the rumors was one word: voyeurism. I didn’t know the definition. My parents said a voyeur was a Peeping Tom. I imagined Mr. Adams climbing into a tree like George McFly and spying on someone with binoculars. Why would anyone do that?
When I came home, I got on Facebook, combed through the posts about Mr. Adams, and read all the comments. My crush commented on one of them. She said he was a pervert sicko and looked at her bare back when she bent to pick up trash in class. I clicked on her profile. We were friends, but we’d never talked and never would. I looked at all her pictures, framed in tiles on my screen. I could see everything.
A winner of the Ruth Lilly Fellowship from Poetry magazine, she is the author of nine books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, including the novel O, Democracy! (Fifth Star Press, 2014); the novel in poems Robinson Alone (Gold Wake Press, 2012), based on the life and work of Weldon Kees; the essay collection For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs (Counterpoint, 2010); and the art modeling memoir Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object (University of Arkansas Press, 2009). Her first book is Reading with Oprah: The Book Club That Changed America (University of Arkansas Press, 2005), and her first poetry collection, Oneiromance (an epithalamion) won the 2007 Gatewood Prize from the feminist publisher Switchback Books.
Her reviews and criticism have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Poetry Foundation website, The New York Times Book Review,BITCH, Allure, The Chicago Review of Books, The Chicago Tribune, The Paris Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Nation and elsewhere.
She lives in Chicago with her spouse, the writer Martin Seay.
Your book, “All That Shines Under The Hollywood Sign” what’s the significance of your title?
I’m a native Angeleno, the lore and the lure of Los Angeles and Hollywood is ultimately what’s shaped who I am. I’ve always been infatuated with Hollywood and it’s rich history. This book is just my way of saying thank you.
Brad Listi, the founder of this website, is now keeping a daily blog where he documents his existence. It’s called notes from the fall. But I like to call it Bradpocalypse. He’s going to do this until Inauguration Day. For some reason I think it’s compelling to read about a dad in Los Angeles. I think my favorite part so far is that his son wants a John Williams t-shirt. John Williams, the composer. The Star Wars composer guy. That makes me laugh.
If you’d like to read follow along and you didn’t understand the hyperlink above, then I’ll make it very obvious for you right here. Click this link if you’d like to follow along: https://bradpocalypse.blogspot.com/?m=1.
And by the way, this is Joseph Grantham writing this, not Brad Listi. This isn’t Brad doing a third person self promotion thing. This is Joseph. I hope you’re all well, except those of you who annoy me. As for the people who annoy me, I hope you’re doing fine, just not well.