This issue of Five Points is an issue of reflection, from its opening tribute to Maxine Kumin, in which associate editor Beth Gylys remembers researching the literary friendship between Kumin and Anne Sexton for her college senior thesis, to the poems of Ellen Bass and Barbara Hamby, who reflect on meals of pork chops and fried chicken, respectively. We also have the reflective photographs of Vesna Pavlović through his project “Fabrics of Socialism” and Kirk West’s photos of blues venues, artists, and objects. The issue also includes interviews with Kumin, West, and Stephen Dunn.
In that initial interview between Gylys and Kumin, recorded in 1986 but unpublished until now, Kumin discusses meeting Sexton in 1957 in a poetry seminar taught by John Holmes, who discouraged Kumin from developing a friendship with the “suicidal . . . alcoholic . . . addicted” Sexton. Kumin says Holmes “was very leery of her. I think she reminded him to an unerring degree of his first wife who committed suicide. . . . He couldn’t see (Sexton’s) genius because he was crushed.” How timely that the interview covering both late poets’ obsessions with death is published just months after Kumin’s crossing over.
Gylys asked Kumin nearly thirty years ago about the general focus of death in modern poetry, and Kumin replies: “All poems are essentially elegies. Almost all of them because really the impulse to write comes from a fear of death. . . . I say that we wouldn’t have literature if we weren’t mortal.”
Bass and Hamby’s poems—“Ode to the Pork Chop” and “Fried Chicken Boiled Peanut Blues”—wax nostalgic on well-remembered meals, “the creamy lard rising / to the top like a thick slab of heaven.” Bass writes, “As meat sears and butter bubbles, / I’m carried back to a time when this scent / meant survival—we’d see another day.” Hamby’s speaker is
just praying I have room for a piece of coconut pie,
because when I’m lying on my death bed
I don’t wanna be thinking, I sure wish I’d eaten more coconut pie,
just like I don’t want to say, I sure wish I’d stopped
at every boiled peanut stand on Highway 219 from Tallahassee
to Apalachicola, because there’s nothing tastier
on a hot day. . . .
In poems by David Baker and Benjamin Busch, the authors reflect on houses they live in, one possibly threatened by overhead drones (Baker) and another “buoyant, mostly hollow” and “weighed . . . down with a basement” (Busch).
Valerie Miner, in her story “Far Enough,” writes of three friends from third grade reuniting after “many years,” where the protagonist, Liz, wonders—despite their promise “to remain in each other’s lives. Forever.”—what she even has in common with them now.
Five Point’s “Hot Rocks” section of “Songs and Verse” includes a deconstruction of ‘80s indiepop by Stephen Burt, in which he examines lyrics by Amelia Fletcher (frontwoman of Heavenly and Talulah Gosh) and songs by Allo Darlin:
These lyrics, like almost all rock lyrics, should not be treated as if they were page-based poetry: if you want to hear what I hear when you read the words, please stop, find a computer or a record store or an accommodating DJ—YouTube will do—and listen to (Elizabeth) Morris (of Allo Darlin) sing the song.
Burt’s essay is also “a song about songs, about the nostalgia value in (as John Ashbery put it) ‘The Songs We Know Best.’ . . . The songs that we know best tie us to our past, to the person we were when we first heard them, when we first loved them, and those songs can come with us as we travel, can take us back, console us or distress us, no matter where we live, where our bodies are, who we might have become.”
Also in the “Hot Rocks” section, we have “A Conversation with Kirk West and Mike Mattison,” in which West, the manager of the Allman Brothers Band, recalls tours during the 1970s and shares photos (West was a professional photographer before his tenure with the Allmans) of juke joints, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash.
In contrast, poet and essayist Chad Davidson remembers when and why he put down the camera: “As a result of our constantly being bombarded with images,” Davidson writes, “we inevitably compare our lived experience to the representations we’ve seen. . . . we might even hear someone near us (or even hear ourselves) say, It looks just like the pictures I’ve seen, or It’s even better than the pictures I’ve seen, or, perhaps most distressingly, I think the pictures I’ve seen are better.”
In this Five Points issue of reflection, Davidson’s words might best serve as a concluding summary: “Maybe the weight of all the pictures is what I’m scared of, the predilection some have to live more in the past, surrounded by images of the already, the happened, the happy.” And perhaps I share some of the ideas of Davidson’s thesis; as much as I enjoyed this issue’s walking us down Memory Lane, I hope the next issue of Five Points might point us to the future. I’m pretty familiar with where we (and the artists focused on in the issue) have been. I’m more interested in what we (and they) might do next.