I always look forward to seeing what Plume Poetry is going to bring to the table with their Featured Selection each monthly issue. This month, they bring readers five poets under the age of thirty-five: Caroline Chavatel, E.G. Cunningham, Emma DePanise, Ella Flores, and Kimberly Grey. John A. Nieves briefly interviews the five as introduction to their respective two poems.
My favorites of the set are those by Caroline Chavatel: “Portrait of Adelaide Cordona, 1881” and “Portrait of Madame Yucca, 1892.” We’re given some context to these women, both performers in the circus. Chavatel sheds light on the two women and their fascinating feats, writing lightly and almost whimsically as she describes their acts, although ultimately examining the roles of women at the time. Adelaide Cordona “performed a spectacular flaming zone hurdle act wearing tights and a matching curvaceous leotard astride a galloping horse,” she’s introduced, yet even as she does this extraordinary task, we notice her womanly features, her “delicate wrist,” her “flattering leotard” as she’s “performing her face.” On her horse, she thinks of “the suited men who told you / no in your mortal / regalia” and uses the flames and her body to throw it back in their faces. She’s not going to be a ‘proper woman’—she’ll leap through the flames until her clothes burn off. She’ll do everything she was told not to.
In her poem, Madame Yucca lifts weights with her “female hand,” “weights / hanging from your locks,” “a graceful girl,” the “Female Hercules.” Even with her incredible feats of strength, she’s reduced to her gender by viewers. She’s the female version of our mental image of strength. She’s good for a girl. But she’s more than that and Chavatel makes us know this, writing about these women in an enjoyably defiant way. I’d love to read an entire book of her characterization of women entertainers from the past.
Another favorite of mine from these featured selections is “Void Lore” by Ella Flores, an ode to extinct animals including the dodo, Steller’s sea cows, moas, passenger pigeons, and more. We humans are written in among the extinct, a violent existence utilizing “all the weapons god gave us,” biting and clawing among these extinct bodies. By bringing these dead animals back to life, the piece feels darkly magical like a fairy-tale.
Once readers check out the rest of the poems and the one essay included in this month’s issue, they can track back to the interviews in the Featured Selection. Each writer shares their own favorite young writers, a great jumping off point for discovering more young, fresh voices.