Mycocosmic and plutonic

Big news arrived this week: Wednesday morning, I talked by phone with Jeffrey Levine, who told me that Diane Seuss had named my next poetry book, Mycocosmic, runner-up for the Dorset Prize, and they want to publish it with a $1000 honorarium, likely in winter 2025. I said yes. I’m still stunned. My adoration for Seuss and her work–I’ve never met her, but I’ve been a fan for years of her poems and her literary generosity–makes the honor especially wonderful. And Tupelo will be the largest indie I’ve ever published poetry with, so it’s a lucky break.

I’ve been working toward Mycocosmic for some years, although it kept mutating. The “cosmic” in the title evokes the spell-poems, blessings, curses, and prayers I’ve been writing for a while, after gathering more my overtly political and historical poems in The State She’s In (although there are a few spell-poems in that book, too). In the late twenty-teens, I started to consider other ways poems might make change, particularly through lyric entrancement (repetition, rhyme, meter) and petitions to other-than-human powers. In a 2019 panel at the C.D. Wright Conference I called this mode “Uncanny Activism,” a title I redeployed for a Copper Nickel essay that became a chapter in Poetry’s Possible Worlds (in the book, called “Magic”), and I will use the phrase again for a panel gathering at the New Orleans Poetry Festival in a couple of weeks. For a Shenandoah portfolio of spell-poems, I used a different title, “A Grimoire: Poems in Pursuit of Transformation.” Same idea; long thinking.

“Myco” means fungal, a motif that crept up on me as I wrote and revised. I originally thought the dominant theme of the book would be fire; I was thinking especially about the afterlife of anger, its uses and harms. Fire is still a motif, but the emotional range of Mycocosmic became wider–life compelled me to think about metabolizing grief and loss, too, not only over my mother’s death but about the kids’ independence and cataclysms in my own body and mind. Without the work of the fungal kingdom, death would overwhelm the world; fungus breaks down the remains of plants and animals, helping to form the soil from which new life can grow. I became aware that my project was inhabited by a kind of idea-mycelium, an underground structure from which poems were sprouting.

This is NEW news; some of my books were finalists for contests for years, but in this case I’d just started sending it out, very selectively. I have to say, though, there’s been a vibe of surprise in my life. I’ve been reading–in the same way I had been reading about fungus, with amateur curiosity–about Pluto entering Aquarius as of March 23rd. Expect big change, astrologers wrote, although I took that with more than a pinch of salt. As Aliza Kelly put it in The Cut, “Pluto governs transformation, rebirth, and monumental metamorphosis. It represents the incredible intensity of anything that dwells beneath the surface: oil, diamonds, vermin, and — of course — secrets.” And indeed, wild things started happening in the lives of people around me starting around that date–career shifts; my sister suddenly buying a house in Florida and preparing to move there, after spending her entire life in New Jersey, where we grew up; other sudden rises and falls in people’s fortunes. Work has been bananas. Not that any of these things are entirely out of the blue. I just didn’t expect them ALL AT ONCE.

My brain should have one of those web-loading circles on it: processing, processing. As my head spins, though, congratulations to winner Spring Ulmer, whose work I look forward to reading, and to all the finalists and semifinalists, many of whom I already know to be terrific writers.

I wouldn’t mind a Fall 2024 release date, but Winter 2025, though a long way off, is just fine with me. Promoting Poetry’s Possible Worlds has been hard work. This way I get quiet time to write, think, and plan before all the rigors of a launch. I need it.

I’ll have more to say, of course, but for now, big thanks to Tupelo Press and Diane Seuss. Also to the terrific magazine Diode, which just published a couple of poems of mine in their new issue, both of which are from the book ms. You’ll see they’re fiery! “Flammable Almanac” is probably the first tarot poem I wrote, I think in the winter of 2021; like “Oxidation Story,” another poem in Mycocosmic, it quotes a tarot reader who told me, around then, that good things would be coming to me through fire. “Giant Tube Worm” is in the mode of Marianne Moore’s ode poems (“To a Snail,” “To a Steamroller,” etc.); there I was researching creatures that subsist lightlessly near undersea lava vents (more fire). Through unconscious processes “Giant Tube Worm” became a poem about a heritage of depression, too. You never know what mushrooms will fruit from your underground world, or when.

14 responses to “Mycocosmic and plutonic”

  1. Wonderful news, Lesley, a reward for both talent and tenacity … sustaining a writing career at the same time as working/teaching seems more and more of an achievement as the years heave along … I’m so looking forward to reading the book!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Lisa! I actually want to talk to you about fungus sometime! I had thought maybe we could take a walk together but it’s been one injury after another over here. Hope to see you soon one way or another!


      • I’d love to meet up – I am no mycologist but can try to answer your questions. Just shoot me an email when you are healed and/or free.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. A great piece to start April. I’ve always been fascinated by/with mushrooms/fungi. I greatly recommend a documentary, “Fantastic Fungi”, to pop in your wheelhouse if it’s not there already. So good to read all the things you’re writing/doing.

    Liked by 1 person

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