Ernest Trova World

Bridget blog OK.jpgGuest post by Bridget Lowe

I have always lived in relationship to the objects around me, sharing an intimacy with inert matter that can yield both exhilarating and excruciating results–plastic and primary colors make me feel physically ill (especially in combination), while natural wood or perfectly faded paint can induce euphoria. My point is that I find myself constantly aware of the objects I’m surrounded by and have strong feelings toward the things I choose (or don’t choose) to become a part of my life. I’ve been frequenting thrift stores, estate sales, and antique shops for years now, always hoping to encounter that little something that speaks to me in a significant way. As a child this resulted in some baffling purchases–old women’s wigs, an antique cornhusker, a giant 1950s adding machine that my sister and I bought and lugged home from a neighbor’s sale and would gingerly plug in for short periods at a time, because it smoked so badly and smelled like burning hair…there was no outward rhyme or reason to my purchases, though I can still remember what they signified for me at the time.

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This past weekend I had the surprise privilege of entering the home of American artist
Ernest Trova.
Mr. Trova, a native St. Louisian who remained so throughout his life, passed away last year at the age of 82. An internationally recognized, self-trained artist, Trova made his official debut at age 20 when visiting judge Max Beckmann chose his 1947 mixed media piece “Roman Boy” as winner of the museum’s annual exhibit:
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David Kirby on Time and Samurai

David Kirby’s poem “Baby Handle” appears in our Spring 2010 issue. It transports us to a Samurai sword-fighting lesson in Tokyo, and introduces us to a teacher who reminds us that sometimes the idea “isn’t to win, / it’s not to lose.” Kirby centers the experience with Western imagery, including this description:

it’s been said that he seems to have more time
than anyone else, like an athlete–like Michael
Jordan, say, because if it takes you three seconds to shoot
a lay-up, it seems as though Jordan-san is in the air for ten
seconds, fifteen, more.

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The experience, for both the speaker and the reader, is ultimately humbling. Here, Kirby elaborates on the experience and discusses how crucial time is to the poem:


The immediate hook for the poem was the fact that my sensei said only two words of English to me during an afternoon of instruction in the use of a rather lethal sword. It’s the first and only sword-fighting lesson I’ve ever had; I got the impression that, as an older male, I was given a compressed course not only in the basics of the art but some of the more advanced moves as well. In other words, it was a busy afternoon, and, under the circumstances, the phrase “baby handle” was completely counterintuitive to Sakaguchi-san’s grunting and lunging and parrying–not to mention all the ducking on my part.

Later, I had plenty to think about. I hadn’t gone in with the idea of writing a poem, but once I heard “baby handle” and saw Sakaguchi-san’s impression of a sleeping child, I thought, “Okay, this is good stuff — let’s see what can be made of it.” What I ended up writing on was the way time works, how it can get positively rubbery at moments. Often an entire freight train of images will hurtle through a crack in our perception, and if we’re lucky, we’ll have the leisure and, more important, the inclination to unpack it.

So the poem was written months later in Tallahassee, which is one of the least Japanese places in the world. I had brought away with me a collage of images, and, once home, had the time to polish and sequence them. I brought home a rather handsome sword, too, and from time to time I go out into the yard and practice what Sakaguchi-san taught me. I’m pretty good, too! The azaleas don’t stand a chance.


David Kirby is the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English at Florida State University and the author most recently of Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll (Continuum, 2009). For more information, see his website.

Laughing into the Abyss

Scott blog OK.jpgGuest post by Scott Nadelson

My parents went out of their way to warn me about A Serious Man, the most recent film by Joel and Ethan Coen. They’d seen it a week before I did, with several friends from their gated golf community in West Palm Beach, and because they know I’m a Coen brothers fan, called especially to tell me they’d found it offensive and mean-spirited, an unsympathetic, even nasty, portrayal of Judaism. “It’s not even worth renting,” my father said.
My parents’ tastes and my own often diverge, especially when it comes to comedy, and as soon as I heard their objections, I knew I’d love the film, and I couldn’t wait to see it. And indeed I did love it, the tale of a middle-aged Jewish father whose life slowly falls apart in a Midwestern suburb in 1967, a contemporary re-telling of the story of Job. It’s a subtle and hilarious movie, moralistic without being reductive, with the psychological complexity of Malamud, the satiric wit of Philip Roth, and the magical, folk tale inflections of I. B. Singer. In other words, it’s the most Jewish movie I’ve ever seen.
View the trailer here.
Intellectually, I understand why the movie bothered my parents so much. They particularly disliked the portrayal of the three rabbis sought out by the protagonist, Larry Gopnik, a physics professor whose wife is leaving him for another man; whose brother keeps getting arrested, first for gambling, then for soliciting sex in a gay club; whose crew-cut neighbor menaces him with his lawnmower and his hunting rifle. Larry turns to the rabbis for solace in the face of his troubles, hoping for answers to his existential questions: What does all of this mean? Is there some divine plan that accounts for my suffering? The first rabbi, barely out of college, tells him his problems are all a matter of perspective. The second tells him that these questions are unanswerable and not worth thinking about, better to just go on with his life. The third, known throughout the community as a brilliant sage, full of mysterious wisdom, won’t see him at all.

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In the Spirit of Catherine of Siena

Carol Keeley blog OK.jpgGuest post by Carol Keeley

I grew up in small town in Michigan with thick-armed trees and noble Victorians, lush farm produce, a turn of the century Opera House. It’s leafy, kind, conservative, and typically Midwestern but for the blessed Adrian Dominicans–a tribe of women I sorely wish were running the world. They are lawyers, teachers, social workers, university presidents, doctors. There are philosophers and theologians, artists, therapists, and hospital administrators among them. One lawyer, also a pilot, was the first nun admitted to practice before the Supreme Court; their incoming prioress is the second. Many are exquisite musicians. They are, to a woman, fiercely smart and deeply spiritual. Of the eight kids in my family, most agree we’d be active Catholics still if the Church better reflected these women. And we go, thirstily, whenever we can attend Mass with the Adrian Dominicans. So to hear that they were being investigated by the Vatican was head-spinning.

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Nineteen different U.S. women’s religious orders are being examined in what’s called an Apostolic Visitation. This news came as priests dominated headlines with more sex abuse scandals, which made the targeting of nuns even more baffling. As one exasperated Catholic wrote: “Is there a ‘Let’s See What We Can Do Next to Offend Everybody’ Committee at the Vatican?” Such investigations are seen as censorious. The only other recent apostolic visitation was of a men’s order whose founder sexually abused young seminarians, misused funds and fathered a child. Pedophile priests were still being protected as the Vatican announced this investigation of women religious in the States. The timing alone tarred the nuns and sparked outrage. It’s a “disastrous PR move,” said Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest who contends the Vatican has “a deep suspicion of U.S. nuns because they are educated, outspoken and don’t like to be pushed around.”
Explanations for the Visitation have been anemic and shape-shifting, centering on a “concern for their welfare.” But the cause was clearly stated in a paired investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious [LCWR], an umbrella group representing nearly 95 percent of U.S. women religious. A splinter group was canonically approved in 1992, taking the name used pre-Vatican II, which sums up the schism. They wear habits and take direction from the Bishops. According to Cardinal Levada, LCWR’s investigation is warranted because, despite being “warned eight years ago,” it has:
failed to “promote” the church’s teachings on three issues: the male-only priesthood, homosexuality, and the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church as the means to salvation.
Well, that’s clear. The crime is that women religious have failed to prioritize the lauding of male priests, the persecution of gays and preaching damnation or Rome. Perhaps they’re distracted by attending to more immediate human suffering, like the dying or the poor. They have also been targeted because some nuns supported the health care bill and practiced reiki. The Slovenian cardinal conducting the investigation of U.S. sisters, Franc Rodé, has stated concern for their “secularist mentality,” as well as “a certain ‘feminist’ spirit.” In an address widely believed to presage this interrogation, Rodé lamented the secularization of consecrated life and the “turmoil” since Vatican II. “In the last forty years, the Church has undergone one of her greatest crises of all times,” said the Cardinal, meaning not the sex abuse scandals but attempted liturgical renewal. “God blesses fidelity,” he stressed, “while he ‘opposes the proud.’”

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Behind the Scenes at Ploughshares

Some authors mail poems on loose-leaf paper. Others are solicited by guest editors. With so many different voices collaborating on one magazine, we understand that readers and writers are curious how many cooks are in the Ploughshares kitchen. Here’s an effort at de-shrouding some of the mystery.

How exactly does a writer get work published in Ploughshares?
“Luck and timing,” Ladette Randolph, the editor-in-chief of Ploughshares, says. The editors and readers do not read submissions with one specific guest editor in mind. In fact, Randolph says that pieces are read far in advance. “We choose what emerges out of the batch in front of us.”
The guest editor solicits ninety pages (one half of the magazine) directly. The second half of Ploughshares comes straight from the submissions pool. Andrea Drygas, the managing editor, estimates around 1,500 writers enter the “slush” (that’s publishing lingo for submissions) every month, which adds up to around 10,000 pieces read each year. Two issues each year include poetry, and all three feature fiction or nonfiction. That comes to 45 poets and 15 prose writers each year from the slush.

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Doreen Gildroy on the Wholly Other

pshares622.1.jpgDoreen Gildroy’s poem “Celestial Room” appears in our Spring 2010 issue.


Excerpt from “Celestial Room”:

I remember when I was four
a book seemed from heaven
and then, when I was eight,
it seemed a field.


It continues to explore and reflect upon the obsessive, captivating power of voice–be it the book’s or the speaker’s. Here, Gildroy explains how a moment can change a work ethic, and how this poem leads into a larger project:


When my daughter was seven months old she had neurosurgery to untether her spinal cord. The doctor ordered a twin bed sent to her hospital room so I could lie next to her, nurse her, watch over her. I did this for days and nights without, essentially, ever leaving that bed. Undergoing that experience made me acutely aware of how the mind moves, how the eye–and what one is attending to. It transformed me and it also transformed my idea of work.

“Celestial Room” is the title poem of a manuscript that is a book length sequence of poems, really one long poem. It is a book about happiness, but also about terror, and what emerges to reveal the self, the beloved, and the “wholly other.” I see the poem (the book) as a mapping, with a view to the alterations that take place in a soul which move it away from the received and into the experience of what the mind turns to spontaneously. The emotional landscape was, for me, always in the foreground. Dramatic details were a backdrop.

I hope the poems render the experience of inquiry in its non-rational aspect, toward the object “of search and desire and yearning,” to what Rudolf Otto, in The Idea of the Holy, calls the “feeling of the numinous.” John Harvey writes in the preface: “Our ‘feeling’ in these cases is not merely an emotion engendered or stimulated in the mind but also a recognition of something in the objective situation awaiting discovery and acknowledgment… Otto’s emphasis is always upon the objective reference, and upon subjective feelings only as the indispensable clues to this.”

Doreen Gildroy is the author of The Little Field of Self (University of Chicago Press, 2009), winner of the John C. Zacharis First Book Award from Ploughshares, and Human Love (University of Chicago Press, 2005). Her poems have also appeared in The American Poetry Review, Slate, TriQuarterly, and elsewhere. Read her poem “Viva Vox,” from the Winter 2005-06 issue, at Poetry Daily.

The Art of Half-Hearted Hobbying

Scott blog OK.jpgGuest post by Scott Nadelson

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A good friend of mine has a theory about the fundamental difference between poets and fiction writers: Poets have hobbies and fiction writers don’t. He happens to be a fiction writer and of course has no hobbies. As further evidence, he names another friend, a poet, who’s a black belt in karate, an expert woodworker, and a tango dancer. “Makes me tired just thinking about him,” my fiction writer friend says, stretching out on his couch with The Stories of John Cheever, Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, or some other book so massive he’s got to prop it on his knees.

I’m pretty sure my friend’s theory has less to do with medium than temperament, as I know plenty of fiction writers with hobbies–one who comes to mind is a table-tennis champion, another is obsessed with roses–as well as at least one extraordinarily lazy poet. But for many years I shared his aversion to most activities other than reading and writing and watching movies. Anything else was a distraction, I thought, something to co-opt my precious time. The only hobby I could have claimed was hiking, which can’t truly be called a hobby, at least not in the way I approach it, which is to suddenly find city air suffocating, and in a panic drive into the mountains without enough food or water or warm clothes, pick a trail at random, charge up it until I’m so far from my car that I’m not sure I can make it back before nightfall, and then return to civilization famished and exhausted, newly satisfied with the comforts I’d left behind.
Unlike me, my wife has always been someone to throw herself into hobbies with abandon, never worrying that they might get in the way of other pursuits. Though Alexandra is an artist and professor, she’ll spend whole days working on her garden, making elaborate diagrams, studying plant combinations in books and magazines, dividing perennials with pitchforks or moving them from one bed to another. One day last fall, while I was at my desk working, I heard the chainsaw start up outside and poked my head out the door. “Be careful,” I called. “Don’t do any of the big stuff until I can come out to help.” An hour later, Alexandra came in flushed, smiling maniacally, and when I looked outside, the front yard was decimated, the overgrown camellias and rhododendron taken back to stumps, branches as thick as my thighs strewn across the lawn. “I love chainsaws,” she said.

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The Conceit of Wisdom

Carol Keeley blog OK.jpgGuest post by Carol Keeley

Garrison Keillor kicked the beehive with his recent death-of-publishing op-ed. The reaction was vigorously optimistic, with a little messenger-mocking. The backdrop to this volley was BookExpo America, widely described as funereal. As usual, I agree with everyone. Keillor is right that the era of publishing he grew up with is dead, which is what he actually said, versus what he was said to have said. And he’s right that this merits a toast and some tears. But as my yoga teacher says, “We rage against impermanence.” The people who insist Jazz is Dead are usually trying to nail it to a time and style, thus killing it. Things evolve. So books are–hey, hello? Am I losing you?
Research yells that I have ten seconds or three brief paragraphs–whichever’s first–to deliver my info-pellet. Then you’ll vanish. I need to deliver something provocative or BREAKING NEWS or oozingly cute enough to go viral, or I’ll vanish, too. We’re all itching to check email, skim headlines, see the latest petrol-soaked pelican, go down the hyperlink rabbit hole, surface in an hour or two, dimmed and blinking. I don’t know one honest soul who hasn’t experienced the tug of technology, splintered attention, a dip in concentrated reading. Keillor concedes that people are still reading; they’re “reading for hours off their little screens, surfing around from Henry James to Jesse James to the epistle of James to pajamas to Obama to Alabama to Alanon to non-sequiturs, sequins, penguins, penal institutions,” wherever the bouncing links lead.

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“The net seizes our attention only to scatter it,” writes Nicholas Carr in The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. Quick question: Did you click on any hyperlinks so far? Was the linkless last paragraph easier to read? Did you sense what neuroscientists have measured–the firing of your prefrontal cortex as you shift from reading to decision-making, which impedes comprehension? Probably not. Our brains have such plasticity that, in one study, they literally rewired after six days of light internet use. The new circuitry then self-enforces in order to fine-tune. This is great news for stroke victims and veterans who’ve lost limbs. The brain, like our bodies, adapts majestically, whether it’s to pacemakers or cocaine.

The internet is rewiring our brains. Laura Miller summarizes the neuroscience at the heart of Carr’s book:

[There's evidence that] even the microseconds of decision-making attention demanded by hyperlinks saps cognitive power from the reading process, that multiple sensory inputs severely degrade memory retention, that overloading the limited capacity of our short-term memory hampers our ability to lay down long-term memories.

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My Dinner with Girolamo

Bridget blog OK.jpgGuest post by Bridget Lowe

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?

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This question has always struck me as an annoying and strange litmus test for I know not what. Anyhow, I think I finally have a pat answer I can provide if I ever find myself on a game show: I would like to dine with the extraordinary Girolamo Cardano.

In the opening pages of Cardano’s The Book of My Life, the famed physician, scientist, astrologer, inventor, philosopher (and more) tells us that “although various abortive medicines [...] were tried in vain, I was normally born on the 24th day of September in the year 1500.” He then proceeds to read his horoscope, determining he “could easily have been a monster,” but because the planets fell where they did, he “did not deviate from the human form.”

Since Jupiter was in the ascendant and Venus ruled the horoscope, I was not maimed, save in the genitals, so that from my twenty-first to my thirty-first year I was unable to lie with women, and many a time lamented my fate, envying every other man his own good fortune.

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Robert Farnsworth on the Private and the Public

pshares615.1.jpgTwo of Robert Farnsworth’s poems appear in our Spring 2010 issue: “Archive,” and “Theatre,” which is available to read on our site. In “Archive,” we’re introduced to what might be our own collection of books, amazed by what we’ve left within them.

Excerpt from “Archive”:

Codices, caxtons, concordances -
your books, dusted, rearranged,
reshelved. But it’s what falls
out of them most fascinates:


It moves toward destroying “your own lines, which, with hilarious / relief, you tear up, very small.” Here, Farnsworth describes the inspiration for these poems:

I suppose it seems pretty unremarkable material from which to fashion poems nowadays, but “Theatre” and “Archive” developed from an abiding interest in representing, figuring, and investigating the exchanges, or inter-penetrations between the private, interior realm of personal awareness, and the outer world it must move in and respond to. My simple interest in the way the mind works to make itself a(t) home.

In “Theatre” this matter involves dramatic projection, witnessing, and finally facing the mysteriously triggered, but essentially incommunicable memory that being ‘audience’–to a community theatre production, to the world, to your own experience–brings about. In “Archive” the exchanges have an archaeological aspect, as the speaker sifts through ‘recovered’ fragments of lived experience from read or half-read pages, finding the random, the accidental, the fragmentary more vital than the devised forms that surface in his excavations.

I find emotional and aesthetic stakes and satisfactions in trying to make poems that (at least in part) get this ongoing exchange, this amphibious life led between ‘inside’ and ‘out there’– right, or across, or at least to seem convincingly alive.

Robert Farnsworth’s third collection of poems, Rumored Islands, was released in 2010 by Harbor Mountain Press. He teaches at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.
You can read five of Farnsworth’s newer poems online at The Innisfree Poetry Journal, and listen to him read seven of the poems from Rumored Islands at From the Fishouse.