Sh*t My Mom Says: Women, Men, and Humor

Ellen, Rosanne, Whoopi, Tina.  They’re women, they tell jokes, and we’re on a first-name basis.  These comedians have imposing brains but often focus on their thighs: they write frequently about their relationship with food, this being one theme that connects them.  On the popular NBC sitcom 30 Rock, Tina Fey’s character Liz Lemon is known for her sweet tooth and love-hate relationship with food.  The other three comedians have also made time with their audiences by cracking jokes about their diets.  Women and food, like men and flatulence, are one pairing that doesn’t seem to be in any danger of disappearing from the stand-up circuit.  It’s not that I want women to tell fart jokes as often as men do, but I’ve been thinking lately about how funny women and funny men differ.

Comedy isn’t a field that has traditionally offered women ready access to its highest echelons, but I suppose you could say that’s true of many fields.  To uphold their end of the social contract, women are expected to be cute, even when they’re cracking jokes.  A few well-known female comedians, Sarah Silverman and Margaret Cho, for example, often eschew cuteness in favor of crassness, sometimes to great comic effect and financial success, but I’d have to say they’re exceptions to the rule.  I’m not sure if Justin Halpern, the creator of the Twitter phenomenon “Shit My Dad Says” (which has resulted in a lucrative TV series and a book deal), would have had the same success if his brainchild had been “Shit My Mom Says.”  Many pop-culture consumers would likely find something off-putting about a woman spouting wry or profane pronouncements about her aging body and the stupidity of the world and the people in it.

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Third Spacing-It in Poetry

Thanks to a suggestion from a friend, I’ve been reading a lot of Homi K. Bhabha’s work on Postcolonialism and communicative politics. I’m not really built for critical theory, so I started with Bhabha’s best-known text, The Location of Culture. The fundamental tenet of the book (and this is a very loose interpretation): in a world of colonizers and colonized, our respective positions dictate our communication patterns and dialogues. Just as importantly, the communication patterns of the colonizers and colonized don’t match, so we are unable to directly communicate. Instead, we have to create a separate communicative space outside of colonialism and culture in which to dialogue.

Bhabha’s idea isn’t unique to communication between groups. Individuals within the groups speak different phonetics, complete with conflicting cues and mores, and sometimes, we are unable to directly communicate with the person standing in front of us at the grocery store, let alone a musician in Argentina or a chemist in Utah. Because of this, Bhabha’s idea reminds me of something Miles Davis once said: “If you understood everything I said, you’d be me.”

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Now Accepting Submissions: Ploughshares’ Emerging Fiction Writer’s Contest

Since Ploughshares’ founding 40 years ago, we’ve published more than a few literary stars. What you may not know is that we also have a proud tradition of publishing emerging writers before they made it big. For example, Tim O’Brien, Jayne Anne Phillips, Edward P. Jones, and Robert Pinsky were all published in Ploughshares before they became household names.

We still find great emerging writers in our slush piles, and guest editors introduce readers to their talented students, along with more established writers, in every issue. But we want to do even more to level the playing field.

Ploughshares is proud to announce that in 2011 we’re launching a new contest. The Emerging Fiction Writer’s Contest will select one winner, who will be published in the Winter 2011-12 issue, guest-edited by Alice Hoffman, and will be awarded $500. Two runner ups will also be recognized in the issue.

We define an emerging writer as someone who has no book published, has won no major awards, and who has published fiction in less than five national publications. (A national publication is any magazine or journal, online or in print, with an ISSN number.)

Entries will be accepted between January 16th and March 15, 2011. To submit, login to our online submission manager. There is a $20 entry fee, which includes a 1-year subscription to Ploughshares (subscriptions are normally $26 for writers). Current subscribers may add to their subscription or give the subscription as a gift. You can submit one story per year to the contest. If you have a submission currently in consideration at Ploughshares from the regular submission period, this will not affect your eligibility to submit.

For full contest rules, visit the official contest page on our website.

Ploughshares Contributors in Best American Poetry

We would like the congratulate past contributors Bridget Lowe (who is also a former guest blogger) and Katha Pollitt whose poems have been selected for The Best American Poetry 2011, edited by David Lehman.

Lowe’s poem, “The Pilgrim Is Bridled and Bespectacled” and Pollitt’s poem, “Angels,” appear in the Spring 2010 issue guest edited by Elizabeth Strout.

Each year The Best American Poetry series chooses exemplary poems by rising and well-known American poets to be published in the anthology.  We look forward to re-reading these poems in this publication!  The collection can be purchased wherever fine books are sold.

Interview with Joel Brouwer

Like anyone, I have to contend with my own stupidity all the time—forgetting things, ignoring essentials, not listening—but one of my latest and most grossly idiotic moves was waiting until 2010 to read Joel Brouwer. That’s too kind, actually: I didn’t wait, it wasn’t like I’d seen his stuff and ignored it before, I’d just somehow missed it. How does one miss work like this? Brouwer’s poetry’s some of the most satisfying work I’ve read in I don’t know how long—gorgeous, yes, and moving, certainly, but satisfying like a song can be, like a meal. It’s silly to try, without quoting at length, to note the ways his poems simultaneously create a desire in the reader and then, by the poem’s end, satisfy that desire, but it’s 100% worth it to read a sample (the latest set from Poetry is particularly remarkable).

Cutter: If you were writing in another genre, who’d you like to write like and why? Who do you dig in fiction or non-fiction? Would you want to write like that? Do you presently want to?

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Pushcart Nominees for 2011

We are proud to announce our nominees for the Pushcart Prize, as seen in the 2010 issues of Ploughshares. If selected, their work will be published in Volume XXXVI of The Pushcart Prize: The Best of the Small Presses, which comes out in November.

Good luck to all of our poetry and prose nominees!

Spring 2010 (edited by Elizabeth Strout)
Poetry:”Sweet Nothings,” Chelsea Rathburn

Fall 2010 (edited by Jim Shepard)

“The Two-Thousand-Dollar Sock,” Meghan Mayhew Bergman
“Our Time with the Pirates,” Robert Cohen

Winter 2010-11 (edited by Terrance Hayes)

“Ontology and Guinness,” Yusef Komunyakaa
“The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish,” Joshua Weiner

“The Red Balloon,” Benjamin Percy

NY Times Sunday Book Review features Ploughshares Authors

We had a nice little surprise last week when we opened up The New York Times Sunday Book Review: all three of the featured story collection authors are affiliated with Ploughshares!

Francine Prose reviewed Colm Toibin’s new collection, The Empty Family here. We’re proud to say that Toibin is our Spring 2011 guest editor and will be visiting us in Boston on April 7th.

From the review:

As its title suggests, there’s melancholy to spare in Colm Toibin’s new story collection, “The Empty Family.” Toibin, whose novels include “The Blackwater Lightship,” “The Master” and “Brooklyn,” doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff: the deaths of parents, the end of love, the point in life at which a person begins to suspect that everything interesting and exciting has already happened. Retrospect is a major player in these dramas; regret makes its entrance onstage, and a character relives the sort of experience recalled for the obvious reason that it was so painful.

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Terrance Hayes at Ploughshares Parts 3 & 4

Terrance Hayes graciously visited Ploughshares at Emerson College’s campus on December 2, 2010. At 4:00 pm Kim McLarin conducted a Q&A with Terrance, and then moderated questions from the audience. At 6:00 pm, Terrance returned, freshened up with a jolt of coffee from a nearby coffee shop, ready for his reading. His reading was introduced by Jabari Asim.

Those of you who follow our blog know that Terrance Hayes, recent winner of the National Book Award for Poetry for his collection Lighthead, guest-edited our Winter 2010-11 issue, for sale now on the Ploughshares website.

Doug Paul Case, our tireless web/marketing intern, live tweeted the event @pshares. (Doug was the one who uploaded the content to our blog every week — go Doug!) Follow us on Twitter so you can catch future live tweeting of events.

The final parts of the interview can be watched here. Enjoy!

Part 3:

Part 4:

You can find Part 1 here. And Part 2 here.

Red Pens and Other Ego-Paring Tools

In “Dr. Deneau’s Punishment,” one of eleven excellent short stories in Lori Ostlund’s Flannery O’Connor award-winning collection The Bigness of the World, the title character despairs over the current trend in American schools to reward students for their mediocrity.  Under the new regime of the militantly optimistic, the red pen is suspect, likewise the honest verbal assessment of a student’s shortcomings (which, in a college business course years ago, I learned should be termed “areas for improvement” rather than “limitations” or “weaknesses”).  Ostlund’s comic genius and astute social critique are particularly on display in the scenes where Dr. Deneau is forced to defend his desire to label his weakest reading group “The Spuds,” “The Mongrels,” or “The Chain Gang.”  (The principal’s parrying suggestion is “The Cheetahs.”)  I’ve been thinking about this story ever since I finished it a couple of weeks ago, about how Ostlund has so wittily underscored one of many recent, unsettling trends in our culture.

I’ve taught college writing courses on and off since 1995, and in graduate school, I remember receiving instructions from a student a year ahead of me:

– It’s a good idea to forgo red pens in favor of blue or green, which aren’t as likely to make students feel like they have been slapped.

– It’s not a good idea to cross out a student’s words and replace them with your own.  The better strategy is to put the poorly chosen words in parentheses.  (I’ve wimpily used this tactic for years but have found that sometimes it confuses, the, uh, Mongrels – on one revision, a student simply copied the parentheses onto her second draft, not realizing that the words needed to be replaced by better ones).Continue Reading

Patterns and Need

Our third guest blogger, Adrian Matejka, is a poet whose poem “Eighty-Eight Days in My Veins” appears in our Winter 2010-11 issue edited by Terrance Hayes.  Adrian will post on Fridays through April.

Paul Hegarty said, “Noise is a system of judgments.” He was talking about the qualitative distinctions we make about music, but it seems to me that the same thing could be said for poetry. As in, “Poetry is a system of judgments.” Anyone who has tried to explain why a poem is successful can attest to this. Our explanations of poetry are full of words that pass judgment without specific, quantifiable characteristics: “feels” and “seems.”

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