Peter Kline on his poem “Revisionary”

Peter Kline’s poems, “Universal Movers” and “Revisionary,” appear in our Spring 2011 issue, guest edited by Colm Toibin.  “Revisionary” opens with these lines:

We sharpen our
lapidary eyes
toward flaws, and see
the easy cz disguise,

Here, Kline admires and dedicates his poem to Kay Ryan:

Over the last three decades, Kay Ryan’s work, with its off-kilter rhymes and elegantly slender free verse lines, has developed an original metric, a new musical idiom for poetry.  In their wit, deliberate lightness, and charming ungainliness, Ryan’s rhymes often call to mind those of a poet like Stevie Smith.  But to my ear her poems also inherit the heterometric cadences of certain Elizabethan songs, albeit in a much sparer form.  As in an Elizabethan poem, Ryan’s rhymes are an engine of meaning, not merely sonic embellishments.  Her ideas careen from rhyme to rhyme as through the pegs of a pachinko board, veering this way and that as each new rhyme suggests some further course of thought.  Rhythmically, they backtrack, change their mind, cut off short, evading metrical expectations.  Her slim lines break radically and unpredictably across syntactical units.  The effect is that of always turning a blind corner onto some new surprise.

Form is a primary preoccupation in all of my poems, whether I’m writing strictly metrical sonnets or cadenced free verse stanzas.  I wrote “Revisionary” as a formal response to Kay Ryan’s metric.  Would it be possible for me to invoke her music while writing my own poem?  The short lines gave little room to maneuver.  But what I found even more challenging was the supersaturation of sonic effects.  Every word in the best Kay Ryan poems is connected to a whole network of others through dual links of sound and sense.  No synonyms are possible; every word contributes integrally to the overall effect.  This is a poetry that is extraordinarily difficult to revise, because any revision disturbs the delicate machinery; change a word and the gears won’t mesh.  I dedicate “Revisionary” to Kay Ryan, with my admiration.


You can find Peter Kline’s posts as a guest blogger for Ploughshares through August.

A Year Ago on the Ploughshares Blog


  • Behind the Scenes at Ploughshares: post by Joshua Garstka
    June 23, 2010
    “We choose what emerges out of the batch in front of us,” says editor-in-chief Ladette Randolph. In this post, Joshua Garstka writes about the recipe behind the making of each Ploughshares issue. He answers questions regarding the submission, reading, and editing process, and offers insights into how each submission is weighed and sorted. Once you’ve cooked something up, read or re-read this post to figure out the best way to send it on to us for review. Keep in mind that the Spring 2012 issue will be guest-edited by Nick Flynn, and the Fall 2012 issue by Patricia Hampl.
  • Laughing into the Abyss: guest post by Scott Nadelson
    June 28, 2010
    Scott Nadelson addresses his parents’ concerns regarding the film, A Serious Man, by the Coen brothers, a modern retelling of the Book of Job. He discusses how the film both celebrates and critiques Judaism – but further, how it explores the “crises of human nature and morality.” A Serious Man calls attention to the way that humans often respond when trouble comes. We’re reminded that part of life is the chance collision of tragedy, mystery, suffering, and death. So, what do we do? How do we cope with these human crises that we will inevitably be confronted with? Nadelson writes, referring to another Coen brothers classic: “I am not at ease, but trouble comes. Fuck it, dude. Let’s go bowling.”

Free Ploughshares, Part Two: Tim O’Brien and Mark Strand

It’s time for the second round of our fabulous Ploughshares sweepstakes!

Free to a good home!

This week we’ll be giving away a copy of our Winter 1995/96 issue, guest edited by Tim O’Brien and Mark Strand, and featuring works by Louise Glück, Jorie Graham, Charles Simic, Joyce Carol Oates, and many more.

In order to win this issue, please leave a comment on this post explaining why you love Tim O’Brien, Mark Strand, or any of the issue’s contributors. Our managing editor Andrea Drygas will read through your submissions and choose the lucky commenter by noon on Thursday, June 30th. Remember: we’d like a review in return, which we’ll publish online in honor of our fortieth anniversary. More details can be found here.

If you’re interested in hearing about this weekly contest, remember to fan us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or subscribe to our blog feed.

UPDATE: I’ve made my selection, and so this posting is now CLOSED. We’ll be doing this every week, so there will be plenty more chances for free issues. Stay tuned!




This weekend, in the spirit of trying something new in the kitchen, I cooked up some kasha.  I will not be cooking up any more kasha.

Kasha, for those of you who are like I was until very recently – that is, blissfully unaware of all manner of things about kasha, particularly those things that are revealed by eating it – is hulled and roasted buckwheat kernels.  Strangely, buckwheat has no relation to ordinary wheat, and isn’t even a proper cereal – the kernels are the inner seed of a flowering herb.  Here in America, most of us rarely dine on buckwheat except in flour form – in buckwheat pancakes (where it is safely subsumed in a wash of hot maple syrup),  savory Japanese soba noodles, or else as a fractional component of Kashi’s trademark blend of grains (if that’s your bowl of cereal).  But I’ve been experimenting with slightly unusual whole grains lately as a way to break the hegemony of rice and pasta over my diet.  My first try, a millet “risotto,” worked out very well, toasty and creamy with a pleasant nubbly texture.  Kasha was my next effort, purchased blind at the local organic market after my intended grain, amaranth, was out of stock.  The packaging promised me iron and dietary fiber and all eight essential amino acids.  The packaging promised me a unique flavor experience of Eastern Europe.  The packaging promised me a versatile, delicious, and easy-to-prepare organic whole grain, all for just $8.49.  I was sold.

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To the Lighthouse

Many writers weigh in on the effect of today’s numerous MFA programs on the quality of contemporary fiction writing. Like others, I am—helpfully—100% ambivalent. The MFA served me well in many ways. After I graduated from college I went right into a full-time job editing sewage treatment reports for the state of Indiana. After a year or so of that, I was thrilled to be accepted into Indiana University’s writing program, where I found that despite teaching 2-3 classes a year, despite a rigorous curriculum that included lit and theory courses, despite a mounting conviction that I was the only person in workshop who wasn’t a real writer, I still had more time to devote to trying my hand at it than I had experienced while working my day job. And this, the time factor, has held true with all my intermittent forays into full-time professional life (public relations, politics, creative services). Academia, in the forms of fellowships, degrees and teaching assignments, nearly always provides the more flexible schedule.

That’s one way of looking at it. Another is to ask what happens when you institutionalize the teaching of something that has been described, probably romantically, as unteachable? How does curriculum and process intersect with subjectivity and creativity? And what about the worthy mission of academic institutions to provide the forum for scholarship that calls into question the arts and the assumptions—aesthetic, political, otherwise—on which they are founded at any given time? Talk about having to watch your feet while you’re trying to learn how to dance!

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Last week, we had our first probably-twister since coming to live in beautiful Cullowhee; in the mountains, it’s hard for a tornado to get up a good whirl, and by and large our weather is so temperate we’re ashamed to complain about it.  (I also felled my first tree, dropping it almost exactly where I meant to.  The “almost,” unfortunately, means some of it landed in the road.)

This led to three days without electricity, though, during which I learned things, some for the fourth or tenth time:  not only how to wash a load of dishes in an inch of two-day-old dishwater and the last dribble from the pipes, nor yet how lucky we are to have WCU with its showers so close, nor even how wonderful a thing is ice—more beautiful, and, really, more extraordinary, than the diamond it somewhat resembles.  But also how dependent we are—despite Prius, solar panels, rain barrels, battery radio, gas logs, wood fires, oil lamps, candles, hand water filters, and bucket-flushing toilets—on the fossil-fuel grid we so deplore.  And, too, about light.

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Hester Kaplan on her story “Natural Wonder”

Hester Kaplan’s story, “Natural Wonder,” appears in our Spring 2011 issue, guest edited by Colm Toibin.  The story opens with these lines:

Once, when she’d been walking in her neighborhood, a car had stopped for directions to Alsop, the psychiatric hospital perched above the Blackstone River.  How to get there was complicated, the man already so lost in the tangle of leafy streets that Tess hadn’t been sure where to start.  Begin at the beginning, wasn’t that the trick?

Here, Kaplan connects skiing to the path of life – particularly for the main character in her story:

Tess, the mother, was always at the heart of “Natural Wonder,” even though the story took many different forms over a long time.  She finds herself middle-aged, newly separated, her kids grown, looking for direction for the rest of her life. It’s an interesting time for a woman, almost a second youth—this one with bad knees and a long history.  Tess discovers that age and experience don’t necessarily bring wisdom but rather a kind of wondrous freedom to see old certainties in a new, and less certain light.

I’ve been downhill skiing only once.  Late in the day, I found my place in the lodge, where watching the skiers make their way down the mountain was just as exhilarating and a lot warmer. In many ways, we all stand like skiers about to go down the very steepest slope; we know that what’s ahead could be life changing, but the only way to get to the bottom is to take a deep breath and face the risk.

A Year Ago on the Ploughshares blog


  • The Conceit of Wisdom: guest post by Carol Keeley
    June 18, 2010
    How is the Internet rewiring our brains? Carol Keeley opens up a forum for discussion as she highlights Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows, which discusses how the Internet changes our reading and writing habits by fostering inattention. Is the wisdom and knowledge people think they are gaining from the Internet simply some fanciful notion? And how can we use these insta-tools of the Internet wisely?
  • The Art of Half-Hearted Hobbying: guest post by Scott Nadelson
    June 21, 2010
    Only poets have hobbies; fiction writers often don’t! Scott Nadelson discusses the importance of hobbying as something to “distract (him) on days when writing isn’t going well, when trying to craft words into stories seems like the most futile pursuit in the world.” Yet, it seems that the aftermath of Nadelson’s half-hearted hobbying, specifically gardening, has been what has made his writing so fruitful. His new collection of stories, Aftermath, comes out in September 2011. Check it out, and pick up a new hobby

    -post by Emily Camp.

Word List


For all of my adult life I’ve kept a list of words.  Each time that I come across an unfamiliar word in my reading, I try to dutifully look it up in the dictionary and copy down its definition.  There have been busy weeks when I’ve let it slide – months later I’ll find a mysterious list of words stranded in a margin somewhere, waiting to be defined and recorded.  But I’ve always come back to the habit.  I’ve done it as a way to learn words, of course, but also simply because I enjoy collecting them, the way a herpetologist might keep a private collection of sloughed skins.  Over the years I’ve filled up the better part of a spiral-ringed notebook with my messy penmanship, and here and there my comical attempts at an illustrative sketch (Is that really what a sistrum looks like?).  This week I thought I’d share a few of my favorites, as part of a campaign to engineer their popular resurgence.  These definitions are all taken from the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition, a book so large, and therefore so likely to be inconveniently perched around the apartment wherever it was last consulted, that we treat it as a separate member of the family, somewhat persnickety of personality, and refer to it as Dic.

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First Free Ploughshares: Lorrie Moore

The actual issue you could be getting at your home. Includes desperate plea to be read.

This issue of Ploughshares from Fall 1998 is just dying to be read. Lorrie Moore guest-edited this all-fiction issue with tender loving care, and selected work by Mona Simpson, Robert Boswell, Charles Baxter, and Gish Jen.

Here’s a post on how this works. Leave a comment with some info on why you love Lorrie Moore, or someone in this issue, if you’d like the be the lucky reviewer of this issue. Tomorrow I will select and contact the commenter who I think will treasure this issue, and send it to them for free.

Fan us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to hear about the weekly free Ploughshares as soon as it is posted, or subscribe to our blog feed.

UPDATE: I’ve made my selections, and so this posting is now CLOSED. We’ll be doing this every week, so there will be plenty more chances for free issues. Stay tuned!