On Writing “A Hologram State of Mind” by Maria Terrone

Maria Terrone’s poem “A Hologram State of Mind” appears in our Winter 2012/13 issue, edited by Ladette Randolph and John Skoyles.

As a poet and citizen of the 21st century, I have an ambivalent relationship with technology. Long resistant to getting a “smartphone”—sensing imminent addiction—I eventually succumbed, and my worst fears were soon confirmed. Trying to hold fast to the high ground is not easy with new, distracting tech-toys constantly threatening to suck me into that sinkhole we all know too well.

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On Writing “What the Desert Said” by Kimberly Meyer

Over the quiet Christmas week, a few of the contributors to our Fall 2012 issue, guest edited by Patricia Hempl, will look back and reflect on their work in the magazine. Today, Kimberly Meyer discusses her essay “What the Desert Said.” —Andrew Ladd, Blog Editor

“What the Desert Said” is a small excerpt from a much longer chapter from a book-length account of my attempt, along with my oldest daughter, to retrace the medieval pilgrimage route of a German Dominican friar, Felix Fabri.  Continue Reading

Our Gift to You: Free Ploughshares Solo

Happy (almost) New Year!  2012 was a great year for Ploughshares.  We published three issues edited by Nick Flynn, Patricia Hampl, and our very own Ladette Randolph and John Skoyles.  In addition, we kept busy with blog posts by guest bloggers and debuted our Ploughshares Solos series. Read more about our year here.

We’re looking forward to another year of fabulous writing, good reading, and fascinating blog posts.  To end 2012 on good note, we want you to have a free copy of one of our favorite Ploughshares Solos: “Escape and Reverse” by Chelsey Johnson.

“Escape and Reverse” is available for free from the Kindle store December 27- 31 only!  Make sure to download your copy before the end of the year.  And while you’re there, check out our other Ploughshares Solos:

  • “Lady of the Burlesque Ballet” by Timothy Schaffert – $0.99 on Kindle
  • “Daydream Nation” by John Duncan Talbird – $1.99 on Kindle and Nook
  • “Phoenix” by Megan Mayhew Bergman – $0.99 on Kindle and Nook
  • “All of Us, We All Are Arameans” by Eileen Pollack – $0.99 on Kindle and Nook

We hope you have a happy and festive New Year!  The Ploughshares staff will be back in the office on January 2 ready for another year.

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On Writing “Evil Tongue,” by Dani Shapiro

Over the quiet Christmas week, a few of the contributors to our Fall 2012 issue, guest edited by Patricia Hampl, will look back and reflect on their work in the magazine. Today, Dani Shapiro discusses her essay “Evil Tongue.” —Andrew Ladd, Blog Editor

A number of years ago, I received an email from a man I didn’t know.  He wanted to tell me a story about my grandfather.  I was interested, of course.  I’m always interested in anything that can provide missing pieces to the puzzle of my family’s history—and though this was a painful story to hear, I was grateful for it.  But in the years that followed, I found myself turning it over and over in my mind.  I wanted to dig deeper, to explore it further, on the page, but kept coming up against ethical and moral questions.  What right did I have to repeat a story that reflected poorly on my grandfather?  He had died when I was an infant.  I had hardly known him.  He had also been a very respected man in his community, and it felt discomfiting to me, wrong, perhaps, for me to have the last word about him.  I’ve found this, time and again, in my writing life: the responsibility involved in having the last word.  I find it harder to write about those who are gone than those who are still here—after all, they still have their own voices.  But then, one day, it came to me that I could write about writing about it.  I could write an essay about the very question of literary betrayal.  As I began to think about literary betrayal, I was reminded of the phrase “Lashon Hara”, which is considered one of the most serious sins in the Jewish religion; it means gossip, or tale-bearing, but translates literally into “evil tongue”.

Happy Holidays!

Happy holidays, readers! No matter what you’re celebrating, or already celebrated, we hope that you are all safe, warm, and happy. We wish you good times with family and friends, many hours of idle reading, and not-so-idle writing, and a fabulous new year.

We’ll be out of the office from December 21 until January 2, 2013, and we’re giving the blog a little bit of a rest as well. Look for new posts on January 2nd, when we’ll have more information about our new blog format.

We haven’t abandoned the old stuff entirely: we’re still finishing up our Literary Boroughs posts, and we’ll still be posting reviews.

In the meantime, here are some quick reminders about things coming up quickly in 2013:

Submissions closing soon!

Our submission period closes January 15, 2013. It will reopen June 1, 2013. We’re currently still accepting work for Ploughshares Solos, and for our Fall 2013 issue edited by Peter Ho Davies, and our Winter 2013 issue, which is staff edited.

Emerging Writer’s Contest

The 2013 Emerging Writer’s Contest opens February 1, 2013. Mark your calendars! You can also sign up for our newsletter and we’ll send you a reminder when the contest is open. You can read the work by all the previous winners here.

The contest is open to all writers who have not yet published a book. $1,000 and publication is awarded to each of the three winners in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. The $24 entry free includes a one-year subscription to Ploughshares, which is, by itself, normally $30. Current subscribers submit for free!

AWP in Beantown

We are thrilled that AWP will be in Boston this year March 6-9, 2013. Have you made your travel plans yet? When we’re back in 2013, we’ll have lots of info for you about our fair city and general AWP advice.

See you in 2013!

Love always,

The Ploughshares Staff 


Image by luckyfish

Town of Shadows

Town of Shadows
Lindsay Stern
Scrambler Books, 2012
96 pages

What: a debut prose-poem novella

Who: the eponymous town of shadows
And: its cast of shadowy characters, including a rug doctor, a lepidopterist, bureaucrats, a bodiless mayor speaking from a gramophone that sputters ash, a child with an hour glass and a white balloon who might be god, etc.

Where: mirrors, shadows, bell jars, and graves
When: see “where”

How: absurdly, surreally, in the not-psychologically-penetrating mode of the fairy tale
Also, of course: non-linearly
Why: why not?
Why, put less glibly: trying the forms less travelled is always a worthwhile endeavor
Why, put another way: when writing about time, eschewing traditional narrative structure is probably a good move

Cleverness, dispersed throughout: a lexicon of pithy definitions, e.g. “Self, n. A hidden crowd” and “Photograph, n. A stunned pulse”
And: word equations on a black board at the town’s school, e.g. “thinking – thought = I”

Beauty, dispersed throughout: carefully chiseled sentences, like “The seasons had spun from autumn to spring so quickly that the blood in his thermometer splashed up and down, leaving a ruby film on the glass.”

Intellectual reactions: a fleeting, perhaps insecure desire to return to writing reviews in sentences and paragraphs
Visceral reactions: not many, except when a character shaves off his eyelashes
Aesthetic reactions: “hot damn, another beautiful sentence!”

Small risk taken and more or less averted: preciousness
Big risk taken, perhaps necessarily: the lack of a clear narrative arc
Setback of that big risk: the reading process slows mid-way, when you’re wondering how all the beautiful sentences and clever observations will add up
The payoff: a refreshing reading experience full of arresting imagery and fascinating if not provocative ideas that linger well after finishing the book

Further reading, if you want more city: Magadlena Tulli’s Dreams and Stones
Further reading, if you want more wonder: Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities
Further reading, if you want more pathos: Anne Carson’s The Autobiography of Red


2012: Year in Review

It’s been a big year for us here at Ploughshares. Sure, it wasn’t our 40th anniversary like 2011 was, but we’re doing more than ever before.

Putting the issue together is actually a very small part of what goes on in our office on a daily basis. I won’t get into it all, but there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes! As you might have heard me say before, we have a permanent staff of 2.5, so none of this would be possible without our loyal and dedicated student employees, volunteer readers and interns, our bloggers, and the various contractors and consultants who help us get it done.

As for what we DID get done this year, here’s a quick snap shot. Enjoy, and have a great holiday. We’ll be back in 2013 with our resolutions — good luck with making yours!

Online submissions: 8,227
Paper submissions: 1,741

Issues published: 3
Issues printed: 18,750

Ploughshares Solos released: 5
[Edited to add:] Fiction: 4; Essays: 1

Paid to writers: $29,025

Writers published in issues:

  • Nonfiction: 26
  • Fiction: 13
  • Poetry: 72
  • End matter: 10
  • Women: 65
  • Men: 56
  • 50% from “slush” [edited to add this figure]

Blog posts: 345
Posts with sections that must be read in a soft British accent: 1
Literary Boroughs posts: 35

Increase in Twitter followers from end of 2011: 5,337

Digital volumes sold: 2,515
Back issues made available digitally this year: 21
(24%. Goal is 100% by Summer 2013)
New digital platforms: 3
(Nook, Kobo, iBooks)

Newsletters sent out: 23

Book festivals exhibited at: 3 (including AWP)

New Ploughshares T-shirt designs: 3


Round-Up: Holiday Nostalgia

Part of the sharing that comes with the holiday season is that beautiful and funny thing nostalgia. Think back to when your were just a kid, back to when the holiday season was more than consumer sales and bustling about the kitchen with a turkey baster in one hand. It was a time when the air was static with the electricity of the possible – where people could be kind for no reason and only good things happened. In the realm of childhood, magic was possible.

In the spirit of the season, we’ve put together a roundup of our fondest childhood remembrances of the holiday season. And, of course, we hope that you have an absolutely wonderful holiday filled with magic, and if applicable, wonder.

And for the Muppet version of what we’ll be doing Friday at 5pm:


Andrea and her grandmother

ANDREA MARTUCCI, Managing Editor: One year, when I was about six and living in New Jersey, I remember going into NYC to see the Rockettes at the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. My older sister and I wore special faux-velvet dresses, which were purchased for the occasion. I was in heaven because I loved dressing up, but I seem to remember my tomboy sister being less than thrilled.

A couple years later, I asked for a Sega for Christmas. I shook every wrapped present and chanted “Sega” until I opened it to reveal that it wasn’t a Sega. I still do this sometimes on Christmas. I never got a Sega, which is probably a good thing because instead of spending my time playing video games I spent a lot of time reading. This ended up being good for my career. (But if I had gotten a Sega, maybe I’d be a video game designer today. We’ll never know what could have been.)

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Literary Boroughs #34: Lexington, KY

The Literary Boroughs series will explore little-known and well-known literary communities across the country and world and show that while literary culture can exist online without regard to geographic location, it also continues to thrive locally. Posts are by no means exhaustive and we encourage our readers to contribute in the comment section. The series will run on our blog from May 2012 until AWP13 in Boston. Please enjoy the thirty-fourth post on Lexington, Kentucky, by Lindsay Sainlar. -Andrea Martucci, Ploughshares Managing Editor

Look at this map of Kentucky. On the squiggly-line northern border, defined by the Ohio River, you’ll find Louisville – where I was born and raised. This River City is the birthplace of Hunter S. Thompson and the song, “Happy Birthday to You.” It’s where ZZ Packer lived for bit, and incorporates into her writing. Where Sena Jeter Naslund is editor of The Louisville Review at Spalding University. Jay Gatsby was stationed here, and Louisville is where he met and fell in love with local Daisy Buchanan. And let’s not forget about the The Kentucky Derby.

Now drag your eyes east away from the blue dot in this red state, and stop when you find the second biggest Kentucky city, Lexington—where I now live. Once known as the Athens of the West, this city is claiming to be the literary hub in a state that’s working hard to establish itself as the Literary Capital of Mid-America.

Is that crazy? I don’t think so. I mean, we’re Kentuckians.

We know how to tell stories and drink bourbon.Continue Reading

Literary Boroughs #33: Laramie, WY

The Literary Boroughs series will explore little-known and well-known literary communities across the country and world and show that while literary culture can exist online without regard to geographic location, it also continues to thrive locally. Posts are by no means exhaustive and we encourage our readers to contribute in the comment section. The series will run on our blog from May 2012 until AWP13 in Boston. Please enjoy the thirty-third post on Laramie, Wyoming, by Caleb Johnson. -Andrea Martucci, Ploughshares Managing Editor

Laramie is named after Jacques LaRamie, a French-Canadian trapper who went into the mountains after beaver pelts one day in the early 1800s and never returned. Some say a bear ate him. Others say Arapaho Indians killed him and stuffed his body into a beaver dam. Whatever end LaRamie ultimately met, he disappeared without much of a trace.

Laramie still feels like that kind of place, too. A place where you can disappear. It is isolated, situated on a wide plain in southeastern Wyoming between granite hills to the east and taller mountains with snowy peaks to the west. There is so much space, so much quiet; a writer’s dream.

Today, Laramie is a quaint town of almost 30,000 people with the state’s only university, a couple independent bookstores, coffee shops and several fine local restaurants. The former tent city might be unrecognizable to LaRamie, but, if you look closely, the past is always present in this modern-day rail town.

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