The Infinitesimals

lauraThe Infinitesimals
Laura Kasischke
Copper Canyon Press, July 2014
100 pages

Buy: book

Imagine a strange land where tumors that resemble “terrible frogs,” a man with an “unbuttoned” face, and an ever-returning sea beast dwell, and where motherhood is a “grand opera staged in a cave.” This is The Infinitesimals by author Laura Kasischke, her ninth poetry collection (in addition to nine novels), which was published by Copper Canyon Press (July 2014). Here, illness and mortality assume anthropomorphic contours, wherein the loss of Kasischke’s mother, for instance, becomes “birds on the other side of . . . binoculars” who stare her (and us) down.

As with Space, In Chains (2011), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, Kasischke’s latest collection, tight with her distinguishing concision and strong lyricism, continues to invent and explore new terrains. Never over-the-top with her surrealism, Kasischke aims to excavate the “infinitesimal” in this collection, which seventeenth century philosopher George Berkley, in the epigraph, defines as “the ghosts of departed quantities.” Put in another way, she challenges us to consider what we cannot see, explain, or portend. Continue reading

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America’s Saturday Church: On My Conference Can Beat Your Conference by Paul Finebaum

Sit, stand, kneel.

Sit, stand, kneel.

My Conference Can Beat Your Conference: Why the SEC Still Rules College Football
Paul Finebaum with Gene Wojciechowski
Harper Collins, 2014
273 pages

Buy: book | ebook

I could travel the world for years and never get halfway through my bucket list of all the sporting events I’d love to attend in person. But certainly one thing way up high on that list is a fall spent deep in America’s South, watching Southeastern Conference college football. And I’m saying that from up here in the gray Northwest, where it seems like every other business is adorned year-round with the number 12, a show of solidarity with the reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Still, Seattle’s famous football (and football) mania looks like a passing hobby compared to the mania that overtakes the diagonally opposite region of the country during football season. Continue reading

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Writers and Their Pets: Melissa Scholes Young

The “Writers and Their Pets” series began with my own desire to celebrate my dog Sally, and since then I have also invited other writers to share with the rest of us the details of their lives with beloved pets. Today, please enjoy this essay by Melissa Scholes Young.

Ladette Randolph, Editor-in-Chief

Melissa and Huck -1I blame Santa Claus. After Christmas, my youngest daughter begged us to tell her the truth. She clung to the stuffed black dog she’d been sleeping with for five years, her brown eyes ready to spill over, and said, “But. But. I was going to ask Santa to make Junie real.” I scheduled our appointment with Lucky Dog Rescue the next day.

Huck a.k.a Huckleberry Nacho Finn Scholes Young was not the dog we were supposed to bring home. We went to the shelter adoption to meet Julie, a smaller female lab mix. She had the perky ears of my childhood German Shepherds. She was small enough for the kids to walk. She was a few years old and wouldn’t have puppy behaviors. But Julie wasn’t interested in us. She barely sniffed my hand before lunging happily at the other dogs. Julie was a dog’s dog. Huck ignored Julie and trailed me. I patted his head and he leaned in. If you’ve had a dog lean, if you’ve felt an animal claim you, you know what happened next. Continue reading

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The Ploughshares Round-Down: “Not Everything We Need Is In Ourselves”

B1TRDNaIYAAYGDo Creation is often imagined as inherently isolated and intimate: a Walden Pond-esque activity improved by seclusion and destroyed by wifi, phone calls, and . . . well, friends. So I’ve been thrilled this month to see a few books being celebrated for challenging the Lone Genius Myth: Walter Isaacson’s The InnovatorsJoshua Wolf Shenk’s Powers of Two, and Stephen Johnson’s How We Got to Now. All three contradict the myth by emphasizing the creative significance of collaboration, connection, and incremental societal change.

Many of us have been enticed at some point by the Lone Genius Myth: wanting to believe that the world’s significant successes were achieved by a creator who was holed up in a spare room with only a beaker, a cup of coffee, or a pen for company. Such romantic scenes get perpetuated by author interviews and bite-sized bios that leave out any of the banal details that would mar them. But why are we drawn to this myth in the first place? Why do we want it to be true?

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The Tangible, The Visceral

Hieronymus Bosch (c.1450-1516)

Hieronymus Bosch (c.1450-1516)

Touch is the sense common to all species. So wrote Aristotle in Historia Animalum and De Anima. And so is the premise for the art show Ann Hamilton: the common S E N S E, which I’ve been helping out with here in Seattle, and which explores the sense of touch and our relationship to nature, as well as our ability to be touched, emotionally and intellectually, through the private act of reading.

This got me thinking about the importance of touch in writing. Like the sense of smell, touch is a tad neglected when compared to the senses we gravitate toward first: the visual and the auditory. But think about how connected you’ve felt to a text when the author captures a particular tactile sensation or visceral reaction? How do those moments create emotional and intellectual resonance? Continue reading

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You’re So Vain, You Probably Think this Post is About You

mirror 1A friend once asked if I’d based the guinea pig (mentioned, but offstage) in my first novel on his daughter’s imaginary friend (of whom I’d never heard tell). In his defense: they had the same, unusual name. In my defense: ?!@&?#*%?

Maybe people want novels to be true. Maybe they want to be in those novels. Or maybe they’re terrified of this same thing—of having their secrets exposed. But all authors get asked if we’ve “based the characters on real people”—something that in my experience is actually extremely rare. So w­hat happens when friends and family convince themselves that they’re the ones you’ve written about? I asked a few friends to weigh in with their juiciest stories of supposed identity theft.

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Word Nerds Gone Wild: A Reading List

10112885I remember my intern days well. Hell, I was an intern three times: first during college, then again after being let go from my first post-college job, and once more after making the leap into full-time freelance work. Each one of those experiences was different from the others in a variety of ways. But what all of them have in common is that none of them resembled the internships portrayed in The Intern’s Handbook. Which is understandable because, in Shane Kuhn’s The Intern’s Handbook, the interns are actually undercover assassins, using their internships as covers because no one ever notices the intern.

Brilliant. Continue reading

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Guest Editor Conversations: Percival Everett, Fall 2014

I Am Not Sidney PoitierWe’re happy to present the first of a new series–interviews with our guest editors, following the publication of their issues. Below is an introduction by Jessica Treadway, Emerson College professor and author of the forthcoming Lacy Eye (Grand Central, 2015), and a conversation between Editor-in-Chief Ladette Randolph and Percival Everett, guest editor of the Fall 2014 issue.

If you read Percival Everett’s books blind, without any names attached, it would probably take you some time to absorb the fact that a single author was responsible for them all. I knew it was the same author, and it still took me time–his work is that versatile, that eclectic, that impossible (thank goodness) to pin down. It is always exceptionally smart. By turns it can also be laugh-out-loud funny, tender, quiet, rowdy, clever, provocative, and sad. Even in the case of an outlandish premise, it is completely true. Continue reading

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The Ploughshares Round-Down: The Ebook is Dead. Long Live the Ebook.

First computerOne of the best parts of being a book editor is that it gives you a magic power. You take a Microsoft Word file, wave your hand over it and say, “Now it’s a book.” And it’s a book. Up until that moment, it’s just words and ideas, and they could be changed, tweaked, or buried, never to see the light of day. After that, everyone, including the production department and the printer, believes it’s a book.

The creation of self-publishing has done little to erode that magical power. If you tell someone you’ve written a book, you can watch their eyes narrow as they wait to see what you might mean. Did you write something the length of a book? Or has a professional editor waved her magic hands over it and transmuted that into a book?

A book, the futurist Umair Haque once said, is already a perfected technology. An ebook has some advantages, but not enough to eliminate print books. It turns out the invention of ebooks is less analogous to the invention of the automobile and something more like the invention of shorts. Shorts are great, but they didn’t make everyone throw away their pants.

I thought of this late last week when I read about the closing of Atavist Books. Investors had put big money (by book publishing standards) into this startup, which was supposed to disrupt the book industry. The company only lasted for a little over two years before pulling the plug. For this to have happened, a lot of very smart people had to have completely misunderstood why readers read, and it’s worth figuring out what their mistakes were. Continue reading

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What’s Done is Done is Done Again

yawnAs a creative writing instructor, I get asked two questions more than any others. The first is easy enough to answer: “How do I find time to write?” There’s no secret here—set a schedule and get to your desk. The second question, however, continues to stump me, both as a writer and as a teacher. “How do I know when I’m finished?” This question seems as open as it is insoluble, and yet we writers need to tackle it if we’re ever to move past our first attempts.

During my stint teaching academic writing at a university, my undergrad students never asked me how to know whether their essays were complete. The answer was quite simple—they’d work until the deadline, hand it in, and that was it. My students worked hard, and they cared about the success of their arguments and the grades they received. They just didn’t have the luxury of worrying whether or not their papers were complete.

Still, they learned the necessity of revision and how to diagnose the effectiveness of their arguments. To help them do so, I devised a list of five aphorisms to consider before turning in their work. The list aimed to help identify lazy thinking, which inevitably leads to lazy writing. We memorized them as a group and used them as we provided feedback for rough drafts throughout the semester. I’ve found these truisms equally helpful for my own creative work, and I hope they’ll do the same for you. Continue reading

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