Our Winter 2014-15 Issue is Now Available!

3D-cover-winter201415We are elated to announce that our staff-edited Winter 2014-15 Issue is available for purchase! Each year, two of our three issues are guest-edited by prominent writers who explore different personal visions, aesthetics, and literary circles, while the Winter Issue staff-edited.

The Winter Issue of Ploughshares features a diverse collection of poems, essays, and stories. The prose ranges from surreal humor–David Cameron’s “Mannequin,” about a man’s relationship with a life-size doll he buys to use the HOV lane–to tragedy, in Lisa Gruenberg’s essay on the experiences of her Viennese father and his family during the Holocaust. Sherrie Flick’s Plan B essay looks at the joy and rage of gardening, and Nancy Kang and Silvio Torres-Saillaint write an appreciation of the Dominican-American poet Rhina P. Espaillat.

The Winter Issue also features poetry by Philip Levine, Sherod Santos, Nalini Jones, Laurie Sewall, and Gary Young; an interview with Zacharis Award winner Roger Reeves; and work by the winners of our annual Emerging Writer’s Contest.

If you would like to read our Winter issue, and you aren’t already a subscriber, subscribe to Ploughshares today! You’ll get great reads, ideas for your own writing, and the ability to submit your work to us for free!

This issue is also available for Amazon Kindle.

You can purchase single copies of our issues or subscribe by visiting our website: www.pshares.org.

The Fall 2014 Issue is Now Available

403-Cover-frontWe are very excited to announce that our Fall 2014 issue has officially released today! Acclaimed novelist and short-story writer Percival Everett (Erasure, I Am Not Sidney Poitier) guest-edits this all-fiction issue.

As Everett writes in his introduction, the stories “range from so-called mimetic to so-called meta. I do not like such labels and I hope to undermine their use by putting these fine works together.” Authors experiment with everything from extensive footnotes to shifting points of view, and narratives run from a husband who can’t stop crying (Nick Arvin’s “The Crying Man”) to a super-sophisticated domestic robot learning the ways of a Japanese family (“I, Kitty,” by Karen Tei Yamashita). Featuring stories by Aimee Bender, Richard Bausch, and Edith Pearlman, this issue is an illustration of the adventurousness and variety of the short story in English today. The issue also features Jay Baron Nicorvo’s Plan B essay about surfing, and an appreciation of the early work of the poet Robert Duncan.

If you would like to read our Fall issue, and you aren’t already a subscriber, subscribe to Ploughshares today! You’ll get great reads, ideas for your own work, and the ability to submit your work for free!

You can purchase single copies of our issues or subscribe by visiting our website: www.pshares.org.

Chucking “Art for Art’s Sake” – Writers and Social Impact

will write for social changeOne morning in late September, I found myself backstage at the “Annual Day of Peace” in Covington, KY—an event that kicks off October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I’d been asked to perform a song I wrote about my family’s history of domestic violence, and was listening as speakers urged the young audience to find—and use—their voices to prevent violence. I wondered how many listeners were writers, performers, artists, and how many might go on to use their art as voice, changing their communities in the process.

audrelordeLeaving that day and re-entering the media binge on the word “shutdown,” I couldn’t help thinking about writers around the globe: how we use our voices; whether (and how) we’re heard. I also couldn’t help thinking of Audre Lorde:

We lose our history so easily, what is not predigested for us by the New York Times, or the Amsterdam News, or Time magazine. Maybe because we do not listen to our poets…

Creative writing has the potential to change perceptions, elevate public discourse, inform, protest, and/or bring awareness to difficult issues and situations. Could we do more with this potential? Should we?

is this gonna get political

(No.)

Before anyone gets politi-scared, hark! I don’t believe writers should start “politicizing” all our work, or Woodie-Guthrie-ing our poems for the greater good. But I do believe that if we’re moved by any current economic, cultural, political, and/or social suffering, there’s a place for us—and our craft—in the fray.

But how? Where? If you’re interested in finding your writerly place in this kind of work, here are three steps even non-”activist” writers can take to dive in:

  1. Identify Our Stories
  2. Re-imagine “Going Public,” and
  3. Chuck “Art for Art’s Sake.”

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Why Poetry Can’t Find Its Public, Part Two

A couple months ago, my blog, “Why Poetry Can’t Find Its Public” nearly caused a riot. Teeth were bared! F bombs thrown! I wanted readers to learn from pop music’s ability to connect with more people. Readers translated this as a suggestion that poetry be like pop music, sell like pop music, sell out like pop music, and compete with pop music. But actually (gasp!), none of these is necessary for one to learn from pop music. So, dear poets, you can climb out of your bunkers.

I can’t help but think this ruckus was inspired by the very Myth my post was blasting: that merely discussing “audience”—particularly one as large as pop music’s—will cause all poetry to suddenly and irrevocably mutate into “California Gurls.” 

We’re afraid that if we admit we want (more) readers, we’ll start writing what we think they want… or measuring the validity of poetry by its sales. Dear poets, this doesn’t have to be. Yes, writing-for-sales spells creative death. But once a work is completed? Perhaps the gracious thing then is to put it where it can be found.

Unfortunately, here we often encounter a similar myth: that wanting readers isn’t a noble enough desire for “real” poets—that we should instead write strictly “because we must,” or because “the muse has us.” Nobody wants to actively seek a readership and thus prove herself a disgrace.

But as George Orwell has famously illustrated, there are (valid!) motivations for writing that actually require a readership. And if our work is driven to any degree by its potential human impact, as Orwell’s was, it’s irresponsible to eschew the work of reaching out. This was what I wanted us to translate from pop music: Its gritty determination. Its insistence on being heard. Its put-our-stuff-where-folks-will-find-it creativity. Its refusal of insularity.

It’s time for writers to stop feeling shallow or guilty for wanting what only makes sense: to be read. It’s time we stop policing each other’s motives and frowning on self-promotion, and instead empower each other to explore where our poetry can go. Why? Because if readers are required to want and seek poetry in order to find it, we’ll never get beyond each other. If the wider world’s not reading poetry, it’s at least in part because it rarely encounters it. That’s what we can change.Continue Reading