As we launch a new blog format for the new year, we’re also looking back at all the great posts since the blog started in 2009. Our roundups explore the archives and gather past posts around a certain theme to help you jump-start your week. This week we have posts on author readings and Q&A’s.
Public readings are a great way for authors to promote their work, and for audiences to hear their favorite (or soon to be favorite) writing read aloud. Maybe you’re dying to hear how an author reads a particular character’s voice. You knew it was a soft southern accent all along… Or maybe you just want to be read to. Because really, who doesn’t like being read to?
Going in person is ideal, but what’s the next best thing? Here we’re taking a look back at video clips of Ploughshares’ guest editors’ readings and Q&A’s.
The following video segments are from a December 2010 Ploughshares Q&A with Terrence Hayes, guest editor of the Winter 2010-11 issue and (then) a recent recipient of the National Book Award for Poetry for his collection Lighthead.
Before we move on to things literary, I think we should begin this Independence Day week with Fozzie Bear singing “America the Beautiful,” which my mother incorrectly identified as our national anthem during her citizenship exam (she still passed). Actually, I kind of wish it was our national anthem—I prefer its focus on the extraordinary natural beauty of this country rather than our military might. I also wish that it could be sung, whenever possible, by a giant stuffed bear.
Now, on to some of our favorite books about American history!
“Although I’m not usually a nonfiction lover, I make an exception for Paul Johnson’s remarkable A History of the American People. Be forewarned: at 1,104 pages, this books clocks in right between enormous and epic. Though this tome looks unapproachable, Johnson’s tone throughout is readable and friendly—and his storytelling is truly remarkable. We all know that the Declaration of Independence was eventually signed, but Johnson brings the reader into the past so effectively—shows the insurmountable problems that stood in the way of what now seems like cut and dry history—that at certain points I found myself wondering if this start-up nation was going to make it. Although Johnson himself is British, his deep love for American history comes through in this book. He is uniquely positive, seeing America’s mistakes not simply as tragedies, but also as lessons for the future. It is hard to come away from this classic pessimistic about the future.” —Jessica Arnold, Digital Production Assistant
“Time Enough for Drums, by Ann Rinaldi: This book harkens back to English class days of old. Although it’s a YA book with a side of romance, it’s a completely historically accurate take on a sixteen-year-old girl’s life during the Revolutionary war. Aunt Jemima Emerson is a feisty liberal-leaning teenager whose tutor John Reid is a boring old Tory. Of course John is actually a double-agent, working as a spy for the rebels (because no romantic figure can be on the losing side of a historical conflict). I wish this book had been assigned instead of those silly old textbooks they had us read in American History class.”—Andrea Martucci, Managing Editor
“I read Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, a novel about race during 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, immediately after seeing the movie. The novel reveals the struggles of black maids who cook, clean, and raise the children of white families, children who love them as colorblind toddlers and who grow to mimic their racist mothers. One of three narrators in The Help, Aibileen, tells ‘secret stories’ to the white child she raises in order to instill life lessons on racial equality and civil rights, stories about a ‘real nice [and wise] Martian’ named Martin Luther King Jr. who no one liked because he was green; Aibileen strives to ‘stop that moment from coming—and it come in every child’s life—when they start to think that colored folks ain’t as good as whites.’” —Jennifer Feinberg, Editorial Intern
“Growing up, nothing about the historical facts I copied down from overhead projections resonated, so I was always hesitant to dive into history, unless there were strong elements of narrative and motivation and imperfection that I could latch onto. A People’s History of Baseball, by Mitchell Nathanson, while maybe not the usual sort of book I would pick up, engages me because of the way Nathanson immediately connects baseball, our national pastime, to our messy history: ‘Rather than see baseball through a patriotic, sepia haze, we can choose to see it through a more critical eye, one that permits us to see our collective selves as something less than our best.’
“But, as Fozzie’s voice reminds us, we can’t internalize what America has been, is, and will be without the help of a little humor. Sometimes it’s Muppet-style humor that we need, and sometimes it’s in a voice that is simultaneously deadly serious. Take the poetry of Tony Hoagland, for example, who often mourns over the cataclysm of American complacency, but is also known for his humor. ‘So we were turned into Americans / to learn something about loneliness,’ he writes. What I envision is a few days into the future: me crammed in with thousands and thousands of people along Boston’s Esplanade while fireworks crash and boom above our heads for hours. So yes, Mr. Hoagland, it is our ‘own hand which turns the volume higher,’ but what else are we to do? We can’t simply deny the pleasure of it all, nor the off-key belting out of America the Beautiful.’” —Abby Travis, Editorial Assistant
As we wrap four great months with Tony Hoagland and company, we’ll leave you with this review in New Pages of the Winter 2009-10 issue of Ploughshares.
Angela Sweeney praises Hoagland for “choosing to pair works of transcendentalism and realism in such a way that brings out the best of both. Each piece varies in style from the previous one, serving to continually cleanse the palate and keep each work fresh.”
She pulls out three pieces that spoke to this effect: Christian Barter‘s “Heisenberg,” which she calls “one of the more thoughtful poems of the issue”; David Stuart MacLean‘s “The Answer to the Riddle is Me,” fusing memory with identity; and Adrian Blevins‘ “The Waning,” a “vivid” reflection on the aging process.
“Hoagland organizes the issue in a way that keeps the mind alive from cover to cover,” Sweeney concludes her review. Read the whole article here.
Our final Contributor’s Annex for the Tony Hoagland issue! Thanks to all our Contributors for their insight and support.
Marc J. Straus has three collections of poems from TriQuarterly Books-Northwestern University Press: One Word (1994), Symmetry (2000), and Not God (2006), the latter, a play in verse that had its premier stage production at Luna Stage in Montclair, NJ, April – May 2009. He practices medical oncology.
Straus’ poem “Mrs. Abernathy” appears in the Winter 2009-10 edition of Ploughshares, guest edited by Tony Hoagland. View the Winter 2009-10 issue.
An excerpt from “Mrs. Abernathy”:
“Soft trees against blue sky.” That is how
Mrs. Abernathy described it
before she died. “A small barn bent further
than my arthritic spine…
After the jump, Straus talks about his poetic experiences with patients, including the one remarkable woman who inspired this piece.
Kathryn Starbuck is the author of Griefmania, from Sheep Meadow Press, 2006. (Read “Thinking of John Clare” from Griefmaniahere.) Her poems appear in The Best American Poems 2008, The New Republic, The Gettysburg Review, The New Yorker, Poetry, AGNI Online, Harvard Review and elsewhere. She edited two volumes of George Starbuck’s poems.
Starbuck’s poem “Often Things Went Wrong” appeared in the Winter 2009-10 edition of Ploughshares, guest edited by Tony Hoagland. View the Winter 2009-10 issue.
An excerpt from “Often Things Went Wrong”:
Can we retire
from sex just
as we retire
from a job?
After the jump, Starbuck reveals how Graham Greene inspired her (or did he?), as well as her most significant revision.
Lisa Russ Spaar‘s most recent poetry collection is Satin Cash (read “The Geese,” or other excerpts here). She edited Acquainted with the Night: Insomnia Poems and All That Mighty Heart: London Poems, and appears in Best American Poetry 2008. Her prizes include a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Rona Jaffe Award. She teaches at the University of Virginia. Her work appeared in the Winter 1996-97 Ploughshares, as well.
Spaar’s poems “Goldfinches” and “Whether” appeared in the Winter 2009-10 edition of Ploughshares, guest edited by Tony Hoagland. View the Winter 2009-10 issue.
After the jump, Spaar recalls the inception of these poems during her Lenten writing rituals, and shares passages from her work.
We were honored to have Tony Hoagland pay a visit to the Paramount Center back in February. At long last — the official videos are here! You can also check out our Pshares page on YouTube.
Some of our favorite moments:
“I tell my own students, I say you can eat junk food all day long, but you could eat some fruits and vegetables as well. Those empty calories are going to get you into trouble… So I think it is good to read good poetry. But the problem is, when you’re a young reader, you don’t exactly know what that means.”
“Thank God for stanzas, because I’m a formless person. I was weaned in a time of free verse.”
“You know how Moby Dick starts off with that beautiful aria about how people look at the water on a Sunday? You can see them all gazing out to sea. Well, construction sites are just like that for men.”
Part I: Tony Hoagland’s Q&A
Part II: Tony Hoagland’s Poetry Reading
(Watch Tony read from Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty (“Demolition” and “Foghorn”), plus Alicia Jo Rabins’ “How You Came to Be” from our Winter 2009-10 issue.)
Elizabeth Smither was New Zealand poet laureate (2001-3). She has published fifteen collections of poetry as well as novels and short stories. In 2008 she was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry. Click here to read (and hear Smither read) some of her work.
Smither’s poem “How Music is Made” was published in the Winter 2009-10 edition of Ploughshares, guest edited by Tony Hoagland. View the Winter 2009-10 issue.
Excerpt from “How Music is Made”:
a lesser storm is passing through, though
portents in the base show the wait
will not be long. You’re needed and the horns around
raise their snouts like hunting animals and pounce
in the stream with splashing shouts of sound.
After the jump, Smither recalls the “cacophony” that inspired her poem.
Katherine Smith‘s work has appeared or is forthcoming in a number of journals and reviews, among them Shenandoah, Fiction International, Poetry, The Southern Review, Appalachian Heritage, Atlanta Review, Gargoyle, The Baltimore Review, Poems and Plays, and The Louisville Review. Her first book, Argument by Design, won the Washington Writers’ Publishing House Poetry Prize and appeared in 2003. A Tennessean, she currently teaches at Montgomery College in Germantown, Maryland and serves as poetry editor for The Potomac Review.
Smith’s poem “Provide” was published in the Winter 2009-10 edition of Ploughshares, guest edited by Tony Hoagland. View the Winter 2009-10 issue.
An excerpt from “Provide”:
Midwinter provides another meaning,
by which I mean that other, more elusive, pleasure
I know when I see, first, a lone brown mare fetlock deep in mud
ripping pale green alfalfa from a bale
After the jump, Smith shares how the work of Robert Frost has bewitched and bewildered her.
Alicia Jo Rabins, Brooklyn-based poet and musician, received her MFA from Warren Wilson. Her poems have appeared in the Boston Review, 6 x 6, and Horse Poems (Knopf). As a musician she tours internationally; her art-pop song cycle about Biblical women, Girls in Trouble, was released in October 2009. (Check out her interview at Largehearted Boy.)
Rabins’ poems “How You Came to Be” and “Writing About Writing About Writing” were published in the Winter 2009-10 edition of Ploughshares, guest edited by Tony Hoagland. (Hoagland closed his February 12 visit to Emerson College by reading “How You Came to Be.”) View the Winter 2009-10 issue.
An excerpt from “Writing About Writing About Writing”:
A mermaid crawls out of my mouth to meet you in this poem,
my teacher who calls me teacher and therefore is my teacher,
who shows me how to knot a net to make the moon rise
during night watch on calm seas while the other sailors sleep.
After the jump, Rabins shares how this poem came to be.