Award: Research & Development Grant

Discipline: Literary Arts

Project Collaborator(s):

City/Town: Phoenix

Year: 2019

Artist Website:

The planets were discovered because they caused the dwarf star’s light to weaken—small eclipses—and while I didn’t realize right away what I was doing, I came to see that I had chosen the telescope as a ‘recipient’ for that very reason: the speaker wants it to teach her how to look at what it is nearly impossible to see, what in fact can only be discerned by noticing what one can no longer see.

Sally Ball, excerpt from artist’s grant application.

In June of 2017 Sally Ball began work on what turned out to be a long poem with a peculiar conceit: a series of letters to the TRAPPIST, a telescope aimed at an ultra-cool red dwarf star nearly 40 light years from earth. Grappling with significant life-changes, Ball found in TRAPPIST (“this silo of precise attention”) a surprisingly ideal listener.

“Addressing the telescope created an opportunity: Maybe one can talk about this private, intimate stuff to this non-sentient outsider whose whole job is LOOKING and DISCOVERING…who is sort of the opposite of the eye of god: not looking at us but AWAY AWAY AWAY.”

After writing “Dear TRAPPIST”, Ball initiated an ongoing correspondence with the belgian astronomers who operate the telescope and in summer of 2018, personally visited their remote Chilean observatory.

Ball’s grant will support the writing of new poems that will form the second half of the book that begins with “Dear TRAPPIST.” The poet envisions the original poem as the entry-point while the new poems, inspired by her Chilean site visit and research, as a kind of response-extension. This new work will also build on the original poem’s formal expermentation—a hybrid poetic prose that complements the discursive, meditative thinking the book arises from, while still allowing for metrical/musical qualities.

Work Sample

This poem, written for Canal Convergence and Scottsdale Public Art, first appeared in print in The Laurel Review (Vol. 51 #2, 2018) and was reprinted in Hold Sway (NY: Barrow Street, 2019). It’s also the first poem I wrote about the TRAPPIST telescopes.

Read “Sight Management” by Sally Ball

Sally Ball is the author of three books of poems: Hold Sway, Wreck Me, and Annus Mirabilis (all with Barrow Street). She has published essays and reviews in Lithub, NOR, Pleiades, the Review of Contemporary Fiction, The Volta, and elsewhere. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Bennington Review, Boston Review Forum 1, Harvard Review, Ploughshares, Scoundrel Time, Tin House, Yale Review, and other magazines, as well as online at The Awl, Narrative and Slate, and they’ve been reprinted in The Best American Poetry, on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and the Academy of American Poets website. Czech artist Jan Vičar has made a 26 x 20″ artist’s book of her long poem “HOLD” (2018).

An associate professor of English at Arizona State University, Ball is also an associate director of Four Way Books. She has received fellowships from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, CAMAC Centre d’Art, the James Merrill House, the Ucross Foundation, and the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. She also teaches in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

Photo by Deanna Dent

Banner image: Photo by Deanna Dent