The Ploughshares years

By GEORGE KIMBALL  |  November 16, 2011

Bill Corbett may have been the best-established of the Gang of Poets; he was teaching at Emerson, and Robert Creeley had suggested I look him up when I moved back to Massachusetts. David Gullette was a poet and sometime actor who was teaching at Simmons College; he had a terrific sense of humor, which in this company was not necessarily considered a virtue. Another poet, Norman Klein, had been at Iowa, though not when I was, and I believe not when DeWitt was there, either. Other members of the group, Bruce Bennett and Kip Crosby, had also come on board at DeWitt's behest.

With Peter O'Malley's concurrence I approached David Omar White, a terrific artist I'd known from my Beacon Hill days, and who now had a popular weekly cartoon feature, "The Adventures of the White Rabbit," in the Phoenix; Omar became Ploughshares' art director. He didn't sit in on editorial meetings, but he created the covers for the first several issues, and they were (and are) things of beauty.

People came and some went as the meetings dragged on; some of them weren't around long enough to merit inclusion on the initial masthead, though I see that Andrew Littauer and Steven Sands (who I don't remember at all) were. Paul Hannigan at some point joined the group, but apparently too late to be listed as an editor on the first masthead.

O'Malley, the titular publisher, often sat in on these early meetings, too; I don't remember him having any firm convictions about content, apart from his having solicited work from some pretty good writers and poets back in Ireland, but he listened with an open mind when the rest of us thrashed things out, or tried to. There was inevitably some work DeWitt and the academic crowd loved that I found simply too precious for words, and there were poems Saroyan and I had solicited from our friends in New York that several of the others didn't quite get, and in some cases absolutely hated — though I imagine they probably disliked Aram's own poems even more. It gradually became clear that, if the magazine was going to have any clear direction, vision, and identity of its own, somebody was going to have to be in charge.

Eventually — I believe O'Malley was the Solomonic diplomat who came up with the idea — we resolved that by deciding that while we'd all continue to have input, there would be a different coordinating editor for each issue. And since ours were the most prominent voices (or perhaps just the most strident ones) representing the polar extremes, it was decided that DeWitt would be the editor of the first Ploughshares, and I would edit the second.

This decision was taken fairly well into the process, so DeWitt's wasn't the only indelible stamp on the first issue. There were poems by Ted Berrigan, Anselm Hollo, and John Moritz, along with a journal entry from David Ignatow, for all of which I was plainly the conduit. (Berrigan had been a close friend both in New York and at Iowa, while Hollo and I had shared a house in Iowa City; Moritz lived in Lawrence, which is also where I'd met Ignatow, when he spent a semester as writer-in-residence at KU.) There were poems from New Yorkers Harris Schiff and Anne Waldman that must have come either through me or through Saroyan; I can't remember which. The first issue also included my translations of some poems by Nicolas Born, a German poet whose work I'd come to know through Hollo.

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