The Ploughshares years

By GEORGE KIMBALL  |  November 16, 2011

We had a lavish (lavish for the Plough, anyway) publication party at the bar. O'Malley fretted like a mother hen, chasing away some of the louder drunks among his regular customers lest they offend the cream of Boston literary society, but he needn't have worried, because most of them didn't show up anyway. I think the Globe may have given us a brief mention, but apart from that our biggest PR coup was an appearance by several editors on an omnibus program called Catch 44. It aired on Channel 44, which was then sort of the poor stepchild of WGBH-TV (Channel 2), the PBS flagship station in Boston with which it shared studio space.

The taping took place early one evening, immediately following a practice session of the Plough's flag football team, which was gearing up for an important grudge match the following weekend, and several sweaty members of the football team walked with me over from the practice field beside Harvard Stadium to the TV studio, which was just down the street in Allston, and took up positions in the audience. We'd probably even stopped off for a beer or two en route, because the first time the moderator asked me a question, a football came sailing out of the audience right at my head. I managed to catch it cleanly without missing a beat, and for the rest of the half-hour segment we tossed the football around the room from one editor to the next. Some of the poets displayed better ball-handling skills than others, and I'm sure DeWitt was initially mortified, but even he eventually had to admit that it made for great television, and people who saw it still talk about that show all these years later.

DeWitt Henry's recollections of the process that resulted Ploughshares 2 differ considerably from my own, but that doesn't make his version all wrong. He and O'Malley had done all the logistical shuttling back and forth to the print shop with the first issue, and he may have expected me to do the same with mine, even though I'd never understood that to be part of the job description. I've got to be the only guy in America who spent 35 years in the newspaper business and never worked a single day on the desk. I'd never laid out a page, not even with Grist, and wouldn't have known where to start.

Somehow in my mind I'd assumed that being editor meant I'd pick and choose and have the final say on what actually went into the magazine, but that it also might involve a lot of hands-on grunt work down at the print shop had honestly never occurred to me. Wilmott and Tom Lux were pretty good at what they did, and sensitive to poetry, so they were unlikely to fuck something up with any ham-fisted freelance typesetting. DeWitt, in addition to his years of experience with the Amherst Literary Review, had owned a small letterpress as a boyhood hobby, and seemed to enjoy that aspect of getting the magazine out, so the thought that I might be letting somebody down by ignoring that vital part of the editor's role never crossed my mind back then. But I gather from his memoir DeWitt wasn't at all pleased by what he considered my dereliction of duty.

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