The Ploughshares years

By GEORGE KIMBALL  |  November 16, 2011

The cover price was printed in two currencies ($2 or 75p), which allowed O'Malley to stock some bookstores back in Ireland, but our distribution system on either side of the Atlantic was almost nonexistent. I took a box full of magazines down to New York and left consignments at the 8th Street, the Gotham, Cornelia Street, and Tompkins Square. (The Peace Eye was no longer a thriving concern.) Similar hand-delivered consignments were left with the independent bookstores, of which there were still then quite a few, in Boston and Cambridge. The rest of the press run, the best I could tell, O'Malley hoped would be purchased from a large stack he kept on one end of the bar at the Plough. My guess would be that over time more copies were stolen than actually sold out of the bar.

By far the most extensive review of Ploughshares 1 ran in the Phoenix; I had nothing to do with the review, although the 1971 Phoenix masthead listed me as "Sports & Poetry editor."

Harper Barnes at the Phoenix asked Jim Randall, who was in many respects the dean of the Boston-area poetry scene by virtue of the selective catalogue of his Pym-Randall Press and his position as head of the creative-writing program at Emerson, to review the magazine, and while he certainly tried hard to be fair, Randall's stopped well short of an outright rave. His balanced view was that Ploughshares had considerable promise, but showed the strain of the editor-by-committee approach, which he considered unpromising and probably unworkable over the long haul. The principal result of this well-founded criticism was that before Ploughshares 2 had even been printed, Jim Randall had been elected to edit the third issue, and he became a constant presence for at least the next 10 years.

What Randall's review was probably just too polite to point out was that, whatever our individual visions of the magazine might have been, pretty much everyone involved seems to have also regarded it as a dandy outlet for publishing our own work — and on that count I was as guilty as anyone else. The first issue had poems by Littaeur, Bennett, Klein, Corbett, Hannigan, Gullette, and Wylie (and yet another by Andy's wife Christine), along with fiction by DeWitt, and my Born translations.

The second issue — "mine" — was still pretty incestuous, with poetry by Hannigan, Lux, Corbett, and Bennett. The prose selections included a Gullette piece on Samuel Beckett, a Corbett essay on Hemingway's Islands in the Stream, and DeWitt's review of John Fairfield's David Johnson Passed Through Here.

I'm not even saying there was anything particularly wrong or even unusual (it would have been the rare issue of Grist in the late 1960s that didn't have something from me and Charley Plymell and John Fowler) about this, but it does seem apparent now that if you hoped to see your work included in a quality publication like Ploughshares back then, the surest guarantee of that happening was to be on the editorial board.

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