Beating words into Ploughshares just got a little easier, thanks to new policy

MAGAZINES

January 15, 1995|By Jeanne Cooper | Jeanne Cooper,Boston Globe

The poets and short-story writers who try to beat their words into Ploughshares will have a better chance at it, according to the editors' note in the winter issue.

The 23-year-old literary journal based at Boston's Emerson College was originally edited by a committee of its founders: "Harvard graduate students, Irish expatriates, Iowa Workshop refugees, New York School and Bowery veterans, and experimental Black Mountain poets." But as editors Don Lee and David Daniel explain, "Predictably, reaching a consensus proved difficult." The journal switched to rotating editors and, later, guest editors "encouraged to structure their issues around explicit themes, topics, or aesthetics."

That's the way it's been for the last five years, with no little success, but also some frustration: Since some submissions have to wait for the appropriately themed issue to come along, "We always have a surplus of good work at the end of the year -- material we love, but are unable to publish for one reason or another."

After a spring issue on "tribes" and a fall issue of personal essays, the Ploughshares editors decided to end the year with a "theme of not having a theme . . . other than our judgments of literary quality." And although guest editors will return, the journal will continue with "open" selections: "We will simply look forward to what comes in."

Judging by the current issue, evocatively titled "Regrets Only," readers will also have plenty to look forward to. I have already unearthed with pleasure Wendy Brenner's story "The Oysters," featuring Pat Boone -- "not the Pat Boone but only a graduate student in Agricultural Science" -- who irradiates food and feels invisible: "He had gone as close as one could go to the great source, and his dosimeter still registered zero." Bruce Cohen's poem "The Whispering Campaign" imagines the results if everyone ran out of gas at once ("Those with car phones are paranoid/ and choose not to call, at least anyone they knew").

Kennedy profile

Leave it to People (Jan. 16) to ask if John F. Kennedy Jr. is "a man with a plan or a dreamboat adrift." Karen S. Schneider's portrait, which drew on the help of four correspondents in New York, Boston and Washington, is a study of inscrutability -- perhaps John Jr.'s best legacy from his equally press-shy mother.

"His thoughts, of course, are unreadable, though there is no shortage of speculators avid to imagine what they might be," Ms. Schneider writes about an appearance at the John F. Kennedy Library. "Could he be wondering what his fiercely private mother would have said about his decision to do one of his rare television interviews -- about the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award -- with 'Today's' Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel? Or what Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis would think, perhaps, of his recent breakup with longtime girlfriend Daryl Hannah? Maybe he is wondering whether his current start-up project -- a monthly political magazine tentatively titled George (as in Washington) -- is such a good idea after all."

Maybe he was wondering what traffic would be like on Interstate 93 on the way back, or what deep, profile-serving thoughts the People reporter would attribute to him later. After detailing his career and love life, Ms. Schneider writes, "Now the nation may ask young John: What next? The answer so far seems abundantly clear: no one, not even he, has a clue."

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