Behind the Cover Redesign

Longtime subscribers of Ploughshares will have noticed a dramatic change in the journal’s appearance between our Spring 2009 issue, guest-edited by Eleanor Wilner, and Fall 2009 issue, guest-edited by Kathryn Harrison: The iconic art-and-title design used throughout most of our history had been replaced by a brighter, contemporary grid design with a standout “P.”

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The change was championed by editor-in-chief Ladette Randolph, who began planning for the redesign when she started at Ploughshares in 2008. “It’s always risky making a change to something that’s been familiar and beloved,” she said. “But I did feel a change was needed. [The design] had become a bit dated and I felt it didn’t give the right impression of how the magazine had otherwise kept pace.”


One of the major goals of the redesign was to move toward a logo-based branding. This led to the strong and straightforward “P,” which also appears on our new website and tote bags. It was designed by graphic designer Ashley Muehlbauer, who was tapped by Randolph to freelance the project. “I wanted to create a recognizable mark for the journal that would hold its own weight and translate well in a variety of situations,” said Muehlbauer.


Muehlbauer, who studied graphic design at the University of Nebraska, also felt the time had come to update the previous design, which consisted of type overlaid on the cover image. “This created serious readability issues and severely limited what artwork could be chosen for the cover,” she said. “My solution was to create a separate space for each element of the design: the logo, the text, the image. This gives us more flexibility with color and image selection while reinforcing a consistent identity from issue to issue.”


Randolph agrees. “I like how the issues with the redesign all look together spine out,” she said. “Since we’re no longer doing wrap around design, the spines remain distinctive. I’m very pleased.”


Perhaps the least noticeable change, the switch from a glossy cover finish to a matte, will be the most important for the journal’s shelf life. “Glossy pages don’t always wear as well as matte finishes,” Randolph said. “The finish we’re now using also tends to lay better over time. If you look at old magazines with a high gloss finish, you’ll notice they tend to curl on the edges.”


As far as each cover’s image is concerned, Muehlbauer said they come from a variety of places. “Some have been posted to photography blogs by amateur artists, some have been recommended by the current guest editor–it’s always different.”


While Randolph does consider the guest editor’s taste when selecting a cover image, she says the in-house staff makes the final call: “Like a book cover, it’s a part of the marketing of the journal and best judged by the staff.”


“I like to think of the cover image as an extension of the grass-roots talent found in each issue,” Muehlbauer said.


Within the next two weeks, we’ll be announcing the cover image for the Fall 2010 issue, guest-edited by Jim Shepard, here at the blog.


– Doug Paul Case

Jay Rogoff on History and Ballet in Contemporary Poetry

“Swanilda Meets Her Twin,” a spiraling poem of realization and emotion by Jay Rogoff, appeared in our Spring 2010 issue. In two voices it compares Swanilda to her manufactured twin, noting the subtle–yet important–differences between flesh and blood, and imitation. An excerpt:

And her eyes, miracles of darkened vision,
glow tough and glossy, unlike mine–enamel
like a tooth: I can tap them with my fingers,
click click like a machine…


Here, Rogoff explains the larger project this poem is excerpted from and its origins in history and ballet:

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“Swanilda Meets Her Twin” comes from a book-length poetic sequence called Enamel Eyes, a multivoiced fantasia on Paris in 1870. It considers the Franco-Prussian War and the siege of Paris through the lens of the art and artists of the period, including France’s innovative painters and especially the ballet Coppélia. The ballet’s hero, Swanilda, speaks the poem’s first sixteen lines (in ottava rima) upon discovering that her rival for the affections of her fiancé Franz, the cold, remote Coppélia, is actually an automaton created by the eccentric Doctor Coppélius; his voice presents a counter-movement in the final two stanzas. The mention of Alsace and Lorraine alludes to the terms of the French surrender, which returned the two provinces to Germany.


In the full sequence, Coppélia, the automated woman, finds an analogy in the mechanical weapons–machine guns, heavy artillery–that made the Franco-Prussian War the first modern European conflict, one in which Prussia targeted Paris’s civilian population. The ballet itself became a war orphan when the theaters closed on August 31. Giuseppina Bozzacchi, the sixteen-year-old ballerina who created the role of Swanilda and became the toast of Paris, fell into poverty as a result of the siege, and with both food and medical care scarce, she died of smallpox on November 23, her seventeenth birthday. She is one of the heroes of the sequence, which attempts to bring together history, works of art, and the poetic imagination.


Jay Rogoff’s latest book of poems is The Long Fault (2008), from lsu Press, who will publish his book of dance poems, The Code of Terpsichore, in 2011. His chapbook of sonnets, Twenty Danses Macabres, winner of the Robert Watson Poetry Award, will appear this fall from Spring Garden Press.
You can read his poems “The Guy Who Passed Me Doing 90 MPH and Playing the Trumpet” at AGNI Online and “January” at Poetry Daily.

Amy Newman on Her Favorite Cashier and the Poetry of Everyday Moments

Our Spring 2010 issue contains the poems “The Cat” and “Making Small Talk, the Cashier at the Grocery Inadvertently Creates a Religion” by Amy Newman.

The first poem takes a small moment, watching a cat, and builds wonderment up toward “the creature’s stubborn desire / to find its commonplace, its eternal, as if anything ever adds up to poetry.” We lose track of the cat’s needs in place of our own. The second poem’s title explains it; an excerpt:


And passing the figs:
So complex, what’s on the inside.
Everything worthwhile has a kind of mystery.
I don’t bother with it more than that.


Here, Newman looks at the meaning beyond everyday occurrences and recalls the cashier who inspired her:

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Looking over these poems I see that I have again failed to become Emerson’s “Transparent Eyeball,” and am rather, after Zola, a temperament through which nature is filtered. Watching a cat move through the yard in his daily pattern after his day of wandering, I observed the possibilities awaiting him as if through a series of overlapping transparencies, Run Lola Run style: struggle, weakness, adversity, death, nothingness. Though I am interested in interrogating the violent design of the natural world, in this poem I hoped to study it without regret, to recreate the energy of what I imagine to be nature’s articulation of victory and vitality. Yet I hear myself in there near the end, that fascination and irritation with the natural world’s indifference: an image of a long-dead creature now undressed to bone, and the world vigorously unaffected, snapping into place for another 24-hour cycle.

“Making Small Talk, the Cashier at the Grocery Inadvertently Creates a Religion” might be the only poem I have ever written that began with its last lines, requiring that I work backward; I wanted to understand why the world became dimensional when the cashier made this characteristic, casual remark. She is the definition of stoicism, even impassivity: brisk and polite, she has no use for your chatting about the weather. She delivered the poem’s final lines to me with a slow shake of her head, and I left the shop chastened and invigorated. It was not only what she had said–something about the experience had created the landscape where the lines became significant. Though uninterested in humans, this cashier has the most delicate way with groceries, respectful of each item. She will take minutes to pack the bag, rearranging it several times so that the single perfect peach will not bruise on its journey to your home, so that the figs with not crush. The combination of her offhand and disinterested remark and her deferential physical care with the produce is striking. Some lines, including her final comment about the weather, she actually said; others I imagined later, to reflect her physical care and love of the items as she held them.

Being Jewish, I have the luxury of being an outsider and therefore have long been fascinated by the Eucharist, a moment when belief overcomes doubt, a magically dimensional moment of depth. Did I buy wine that day, and did she ring up those items in just the order I described? In the poem she passes wine and wafer over the scanner–ordinary details in an ordinary world, easy to miss–as a tiny, near- invisible Eucharist. Being unannounced, this experience might suggest a spirituality in the real, the everyday, ambiguous. That was all, then. What was left was bittersweet: my momentary wonder, or recognition, my glimpse of the divine manifested as a cold, turned-away face, indifferent though still loving the things of this world. In this way, even the cat of “The Cat” would not be overlooked. In truth, it was only a sweet remark by my favorite cashier, but it unearthed all my longing.


Amy Newman’s most recent book is Fall (Wesleyan, 2006). New work appears in Narrative Magazine, The Kenyon Review, Hotel Amerika, Witness, and elsewhere. She teaches at Northern Illinois University and is the editor of Ancora Imparo, the interdisciplinary journal of arts, process, and remnant.
You can read poems by Newman online at Caffeine Destiny, In Posse Review, DIAGRAM, and The Del Sol Review.

Staying In, Staying Put

Aimee N blog OK.jpgGuest post by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Greetings from the land of popsicles and frozen blueberries!

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It is blueberry time here in Western NY. My family just returned from our local organic farm (actually called “Blueberry Hill,” how cute is that?) and I have been searching for new recipes to try that don’t involve turning on the oven in all this sloppy-thick heat and humidity. Smoothies? Check. Blueberry Buckle? Check-check (okay, I had to turn on the oven for that one). At any rate, I am so happy to be home and have the time to ponder something as small as a blueberry.
The last time I have ever been at home for this long was when my first son was born. But even then, I started traveling for readings and teaching week-long workshops just two months post-partum from an emergency c-section. Crazy, I know. From a poem I wrote that busy summer, “Without My Child, I Travel”:
Light and dark: a world unhinged.
For nine months and more, a fungus
threaded itself in the treads
of my luggage wheel, my shoe.
They were not used to such static.
But now, my first time traveling alone–
every woman’s shoulder seems to bloom
a bubble-headed baby at her neck. Every
bubble-headed baby has to have
her shoes removed at security.
Every tiny shoe kicks the hips
of a frazzled mama. Every frazzled mama
daydreams about hiding in the airport bar
and ordering a lemon martini…
And though I thought at the time that it was the right thing to do (my second book was published/ “born” the same week as my first son) because I wanted to get my work out in the public eye as much as possible, this time, I am happy to stay put. To be there for both of my boys and really savor my newborn’s infancy. He’s already a month–a month!–old and perhaps because I know this will be my last child, I am already feeling all too well that our summertime together is fast fleeting.

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Lawless Discipline and Other Western Charms

Carol Keeley blog OK.jpgGuest post by Carol Keeley

Before caravanning West with a couple of movers–who drove out from the mountains, arrived ripely hung-over, looked at all the boxes of books and 78s, then called local movers to off-load the gig–we lived half a block from a drive-through liquor store. Weeks earlier, a woman was shot dead in her car as two toddlers crawled the backseat. Each Halloween we got kids who were thrilled by our plump chocolate bars, plus crackheads. The kids had duct-taped fairy wands and masks that blinded them and the crackheads had plastic bags and gravestone teeth, stained hoodies, horrified eyes. We let them shovel candy into their bags. Most of them were neighbors.

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Then, suddenly, sun-dazed Colorado was our front yard. The move was abrupt. We had to sell our house and find another within two months. So I shopped online and found handsome log homes with the Continental Divide framed in the kitchen sink window, and a skeptical realtor. After plowing through miles of mud, past tiers of mailboxes near a red dirt road, bumping along on Jeep trails for another hour or two, then reaching the dreamy homes with a view, I also found septic tanks and leach fields, propane tanks, mountain lion tracks, and a different species of people. I had to ask what a leach field was and am still grimacing. Glorious views, yes, but I was forced to confront my uselessness. People deep in the mountains were robust, weathered, Emersonianly self-reliant. Despite all the space, they lived in tight clusters, like circled wagons, with jerry-rigged plumbing and electricity, survivalist food supplies.

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I, on the other hand, am frightened by fuse boxes and acquired the habit of shopping daily for fresh produce while living in Paris, preferably by walking a few charmed city blocks with a mesh bag.
So we didn’t end up living in a mountain town like Ward, which features front-yard piles of decomposing automobiles, a single restaurant that doubles as the church, Tour de France fans in seallike garments huffing up the brutal hills, vistas that obliterate language and winters that obliterate faux pioneers. The mountains do not suffer fools. That’s a trait I appreciate. But people die regularly here, many of them experts. They’re expert climbers, expert skiers, some are even expert rescuers.

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Nature kills without malice. I respect the deadliness of nature, which is different than crackheads and liquor store shootings and failed levies and flaming towers. It just is. Only man is capable of inhumanity. Nature commands reverence and humility.
Initially, the West terrified me. Too much space, too much silence. I lived on Chicago’s Belmont and Clark when it was Mecca for teen runaways and addicted drag queens; then I lived in a crack neighborhood on the cusp of gaslight idyll. Sirens were constant. Suddenly, I’m in Colorado, paralyzed by advice on dealing with bears and trailhead warnings of fresh mountain lion kills. I’d dealt with gunshots and sirens and junkie drag queens, full moon crazies. But lions and bears scared me.

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Scott Nadelson on Fictional Autobiography and Surprising Details

Our Spring 2010 issue includes the story “Dolph Schayes’s Broken Arm” by Scott Nadelson, who recently wrapped up his duties as a Get Behind the Plough blogger. The story’s narrator recalls the physical manifestations of lost love during his twentieth summer, as he struggles to cope with a job he isn’t cut out for and an obsession with a slowly failing basketball team.

The story can be read in full on our site.
Here, Nadelson reflects on the story’s autobiographical beginnings and how a seemingly obscure detail can bring a story to life:

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As with many of my stories, “Dolph Schayes’s Broken Arm” began with autobiography. When I was twenty years old, I had a summer job selling newspapers over the phone. In the next cubicle was a grouchy old man who tripled my sales numbers every week. The young woman I’d been seeing during the spring was obviously pulling away from me, and I tied my romantic hopes, foolishly, to the Knicks’ elusive championship. Beyond those details, however, there wasn’t much of a story. The old man and I hardly spoke. All summer we stayed isolated in our separate miseries, until I quit the job and went back to school.

When I began drafting the piece, I knew that Stanley’s failures and disappointments would have to be central, that they would provide the soft nudge that would send the narrator in a new direction, though I didn’t yet know what that direction would be. Since I already had the Knicks in mind, basketball provided a logical starting point, but Dolph Schayes came as a gift. I was researching New York Jewish basketball players of the ’40s when I read that Schayes had broken his arm in the middle of a season and kept playing. As soon as I discovered this detail and imagined Stanley playing beside him, I knew what the story was about–an impossible striving toward unattainable goals, and the mixture of dignity and humiliation that follows. In the shadow of Dolph’s greatness, Stanley can’t cease striving and failing, and punishes himself as a result. Faced with Stanley’s suffering, the narrator relinquishes his own hopes and abandons an essential part of himself, the part that desires and strives and accepts each new disappointment as it comes.


Scott Nadelson is the author of two story collections, The Cantor’s Daughter (Hawthorne Books, 2006) and Saving Stanley: The Brickman Stories (Hawthorne Books, 2004). His work has recently appeared in Glimmer Train, Alaska Quarterly Review, Post Road, and Puerto del Sol, and his new collection, Aftermath, will be published by Hawthorne Books in September.
You can read his stories “With Equals Alone” and “The Cantor’s Daughter” at Hawthorne Books.

A Summer Reading List From Ploughshares

Elisabeth Denison, one of Ploughshares‘ wonderful summer editorial interns, wrote this post.

Compiled here is an assortment of poetry and short fiction, novels and
memoir, which has been amassed with the leisurely undertaking of ‘summer
reading’ in mind. All of the works evoke, in some sense, the pace and
mentality of summer–the sudden abundance of time, the slowing-down of
movement, a particularly intent focus on the natural, and so on. Many of
the books below are very recently published, and nearly all have either
been written or highly recommended by a Ploughshares author or Advisory
Editor. We hope you enjoy these outstanding works by talented writers
and poets!

Blue Iris by Mary Oliver, poetry and essays
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“Far beneath the surface-flash of linguistic effect, Mary Oliver works her quiet and mysterious spell. It is a true spell, unlike any other poet’s, the enchantment of the true maker.”
-James Dickey

“Mary Oliver’s poems are natural growths out of a loam of perception and feeling, and instinctive skill with language makes them seem effortless. Reading them is a sensual delight.”
- May Swenson

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Bridget Lowe on Recipients of Poetry

Bridget Lowe, who’s brightened up our Get Behind the Plough feature for the past few months, published three poems in our Spring 2010 issue: “Anti-Pastoral;” “The Pilgrim is Bridled and Bespectacled,” in which the speaker honors the world, even “after everything / we’ve been through;” and “The Pilgrim Looks at the World from Above,” a poem which dances around obsession in a world where “the living imitate life / within the confines of pink and green lines / denoting states.” An excerpt from the first:

Your green Arcadian hills do not interest me.
The bird-bright eyes of every bird cared for,
the way it is promised, the way it is written,
everyone fat on their share of sun and seed.


Here, Lowe addressed the motives behind and intended recipients for each:


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The poems here are all addressed to specific recipients, a way that I prefer to write as it allows for and cements deep attachment to subject matter. “The Pilgrim is Bridled and Bespectacled” is a love poem from the speaker to the world, two who love each other very much in spite of their differences. The poem was provoked by its title, which is taken from the 17th century Czech text The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart by Jan Amos Komenský. The spectacles are significant to me because I have very poor vision and went a long time unable to see properly. When I first put on glasses at 14, I felt both enthralled and devastated–the world was so much more (more beautiful, more disappointing) than what I had imagined it to be.

“Anti-Pastoral” is a poem addressed to God (in loose terms) that began as a response to Tolstoy’s “Confession.” “The Pilgrim Looks at the World from Above” also takes its title from the Komenský and is addressed to a specific loved one. I imagine this poem as being spoken quietly by a young woman positioned just behind a cloud in the sky. From her position the earth looks labyrinthine, and with telescopic vision she tracks her beloved like an animal. This vantage point should delight but brings her no joy–instead she is transfixed on him as addiction drives him madly through the forest. At the same time, I consider it a poem of hope.


Bridget Lowe is a 2009 “Discovery”/Boston Review winner and recent graduate of Syracuse University’s MFA program. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The New Republic, Boston Review, American Poetry Review, and Third Coast, among others. She lives in St. Louis.

Who Is Your Writing Family?

Aimee N blog OK.jpgGuest post by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Reader, I have survived a full two weeks of having a newborn at home. I suppose “survive” is a bit melodramatic for how fast and joy-filled it actually was and in spite of my doubts of all the reassurances from my friends and family that the second child is much easier, Dear Reader, I am happy to report, by gum, it is!

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My Filipino mother is staying with us for a month, cooking us all our favorite dishes–lumpia, the noodle-riffic pancit canton, chicken adobo, and all the garlic fried rice (my comfort food since I was little) a gal can ever want.
On top of that, my beloved colleagues at SUNY-Fredonia have organized a food chart that has a full meal (main course, side dish, and dessert!) delivered to our door twice a week until late August. And though I can finally see my feet again (!) and am sloooowly working my way towards some semblance of a waistline, I am quite literally and figuratively full from the generosity and kindness of my friends and family.
Which got me thinking of the word family when it comes to writing. During grad school at Ohio State, I suppose my first writing family was my peers and professors in my various workshops. When I moved for a year to Madison, WI, my writing family consisted of my enormously talented fellow fellows there, and though it was rare to share drafts of actual work, I considered my pals absolutely crucial to my writing life and the completion of my first book.

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Literary Conversations

Carol Keeley blog OK.jpgGuest post by Carol Keeley

It began, like most obsessions, in a used bookstore on Broadway. Late one afternoon, I was listlessly foraging for food and stopped to browse pre-loved books in my old Chicago neighborhood.
I venture to say that most people most of the time experience the same four-o’clock-in-the-afternoon devaluation. [But] if such a person [...] should begin reading a novel about a person feeling lapsed at four o’clock in the afternoon, a strange thing happens. Things increase in value. Possibilities open. This may be the main function of art in this peculiar age: to reverse devaluation.

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We found each other suddenly: Conversations with Walker Percy, a compilation of interviews so compelling, I sat on the floor reading as people stepped over me. It’s one of nearly 140 volumes in the Literary Conversations Series, published by the non-profit University Press of Mississippi. Each book features thoughtfully curated interviews, uncut and often unavailable online. At the time, I was in the flush of a Percy crush and the book was a passport into his working mind. It revved me as a reader and as a writer.
“Nothing helps in heaven or earth when you’re writing,” says Eudora Welty. “It’s just you out there by yourself. That’s the way you want it.” Very true, but her interviews are generous guides to everything from writing dialogue to the tricks of revision. You have to excise the “pet thing,” she says. But:
There’s something you don’t want to lose, which is the freshness and spontaneity of the original burst forward. You don’t want to lose it, even if it means for flaws of one kind or another. You can correct with gentle revision, but leave the sense of that headlong feeling of a short story.
Then she laments not writing “as headlong as I would like.” I’ve yet to catch any writer in this series thinking they’ve a clue what they’re doing, which makes one’s own midnight despair a bit less oppressive.

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