Issue: Spring 1987
This is a review of a back issue of Ploughshares. The author won our “Free Ploughshares” contest that we hosted earlier this year and agreed to review his/her free issue. This post was written by Angela Spires. Enjoy!
Derek Walcott’s guest edited issue of Ploughshares definitely matches his passion for poetry and precision for just the right word to grab the reader. Though it was published in 1987, it contains controversial and dynamic poetry that is still emotionally hard to read and feel even today. Like Marie Howe’s “How Many Times,” which touches on the subject of molestation, and though it had been written about many times before that time, it was still a bold subject to write about, and the poem draws in the reader to feel the helplessness and pain. The issue does not hold a set theme, but many of the selected poems are about place, then—secondly—about people.
Walcott chose poets such as Seamus Heaney, Rita Dove, Robert Bensen, and Stephen Dunn, who were well published and added styles that were in ways similar to Walcott’s. He also chose some newer talent, like Randall Barfield, whose sole poem in the issue is about place but also evokes a feeling a loss, as if we had all been to this place before. Overall, I think that Walcott’s issue was heavy on the experienced writer, and a little light on the newcomers.
Nancy White’s three poems appear at the end of the issue, and this is her first publication. The poems fit well into the theme of people and place and even the blending of the two. “Tongue” is more a poem about the oddity of the body part but slides into the place theme as to where it resides in us all and the oddities of its form. “Walk Down Court Street” holds a place in its title, but in its words is about the doubts of a woman on her wedding day as she travels to the ceremony. Her worries about the car mirror her own doubts about her marriage. While “Winter” is solely about a person in a particular place and their feelings about it.
In general the issue makes you feel uneasy and right at home all at the same time. It is a blend of the uncomfortable and the comforting; you don’t know which poem is which until you dive into them. It had a sense of mysterious to the pieces as well as a sense of strong desire to get to the next piece. Will it unnerve me? Will I feel right at home? That is what Walcott brings to the issue.
The issue is rich with experienced poets who know how to spin a phrase. The addition of Heaney’s piece “Inferno III” draws attention to the issue and makes it hard to put down. With lines like, “Horror reeled round my head and ringed me in,” the piece stands out, and warrants reading and rereading again and again, as several of the pieces in the issue do. It is one of the pieces that stirs up strong emotions and makes you feel ill at ease. Heaney’s piece is strategically placed in the middle of the edition, as if to say, “Wait! There’s more great works to come.” It is the perfect center, holding great pieces around it, but capturing the reader with a bold work and mastery of words directly in the middle. It sets the stakes high, for do you want to go back to the bold and nerve racking, or perhaps into the warmth and familiar.
This Ploughshare’s issue intersperses the theme of place and people throughout, mixing other poems by less known authors, with those of authors whom we can’t wait to read. It starts out with “Excavations,” builds to “Inferno III,” and ends with “Winter,” which I think are a perfect blend of what to expect from the issue and includes other enthralling works.
Angela Spires is a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno where she majors in English Writing and teaches ENG 101/102 to freshman. She is originally from southern Virginia. Her writing focus is mainly fiction, long and short, but also enjoys writing poetry and screenplays. She runs a creative writing club for undergraduate and graduate students as well as community members and an after school writing program for high school students. Her work has been published in The Brushfire, The Stethoscope, Wildflower Magazine, Mat Black Online Magazine, and Deep South Magazine.