Review: Winter 2007
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 Joel Ferdon. Enjoy!
In 2007 I watched my brother get married in a small Catholic church while I stood next to him as his best man. Before the wedding, Daniel gave the other two groomsmen and me a gift. “It’s a tradition,” Daniel said, and handed us each a Zippo. Even then, when I was seventeen, I knew the Zippo was a workingman’s flame, and Daniel emphasized that when he whispered to me, “You’ll be as blue-collar as us.”
That Zippo is never far from my grasp, nor is a Lucky Strike unfiltered, nor Daniel’s words about the nature of the workingman. In fact, it is apparent in almost everything I encounter, including the Winter 2007 issue of Ploughshares guest edited by Philip Levine. I can see in Levine’s choice of pieces that his hands have not been softened by the pen.
When Paula Bohince says in her poem “Cleaning My Father’s House,” “I find the flannel shirts I gave him one Christmas, / press them to my lips, hungry for his scent of gasoline / and tobacco, pomade and Ivory soap,” I could feel Daniel’s words, and I was there in the poem with the narrator, longing for the scent of gasoline and tobacco. This was exactly how I would long for the smell of my Gramps’ pipe as a child. The scent of peaches, wormwood, and cardamom still lingered from the tobacco he had smoked so many years before; a man who died with metal shards embedded in his hands.
The smell of the world is not unlike holding a person close, or seeing them work, or hearing them talk. We all search for memories that invoke passion and sensuality. This idea is very apparent in the choices that Levine made.
The line within Linda Pastan’s poem “Bread” that reads, “Now it is time to open / the package of yeast / and moisten it with water, / watching for its fizz, / its blind energy- / proofing it’s called, the proof / of life” reminds me of some of my first lessons in the kitchen with my own mom. In the evenings, it would not only be lessons on cooking, but lessons of the world as I would listen to her regale me with the stories of her day as a persistent worker and single mother.
In Robley Wilson’s “Outsiders” he says, “Let the watchers admit to / the terror of being young, / and the writers set down / on blackboards their fear.” With this quote came the realization of my own fear: not every poet is like his grandfather who worked for Jorgensen Steel, or his great-grandfather who ploughed the cotton fields of southern Louisiana. But that fear is reconciled when Wilson tells all working class poets that sometimes they aren’t meant to be like their grandfathers.
I still take the Zippo that Daniel gave me everywhere I go, and it is a constant reminder of the firmness of my hands, but at the same time, the firmness that can be equated through today’s poetry. We do not all follow in the footsteps of our grandfathers, but remembering the hours they worked and the amount of cigarettes they smoked is all we can ask for.
Joel Ferdon is a chain smoking, coffee slinging, poetry fiend. Most recently his poems have appeared in Charlotte ViewPoint, The Corner Club Press, Deuce Coupe, Three Line Poetry, Yes, Poetry, The Sand Canyon Review, Rusty Truck, Gloom Cupboard, Indigo Rising Magazine, and soon Main Street Rag. Joel is also the recipient of the 2011 Indigo Rising Magazine Surreal Minimalist Poetry Contest. He lives and writes in Charlotte, NC.