January 7th, 2011 / 2:00 pm
Literary Magazine Club

{LMC}: January’s Selection: Ploughshares

Our third selection for Literary Magazine Club is Ploughshares, a literary magazine based out of Emerson College in Boston, MA. Ploughshares has been publishing since 1971 and is widely considered one of the most pre-eminent literary magazines in the country. Pre-eminence, is of course, a relative concept but many great writers have been published by Ploughshares and they’ve been publishing continuously for 40 years, which in literary magazine years, feels quite a bit older.  Published in April, August, and December, each issue of the magazine is guest-edited by a prominent writer. The issue we are reading this month, Ploughshares 36.4 or the Winter 2010-11 issue, was edited by National Book Award winner Terrance Hayes. In his introduction, Hayes writes, “Some say imperfect lines don’t belong in a museum, but I think a sentence’s shortcomings make it human. And anyway this museum is not after perfection. Perfection is not only oppressive, it’s boring.” The writing he has selected for this issue promises to be imperfect in really interesting ways. Each week this month, starting this coming Monday, I’ll post a question that has come to me as I start reading through this issue so we can generate some discussion.

Why are we reading Ploughshares? Why the hell not. After announcing this month’s selection, one member voiced the concern that a magazine like Ploughshares doesn’t really need the extra attention it might get by being one of our selections. He felt our attention would better be directed to lesser known magazines rather than one with a higher, national profile. I understand that concern but at the same time, there’s a lot to discuss about and learn from a magazine like Ploughshares that is well-organized, well-funded, and well-regarded. In the realm of literary magazines, that combination of qualities is rare. You often have excellent magazines that aren’t well-funded or well-funded magazines that aren’t necessarily excellent. I also think there are interesting things to talk about when talking about a high profile literary magazine. Is the reputation deserved? Why? How much does reputation matter? How does it influence as both as readers and writers? Is the guest editor structure a useful one? What do those different perspectives bring to the magazine that a single editor cannot? In what ways does using guest editors, perhaps, detract from a unified voice for the magazine? What can new or lesser known magazines learn from more well-established magazines? How can independent magazines achieve a Ploughshares like reputation without university support? Is such a thing even possible or desired by the editors of independent magazines? There are countless other questions but more than anything I feel that success does not inherently make a magazine less interesting. The notion that it does feels short sighted.

The content from this issue that’s available online rotates each day so you can sample the offerings and participate that way. The best way to get the magazine though is to buy it. Even magazines like Ploughshares need reader support.  Information about ordering (well worth it) is also available on the issue’s main page. As always, if you’d like to write a guest post about any aspect or piece(s) in this issue, or if you would like to join the Google Group, please e-mail me at roxane at htmlgiant dot com. I would love to hear from you. I look forward to our discussion this month! In February, we will be reading Unsaid 5. If you haven’t gotten ahold of this magazine, get on it! You will be blown away.

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  1. Anonymous


  2. Anonymous


  3. Khakjaan Wessington

      It’s often a good magazine & very prestigious. I would be surprised if anyone on here hasn’t heard of it.

      As for them needing $, well, if the Poetry Foundation stopped sponsoring ‘The News Hour’ with its $100m, it could prop up all its poorer cousins just off the interest it gets. I don’t really consider a lit mag’s financial problem my problem. Ploughshares publishes canon-aspirants and if that means they can’t sell enough magazines, that’s their problem. They should reduce expenses, widen their editorial scope (low sales SHOULD mean they should at least question their taste)(I already said I like them) and market more. They don’t. So much poetry is soft porn already, why would they object to some sort of soft-porn cover anyhow? That’s how the smaller mags do it.

      So they’re worth reading, but I don’t see why anyone should get emotionally invested in their financial problems.

  4. Roxane

      What are you talking about? No one said anything about them having financial problems.

  5. Khakjaan Wessington

      I misread this sentence: “I understand that concern but at the same time, there’s a lot to discuss about and learn from a magazine like Ploughshares that is well-organized, well-funded, and well-regarded. In the realm of literary magazines, that combination of qualities is rare.” Sorry.

  6. Sdf


  7. MFBomb

      I have a problem with Ploughshares editorial approach. I’ve read several issues within the last few years and you can tell that the editors mostly solicit their friends.

  8. MFBomb

      *”Guest” editors, that is.

  9. Anonymous


  10. Khakjaan Wessington

      What’s new? That’s how it is with most major journals. You can be bitter about the process, but is it fair to single out Ploughshares for an industry-wide practice?

  11. Marc

      Ploughshares has been pretty transparent regarding their submission practices:

      “The guest editor solicits ninety pages (one half of the magazine) directly. The second half of Ploughshares comes straight from the submissions pool. Andrea Drygas, the managing editor, estimates around 1,500 writers enter the “slush” (that’s publishing lingo for submissions) every month, which adds up to around 10,000 pieces read each year. Two issues each year include poetry, and all three feature fiction or nonfiction. That comes to 45 poets and 15 prose writers each year from the slush.”

      It’s difficult for me to believe that they pull 60 authors from the slush pile each year, but at their rate of submissions it’s certainly possible.

      $3 a pop for an online submission x anything close to 10,000 makes for some nice walking around money.

  12. MFBomb

      You must be responding to someone else, because I’m not “bitter” just because I take issue with their editorial process.

      Everything I send out is eventually published by a national journal, and I think I’ve submitted one story in four years to Ploughshares.

      Also, most lit journals do not solicit the half or more of their work. I speak as someone who has worked for a few national journals with good reps. You have no clue what you’re yapping about.

  13. Khakjaan Wessington

      “I have a problem with Ploughshares editorial approach. I’ve read several issues within the last few years and you can tell that the editors mostly solicit their friends.”

      That last clause is a case for your bitterness. You’re basically saying you have a problem with their approach–they solicit their friends. How could you say a read that you’re bitter is unreasonable? And how am I supposed to know you only submitted 1 story in 4 years? Precog? And what–you getting published is supposed to inoculate you against bitterness? I’ve been in a classic journal or two myself, so don’t think I’m intimidated by your remark. In fact, personally, my bitterness runs deeper precisely because I’ve tasted some of the satisfaction of getting published where I wanted to be published and it doesn’t taste as good as I wanted it to taste. A publication like Ploughshares is a delicacy, and you know it.

      As for your penultimate claim, the top tier publications are not open submission. And even if they claim that’s their policy, one need only track the affinity networks to know that’s not as true as they many claim it to be. As for your last claim, I admit I stepped on my dick elsewhere in the thread, but I certainly didn’t here.

  14. MFBomb

      Well, your case is weak. You assume that I’m “bitter” because I merely take issue with their editorial process. How would you even know from my first post that I’m a writer?

      As a READER, I’ve been disappointed in the last few issues THAT I PURCHASED, because most of the stories I read read like passionless leftovers from big names, re: not their best work.

      Finally, you little snot, please keep the strawmen to yourself. Arguing that “every other ‘top’ journal does the same thing” is irrelevant to my issues with Plogushares’ editorial approach.

      If it makes you feel any better, I think it’s lame too that the NY’er hasn’t accepted anything out of the slush in 15-20 years; then again, only someone on drugs would put Plougshares in the same league as the NY’er.

  15. Khakjaan Wessington

      “Finally, you little snot, please keep the strawmen to yourself… then again, only someone on drugs would put Plougshares in the same league as the NY’er.”


      And then your question, how do I know you’re a writer? You bitched about their submission policy; readers don’t do that on literary websites.

      I bet you’re defensive for a good reason, you jackass.

  16. MFBomb

      “Hilarious”–Khakjaan Wessington

      So you think that Ploughshares in the same tier as the NY’er?

      Hilarious indeed.

      “You bitched about their submission policy; readers don’t do that on literary websites.”–Khakjaan Wessington

      Uh, no, moron. I “bitched” about their editorial approach, which shapes the product that is delivered to readers.

      I guess we can assume that you’re not a writer, or reader, since you don’t know how to read.

  17. MFBomb

      *is in the same tier

  18. MFBomb

      One trend I’ve noticed in your early commenting career here is that you enjoy making assumptions and/or misrepresenting others’ comments. I never complained about P’s “submission policy.” I simply took umbrage with its editorial approach; in fact, such criticism toward this particular journal isn’t new, in terms of how it shapes the content delivered to readers and subscribers.

      Also, the last time I checked, the forthcoming discussion on the journal was part of this site’s “LMC” (Literary Magazine Club). You know, like, a book club and stuff, dude, where people, like, read a particular text–like, as, you know, readers–and discuss it with other readers and shit like that! Imagine this radical concept and how it might relate to the context of my post, you dipshit.

  19. Khakjaan Wessington

      Sure, when it comes to verse–last time I checked the New Yorker doesn’t issue one of the most prestigious poetry prizes.

      And I talked about your semantic intention, not your well practiced sophistry. The context of your reply and your ridiculous convolutions to save your pride sez it all.

      Readers don’t bitch about editorial policy, they move on to a new magazine. My accusation sticks.

  20. Khakjaan Wessington

      Protesting too much.

  21. MFBomb

      Okay, okay, you got me, Ms. Cleo. I’m just a bitter reject.

  22. Anonymous


  23. Th


  24. Ploughshares

      We’re really strict about adhering to our submission policies — and we really do pull 50% of each issue from the slush. We try to give exposure to emerging writers alongside the more established names.

      (Also, every submission doesn’t come through our online submission manager. We still gladly accept submissions by mail with no fee.)

      -Andrea Drygas