The Ploughshares years

By GEORGE KIMBALL  |  November 16, 2011

On the other hand, DeWitt and O'Malley had spent a lot of time between the first and second issues filing articles of incorporation and educating themselves about grants and other funding without any help from me, and didn't seem to mind that. (Somewhere around this same time, I believe, Peter also started to show up with a tall, honey-haired young lady on his arm. Ellen Wilbur was it turned out, the daughter of the poet Richard Wilbur, and in short order he married her. Peter's transformation from dilettante saloonkeeper to someone who was actually interested in poetry, as opposed to the presentation of poetry, can roughly be traced to this period.)

In any case, I found DeWitt's next recollection in Sweet Dreams so bewildering that he could have been writing about somebody else and some other magazine, because I had no idea, and still don't, where it came from:

"George Kimball was supposed to have been coordinating issue of the second Ploughshares issue, which we only managed to publish after delays and mishaps in June 1972; in fact, after the initial editorial meetings, George had vanished — rumor had it that he was being sought for questioning by the FBI or CIA — leaving it to me to finish editing in his persona."

I haven't a clue what he might have been referring to, but I do know that the FBI had ceased to have any interest in my movements by 1972, and while that was the year Boston After Dark bought out the Phoenix, I never missed a paycheck and wouldn't have been hard to find. I think I may have had a couple of out-of-town assignments that took me away for a few days at a time during primary season, and my marriage to Mary Ann was pretty much on the rocks, but in spite of all that, most any night of the week, even if I'd been at a ball game first, if I wasn't at the Plough by 11 I was at Jack's, and you could have set your watch by my nocturnal movements.

Vanished? I remain baffled. But in my defense I should probably point out that nearly a year elapsed between the first Ploughshares issue and the second, so I probably wouldn't have been checking in with DeWitt every day for new developments.

For a guy who's supposed to have been MIA, work I chose and often solicited was pretty prominent in that issue: poems by David Ignatow and Tom Weatherly, short plays by James Tate and Edward Dorn, and fiction from Richard Grossinger and Henry H. Roth all came to be there through me. Not that I was responsible for everything in the issue. I liked Fanny Howe's work but didn't care for the novel excerpt that ended up in the magazine. DeWitt actively disliked the "anti-drama" piece Dorn had sent. Only after some serious horse-trading did both appear in Ploughshares 2.

With Randall in charge of the third issue, Ploughshares was able to showcase a short story by William Styron, probably the first fiction by someone whose stature outstripped that of some of the earlier poets, and from there it was off to the races. (Ploughshares 3 also included Randall's review of Ed Dorn's recently reissued novel By the Sound.)

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