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Ploughshares - Winter 2009/2010

  • Issue Number: Volume 35 Number 4
  • Published Date: Winter 2009/2010
  • Publication Cycle: Triannual

This issue brings together prose and poetry on a variety of subjects. Tony Hoagland edits this issue, choosing to pair works of transcendentalism and realism in such a way that brings out the best of both. Each piece varies in style from the previous one, serving to continually cleanse the palate and keep each work fresh.

Christian Barter’s “Heisenberg” is an example of one of the more thoughtful poems of the issue. The poem is essentially about the observer effect. Barter extrapolates the effect to several scenarios, each time following the formula established in the first line: “We interfere with what we know by knowing it.” As the poem progresses, Barter changes the topic but stays true to the formula, occasionally pausing to make reflections. The twist that makes the poem special comes toward the end: “If there is a God we will / surely ruin him by believing in him.” The thoughtfulness of the poem is even more successful when taken in context of the seemingly mundane topics in the following poems.

Memory is a theme that occurs in multiple prose pieces, to great effect. Perhaps most striking is David Stuart Maclean’s “The Answer to the Riddle is Me.” In this piece, the narrator describes his experience of waking up in India with amnesia. His life becomes a riddle and much of the piece is his effort to unravel that riddle. One of the most interesting aspects is the way in which the narrator describes his identity being written by those around him: “I was a blank sheet. Josh was writing my story on me.” Maclean uses the image of inscription to link the importance of memory to the sense of identity.

Another common theme is that of aging and reflection of the aging process. A good example is “The Waning” by Adrian Blevins. This poem details a moment in the shower where the speaker realizes aging through the difficulty of reading the label on the shower bottle. The beauty of the poem is the juxtaposition of images of the joy of youth with the frightening images of aging, beginning from the first line: “When you’re sixteen with pristine nipples it’s hard to imagine / you’ll go a little bit blind one morning years later trying to read a bottle.” Again, as with other pieces in the issue, the realness of the poem becomes more vivid in context.

Each piece in the issue seems to bear close reading well, and Hoagland organizes the issue in a way that keeps the mind alive from cover to cover.

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Review Posted on March 31, 2010

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