Down with a bad case of that mysterious Texas howdy-do called Cedar Fever, I'll make these prefatory remarks as short and sweet as possible. I embarked on this project with a powerful will to feature young and unknown poets of extraordinary talent. You may not yet recognize the names of most of the poets who contributed to this issue, but you soon will. Beginning with a Bang and ending with a Zweig, this
Ploughshares may serve as a handy introduction to a new generation of writers in my genre.
I'm less confident about my credentials for choosing fiction, but each of the stories included here (most of them from among unsolicited manuscripts) had some lick of quirk or twist of vinegar about it, an ingredient I prize for liveliness.
I am heartened to detect, in the offerings of so many of the talented young poets I see coming up after me, an admitted taste for matters rhetorical and grammatical. The sheer syntactical elegance of many of these new poems suggests an instrumental refinement for which I'm grateful: I'm an old Richard Wilbur/ Anthony Hecht fan, and have had reason now and then to regret, during my quarter century of teaching in M.F.A. programs, the relative unfashionability of rhetorical flourish. From the poems of these new young writers, I find reason to take heart. Perhaps in the decades to come we'll again have students who don't scratch their heads at the mention of the transitivity of verbs; perhaps we'll have seen the last of the college student capable of expressing, at the mention of subordinate clauses, pity for parts of speech that suffer under English imperiousness.
I am smitten as well with something as prevalent among young poets -- if harder to name: a certain stubborn engagement with matters of the spirit, oxymoronic though that phrase may sound. (Nor does this very serious engagement seem to forbid its fiancé an occasional dalliance with the strokes and licks of wit's own cat-o'-nine-tails.)
Best of all, there's an adventurous new sense of form afoot, and entirely new registers of instrumentation. These writers have in common an uncommon eye for patterns, not all of them derivable from received forms. That the old eight-and-a-half-by-eleven field is dissolving into new scrolls and streamings is no occasion for regret, in my book: the nature of artistic energy is Protean, and poetry's ancient instinct for signs and designs will find its occasions and instruments in the new media. You'll see some traces of that virtuosity recorded here.
Don Lee deserves mention for his constant efforts to correct my wild and willful editorial impulses. I owe Karen Tepfer and Pete Turchi uncommonly warm thanks for their generosity in screening the screener: it's no easy task to try to catch the likeness of so unlikely (and so un-still!) a life as mine. And this issue's snippet of cover art can only hint at my regard for the work of painter Howard Michels, from whose eye and hand the world has profited over the past few years to the tune of hundreds of extraordinary urban miniatures.
But it is to the poets and fiction writers herein collected, and you out there who still take time out of your days and nights to read such works, I mean the greatest homage. To your faithful exercise of those intertwined arts -- the arts of writer and reader alike,
sine qua nonsof all editorial presumption -- I tip the gung-ho gallons of my borrowed hat.
Austin, Texas, January 30, 2001