Plowing Through To Ploughshares
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    By: Josh Smith
    November 23, 2011

    *Disclaimer: This article is written in the third person. I have done this so that what you read does in fact read like an article, instead of a blog.*

    According to myth-busting website, venerated 20th century American author Ernest Hemingway is rumored to have won a bet by composing a six-word short story. Had Twitter existed in his lifetime, he could also have won more than that.

    Founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts, poetry and fiction magazine Ploughshares launched its first issue in September of 1971. Founders DeWitt Henry and Peter O'Malley sought to fill a void in the literary landscape of the time. In that era of New England writing, contemporary poetry and fiction lacked recognition and validation by credible publications. Ploughshares was intended as something of a voice of the voiceless, as well as wake-up call to the out-of-touch.

    For the magazine's founding members; whom had grown to include students and poets from across the Northeast, deciding what the "voice of the voiceless" ought to sound like, quickly proved difficult. For that reason, the concept of revolving editorship was implemented. Each member of the staff would take a turn editing the magazine while the remaining members would be reserved a few pages of their own to fill. In effect, the journal would be decided by committee. To this day, the revolving editorship allows for a variety, and contradiction of styles.

    Forty years since its debut issue, Ploughshares has become one of North America's most prestigious literary publications. The prestige comes from the success and caliber of authors selected for print in each of the 'zine's three annual issues. The list of Ploughshares authors reads like a veritable Who's Who of 20th century authors, including former Poet Laureate of the United States, Robert Pinsky, as well as Pulitzer Prize nominee, Joyce Carol Oates.

    Unlike arts bodies that begin as counterculture but become counterproductive, Ploughshares has chosen to embrace necessary change, and natural evolution. In spring of 2009, the publication joined microblogging site, Twitter. Those who follow @pshares on Twitter can stay up-to-date on the over twelve-hundred tweets that have emanated out of their Boston headquarters in Emerson College (the current home of Ploughshares).

    Since April 14, 2009, those twelve-hundred tweets have included exciting information, polls, tips, and quotes. In the past two years, the forty-three hundred followers of @pshares have been invited to ask Live Tweet questions to visiting authors, been flies on the wall for sundry events held in Boston through the use of hashtags, and also been invited to participate in Twitter-exclusive contests.

    The most recent of those Twitter-exclusive contests took place just one week ago. Managing Editor Andrea Martucci is currently at the wheel for the Ploughshares Twitter account, and on November 16, 2011, released this tweet:

    "Quickie contest. Tweet a Thanksgiving story & win our newest issue, ed. by Alice Hoffman. I'll choose 3 faves @ noon tom. Use #thankspshares"

    Subsequent tweets by Martucci gave more clarity to the contest, adding that the stories need not be true, or personal, however, the entire story must be less than the Twitter maximum of 140 characters. On the surface, the prize of this contest is a free copy of the journal's 116th edition. Perhaps the greater reward though, is the crack in the proverbial wall that the winners could create for their careers.

    In addition to being one of the nation's most respected literary outlets, Ploughshares has also been regarded as one of the toughest to get accepted into. Writing resource website has named Ploughshares an "Extremely Challenging Market", citing that the publication has yet to accept a single fiction submission from any of the site's users.

    With that in mind, perhaps the winds of magnanimity were blowing hard through Boston when Martucci selected six winners on November 17th, instead of the intended three. Of the forty-three hundred subscribers alerted to the contest, the victors were: @joshsmithpoetry, @ohemgillie, @nomopoetry, @alexrieser, @julesdog, and @croppedlines.

    While nearly all of the winners have tweeted their excitement about winning, their views on the contest in general, vary. Gillian Ramos, who tweets as @ohemgillie, had been using Twitter for a whole year before the social networking site finally grew on her. "Originally, I thought Twitter was just about the silliest thing I'd ever heard of...." said Ramos. Currently, she mixes literary arts with digital acumen as a blog contributor for a number of small press magazines. Gillian is also pursuing an MFA, with the intent of having a teaching career. When asked what this contest win could mean for her career, she replied, "Nothing, really." With regards to writers without a subscription to the magazine, she added, ".....if winning a free issue gets the magazine into their hands for the first time - that is a pretty big deal."

    Caroline Cropp, @croppedlines on Twitter, has a different opinion. In terms of her career, Cropp said the contest win is, ".....definitely going on the resume....." That would be the same resume that already features a Master of Arts from UNCW, and sundry other accomplishments. She added that her mentors acknowledge her victory as "no small feat". Caroline believes in the power of sites such as Twitter to get her work noticed by bigger and more widespread markets. When it comes to embracing new platforms, she encourages other publications to follow Ploughshares' lead, saying, "Shows me they're with it."

    Australian writer Jules Morgan King, or @julesdog, couldn't have picked up a win at a better time, in regards to her morale. She isn't sure however, what it means for her career. We do know that her resume will reflect the achievement though, thanks to her tweet:

    "Nice to get up, if only with 140 characters, esp after three story rejections last week! Wonder how win will look on CV?!"

    Certainly, the rest of the contest winners would be interested to know how their resumes will be affected, if affected at all. In the court of public opinion, the key points of dispute are likely to be brevity, and legitimacy of online content. Bear in mind, in the ever-changing social climate of the 21st century, what is looked down upon today, may become the standard of tomorrow.

    Perhaps lending credibility to the Twitterverse is the ever-increasing number of leaders, zeitgeists, and cults of personality that join with each new year. In recent years, President Barack Obama has joined Twitter, as well as Pope Benedict XVI, and even the Dalai Lama now tweets.

    As for the contest's rules of brevity, by comparison, famous Robert Frost poem, "Fire And Ice" contains only 245 characters. That's just 105 characters more than Twitter will allow, something that easily could fit into two tweets, if only Martucci's rules would have allowed for it.

    What ultimately tips the scales on the matter of prestige in regards to this contest, and those of its nature, may be the very thing that has given a publication such as Ploughshares its reputation for the past forty years, and that is the continued success, growth, and skill of those select few whom the journal shines their light onto.

    Will any of these six winners break on through to the other side, getting published in the genuine article, hard copy of Ploughshares? Will their successes elsewhere, make a ReTweet from @pshares as indelible, and impressive as their ink? Only time will tell.


    Read the winning submission from @joshsmithpoetry below, and tweet your comments on the submission, and the article @joshsmithpoetry, #plowingthrough

    "@pshares : My sister lacks segues. Told us she was pregnant as she passed the food across the table. Turkey, and tears."