According to a guest blogger, Emerson College-based literary journal Ploughshares might not be much for spirited debate, despite the story of its creation. (“They argued passionately about the art, politics, and literature of the day,” editor in chief Ladette Randolph writes of the magazine’s founders on the Ploughshares website.)
Harmony, instead, appears to be policy, based on the experience of Sean Bishop, a poet, editor, and graphic designer who teaches in the MFA program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is the founding editor of the soon-to-be-launched lit magazine Better. Bishop told The Observer he was asked to blog for Ploughshares about the “literary marketplace” in March, agreeing to provide ten posts by August. After writing a ranking of poetry presses by their design sensibility in his seventh post, however, he was cautioned by managing editor Andrea Martucci about being critical of other publications.
“You are certainly welcome to your opinion,” Martucci wrote in an e-mail provided by Bishop, “but the Ploughshares blog is not the forum for ones that other presses and lit journals (who are our colleagues) might see as offensive.” Bishop responded by singing the virtues of “responses that mix critique and praise,” but pledged to comply with Martucci’s direction. When Martucci responded to a later blog post with similar criticism, Bishop responded sharply (by his own admission) and Martucci replied by saying his most recent post would run, but then the magazine would “not expect to see any more posts from you.”
“It really was best for both of us that I stop blogging,” Bishop told The Observer. His final post went up, but after he posted a link to it on his Facebook page, noting that “after some upsetting conversations regarding the nature and tone of the opinions I’ve expressed over my nine posts, the managing editor has asked me not to blog any longer,” the post disappeared. He asked for an explanation from Martucci and Randolph, received no response, then published the essay on the lit site H_NGM_N two week’s later.
Reached for comment, Martucci explained Ploughshares’ position on the whole affair: “Over the course of 2.5 years and over 25 guest bloggers we have always been supportive of our writers to pursue a free-range of topics and ideas as long as they’re respectful of the literary community. As with each and every blog post, Bishop’s posts were reviewed and we had repeated correspondence asking for changes to the tone of his posts. After displaying conduct we felt unbefitting of a Ploughshares representative, we made the editorial decision to remove the post and end our relationship with Bishop. We did this respectfully and with the full support of the editor-in-chief, Ladette Randloph.” As for the “unbefitting” conduct? Martucci confirmed she was referring to “[Bishop’s] Facebook posts and his disregard for our editorial guidelines. ”
“It upsets me that a magazine with Ploughshares’ reputation would be so averse to controversy, yes, but of course that’s their editorial prerogative,” Bishop told The Observer. “What’s inexcusable to me is the decision to ‘unpublish’ an essay that they had already published, with no acknowledgment that (or explanation for why) they tore it down, while refusing to give even the author any explanation for the retraction. That strikes me as petty, and unprofessional.”