Sister Sites: Angels, Disasters and Epiphanies
I WAS FRUSTRATED. Publication in a literary journal seemed, to a newly graduated ‘MFA poet’ in 1993, the pinnacle of achievement. I could not even imagine a book of my poems at that time, though the contests promised to make me rich someday, if only I would pour enough checks into them. And so I devoted two years, immediately post-grad, to the business of getting published: blanketing the Poets’ Marketplace with simultaneous submissions, keeping scrupulous track of my rejections on alphabetized index cards.
In the spring of 1995 I received a two-page, single-spaced, typed rejection letter from Clayton Eshleman, editor of the now-over Sulfur. In this letter Mr. Eshleman announced (and I paraphrase closely) that my work was more interesting than 99% of the unsolicited manuscripts he received, but that he was troubled by my use of the ‘I’ — he found it clashed with certain prominent ideas he held as an editor, ideas about referentiality, ideas about the subject, etc. He suggested that I edit out of my poems such lines as pointed too directly to the establishment of an actual speaker in the poem. He did not say this explicitly, but as an example he typed out for me several of the offending stanzas, from a poem called ‘Roman Polanski":
"If you ain’t lovin
With editorial hindsight I can see what he may have been objecting to: a certain overly determined attention to the surface of things, to the aesthetic of personal interaction, to the beauty question — as aided by the presence of a defined observer, whose insistent observations can be felt as persuasions, as the rhetorical trick of absolutism. Basically, my use of the ‘I’ conflicted with his personal taste.
My plans to move back to New York, city of my birth, coincided providentially — I began to gather co-editors in that city: first Jonathan Lethem, fiction editor; next Matthew Rohrer, poetry editor; then Caroline Crumpacker and Frances Richard, poetry and non-fiction editors respectively. These core editors are all with Fence still, though Jonathan Lethem has edited his last issue and will be replaced in September of 2000 by the incredibly talented and personable Ben Marcus.
The Mechanics of
We are all unpaid. I am editor-in-chief, and as such I do the bulk of the mechanical work of Fence. The mail comes to my home, and I pay the bills, keep financial records, and sort out all other logistical stuff. Until recently all Fence business took place in my living room; that included massive shipments of the magazine arriving on pallets and subsequently being stuffed into envelopes and mailed. Just this February, however, a marvelously kind soul donated space in a basement office and now my apartment has returned to being my home. I work three days a week at the Poetry Society of America, and take on freelance jobs to supplement my income.
We have recently launched a fiction website called Flood, which can be linked to off our website. We were invited to do this by iUniverse.com, which is one of these new ‘self-publishing’ or publishing-on-demand sites; they host ‘communities’ with the hope of attracting authors to their services; if you’re interested in making a few copies of your own book, I will be more than happy to broker the deal.
Fence in the Future
As with any venture, Fence will be continued until it is no longer fun. The question of utility comes up in my mind frequently, as I have witnessed in just these three years a sea change in the rigidities of both experimental and conservative communities, that which Fence originally arose to combat. Many traditionally conservative journals seem to be trafficking in ‘weird’ writers these days; the advent of Anne Carson’s popularity and acclaim may be a sign of some kind of opening up to intelligence once again. The experimental community continues to be a tiny dervish of self doubt and self-examination, reminding me of someone’s recent observation that ‘liberals continually fail at world domination because they’re too busy attacking themselves to attack the conservatives."
Fence Manifesto of 1997
-- the skeleton of a wall, the embodiment of a line...
Fence is a new journal of poetry, fiction, criticism, and art. Its editors are writers, artists, participants in the cultural throng who are dissatisfied with the stratified, self-consuming body of literary journals available. Our contributors are those whose work sits resolutely on the fence, resisting easy definition. We are convinced that mystery, as it is manifested in the subjective voice, is a legitimate and pleasurable by-product of the agency of the author. We have devised a journal with an explicit mission: if not to erase the lines as they are drawn, at least to expose, defy, and recontextualize them for a new readership: the converted reunited with the curious.
¶ a marker of territory
Fence is a response to a perceived need. We wish to provide a reliable home for the fence-sitters: those writers who are intent on following the lead of what they truly hear as opposed to what they have heard before or what they have read about and with which they hope to align themselves.
¶ a willful ambiguity, an informed non-commitment
Fence is a resting place for work that we recognize by its singularity, its reluctance to take a seat in any established camp, its insistence on the reader’s close attention to what is not already understood, digested, judged. Readers will be surprised and refreshed upon encountering in our pages an editorial presence that is unusually self-conscious in its attempts to contextualize, inform, and reciprocally reveal our contributors to our readers — to expose the skeletal cross-purpose of our document.
¶ a shared boundary
We intend to be literally didactic, to enclose territory for an unhindered, unburdened encounter with the discussion of theories, styles, histories, movements, and tastes. Fence offers its readers a richesse of literacy, one that is populist not by virtue of condescension, but by its lack of presumptions.
¶ a vantage point from which to see, simultaneously, several shades of green in the grass
There is nothing radical about this magazine. We do not see the erection of such a fence as a combative or exclusionary measure, but as a gesture of cultivation. Fence stands against the false obfuscation of the fruits of our culture’s labor, that which has been framed and sentenced to inaccessibility. We seek, above all, to increase the reader’s pleasure.
¶ a midpoint between the acquisition and distribution of stolen goods
There is nothing impenetrable about the work being done today; it is in response to what has come before, that which has been previously allowed; it is now allowed. Within the context of each issue of Fence we reinforce the realm of possibility and contextualize our contributors within it. Fence intentionally blurs the distinction between ‘difficulty’ and ‘accessibility,’ preferring instead to address a continuum of utterance.
¶ a dashing exercise, a good humoured parry-and-thrust
Our editorial strategy is a balancing act, undertaken in a spirit of inquiry rather than critique. From John Ashbery’s poem ‘Soonest Mended":
But the fantasy makes it ours, a kind of fence-sitting
Taken entirely out of context, these lines refer to our own aim and fantasy: to support poetry and fiction that is written without the safety of received theory or streamlined tradition but wholly out of impulse, knowledge, and the experience of necessity.
¶ a dissemination point
We wish to preach dually to the converted and to the curious. Our criticism is immediate and intimate, attempting an explicit address. We hope to break down the wall which we feel has been interposed between the reading public and the material of our individualities — our poems, our fiction — and to build in its place a fence.
Jacket 12 Contents page