In Jacket 12, in an article called "The Story of Fence," Rebecca Wolff writes about turning away from the workshop style of writing (she has an MFA from Iowa) toward an more open, experimental form of writing. Wolff writes of feeling of the publication of her early poems a "confused pleasure of seeing my poem printed in an obscure, unattractive journal alongside a brand of poem that I had come to realize was the dominant paradigm of the day: the mediocre narrative lyric." She saw the current market of poetry journals as "on the one hand you had the thoroughly unremarkable brand of poetry as seen in the scores of undistinguished journals limping their way out of universities around the country (Southwest Review, Missouri Review, etc.)"
In forming Fence Wolff claimed, "I’m starting a magazine for idiosyncratic writing, poetry and fiction that is not easily categorizable in terms of camps of schools of thought and which therefore is unappealing to the current market place."
For me, Fence, which has published many fine poets and some great ones, could be catagorized as an "experimental" magazine, one which tried the exceed the boundaries of a workshop poem. Although Wolff can come off as hugely too self-confident at times, she does have very good taste.
One wonders though, what Wolff's and many other's intentions are as the AWP falls upon us. Fence is one of the major players in the AWP. Wait, a minute. Doesn't Fence go against the grain of the workshop system? Has Fence given in? Can you reject the system and then vie to be part of it? Or, perhaps, I have it all wrong. Perhaps Wolff intends to change the system from within.
These questions are old, of course. Ten years ago, two famous poets sat in a restaurant and had the very same discussion. Friendships have nearly been lost because of it. But, what interests me is that the SAME thing is happening now.
The AWP is a great thing on the one hand. Lots of my friends are coming to town and there are many great off site readings. Many poets with a lot of integrity are ambivalent about AWP or dismissive of it all together.
Can you reject the system and be part of it? I don't see Ron Silliman packing his bags for New York.