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A Best of
The First Nine Years
Edited by Rebecca WoIff, Jonathan Lethem,
Ben Marcus, Lynne TiIIman & Jason Zuzga
© 2009 Rebecca Wolff. All rights reserved
Detail of watercolor drawing by Elliott Green
Cover design by Rebecca Wolff
Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A Best of Fence Volume I/ Edited by Rebecca Wolff. —1st ed.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2009902550
isbn 1-934200-04-2
isbn 13: 978-1-934200-04-9
Printed in Canada by Printcrafters
Distributed by University Press of New England (upne.com)
We are grateful to have been granted permission to reprint the fol-
lowing copyrighted material: “The Artist’s Voice: Hearing is Believ-
ing” copyright 2005 by Manuel Gonzales. Reprinted by arrangement
of Mary Evans Inc. All other works are reprinted by permission of
the authors.
No part of this book may be reprinted without written permission
of the publisher. Please direct inquiries to:
Fence Books
Science Library 320
University at Albany
1400 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12222
Fence Books are published in affiliation with the New York State
Writers Institute and the University at Albany and with help from
the New York State Council on the Arts and the National Endow-
ment for the Arts.
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/ Pèst oí 4S\QS Volumè ll: Fiction anc Nonnction
Rick Moocy Prehistory: A Foreword 9
Rèbècca Volíí Introduction: Weird Is An Emotion 13
4S\QS Ecitors Fence Manifesto of 1997 17
JONATHAN LETHEM Volumès ¹.¹-3.2 Young and Green 21
Shèllèy Jackson Cancer 27
Kèlly Link Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose 38
Julia Slavin The Woman Who Cut Off Her Leg
at the Maidstone Club 53
/lan Dèniro Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead 63
BEN MARCUS Volumès 4.¹-6.¹ The Fence Years 87
Matthèw Dèrby The Father Helmet 92
Gary Lutz Her Dear Only Father’s Lone Wife’s Solitudinized,
Peaceless Son 108
Janè Unruè Seven Favorite Dog Stories 123
Vèlls Towèr Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned 134
/imèè Pèncèr The Meeting 153
Sam Lipsytè Feeling Is Not Quite the Word 156
ANTHONY HAWLEY Volumès 6.2-9.¹ 167
Danièllè Dutton Nine Attempts at a Life 169
Kira Hènèhan The Investigation (Asher & Cabal) 174
Miranca July The Man on the Stairs 175
Vièt Dinh Delenda 180
Manuèl Gonzalès The Artist’s Voice: Hearing is Believing 193
LYNNE T!LLMAN Volumè 6.2-on Doing Laps Without A Pool 217
Lycia Davis Kafka Cooks Dinner 224
Kathèrin Noltè Things Penguins Do 234
Christophèr Sorrèntino Misapprehensions 241
Rèbècca Pèè¬lè This is How Life is Created 259
/licè Praclèy The Panty Thief 267
Mark Swartz Three Places to Stay 278
Vu Tran The Gift of Years 282
Jamès Va¬nèr The Angel of Truth and Decency 308
JASON ZUZGA Volumè 9.2-on Nonfiction: A Frying Pan 319
Prac Cran Cinéma Vérité and the Collected Works of
Ronald Reagan: A History of Propaganda in Motion
Pictures 329
REBECCA WOLFF Volumè ¹.¹-on 369
Sara Lèvinè Sleep Approaches 371
Lisa Vaas I Love to Write 381
Shèrry Mason Tooth and Bag 389
Philippè /ronson I Have Something Important to Tell You 395
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Rick Moocy
I was there at the beginning. In fact, I was sort of there before the begin-
ning of Fence. In the following way. I had a gig teaching in Houston.
This was twelve or thirteen years ago. They were going to put me up in
a hotel, I was going to read some student work, and then I was going
to meet with the students individually. In this case, the disconcerting
feature of the post was as follows: No one from the English department
ever called me or came to see me or take me out to dinner—not until
the last night. I think whoever had suggested me for the position had
moved on, which is often how things go in writing programs. So I was on
my own in Houston. Where I’d never been before. There was a live but-
terfly exhibit just up the block from the hotel—it was the first time I’d
ever seen one. I’d collected butterflies as a kid, and thus a live butterfly
exhibit called out to me. I spent an excellent couple of hours there. There
was also the Rothko Chapel to see. Rothko, for me, runs in second place,
right after John Cage, among my enduring heroes. Who can complain
about being paid to fly down to Houston to see the Rothko Chapel?
Despite these welcome distractions (and the hours of CNN), I found
the gig in Houston really painfully alienating, and I would probably go
to great lengths to wipe the whole thing from memory, were it not for
one of the students there, one Rebecca Wolff. Despite the fact that I think
she already had an MFA from some other program, Iowa maybe, she was
in Houston getting a second graduate degree. And here’s another fac-
toid. In the moment that I was reading her work, she was writing prose,
though she was better known as a poet.
All of which is to say that this student was ambitious and unlikely to
proceed in the usual fashion. And as further befits the editrix of Fence,
Wolff’s prose, which I was reading in my lonely hotel room, between fits
of CNN, didn’t exactly feel like prose, nor did its structure exactly feel like

short fiction. It seemed to stand astride the genre question, refusing to
make up its mind. For these reasons, I hit it off with the student in ques-
tion—she was an easy person to like—and it wasn’t long after (back in
civilization)—that I got a note from her saying she was thinking of start-
ing a magazine, and did I want to be involved.
I did not want to be involved! Not at all! And I could think of no
less good idea for this Rebecca Wolff. She should have been, in my view,
off writing her poems, or her genre-busting prose works. And I knew
this because of my own experience, which for some years had included
attempting to edit and write at the same time. The two couldn’t be done
at the same time! They created a terminal bifurcation in the personal-
ity from which one never entirely recovered! Bad idea! And anyway the
road to hell was littered with literary magazines. There were too many of
them, and most of them were irresolute, half-hearted, or excessively paro-
chial. Nor could I, heading into the season in which The Ice Storm movie
came out, with all of that attendant excess, and in which I was trying to
finish a novel and edit a book of essays on the New Testament, really find
any time to work on this project. No way! Bad idea all around! But I was
bad at saying no, am still, and so I said yes.
Later, before I convinced Rebecca Wolff that I really couldn’t be fic-
tion editor, though I was more than honored to be asked, before I real-
ized I would be crushed beneath the weight of that responsibility, I did
manage to be involved with the first iteration of Fence, the first few issues.
Here’s what I thought: I thought that in a magazine that was doing an
impossible thing—creating a vision of American poetry that didn’t get
into the partisan and pusillanimous bickering that so afflicted that form,
the autophagic poetry world rampages—the fiction should also range
far and wide and steer just as clear of conventional wisdom. For example,
it should avoid the formula of New Yorker–style realism, and it should
avoid the deliberate and self-satisfied obscurantism that was associated
with some experimental presses, at the other extreme. In short, I felt like
Fence fiction should do, more or less, what Fence poetry was trying to
do. It should create its own history and momentum and point of view.
Because if the poetry world had its own distractions, American fiction
was not out of the woods either, not with the myopic literary publish-
ing efforts at the larger publishing houses. Not with the cookie cutter
realism of the larger writing programs. We needed some vision in fiction,
just the way American poetry did. Fence has gone on to exhibit that very
thing, vision. And it has done a fine job of it.
Since I have been enjoined from hortatory language here, I’m not
going to belabor my feelings on the success of the fiction department
at Fence. But I will note that this volume gathers together fiction from
the three administrations that have presided over fiction at Fence, each
of them, it seems to me, more than successful at finding prose work that
digs deeper and goes farther, taking the American narrative work to a
place it rarely goes these days. I was proud to be associated with the
magazine at the beginning, I’m still proud to be associated with it, and
this is a really excellent place at which to begin, if you are wanting to get
acquainted with Fence. Behold what a decade or more of commitment,
taste, and style can do. There are stories here to challenge, confront,
arrest, and to send you off in search of the later work of these many excel-
lent prose stylists, most of them now rather well known. And if you like
this volume, you should definitely investigate the volume of Fence poetry
as well.

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Rèbècca Volíí
Oh, I’ve learned my lesson. Inarticulation comes with a price: One sounds
dumber than one even is. One must explain oneself, even at the risk of
mental strain. Still, sometimes I prefer not to make the effort.
Here is one place you’d imagine I’d really want to have my say, and
for posterity, and for the record, and to set the record straight, and all
the rest. And you’d be right, but I’ve chosen to do it in a way that feels
right to me now—what else matters?—in that for far too long Fence has
been overly identified with just me, when in fact the editing of Fence
is now and has always been multipart, providential, “cacophonous” as
Stackhouse says (p. TK).
I am duly pleased to present a history of Fence that is sliced up and
speculative. Herein, you’ll find an essay by each of the main genre editors
of Fence over the first nine years, immediately followed by that editor’s
selection of their favorite work from the issues that they edited. I asked
the editors to record their impressions of Fence, their time with Fence
and even before and after their times, if they so desired, so that this book
could stand as the Edie of Fence, if you will: Each of Fence’s editors has
witnessed and experienced his or her own aesthetic and practical time
with the magazine. Each came to it from his or her own jumping-off
place, and saw the magazine take off or unfold within the context of
his or her own aesthetic and practical affiliations, prejudices, and ethics.
Each poetry and fiction and nonfiction editor has had her own particu-
lar experience of the journal, and has with her editing created her own
particular piece of the pie that is the public perception of Fence, and I
wanted to let each one stand as was, without any of the usual editing for
redundancy or for emphasis. The emphases are, in each case, all theirs.
The redundancies stand as barometer of impact.
The single most important thing to understand about Fence, and
which you will hear reiterated within, is that as editors we do not seek
a consensus. Instead we seek to come to a real understanding, and
potential acceptance, of why another editor might sincerely and with
integrity choose something that we did not from the gigantic pile of
submissions. Fence is not a magazine of innovative writing,
often the writing that we have published and will continue to publish
is informed by some of the significant developments in the art form
over the past century, including Confession, Metafiction, Narratology,
the New Narrative, Objectivism, Realism, Surrealism, the New York and
the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E schools. Fence is not a magazine of “poetics,”
though many of the poets who have graced its pages are themselves
engaged in discourse. Fence retains, at its root, a grounding in at least the
concept of “the general reader”: There is no good reason why this reader,
if he or she existed, might not apprehend the pleasure inherent in lan-
guage and its narratives, given repeated exposure.
Something Fence has never done: Published ourselves. With the
exception of those who came onto our staff post-publication, and one
tiny entry under a nom de plume (not reprinted in this anthology but
preserved forever between the covers of one of my favorite efforts ever,
the Ghost Stories feature of Volume 2, Number 2), and even though
each one of our editors is a writer of singular worth, Fence has never
published writing by its own editors. So this means that I’ve never, and
shall never, have had the pleasure of editing any of my editors. Herein I
have instead chosen to editorialize: a vastly different effort and one that
I hope will not be interpreted as pushy, or intrusive, or un-shuttupable,
but rather as fond, and reactive, and interactive, if not quite attaining
intertextuality. Here I have responded spontaneously and sincerely to
various ideas and facts as they arise in each editor’s essay. If at times I
must chime in defensively about some referenced slight, or jump at the
1. rw: see page 219 in Lynne Tillman’s essay for more about the problems of descriptors.
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opportunity to clear up a misperception . . . I don’t feel that I ought to be
My intention and hope with this collection is to make a record of
something that was, over its first nine years, deplored, applauded, assimi-
lated, and at times, misunderstood. Most of all, or most relevantly to
this book, Fence, a journal of poetry, fiction, art and criticism published
biannually since the spring of 1998, and independently for all of its first
nine years, has gone virtually unrecorded: There has been much personal
discussion, many panel talks, and many interviews on the subject of its
inception, its development, and its successes and failures, but up to this
point none of this has been gathered in any significant way. There have
been no definitive, declarative statements made about Fence.
And with this anthology we will keep it that way. In Fence’s first years,
I was often asked to make statements about Fence, in the media, such as it
was—you will remember this was before literary blogs, before so many
venues for speculation and declaration were available to us. And make
them I did, often to the chagrin of Fence’s other editors, as it was then made
to seem as though we were all in agreement over whatever statement or
other I might have made, however off-the-cuff, partial, or ambivalent a
statement it was (and it was). Again, Fence has never been a product of
solidarity, aesthetic or otherwise, but rather of an intentional engine of
dissimilarity. After several scuffles and brouhahas came and went (though
they never entirely go, do they) I determined that my real mandate at
that time was to keep my mouth shut and my hands busy, to continue
to do what I please as an editor and publisher of literary works with a
minimum of opining or explaining. This has been, in part, a function of
exigency, as is appropriate for a magazine whose most integral editorial
function and aim is to find and publish writing that bears the mark of the
author’s singular impulse—its exigency, if you will (and I will).
It has been my great delight to compile these essays and the editors’
selections from Fence’s first nine years that sandwich them. Nine years
ago—now really ten, but I prefer to avoid the tedium of the decade even
to the point of inaccuracy—Fence called me out of a thirty-year span of
solipsism and inaction, in which I mostly just wrote poems and cooked
tasty vegetarian meals. Nothing much going on in the larger sphere, back
then. My impulse to make Fence happen was strong in commensurate
degree to my incoherent realization that my own poems were “weird”: I
thought at the time that this might stand as a literary-critical term, and
though it did not serve me well when I trotted it out in public, you will
see that it still might be used, however ungainfully, to describe the writ-
ing that I hold dearest, and that Fence will continue to publish for the
foreseeable future.
Thanks for reading. Next, and for the first time in print, I include
the manifesto Caroline Crumpacker, Jonathan Lethem, Frances Richard,
Matthew Rohrer, and I created together in my living room, and which
we included in our solicitations for our first issue: a truly collaborative
and most hopeful piece of work.
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the skeleton of a wall, the embodiment of a line . . .
a pause between fields and a conduit for pleasure . . .
a structure at once transparent and definitive . . .
Fence is a new journal of poetry, fiction, criticism, and art. Its editors
are writers, artists, participants in the cultural throng who are dissatis-
fied with the stratified, self-consuming body of literary journals avail-
able. Our contributors are those whose work sits resolutely on the fence,
resisting easy definition. We are convinced that mystery, as it is mani-
fested 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
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 con-
tributors to our readers—to expose the skeletal cross-purpose of our
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 pre-
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 inacces-
sibility. 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.
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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
Raised to the level of an esthetic ideal
Taken entirely out of context, these lines refer to our own aim and fan-
tasy: 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 criti-
cism 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.

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