out of the mainstream…

FenceSo I got a press release via email concerning the launch of Fence Magazine’s digital edition. There are both individual and institutional subscriptions available.

The press release that I received comments that Fence was “First conceived by Rebecca Wolff in 1998, each biannual issue of Fence pulls together an eclectic selection of poetry, fiction, art and criticism, seeking to shed light on literature that goes against the mainstream.”

So that piqued my interest. And then I got to this:

“Founded in 1998 by Rebecca Wolff, Fence is a literary journal that publishes both experimental and avant-garde original work as well as critical and journalistic coverage. Published bi-annually, it seeks to encourage writing of poetry and fiction that might otherwise have difficulty being recognised as it does not conform to the mainstream. Its book publishing arm Fence Books, which was launched in 2001, publishes poetry, fiction, critical texts and anthologies.”

And that’s where I lit my bridge-burning match. Here’s the thing: If a publication is going to claim they’re devoted to publishing original work that doesn’t “conform to the mainstream”, it’s nothing short of risible to state or imply, in the same paragraph, that their primary focus is on experimental and avant-garde poetry.

As I wrote to the publicist, the notion that “experimental”, close-quotes, or “avant-garde”, close-quotes, poetry is in any way out of “the mainstream” is to be in utter denial or to be breathtakingly ignorant of the last hundred plus years, starting with Poetry Magazine’s claim to do just that in 1912. To whit:

“The Open Door will be the policy of this magazine—may the great poet we are looking for never find it shut, or half-shut, against his ample genius! To this end the editors hope to keep free from entangling alliances with any single class or school. They desire to print the best English verse which is being written today, regardless of where, by whom, or under what theory of art it is written. Nor will the magazine promise to limit its editorial comments to one set of opinions.”

And from Fence’s website:

“Founded in 1998 by Rebecca Wolff, Fence is a biannual journal of poetry, fiction, art, and criticism that has a mission to redefine the terms of accessibility by publishing challenging writing distinguished by idiosyncrasy and intelligence rather than by allegiance with camps, schools, or cliques. It is Fence‘s mission to encourage writing that might otherwise have difficulty being recognized because it doesn’t answer to either the mainstream or to recognizable modes of experimentation.”

Both of them state that they will be free, almost using the same words, from any allegiances or alliances with camps, class or schools. The thing is, Harriet Monroe, writing for Poetry Magazine in 1912, could, some some legitimacy, make that claim. Not Fence Magazine. I mean, if you’re restating, almost word for word, a founding resolution (written over a century before your own) you can’t very well claim to be undefiled by any agenda.

  • You are the clique.
  • You are the agenda.
  • You are the mainstream.

Again, and to whit, I have two directories of poetry publishers. The first is The Directory of Poetry Publishers 24th Edition 2008-2009. If I turn to the subject index at the back of the book, there are 85 publications listed under Avant Garde. That’s huge. But more sought after than Avant Garde? Wait for it… Wait for it… Experimental. 91 publishers are looking for “Experimental” poetry. When you combine these two subjects they represent the most published poetry of any other subject, including Free Verse at 180 publishers, the single most published verse “form” in the directory. How is that not mainstream? If you really want to be out of the mainstream, try writing and publishing a sonnet. In The Directory of Poetry Publishers, there are only 29 publishers interested in your work, compared to 180 publishers of Free Verse and 176 looking for avant garde/experimental poetry. So, traditional poets net 29 listings, while all those poorout of the mainstream” avant-garde and experimental poets net three hundred and fifty six combined listings.

And then there’s Poet’s Market 2017.  Poet’s Market doesn’t have subject headings for Experimental, Free verse, or Avant Garde,  etc… (since that’s presumably assumed) but their subject index still reveals what really is, in point of fact, out of the mainstream. Want to go there? Then write erotic poetry. That’s experimental. That’s avant garde. According to Poet’s Market, you have six, yes (6), publishers to choose from (seven if you write and speak Russian). The Directory of Poetry Publishers lists 31 publishers of erotica (less the Russian language publisher). Two more than if you write sonnets! In fact, if judged by Poet’s Market, the most non-mainstream poetry you can write is erotic and traditional poetry. (And if you really want to go rogue then write erotic, traditional poetry—write an erotic sonnet.) Is Fence listed as publishing erotic poetry in either publication? No. Traditional poetry? No.

Want to read a poet out of the mainstream?

Go to the top of my blog and click on My Poetry. You will even find erotic poetry in the mix.

So, Fence is about as mainstream as you could possibly get, probably more so than the American Poetry Review. All that said, and setting aside their spurious claim to the cutting-edge, I wish them well. Their presentation and the benefits of the digital format are well worth a look if you enjoy mainstream poetry, art, and articles.

Digital Launch of Fence Magazine

7 responses

  1. I just love it, Patrick, when you drag the really, really tall mounting stool out in front of the barn. A high adventure is always promised.

    And we were not to be disappointed . . . ;-)


  2. Living and writing in my silo I would feel more aggrieved if every option was only print/editors. But the Internet has overridden that gatekeeper forever. I see, for example, your website has gotten 3,039,743 visitors. Of course they like me probably got there for the useful info but in the process of your helping out have read all your poems. By contrast, I know of respectable poetry journals that publish perhaps 40 of 3000 poems they receive and average a print run of 600 copies—that’s 600 views. My 12-year-old godson’s YouTube channel has gotten more views than that—in fact more views talking about skateboards than has anything I can find online spoken or written by Christian Wiman, the former editor of Poetry Magazine, and that will probably be the case with Fence as well. Meantime your model of a user-friendly, transactional online samizdat excels them all. Not to mention you get to maintain your integrity. Which leads me to believe, if you write in traditional forms as I often do, the only self-respecting way to go is to self-publish and then promote your book online rather than risk changing the way you think to fulfill a “mainstream” poetic expectation or aesthetic. Let the world be the judge. Judging by your web traffic you’re doing fine by that model. Unless you need tenure, what’s to lose?


    • So what you’re saying is…

      “You’ve over got over 3.000,000 reads, stop whining about being out of the mainstream.”


      Fair point.

      In my defense, I would say that my thesis wasn’t poor me, but the absurdity behind the claim that avant garde slash experimental poetry isn’t mainstream. You can’t get more mainstream than “avant garde” poetry.


  3. well, a friend just stopped by and against my wishes dislodged me from my bat cave and dragged me to one of our beautiful Southern beaches. The good news: Now I agree with you. Maybe I read through your post too quickly or my isolation was making me too satisfied with the sound of my own voice. On the other hand, the change of scenery hasn’t helped with my “delusions.” I’m absolutely certain I’ve written four or five of the most perfect short poems in the English language. With the help of your website, btw. Consequently, should I win the Megamillions jackpot this week you can expect to never work again on anything but PoemShape. Move over Ruth Lilly! And rest assured there’s a 1 in 200,000,000 chance of that happening. No strings attached. No stipulated annual Robert E. Lee PoemShape Memorial Poetry Competition or the like. Can you deal with it?


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