Issue 35, Final Fringe

On the Crumbling Banks

by Lesley Wheeler 06.20.2013

Fringe published its last issue on Monday, June 24. As part of the goodbye, we asked former contributors and staff to write about their experiences with the magazine.

It’s where you want to be, isn’t it, and where you’re scared to be? On the edge of the water, where grasses dangle over the creek. I’m a poetry-reader and a poet, mostly, so those are the sections of Fringe I’ve spent time with, hanging out where the poems rush by.

What I love about poetry at Fringe is that edginess isn’t just a surface quality. The most fashionable contemporary poets play with verbal texture, juxtaposing one image oddly against the next, but there’s isn’t always much at stake. In the black, white, and red landscape of Fringe, you really do see poets working through hard intellectual, emotional, and stylistic problems. They’re at the end of terra firma for a reason: because that’s where all the interesting action is.

Fringe has been hospitable to all kinds of poetic weirdness. Sometimes it’s formal experiment. Sometimes it’s a kind of spiritual strangeness, as in Molly Weigel’s “Spare the Snowman” (01.26.2013):

I walk beside the river where the bark of the birch tree rolls back
like peeled skin, as if a damp new tree could step out of itself
and go walking, leave its tall husk behind.

Sometimes the riskiness is an improbable high-low combination, like Michael Leong’s intellectual and earthy “Notes toward a Surrealist Valentine” (02.14.2011):

your ass like a
master class
in ventriloquism, like
an improbable zeugma
your ass like a time-machine

And often the work appearing in Fringe is a departure for that particular writer. I fell firmly in love with this not-particularly-famous magazine after reading the crazy, wonderful “Blackbirds” by Celia Lisset Alvarez, whose very different Lois Lane poems I knew from coediting the anthology Letters to the World: Poems from the Wom-Po Listserv.Blackbirds” resides at the edge of the street, the edge of the sea, the edge of womanhood, the edge of English itself (07.02.2012):

Your mouth.     (Here is an opening)     Place your finger     —on the edge
     red     the color of leather     muñequita     (flip the coin)     into the barrel
Go with the blackbirds.     Mamá, things are bad.     A dog crosses the street.
     (at night)     all the girls wear heels.     How old?     (Si estuviera)     —I
Could not possibly.     Por qué?     (it’s a little like yakitori)     You know,
     at night all (the girls) are blackbirds.     (Come with me)     Forever, he says.

I love Anna Lena Phillips’s editorial choices, and as an author whose work has appeared here, I love her editorial practices. The site is well-designed, fun to navigate, and full of great features, like the quirky Q&As she conducts with writers (the interview with Alvarez is an engaging example). Unlike many editors, especially those with minimal resources, she also edits. She put a little gentle, tactful pressure on me about punctuation and phrasing in various poems, for which intervention I’m deeply grateful. I give thanks for Fringe too because while I modestly think my “Zombie Thanksgiving” in particular is a really good piece, where else would I have published a poetic rereading of Eliot’s “The Waste Land” as apocalypse tale, much less one that’s several pages long? It’s telling that my Fringe poems republished in book form are all in a margins-of-genre kind of collection, The Receptionist and Other Tales, published by the feminist science-fiction publisher Aqueduct Press.

I’m really sorry to see Fringe go, but this kind of ecosystem is particularly delicate, I guess. And the dislocations of flood and storm often create a new kind of liminal landscape elsewhere. I look forward to long walks searching for it.

Lesley Wheeler

Lesley Wheeler

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Lesley Wheeler’s latest poetry collection, The Receptionist and Other Tales, is a Tiptree Award Honor Book. Heterotopia was selected by David Wojahn for the Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize; her other books include Heathen (C&R Press, 2009) and Voicing American Poetry (Cornell, 2008). Her poems appear in Poetry, Rattle, 32 Poems, Prairie Schooner, Slate, and other journals. The Henry S. Fox Professor of English at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, she has also won fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, and other grantors.

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