Never on the fence, this journal is persistently – almost relentlessly – inventive, provocative, and unconventional. Not shocking. Not wildly unreadable. But certainly dogged in its desire to startle me out of complacency. “You find a little sick cognition,” begins “Gay Trade,” a poem by Sean Kilpatrick. “Lately my hand is an alligator,” opens James Gendron’s prose poem, “Number One Country.” And here is the beginning of “How to Make Something Funny of Something Serious into a Funny Joke and Then Back Again into Something Serious,” a short story by Colin Bassett:
Rebecca called me from work and said, “My parents died – I just got a call from the hospital – I’m not sure what happened. The people at the hospital seemed very worried – I told them it was just my parents and it would be okay. Then they didn’t say anything – then they hung up.”
I have to confess that the first line of nearly every piece in the journal is either so curious or strange or seductive or surprising in such a compelling way that I read the whole journal once through moving from first line to first line before returning to read the pieces individually with the seriousness and attention they warrant. I did, on occasion, stop to consider a form that matched the first line for its unusual shape and contours, such as Heather Winterer’s diamond of a poem (literally), “Pearl,” with its jeweled geometry and emphasis on “composition” (“was / a baby / beautifully / composed”); or Eugene Ostashevsky’s “The Pirate Who Does Not Know The Value of Pi,” with its upper case letters, exclamation points, font size variations, and bold components, and verses in lines, columns, prose, and in dialogue: “'Will we exist when this book is over?' he suddenly asked / ‘If it’s a good book,’ said the parrot,” the piece concludes.
In the middle of all this dazzling competition for my attention are some likeable and credible narrators, as illustrated in a very short story, “Oversight,” by Paola Peroni, for example:
A year had passed in my new apartment before someone pointed it out. In the skyline outside my window I had confused the Chrysler building with the Empire State Building.
“It is only an oversight,” my friend said. She is twenty-five, married, and starting out. I am forty-four, unmarried, and starting over.
Along with the work of more than two dozen poets and five fiction writers are five entries categorized as “Other,” which include the proceedings from a session at the Associated Writers Program (AWP) Conference in 2009 on “non-realist fiction,” an essay on “Brecht in L.A.,” by Peter Wollen, and a strange and enticing little creative nonfiction entry by Rebecca Wolff entitled “Op-Ed: ‘Who’s Buying?’” which quotes from NY Times real estate material and certainly fits among the considerations of “non-realist fiction,” whatever its intentions might have been.
Just when I was tempted to wonder if Fence is principally an intellectual exercise, despite the excitement of finding such strangely satisfying surprises at every turn, I came upon Marina Lazzara’s untitled poem:
Out of its burst the heat’s excitation
The city though believing indefinite pursuits
Welcomes each grief the length of an acute
Engima, perching the green of its nuance won
So little, the birds lowering
Onto the last of their self-alliance
Bursting, small light, asking choice or choosing
No answers contain mannered-vision, and then
There’s more to this poem and more of Lazarra’s work. Jump over the fence and take a look.