As an introduction to this issue of Fence, Rebecca Wolff covers all the bases in her editor’s note: poetry, nonfiction, and, yes, fiction (because confessions and revelations often feel like fiction). Wolff’s tone is unapologetic, proud of her position, her power as editor: “It is in my power to bestow power, to share it.” One can argue that she’s flaunting this power, waving it in your face in a mixed mode of fuck-you and endearment, which is not unusual, since we live in the age of Facebook and Twitter where being in and over each other’s face has become common ritual, where our perceptions of privacy are constantly challenged by this urge to be social. Thus, the tone of this issue loudly and approximately adheres to the tenor of Wolff’s piece: forceful, hammered, on steroids, bitchy, suspicious of melancholia, and persistently fresh.
Melissa Broder’s poem “Inflate the Slide” is inflated with defiance: “Trade a man / who loves you / for language.” This is beautiful, crisp, and clear. So much power here, like a lasso with a sure grip. Addictions make you feel that way; although, I’m curious about the male figure in this poem, about the kind of love he can give, its quality, which no doubt is not good enough to the voice in the poem. Soon, their world “blows up.” This must be the apex of passion in the poem, which then settles down to this:
there is a pink bed
and two girls
in pink smoke
on my dick
they feed him
he gives them
Kent Leatham’s poem “Patrimony” appears to converse with Broder’s poem and ups the ante of male reproduction; it is a meditation from a man who was conceived via a sperm donor. Now the son is doing what his father had done before, whoever made him. The twenty-eight-year-old squirts semen in a cup on a regular basis. He accepts his condition but feels “Screwed / hung / fucked-up.” The poem’s loud mantra is: “Friday night. Jacking off again.” It’s a disturbing rhythm. Indeed, he wants to share his semen, to give the world life from his own body. The absence of woman becomes palpable in this long poem, or perhaps they only exist in the sticky pages of porn at the sperm bank. But what he wants is to know his father. This is a sad poem that has no time for tears, but drips of sperm like porn on permanent rewind. Certainly, this issue of Fence loves the erotic, its habits, and subversions.
This issue’s unforgettable, longest, and complex piece turns to the Middle East, a short story by Zachary Lazar titled “In the Presence of My Enemies,” about an investigation on the murder of a Jewish poet named David Bellen. The journalist working on this story is Hannah Groff, an American of Jewish descent, “a crime writer with a fractured style,” who likes to write about “rock stars, serial killers, drug addicts, [and] sexual ‘deviants.’” Groff suspects that at the heart of the crime is Bellen’s last book, Kid Bethlehem, which contains poems that retell the story of King David through a “modern guise”: the real-life Israeli gangster Yehezkel Aslan, who died in 1993. In another part of the story, Bellen likens King David to Tony Montana in Scarface. Groff is drawn to Bellen’s fantasies of creating parallel stories between King David and gangsters in the 20th century, real or imagined. Why this obsession to desecrate a revered biblical figure in Judaism and Christianity? Groff’s investigation turns inward, to some extents, as her physical presence in Israel and Palestine reorients and reconnects a part of her to ideas of herself as a Jew.
Lazar’s story is part of the journal’s staff fiction section, which contains four stories. There are three more, guest edited by Rick Moody, all excellent stories that deserve to be read by aspiring fiction writers. The last section in the journal, “other,” is clearly a space for work that does not belong to fiction or poetry. Rick Moody’s song “Tornadoes” is a song humming back to us, a perfect piece to put cap on Editor Wolff’s party until the next issue: “I’ll protect you from intifadas / And from methamphetamine / From the boredom of the Great Plains.”