Thursday, August 30, 2007
I believe that the answer is yes, and that the public's lack of faith in mainstream media outlets comes from two sources:
1. Unavoidable byproducts of having big media.
2. Big media getting lazy and not doing its job right.
The first source directly led to the formation of Fringe. There's been some speculation in the literary community that big media (aka corporate bookstores) ran a lot of independent bookstores out of business. These independent bookstores were the main subscribers to literary magazines, so when the bookstores collapsed, many journals went belly-up. It sounds like regular capitalism at work, but this had disastrous consequences for journals catering to specific niches and minority groups.
Big media is concerned with eyeballs, which translate into profit, and niche journals don't have as many eyeballs. This might not have been a problem for small publications catering to latino writing or feminist writing, except that the literary market isn't very large to begin with. So these tiny journals went under, unfortunate because many of them had given writers like Sandra Cisneros (early pub credits in Revista Chicano-Riquena and Nuestro, both now defunct), Dorothy Allison, and many many others their crucial early publication credits, which often help writers get noticed by larger publications.
We founded Fringe because we worried that the dearth of niche publications would have a trickle-up effect, making it harder for minority writers to get published early on, which would make it harder for bigger publications to notice them, which would homogenize literary culture at the upper levels. (Check the NYT's hormonally imbalanced, melanin deficient list of best books to get a sense of the homogenization.)
Did the corporate bookstore say to itself, "let's screw over minority writers"? Of course not. But the unintended effect of big media has been to make the already fiscally unfeasible print-jounal model even harder to sustain. And so we turn to the Internet, where space is cheap and circulation costs nonexistent.
I'm guessing that other media -- newspapers, music, etc -- have followed the route of the literary journal. Corporate media caters to the most marketable and mainstream group, but many individuals want to read about their specific interests. As a model, MSM hasn't yet found a way to fill the void.
I'll cover source #2, the way MSM has actively broken the trust, in my next post.
Monday, August 27, 2007
There’s something about reading a book by someone you see on a regular basis—something that makes the book somehow more personal, more complex, more relevant to your own daily life than it would be had it been written by a complete stranger. This is how I felt, at least, when reading Jump at the Sun, the newest novel by Emerson Writer-in-Residence Kim McLarin. With each page, heroine Grace Jefferson’s story seemed entwined with my own.
Except that Grace Jefferson is an affluent, married, African-American mother of two—demographics I know nothing about. Also, though McLarin is a familiar face around Emerson, I have never had her as a professor or really even spoken to her. So why was reading this book such a personal experience? McLarin’s writing is so visceral and her characters so real that we, as readers, are drawn inside the book.
Jump at the Sun tells Grace’s story from her own point of view, with flashbacks woven in throughout telling the stories of her grandmother and mother. As this triumvirate of narratives unfolds, McLarin deftly explores questions of race, marriage, class, and motherhood—questions that span geography and generations.
Though Grace Jefferson is blessed with a beautiful home, healthy children, and a loving husband, she feels like an impostor in her own life. Confronted with her feelings of regret and doubt, she must try to find a happy medium between the two models of motherhood in her life—her mother’s nearly self-destructive degree of devotion to her children and her grandmother’s tendency to cut and run. Grace’s search for answers culminates in a breath-taking climax you won’t soon forget.
Jillian D’Urso is a second-year graduate student in the Publishing and Writing program at Emerson College. In her abundant spare time, she enjoys coffee, The Office, and 90s music.
Friday, August 24, 2007
Wendy Taylor Carlisle, b. Manhattan a long time ago, currently living on the edge in the border city of Texarkana, TX, an accidental Texan and a self-defined southerner, author of one book, Reading Berryman to the Dog (Jacaranda), and one chapbook, After Happily Ever After (2River Chapbook Series). Her poems are anthologized and available online.
What are the materials you prefer for writing first drafts of poems?
A quiet mind, some other poet's essays or poems or letters from/to anyone, some words other than my own for a jump start; one of those cheap Mead notebooks—the kind with the mottled covers, preferably black and white although I've been known to use a purple one when feeling juicy; a Pilot P500 pen or, occasionally, a superfine P700. Is this helpful? I can't see how anyone could care about Mead notebooks.
We care, yes we do. What's one of your favorite poems that has appeared in any online journal in the last year, and why?
The web is forever, so I don't much keep up with the 'when' of publication, but I am always drawn to the work of certain poets, Jo McDougall (who, alas, doesn’t appear much online) and Lola Haskins, for their pith and concision and grace. These qualities are on display in Haskins's "Six Ways," and "Youth," and "Why Performers Wear Black," and "The Laws of Women", all of which appear in the Alsop Review, and in McDougall's "At Frog's Trailer Court" and "The Guest", both in Periheleon.
Any other favorite poets?
I am hopelessly in love with C D Wright, who is inimitable, although I keep trying to imitate her anyway. Her poem "Personals" tells it all without giving anything away—now that's a skill.
And Phil Dacey, for his absolute mastery of the sonnet, his humor, his wisdom and his rogue heart. "New York Postcard Sonnet #10" is one of my fave sonnets. I am also enamored of "Letter to his Daughter," for its sweet center, and "Form Rejection Letter," because it is wonderfully funny. All of these appear on http://www.philipdacey.com/poems.html.
It's been over a year since your work appeared in the first issue of Fringe. Looking back on the poems, do any new ideas about them occur to you?
In general, I keep worrying poems until they die of being overhandled. "First Labor" and "Third Labor" have not been so abused. These poems are part of a group of twelve, which I never completed—actually I got five written and lost my way in the mythological forest. This may not be the end of my labors, but they stand for now—although when I look at "Third," I can see…But no. That way lies madness.
As for "Small Gratitudes," this is what's become of it:
The morning sun troubles the back fence,
translates leaves to parchment on the hill. Winter
facts are black and white.
Our own gratitudes must include that and glaciers,
although they are thinning like a smile.
It could be worse. I'm grateful for the way it is:
a freeze first, then at last, a thaw.
As you can see above, I've jettisoned a great many metaphors to gain the core idea—gratitude for the cycles of death and rebirth. The poem was inspired by a death in the family, but it could have been any loss that requires live through and then living with. How does one integrate that absence into one's life? I wrote quite a long draft, then kept taking more and more away. The version in Fringe is somewhere in the last run-up to this past spring, when the poem revealed this (I hope) final form.
What would you say in a letter to the person you were when you wrote those poems?
Oh dear, I wouldn’t correspond with that person.
What prose work(s) have you enjoyed most in the last year?
I don’t know if "enjoyed" is the word, but Paul Muldoon's The End of the Poem and Camille Paglia's Break, Blow, Burn have engaged me in close reading again and Muldoon has, as usual, both amazed and tickled me—who knew you could be a pre-pre-post modernist? (And don’t give me away but Harry Potter is what I read for pleasure most recently.)
If anybody begrudges you a little HP, we'll take em down. Do you know any poems by heart? If so, describe how you came to know one of these, and tell us whether it's a favorite or a least-favorite.
The poems in AA Milne's When We were Very Young and Now We Are Six. I learned these by reading them to my boys when they were babies (in the Cretaceous period). I have those by heart still, and some Psalms (other than 23), and some Shakespeare (Hamlet’s speech, a sonnet or two, #18—the usual suspects), a bit of Yeats. But memorizing whole poems isn't my parlor trick; I'm much more likely to absorb and remember syntactical twists or forms or ideas.
Were you forced to memorize any of these in high school?
The Shakespeare, yes, the psalms by osmosis, the Yeats for love.
Is there any form or mode of writing that you haven’t tried recently but would like to try in the next year? What is it, and why?
I occasionally write essays, but I'm pretty much committed to poetry along the lines of my mother's ordinance, "You’ll do it 'til you get it right."
If you could conjure up the perfect snack to be enjoyed while working on poems, what would it be?
Coffee and the cigarettes which, alas, I gave up some 17 years ago (and miss to this day). There are actual foods that I love, but I think, when writing, the less et the better.
Are there any other questions about poetry that you have been longing to be asked?
The question I continually ask and hope someday to answer is how do I get to Rilke's "ten good lines." If I had the answer to that one, I'd be, as we say here, in high cotton.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
It saddened me greatly to hear that Grace Paley, a talented writer and social activist who championed women and anti-war movements among other things, died yesterday at her home in
Ms. Paley’s short stories, for which she won much acclaim, focused on women’s lives – not glamorous portrayals of the social elite, but the grittiness of everyday life for the single mother, the ex-wife, the “women that Roth and Bellow and Malamud’s men had loved and left behind,” says her obituary in the New York Times.
I first read Ms. Paley in a course called Contemporary Short Fiction, which, in this case, meant postmodern fiction and included a thick anthology with that label on the cover. The tale was “The Pale Pink Roast,” written in 1959, and told the story of a woman and the estranged father of her child, with whom she had still slept with behind her new husband’s back. I was surprised at the stark honesty of the story; she portrayed her characters with all their flaws and contradictions, leaving the reader to sort it all out, with an ear for dialog that is spot on.
Ms. Paley did not rest on her literary laurels, but worked tirelessly to effect change for underrepresented groups, and to lobby for peace in the face of war – exactly the kind of author and person Fringe Magazine aspires to publish and profile. Had she written novels instead of short stories, she’d certainly have been part of the Pool for the 25 Books Project we’re running. I urge our readers to seek out her work, learn about her life, and carry on her vision.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
This past week, there was one response: I've quoted it in its entirety below; click the link for author info.
"Thinking (out loud, in a highly public forum) that “no woman is electable in America” is a sure way to help make it true. Mary Gordon is a role model for this country’s female intelligentsia. Her publicly defeatist attitude is deplorable."
Succinct, well-written, and a bit knee-jerk? If, when directly asked, Gordon states what she perceives to be today's truth, is that "defeatist" and "deplorable," or is it exposing a sickness and giving it the air to heal? Even if she supports the candidate's agenda, and still doesn't think she's electable, would it have been a better thing to say "Yes"?
No matter the issue at hand, I believe that any feminist who suggests another should keep her or his mouth shut plays a dangerous game. That's why I adore these fine people.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
We had some hot debate about this theme. At first we couched it as "Racism," but that seemed too combative and in opposition to last year's Feminism issue -- racism is a problem while feminism is a movement trying to help people. We wanted to read empowering work. The less-slanted theme of "Race" was suggested, but discarded because it seemed American centric. Finally we arrived at "Ethnos," a Greek word that seemed geographically neutral, but likely to garner us the kind of submissions we want.
I think we discussed the word to be used so extensively, because at the editorial level, we're predominantly white (with one Chilean), and sensed we were treading on delicate and unfamiliar ground. Early on in our development, we all agreed that the struggles of feminism are linked with the struggle for racial equality. We felt and still feel empathetic to brown writers, many of whom face the same challenges as women writers -- the difficulty of early publication when so many niche journals have folded, and institutionalized racism at publishing houses. One acquaintance, a fresh Southeast-Asian-American writer with considerable publication credits is having trouble landing a book deal because of tokenism -- there's another new hot Asian writer of short stories out there, and publishers don't want two.
But it is problematic that we are, by and large, a white-run publication. We know we will face questions that have no easy answers:
- Is asking the brown community to send us work replaying our racist history? In a certain way, yes -- we, the largely white, will be selecting work for publication. We are going to do our best to be open to possible prejudices, to hear and appreciate work that expresses sentiments that may make us uncomfortable. Would it be better for us to do nothing, or to risk being insensitive but try to publish on political issues that are important to us?
- Do we have the right to judge such work? We think we are good aesthetic judges of literature and art. Since no ethnicity has a monopoly on good writing, and we can recognize good writing, we hope this issue will be full of awesome lit.
- Are we ghettoizing writers of color by printing them in a single issue? Good god, we hope not. Our record for publishing writers with a variety of backgrounds is pretty good -- take a look through our archives to see (within each archived issue, click on author's names to read bios and see pictures of them). In the same way that we love feminist submissions at any time of year, so too do we love to read writing by authors of color during any season. We are doing this to celebrate diversity and welcome it into our publication.
- Isn't it racist to exclude white people from publication? We are not excluding white people. The bottom line is that your writing must be on topic and excellent to be considered for this issue. We have a blind submissions policy for all our issues. This means the writer's name and contact information is wiped when our readers see it.
Monday, August 20, 2007
This little survey is designed to wring all the juicy information there is to get out of our unwitting authors—ehr—I mean, this survey will allow writers revisit the work they published with Fringe a year (or more) ago. We've used extensive market research to come up with some other essential questions as well.
Watch for Wendy Taylor Carlisle's survey, containing good thoughts, favorite poems from other online journals, and a revision of one of her poems from Fringe 1. And if there's a question you feel we should add to the survey—something you've just got to know from our writers—tell us and maybe we'll add it.
Friday, August 17, 2007
In his Herald Blog today, Teddy Jamieson announced that feminism is dead:
"How often, after all, do you hear the word feminism these days outside the Guardian women's page? We have, it seems, moved on. Indeed, according to a press release for cultural commentator Laura Kipnis's new book, The Female Thing, these days we are living in a "post-post-feminist world"."
I hate that journalists are so fond of declaring this.
Why haven't they been reading Bitch, Bust, Fringe, Feministing, Shakespeare's Sister, Ms, Thus Spake Zuska, She's Such a Geek, BlogHer, On Balance, the Guerilla Girls...
Thursday, August 16, 2007
You know the story: Amir grows up in Afghanistan with his father Baba and their servants Ali and his son Hassan. Baba and Amir leave for America in the 80s, then Amir returns in 2001 to redeem himself for the unforgivable act he allowed to happen to Hassan during their childhood. Conveniently he runs into the same cast of characters in Afghanistan that he left behind 20 years before.
The story is unrealistic. The plot is contrived. Hassan’s character is uncomfortably close to perfect. So why am I promoting this novel as one of this quarter-century’s best?
The inherent flaws work to the novel’s advantage as an allegory: to paint a more vivid picture of forgiveness than what can be accomplished when hurdling real-life obstacles. As a best-selling novel, The Kite Runner is a good read with interesting insight into a culture most Americans have never conceptualized. But what makes this book stand out among other cross-cultural novels is its allegorical depiction of the depths of redemption. It refuses to mimic life and so is free to depict these larger themes in their purity.
And despite the contrived plot, I found the writing particularly balanced and interesting. Amir finds forgiveness comes “not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night” (359).
So if you read The Kite Runner and only saw the surface story, whether you were gripped by it or apathetic, I would challenge you to read it on a deeper level and experience the complexity of redemption that transcends character and plot.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Well, here's my update.
Both women (and all of their friends) had a BLAST.
I had T-Shirts made up for the girls with personal messages on the front and "Sorry ladies...I'm taken!" printed on the back. I forced the girls to put them on before we arrived at Maggiano's Little Italy for a 12-person family-style scrumptious Italian meal.
We then walked around the corner to Jacques Cabaret, the best drag show in town. I even wrote a Yelp review of the place.
Everyone had such a good time. The drinks were strong, the mood was lively, the performers sang the best songs, and I got my sister and her fiancee to wear feather boas. All in all, this was the perfect way to celebrate their last days as bachelorettes. Neither girl felt singled out, both of them got to be a bit naughty, and we all laughed. A lot.
Would you have done something differently if the task was yours?
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
I was given The Hours, Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel. My mother, not a very avid reader, bought it in an airport and handed it to me when I was between books one day. "It’s all about Virginia Woolf," she said. "I think you’ll like it." While it’s true that the experience of reading The Hours is richer if you have read Mrs. Dalloway, the acclaimed Woolf novel Cunningham writes The Hours after, the book is a marvel either way.
The Hours tells three stories simultaneously:
- In 1990s New York, Clarissa Vaughn prepares to host a party for her friend and former love interest Richard, a gay poet physically and mentally ravaged by AIDS.
- In 1950’s suburban America, a timid housewife struggles in an unhappy marriage and confining social role, finding her only comfort in reading Mrs. Dalloway.
- And in 1920s England, Virginia Woolf begins to compose Mrs. Dalloway.
Cunningham tells compelling stories about queer lives. But he also queers the stories he tells, finding spaces for taboo relationships and alternative family structures that subtly show another way of being. It helps that his prose is haunting, that he has an eye for heartbreakingly minute detail, that his characters are fully-rendered flawed beings. Cunningham earns my pick for the 25 Books Project because he works so skillfully with characters who are marginalized in too much contemporary fiction, and because, in The Hours and his recent Specimen Days, he collages literary tropes and genres in a way that is playful without being pretentious, serious while primarily lyric. His dissent from the forms and values of mainstream culture is lyrical, and The Hours is a fine introduction to this important writer.
Lindsey Danis is a writer and pastry chef currently living in San Francisco. She writes the mostly food blog Adventures in Dessert, holds an MFA from Emerson College, gets free reign over the best peaches and plums in town, and dearly misses the ice cream scene in Boston.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
In the search for my own engagement ring and an ethical diamond, I came across a peculiar trend: the right hand ring. Ads and websites urge women to "celebrate your success" with a diamond ring worn on the right hand. (Now single women can join in the fun of owning a diamond and show their individuality and empowerment -- through blind commercialism! That supports slavery!)
Like Art Editor Julia, I loathe ad campaigns that encourage pamper-spending for women. And obviously, the promotions occasionally insult women's intelligence. This Generous Gems page actually tries to convince you that right hand rings are fitted differently from left-hand ones.
My personal annoyance aside, I think the most interesting part of this trend is the way that it equates marriage with a successful career. Right hand rings are supposed to showcase a woman's monetary success, while presumably left hand rings showcase her skill as a mantrap.
I find this distinctly unsettling. Marriage and engagement rings are part of the private sphere and of a tradition that extends back through time, while careers are part of the public sphere, and for women at least, a relatively new concept. By extension, the right hand ring suggests that career women are married to their careers, and as such unavailable/unable to engage in marriage. Reminds me of the horrifically-insulting-to-women-everywhere Forbes Article "Don't Marry Career Women."
Furthermore, I'm not sure we should celebrate when anyone becomes a workaholic, married to their jobs. Careers are not replacements for a rich private life, whether that life includes marriage or not. And yes, we should celebrate success, but why not do so with a plum 401(k) that sustains long after a person has lost the will to work?
Monday, August 6, 2007
The History of Love was one of those books I avoided at first. Too many people told me how amazing it was, how much I'd love it, how I should run to the nearest independent bookstore and grab a copy.
All of that made me NOT want to read the thing, so I half-heartedly suggested it for my book club and felt not at all crushed when no one picked it. And then I saw it on a buy-one-get-one rack at the bookstore and picked it up. I really didn't know a thing about the book (except that people thought I'd like it), but from the moment I read the first paragraph, I was hooked by author Nicole Krauss's elegant, careful prose.
The author is married to Jonathan Safran Foer of similarly-topiced Everything Is Illuminated. They both live in Brooklyn and write non-traditionally about the Holocaust, and there's no doubt that Foer is the better-known author. But there was something in Krauss's book that tapped into my emotions much more successfully than Foer ever did.
The premise of the story isn't so unique: Teenaged lovers lose touch after the Germans invade Poland and desecrate a Jewish town and the survivors are never the same again; two adults fall in love over a book a generation later, and start a family; the father dies, the children are different because of his death; the young daughter tries to trace her parents' love; the lives of many people intersect in the small world of New York...but Krauss is so clever in the way she weaves these lives together that the reader finds herself completely and utterly immersed in the story, guessing at endings and seduced by the possibility of hope.
I usually speed-read -- afterall, there are too many good books in this world to justify reading slowly -- but The History of Love made me want to read slowly enough to savor every word. And it didn't surprise me that I stopped breathing for a moment when I read the last few sentences, or that instead of immediately moving on to the next book on my list, I waited a few days to give this one time to settle in. I even get that horrible jealous feeling when I see someone reading the novel on the subway...how lucky they are that they're still in the middle of it, how sad I am that I've finished it.
You'd be doing yourself a disservice not to read this book. If you need to borrow a copy, just let me know. I want my own copy to be passed to so many people that I get it back waterlogged by flood, fire-tarnished, tattered and worn.
Julia Henderson is Art Editor and Webmistress of Fringe.
Thursday, August 2, 2007
Meanwhile, in Ohio, legislators have proposed a bill which would make it compulsory for the "father of the fetus" to give permission for a woman's abortion. If he doesn't give permission she can't have an abortion. Check out the feministing.com debate on the issue, where some men weigh in to applaud the legislation.
What do you think? Do men deserve a say in reproductive rights decisions?
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
- In "Tell Me If You're Lying," author Sarah Sweeney offers an honest portrait of her father in all his eccentricities, from his tales of alien abduction, to his obsession with seventies rock lyrics, to the simple fact of his marriage to her mother -- he had severe Crohn's and hid it. Presenting each personal myth her father built for himself, Sweeney seeks to distinguish reality from story, an impossible feat, perhaps, but then, luckily for us, it's the attempt itself that matters.
- Our poetry editor thinks that Pattabi Seshadri's poems use "concrete entities (chairs, birds) to convey something wistful and strange beyond the physical limits of the images." These playful and political images launch us into a space beyond reality. I particularly love the pregnancy of image of the papal throne in "Chairs," which compares the occupant to a child, but also, perhaps, to the opposite of "angel".
- Brian Parkison's longer poem, "Old Roman's Row" begins as a rather cinematic story poem, with Roman as epic hero, a trope the rest of the poem seeks to undermine, eventually ending with a tragicomic mishap. In between these two ends, Parkison suspends the reader in wonderful uncertainty of who Roman is, whether he is a hero or simply crazy.
- Our art editor accepted Jane Linders' X-Ray Terrestrial Series because these Polaroid transfers (of found animal skulls with illustrations of dental implants) positively haunted her, as they also do me. From the ordinary, fantastic beasts arise, made more macabre by the scientific diagramming. In a certain way, Linders has deconstructed her own images by playing on the expectations we have of the impartial scientific mind.
- Jen Michalski's story, "The Piano" is itself a deconstruction. X and Y literally uncouple when they break up, to become what my old metaphysics professor might call "a scattered relationship," in the same way that the piano also becomes a scattered object. Furthermore, in resisting names for her characters, Michalski deconstructs narrative meaning -- it is the positions of X and Y that matter in the story -- their names would be incidental. Perhaps these names also poke fun at our society's binary vision of gender, a system which a lesbian relationship necessarily disrupts, echoing Lois Gould's "X: A Fabulous Child's Story".
- William Walsh's "American Fried Questions" remixes portions of Calvin Trillin's text American Fried (1974). (Read it while it's here -- we'll be taking it down in a few months due to an agreement with Trillin's agents!) Walsh picks apart his source text, extracting Trillin's questions and rearranging them to make a wholly new collage, not fascinating because of the narrative the questions form, but for the textural (and textual) effect the disordering produces. The incompletness of questions without answers catapult the reader in and out of a hundred different conversations, lead the reader to marvel at Trillin's text -- after all, how can a unified work encapsulate so many questions?
- Doug Cornett's "Symptoms of the End" is, perhaps the most straightforwardly postmodern piece in the issue. After all, what is total deconstruction, but the end of the world?
So there it is -- Fringe 11 for your reading pleasure. Please enjoy, and let us know what you thought in the comments!