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Notes from the Fence Family Brunch, Part 2 (AWP 2013, Boston)


Earlier this week I posted Notes from the Fence Family Brunch, Part 1, wherein I covered topics such as: Fence managing editor Rob Arnold's possible contribution to statewide gun violence in the pacific northwest, how the first piece of literature I ever inspired told the story of a watermelon filled with human flesh, what author Jacob Wren wants you to know about Canadians, and the story of a man who left his formidable porn collection to a catholic college (which becomes the story of a man who has to catalogue that porn collection). 

Here's the second half of those notes, wherein I'll report on: How Flarf is like Buddhism, poet Brandon Downing's thoughts on the goodness of marriage, how excited Fence fiction editor Andrea Lawlor is about the first ever Lit. anthology of trans and genderqueer writers, and what writer and editor Brian Blanchfield has to say about the retention/ release of masculine energy.


In late February I had the pleasure of meeting Brandon Downing for the first time when we read together at the New School in NYC.  His book Mellow Actions (one of Fence's recent-est releases), includes a reference to bandage-flavored ice cream.

Hannah Gamble: So what can you tell me?

Brandon Downing: I don't think I'm good at rambling. Lob me a softball and I'll try to hit it.

HG: Other things we've all been talking about today: porn, joy, godlessness, gender identity...

BD: I have no truck in any of those. I have no gender.

HG: You have no gender?

BD: I like to write as if I have no gender.

HG: You like to write as if you have no centralized identity.

BD: I know. I love it.

HG: It makes you so big and formless; do you feel like a god?

BD: What? No! I feel like a minion!

HG: Why a minion?

BD: Ask me a question!!

HG: I am! I did!

BD: Ask me easier questions! Ask me "yes and yes" questions!

HG: Brandon: I'm scared of marriage. Can you tell me why I shouldn't be?

BD: Okay, yes, so you pay less rent, you get more presents (now her family gives me presents at Christmas), utility payments are cut in half, which goes hand in hand with rent, but still.

Rebecca Wolff: That's just domestic partnership.

HG: That's true-- all of these things could happen without marriage.

[Various agreements and objections sound throughout the room.]

BD: This will sound lame, but I do mean it: We had been together nine years [before marriage], but getting married really did change our relationship. Now it's this different thing. I want to protect it and defend it and be awesome about it and thicken it and fill it. I was thirty-five when we got married; we had been together eight years and I thought I'm in-- I might as well be all in, [and then when you get married] the "all in" becomes ever more all in.


I'm now sitting on what later came to be referred to as "the best bed" with Fence editors Brian Blanchfield and Andrea Lawlor. I'll bring you back to Brian a little later, but for now what you need to know is that Andrea Lawlor has an amazing belt buckle upon which there is an impressive two-horse stampede.  Andrea is excited about an AWP panel she'd been to on Friday (to the point that, typing-wise, I'm having trouble keeping up with her as she tells me about it). I turn my laptop over to her. Here's what she writes:

The best panel I've been to this week: a discussion of and marathon reading for the anthology called Troubling the Line from Nightboat Books. It's going to be a landmark anthology; it has "syllabi" written all over it. The book anthologizes trans and genderqueer writers, many of whom write about about self-determination/ self-selection. There is a sort of magical generosity of the editors—a really wide call to writers who identify in such a range of ways. The reading on Friday night felt historic: amazing gorgeous work from Dawn Lundy Martin, Ari Banias, Julian Brolaski, Max Wolf Valerio, Trace  Peterson, Stephen Burt, Duriel Harris, HR Hegnauer—so many others, too many to name. Troubling the Line feels like the big queer anthologies from the early 90s (the High Risk books, Eileen Myles's The New Fuck You, In the Life, etc)—You'll want to run out and buy all the books from all the writers included. (Hey Hannah, great to meet you! See you on the internet!)


Before taking off to attend one last panel, Andrea also recommends what she had heard of Brian Blanchfield's essay project, Onesheets. At the Writing Masculinities panel/reading on Thursday morning Brian read an essay from the collection called "A Page on Man Roulette, Permitting Shame, Error and Guilt, Myself the Single Source." (A couple essays from Onesheets just went up on Web Conjunctions and the Seneca Review site.) Brian notes that it did seem that gender destabilization was a dynamic energy of the conference this year. I asked Brian about what he didn't get a chance to say about masculinity in his panel. He told me the story of the mascule.

Brian Blanchfield: My boyfriend John and I, living in western Montana a couple of years ago, invented the term. Mascule: a unit of masculinity. We decided that one can observe an exchange--a net gain or net loss--of mascules in any social transaction: In the coffee shop, between pairs at the father-son train show (a big deal in Missoula and a favorite spot for such espionage.) We were sort of citizen scientists about it and even made a schematic of our findings (which has gone missing: it looked like a topographical map). We had just started dating and it was part of how we knew we were right for each other.

HG: So how would you determine who was losing or gaining more mascules?

BB: You begin by asking which way the mascules flow; which party is mascule-retentive, etcetera. (If someone asks "Are you using this chair?" he or she who doesn't wish to appear more alone may suffer a retention of mascules in this exchange.) Men and women lose and give mascules all the time, in each encounter. It may be a zero-sum game, I don't know. One interesting thing is that the mascule is not a measure of power; on the contrary, the mascule is full of insecurity and covering. Mascules gather around the mumbler. Also the "Hail fellow well met" sort of exaggerated salute.

[Brian's phone buzzes.]

BB: Someone just texted me and called me by my last name only. Mascules can also transmit virtually.

HG: Do you like it when someone calls you Blanchfield? I always like it when people call me Gamble. Of course, the mean gym coach in my head who berates me for having feelings also calls me by my last name only (as in "Suck it up, Gamble!!!") so I don't know what that says about me/ it/ anything....

BB: But Gamble is a better name. I wish I had a verb to answer to.

HG: It is better, and me too, buddy. (Did I just steal some of your mascules???)

BB: [Signals confirmation] Net gain, Gamble.


Notes from the 2013 Fence Family Brunch: Concluded. Thanks for reading, sweet people of the internet. I'll see you next week.

Originally Published: March 14th, 2013

Hannah Gamble is the author of Your Invitation to a Modest Breakfast (2012), selected by Bernadette Mayer for the 2011 National Poetry Series. She has received fellowships from InPrint Inc, The Edward F. Albee Foundation, and the University of Houston, where she served as an editor for Gulf Coast: A...