Poetry News

Rebecca Wolff Gets Personal With the Program in New Issue of Fence

By Harriet Staff

Rebecca Wolff

Rebecca Wolff has penned her take on the "old saw" that is personal as political in a new essay for the current issue of Fence (Winter 2013-2014). And it is quite personal--Wolff describes leaving her husband, how her parents are rich, her son's autism, and much else that typically accumulates in facts to form "identity" and, in turn, Wolff's own indeterminate wealth. "I accrue debt like a regular person but I shake it like a rich person." How does this relate to publishing? How does it relate to Josef Kaplan's Kill List? From the editor's-eye view in "Publishing Is Personal":

When I want to publish a book, or a poem or story or text in this magazine, Fence, it is because I am pleased by that writing in a special way that has to do with its lack of compromise with the mysterious forces. The writing is flagrant and defensive and provoked and responsive. Despondent and indicative. I want to share, to spread, to not shut up about it but to promulgate and propagate its trails and implications, make indelible the inscription of the conditions that made it possible for that writing to take place. But why do I figure myself in that place of power? Who do I think I am? Who died and left me a publishing empire? Who jokes about the word “empire” anymore? Not me.

Who takes on this honor, this called-out role in the roll call: Will you be the one to identify and select and fashion a relevancy? Will you juxtapose and proximate and associate freely within a hierarchy of effort? A recent poem, “Kill List,” by a man with the name Josef Kaplan, seems to tabulate some modern poets—living ones, all within the age-range of the contemporaneous, 25 to 65 or so—and say whether they are “rich” or “comfortable.” Why he ignores the poor, the indigent poets is beyond me—or the rich or comfortable dentists—but it would seem to indicate that the poem is attempting in some super-crude way to say something about the effects of privilege on contemporary poetry.

Later, Wolff gets to the mill grist--at least, we find this very useful:

To talk about Fence’s money is to speak of my money. Not exactly a power trip. Not exactly a power grab. And why I gotta be like that: for a long time I insisted on the distancing, the extraction of my personal life from that equation. I took pride in, and trumpeted, even in grant applications, my professionalism. Once or twice I’ve lost an author to another press during moments when my personal life, including my obstreperous, imperious, autistic son who cannot get along with anyone for more than forty-five minutes, was so compelling and needy that I could not get a book out when I said I would, could not spare a minute for an author on the telephone—but on the whole I have made a convincing case for my ability to depersonalize or make impersonal the hours of my days. And in fact I used to sneer at publishers who could not get with that program, who could not make the books come out on time, could not work within the structures of the larger publishing world, the deadlines and catalogs and advance promotional metadata. To publish professionally necessitates a work ethic that does not afford itself the luxury of noncompliance. As we are laborers.

Originally Published: December 9th, 2013