The year we started Fence I was working at Books & Co., next door to the Whitney Museum, and Rebecca came in one day, which was a great surprise. We'd been friends in Iowa City and then when I moved to New York I wasn't really sure where she was for a couple of years. Still in Iowa or something, on an organic vegetable farm? We got caught up, there at the store, and she said she wanted to start a magazine, and would I be interested in being a poetry editor. It sounded like a good idea --we were both at an interesting place with our poems, where basically most people wouldn't publish them. Even though I had won a big poetry prize and had a book out, this came to seem more and more like a fluke as I got my poems rejected from the fancy magazines. Rebecca too. I remember feeling that not only was there no home for poems like ours, which seemed to fall somewhere between regular poems and experimental poems, but that there was an even bigger problem: no magazines would publish work by the famous poets we loved whose work was similarly idiosyncratic. And certainly no magazines published all different kinds of poems together. I remember talking about how stupid the situation seemed, when we could love all sorts of poets regardless of camp or school, but there wasn't a magazine out there that could love them like we did. That's what we wanted Fence to do.--Matthew Rohrer
The first full-blown staff meeting of Fence that I remember was on the evening of John Yau's wedding and, since I considered him to be the patron saint of Fence's mission, and an emblematic Fence author, it seemed auspicious. But I got extremely high at his reception and when I left to walk through the Village to Caroline Crumpacker's apartment, I remember being really nervous about what was going to happen--whom I was going to meet; what I really had to offer. I had also mis-heard Rebecca say that she'd gotten Jonathan Franzen to be our fiction editor, so I really had no idea what to expect. But we all gathered there in Caroline's apartment, with the Pavlova pictures everywhere, and I remember sitting on the floor and sharing "manifestoes" with everyone--Adam, our original designer and art director, Frances, Rebecca, Jonathan. Rebecca had asked us all to write one. Mine mentioned that I considered humor to be a requisite ingredient to serious art, and I mentioned Ron Padgett. Jonathan Lethem said he loved Padgett, and his enthusiasm for Padgett and that slice of poetry was the ice-breaker for me at that first meeting; from that moment he, as a fellow editor, and the project as a whole, had my complete trust. My manifesto began: A magazine that recognizes and confronts the anti-intellectual stance involved in choosing sides. I imagine seeing somewhere in its pages this quote from Robert Anton Wilson: "Convictions Make Convicts" I feel certitude should have little place in this magazine--rather, the work should represent those writers who are of two minds. Or of four. --Matthew Rohrer
About the Author
Rebecca Wolff is the founding editor and publisher of FENCE and Fence Books, and of The Constant Critic, a poetry review website. She is the author of Manderley, Figment, and The King. A program fellow of the New York State Writers Institute, she lives in Athens, New York.