Gown Bat Knot Four Cottonby Anna Lena Phillips • 06.28.2013
Fringe published its last issue on Monday, June 24. Today, poetry editor Anna Lena Phillips reflects on the collaborative work of editing the magazine.
One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about editing Fringe is dreaming up questions to ask the poets we publish. The timing of this final issue means I haven’t been able to do the usual interviews with the poets who appear in it. But I’ve asked myself a few questions during the course of my work on the magazine, and here I thought I’d answer a couple of them.
The one I’ve asked most frequently is this: Why did I have to run off to an expensive grad school in the chilly north instead of going to one of the fine programs down here in the warm places? I wanted certain things—a program that offered coursework in prosody, most particularly—and I could not find them in the southeast. I found the courses, but it turns out the north is not the place for me. I was lucky there in a few other aspects, though, and one of them was that I met my fellow Fringe editors.
Considered together, the poetry we’ve published can seem either eclectic or disparate, depending on the reader’s inclination. What was I thinking? Of how language works, how really good language works, making a deadline, whether a deal-breaker of a problem with an otherwise compelling poem could be solved, the inconsistent punctuation that haunts some free verse, how stringently to edit for meter in a metrical poem, the reader’s likely reactions, the poet’s intentions.
Something must give in an all-volunteer effort, and in my case it was response time. We lost a few good poems over the years on account of our lack of speed. I am sorry we were not able to go faster. I also wish we could have paid the writers we publish lots of money (or any money at all) for their work.
Fringe was sustained by its editors’ donations. In turn, it sustained my life in writing; frustrated me; helped me clarify what I value in online and print journals; helped me become a better editor and collaborator; balanced my daytime work as an editor of prose. At its finish, my clearest feeling is gratitude. I’m lucky to practice the craft of editing. It offers the chance to think really deeply, in collaboration with someone else (or with several other people) about questions of line, meter, punctuation, language. It’s possible to think this way about someone’s work in a lit-crit sense, in a workshop, in conversation with writer friends, but the framework of an editorial relationship makes for a unique kind of conversation, one that is both essential and professional. Editing’s outwardlookingness makes it big, big-hearted, essential, particular. It takes time from writing, yes, but it confers a spaciousness and an awareness of detail that help the writing. I’m thankful to the writers who are making little magazines in the evening after work—especially those who take the time to edit the work they accept.
I’m thankful as well to the poets who sent work for Fringe, who listened and responded to my edits with thoughtfulness and grace, who answered those author questionnaires with aplomb. Although there won’t be interviews this time around, I’d like to call out the poets who appear in this issue: Ravi Shankar and Reb Livingston, whose collaborative poem Wanton Textiles was the impetus for Fringe to create a longer-poetry category way back in issue two, and both of whom I’m happy to have in the magazine again. Maryann Corbett, who calls up an ancient haunting in Anglo-Saxon lines. Heidi Lynn Staples, who in “Gown Forever” puts “Ladle Rat Rotten Hut”–style language to exemplary purpose.
Thanks to the readers who worked with me—I miss sitting down with you in Boston. And to assistant poetry editor Nellie Bellows, at whose kitchen table, with laptops resting on lemon-yellow placemats, we spent long hours reading through the slush pile, and whose aesthetic is just different enough from mine to create productive friction.
And my deep gratitude to my fellow editors: Lizzie, Julia, Sarah, Janell, Heather, David, Llalan, Anna; Shuchi, Katie, Joanna, Dara, Beth, Jill. I’ll miss your faces—we’ve been doing the magazine’s work via email and conference call since 2006, but when we converse I can imagine your expressions. I look forward seeing what kinds of trouble you make next—and to a ten-year editors’ reunion in 2015. Without you all, this experiment would never have been carried out. It’s an experiment I needed. Thank you for making it happen, for keeping it going long enough that its nature became clear, and for knowing when and how to finish it.
Friend, jet as gown, bat et well knot bee four cotton.
Knot bye mi, a tin ear ate.