My Life on the Fringeby Rachel Dacus, Rachel Dacus • 06.22.2013
Fringe published its last issue on Monday, June 24. As part of the goodbye, we asked former contributors and staff to write about their experiences with the magazine.
I first began interviewing poets for Fringe Magazine because I had questions about writing I couldn’t find answers to. An interview seemed a clever way to hold my own symposium about how and why poets write, and to pick the poets I wanted answers from because I admired their work.
From Cheryl Dumesnil, author of In Praise of Falling and the memoir Love Song for Baby X, came this intriguing comment, in response to my asking how raising children has affected her writing:
“Kids are seeing everything for the first time. That way of looking that grown-up artists and writers have to cultivate—they’re doing it naturally. So I spend a good chunk of every day walking in the world with a couple of brand new humans who fall down in awe over the smallest details: house sparrows that congregate on the parked shopping carts at Whole Foods, parking garage gates rising and falling, the glass elevator at the BART station, the worm drowning in the puddle on our driveway.
“These kids are wired for wonder, attuned to detail, sensually awake every minute of every day. They’re my gurus. They’re teaching me everything I need to know about being awake in the present moment. They have no fear about being right here, right now. They have no reason to fret about the past or jump into the future. For them, this moment is all there is. And this moment is where the poem lives. If I can inhabit the moment, I can hear the poem. My kids remind me of this multiple times a day.”
When I asked Jeannine Hall Gailey, another rocket kid like me, daughters of rocket scientists, how she came to the idea of using fantasy, mythology, and comic book characters in her poetry, I got this wonderful piece of advice:
“For me, reading widely is really important for my writing. If I’m not reading anything interesting, I’m probably not writing anything interesting. Reading Ovid, folk tales, Grimm’s, the Bible¾all that stuff is still pretty exciting for me. I also try to read a lot of fiction along with my poetry¾fiction writers have often inspired my poetry¾like the recent The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao¾I owe a lot to them indirectly for making it okay to write literary works about comic books and geek culture. I would never have written my second book, She Returns to the Floating World, if I hadn’t read Hayao Kawai’s books on Jung and Japanese fairy tales or the short story collections of Osamu Dazai and Haruki Murakami.”
Interviewing poets brought me lots of surprises, and also allowed our readers to peer behind the scenes of poetry publishing. In my interview with Adam Deutsch, Publisher/Editor of Cooper Dillon Books, I asked him, “Why do you think poetry is on the outskirts of our culture?”
His response: “It might be because the poets seem to write for themselves, or their tight workshop circles, rather than writing for some sort of process of discovery that can be shared with another person. It’s rare that a poet gives of himself the way I’ve seen some musicians give to their audience. I’m talking about presenting something, and letting it go in the process. It involves humility, and the intent of the poet to share something, rather than be recognized or applauded for it. One friend suggested that poets—particular at a reading—are taking more from their audience than they’re giving, and it drains us.”
That was an expansive idea for me as a poet. The concept that we write into a community of readers and writers unfolded a vista of collaboration and interchange that more fully unveiled for me the reality that there is no such thing as creating poetry alone. We are never divorced from the continuum of poems through the centuries nor from our fellow poets in the contemporary culture. We write into a context and read the same way. It is a community, and to be aware of it is to enhance one’s own work and better connect it to the work of others. It’s a process many poets seem to be engaged in, but not always consciously. Adam’s remark made me think about the context in which I write and choosing the community within the larger poetry community, giving thought to the fact that it is a choice we make in writing and publishing.
For sheer uplift and inspiration to keep writing, I can’t beat what I heard from Susan Rich, author of The Alchemist’s Kitchen. I asked her, “What is the use of poetry?”
“Oh that’s a big question,” she said. “I could answer that after September 11th, newspapers across the country were publishing poems, and that poems of Naomi Shihab Nye and W. H. Auden went viral, traveling from email box to email box and back again. I received both their poems upwards of a dozen times. So yes, in times of national crisis, poems can respond to an emotional tsunami.
I will miss getting to ask poets whose work I admire about the how and why of what they do, their sources and inspirations, their cautions and encouragements. I will miss Fringe, where I not only published these features, but read some of the most engaging words on the subject of writing and life that I’ve encountered.
In short, Fringe has put me not on the fringes of literature, but right in the middle of a writing community, and one I will miss. Goodbye, Fringe, and everyone here, as we scatter to new places. And thanks to the archives, and our connections, long live Fringe!