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I have brought up Rebecca Wolff’s editor’s note from the Winter 2013-2014 issue of Fence with a few different people I see in New York, hoping to talk about it. Each time, the person has not read it. They ask me what it’s about. I say it’s about the fact that she is rich, but I fail to mention that it’s also about mothering, editing, publishing, and beginning again and again. I wish I’d found someone to talk about it with at length so I could reconsider my gut reaction in the privacy of a conversation. Instead, I am here with you. Okay.


I confess my initial response was: wow, no one should ever donate another dime to Fence. It’s a real asshole opinion to have, though. I shared it with an internet friend who adores Wolff’s work. Because he is, like me, from the Midwest and not rich, I thought he’d be likely to see my point. Today I wonder, how dare I find the publishing project unworthy of backing because it is not sufficiently precarious? It’s an opinion that reeks of my past as an angry teenage girl, stultified by growing up in a suburban town, too broke to go to shows, into bands ‘before they sold out’, turning the stereo up and listening to 30-second songs, born too late to be part of anything cool. That adolescent wannabe punk is who read Wolff’s note and said: whoa, sellout.


In the note, which is titled “Publishing is Personal,” the syllogism emerges thus: the personal is political; publishing is personal; therefore, publishing is political. I was fascinated as I read what Wolff was willing to share about her personal financial background and class status; I was grateful to learn about what few people are willing to admit—that is, the details of how someone I consider a successful literary figure got to be that way. When I was a student in an MFA program, I used to ask the visiting writers what they did between my age and theirs—how did you get from here to there. And rare was the honest answer. Most often, the response they offered was TIME. OH, you are so young, they would say. Just Wait. But in this note that both annoyed (as stories of privileges I don’t have always do, because I am at heart a jealous punk teenager who just wants to shoplift at the mall) and pleased me, here was a real answer. Wolff had really cheap rent for a lot of years. OH, ok, I thought. That’ll do it!


At the beginning of the essay, Wolff says, “Lately money is all anyone talks about.” People are talking, but in my view most everyone acknowledges money and then quickly bobs and weaves to exit the conversation. The subject of money makes me sputter with self-doubt. Perhaps my observations are simply proof that, as Wolff writes, “Money likes money, but money only likes money that knows how money lives, what it eats and what it drinks and how it talks and walks.” By this stroke, it would be impossible for me to know what conversations she refers to; they are spoken in a language I don’t recognize. I observe, ‘We didn’t get in this to make money!’ shout the poets on Facebook. ‘No one here thinks poetry will make us rich!’ snap the bloggers, the commenters. It’s a dodge. There is another conversation going on beneath the surface.


Here I paused in writing this, unsure that I had enough left to say about money to finish a blog post. Then I called my mechanic to check on my car[1], whose repair turned out to be more expensive than estimated ($350 due), and I received an email from my employer warning me that 2 of my 4 classes for the fall are in danger of being canceled due to low enrollment. BOOM money is an issue again—it can happen that fast.


I’m reading Rebecca Solnit’s “Men Explain Things to Me,” which is an utterly unsurprising experience. In the past year or two, men have explained to me that my job is easy because it is not manual labor; that my job is cushy because, at one of the schools where I teach, I have small class sizes and am paid for some prep time. These men have been well aware that I am adjunct faculty and there is no shortage of information online, in both academic and mainstream forums, on why adjunct labor conditions are deplorable. (For a recent great example, see Rachel Riederer’s article “The Teaching Class” at Guernica. Among much else, it taught me to look for Groupon deals for dental cleanings!) If I worked in the service industry, my employment would only be this tenuous if the restaurant or bar were constantly in danger of going out of business or if I were terrible at my job. Why then would some men tell me my work life is easy?


In her editor’s note, Wolff rather humbly acknowledges what a privilege it is to publish others. She goes on to say, “It so happens that jobs and money and security and leverage and influence and primacy come to those who publish, the more they publish, or are published.” The angry poets of the internet claim that wealth would be a foolish reason to enter poetry (sub)culture. Wolff describes cultural currencies as well as less abstract rewards as part of the package Fence offers its contributors and authors. She defines her role at the helm of Fence as bestowing power to other writers. I recognize and admire the significant quantity of generosity in this labor while I am also moved to envy the evident stability Fence has due to Wolff’s good fortune. And so the naysayers of social media who claim to eschew riches, maybe they are speaking a language I don’t know, but I suspect they are simply lying. I think all poets want the security Wolff describes and security is a kind of wealth.


Last semester, I taught too many classes. I was not a fun person to know for those four months, nor again for most of this afternoon while I was scared about money.[2] I would like to be fun to know. For Fall 2014, I’d planned to teach less, write more, focus on promoting Belladonna* and our forthcoming books. But if half my income is indeed unconfirmed, I cannot afford (financially or psychologically) to follow through with that plan.


Talking about the terms of my employment has not specifically been forbidden me, but Riederer’s article gives me cause for anxiety. What does it mean for an activity to be political? If publishing is actually capable of spreading wealth and power, as Wolff claims, then supporting Fence might be just as good an idea as supporting any of the many small presses run solely by volunteers with day jobs. We need people with money to stay busy publishing and promoting poetry, too.



Krystal Languell was born in South Bend, Indiana. Two chapbooks and a full-length collection of poetry are forthcoming: LAST SONG (dancing girl press, 2014), BE A DEAD GIRL (Argos Books, 2014) and GRAY MARKET (Coconut, 2015). FASHION BLAST QUARTER was published as a poetry pamphlet by Flying Object in 2014. A core member of the Belladonna* Collaborative, she also edits the journal Bone Bouquet.


[1] Yeah, I live in Brooklyn and I own a car that I’ve been driving since 2006. It’s a feminist issue for me.

[2] Which is not to say I solved the problem this afternoon, just that I calmed down.

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Published Jul 29, 2014 - Comments Off on On Always Beginning, Part 2 by DB Guest Blogger Krystal Languell

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