Heads Will Roll [or: I Did It My Way]

This article is part of Opposing Terms, a symposium on the poetic limits of binary thinking.

Rebecca Wolff

First let me thank you all for coming. Joking, but not: this conversation about binaries in poetry, binarial discourse, is one that Fence has been having and raising for fifteen years, and I am glad that it continues to be relevant—or perhaps has popped as relevant after a period of “post-.” A salty solution—with added dialectical reification!—of opposing entitlements. We studiously avoid humanist essentializing, but are helpless (in a good way) before the valuation of Negative Capability as a signature experience of a poet and her poems. The transpersonal, transliterary experience for the reader, what we know and love as “the top of my head comes off” (Barbara Guest or Emily Dickinson?). These come upon us now as blessings. Deterrents to this unboundaried yet firmly bound solution, like surfactants on the oil-and-water of the Gulf, prove themselves superficial: certainty, fragility, safety, les engagées, les fruits d’antagonisme, the human or humane need fairy-folk have to occasionally cease their exhausting hovering, to land positively and with grace.

Practically speaking, Fence has long insisted that any poet worth her salt can appear in Fence. “Salt”: I’ve got to feel it. I, Rebecca Wolff, editor of Fence, have to feel her Felt Need to Write the Way She Writes. Salt in my wound. This response is a humanoid-art interaction that goes down on the hypnagogic-subjective plane, but it can go down just as easily between a human and an art that is distinctly a-lyric—baroquely Conceptualized, impersonal as a cock in a glory-hole. Now I’m making the authenticity argument. Let me make it till I break it: poetry is better made when a poet or poets make it because they need to make it the way they made it. Exigency over Duty. Visionary over Functionary. Virtuous-o over Citizenry: one must know and love the top of one’s own head before one can truly know and love the tops of the heads of the people, as they roll. Heads will roll.

And leave the “should”-ers behind. The binarial compound I hope we may encapsulate and swallow, synthesize and expel, is that of the Ethical and the Lawless. The Civic-Minded and the Sociopath. There is no reason that the two cannot do more than co-exist; they could be lovers. They could be good friends. They hold hands and relate the sweat of their palms. They do this in Fence, and they do it in life, in social circles and in careerist moves and in bed, in psyches and public relations, and in the Promise of Poetry, to skew(er) Laura Riding.

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About the Author

Rebecca Wolff is Editor of Fence and author of The King, Figment, and Manderley.

Opposing Terms, a symposium on the poetic limits of binary thinking.