THE SCHMOETICS OF OVERDETERMINACY
“In the aftermath of September 11th . . . “
. . . we sat down together, as did many other editors, to discuss what an appropriate editorial response might be. Unlike many other editors, however, we did not arrive at one—perhaps because the notion of propriety, or appropriety, or appropriateness, was at that time as shattered, redistributed, and impossible to configure as a fax from the 82nd floor of Tower 1. (There, I’ve finally gotten out of my system whatever need for heavy, virtually tyrannical lyric emotionality was evoked in me by the above-named “tragic events.” (I can’t seem to stop putting things in quotes, and that may be my epitaph.))
At our meeting, the editors of Fence could not agree on any one single thing—no symposium, no particular writer, not even a gesture—but what we did do instead was to agree, some of us passionately and some of us dis-, that now, “more than ever,” we must understand what it is that each of us wants from poetry, and from writing in general. “What is it”—the challenge was formally posed by one the more discerning and speech-worthy among us—”that we each want from writing now?”
The now was implicit in its meaning: Now that we must be responsible for once in our lives, and be worth the paper we’re printed on, and in some measure be certain that we are a partial solution. The true challenge was to find positive definitions of our desires; it’s so easy to say what you don’t want.
And all I could think of to say was that I wanted more emotion in poetry. For crying out loud. Presumably, that is all I’ve ever wanted.
Herewith, then, immediately following this lovely grayscale advertisement for two of the best books of poetry you could ever want to read, you will find Canto I of Vladimir Nabokov’s virtuousic foray into deep metapathos, “Pale Fire,” from the novel of the same name: as (over)determined a contraption as ever was. That so much genuine emotion could be generated by such a well-oiled machine continues to please me even after I have paid $100 to Random House for the privilege of reprinting it for you here.