His dark hair was longish and mussed, and his t-shirt was black. He was handsome in the way that many young men these days are trying to be: that is to say, scruffy, slightly off-kilter, shabby-chic. Like dozens of other editors and assorted hangers-on in the Austin Convention Center last week, the young man in question was hawking a literary magazine -- one he and his compatriots are looking to revive in a fresh new image. Asked just what kind of work he thought would do the trick, the E-word jumped off his lips.


In the end, what other word could he have used? To not use it would have been an affront to his milieu. After all, it isn't just us AWPeons who are scrambling for edges and ledges to toe. It's everywhere: cheerleaders pierce their tummies,
grandmas get tattoos, politicians cap their boyz in the face. Rumor has it, they just made a movie where pretty men do a bunch of making out. With each other.

But we here at RMR can't help but feel a little deja vu all over again. For a while we couldn't figure out what the Ubiquity of 'Edgy' reminded us of and then it hit us: It's just like in countless writing classrooms, creative or otherwise, when students try to describe what they like or don't like about a piece of writing.

"It 'flows,'" they say, often with great self-assurance, as if it is the kind of empirical statement that cannot possibly be assailed. 2 + 2 = 'Flow.' And 'flow' is good.

But, alas, 'flow' is a word that, in the context of writing, doesn't mean anything in particular. Oh, it approximates meaning (we know, we know: that's all language ever does, blah, blah, blah). 'Flow' sort of means that 1) the poem or story proceeds in a linear -- oft narrative -- fashion, 2) the language is rhythmical, 3) the reader lost herself in the story or poem's occasion, 4) the reader did not have to stop reading to think about a word or phrase or concept, whether or not the writer intended it, 5) all of the above, 6) two or more, but not all, of the above, or 7) something else entirely.

Isn't that what 'edgy' is these days, especially in the context of the literary magazine's project? A word that means a lot of things to a lot of people, and therefore means exactly nothing to no one? Besides, aren't all literary magazines, stationed as we are on the Tatooine of contemporary culture (could be worse -- at least they gave us
not one but two suns!), on the edge of something by default? Solvency? Sanity? Irrelevancy?

We raise the point not to throw a wet blanket on the many, many editors represented at AWP-Austin (not least ours truly at table #628) who want to publish work that gets a rise out of somebody -- anybody. Good. May the Force be with us. But we have to remember our audience. It's small. It consists largely of writers, many of whom are odd by birth, instinct, and experience. Put simply, it's always been daggone hard to get much of a rise out of us.

Couple that with the kinds of sugar-spike rises that make the developed world go round -- TV shows where people eat bugs and spleens; housing bubbles; big, fat Starbucks venti Sumatras -- and 'the edge' just ain't where it used to be. More than not these days, it's right smack dab in the middle of the road.

So here's our two cents:

If everybody's doing it -- whether 'it' is gender-bending, genre-bending, or just bending whichever way the wind blows -- then 'edgy' isn't edgy enough. We have to ask for more. More important, we have to know what it is we're asking for.

Shock and decadence (in all its forms) are easy. 'Original' is overrated. At RMR we're going to keep asking for 'interesting,' 'intelligent,' with a healthy measure of plain-old 'observant.' That's plenty enough to upset most applecarts anyway.

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