Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there were towns with edges, towns in places like Wasilla, or Bessemer. People in those towns were afraid to go to big places, like Anchorage or Stevens Point, though sometimes they would go in and out quickly to buy groceries or clothes. They would never go as far as Milwaukee, or even Sitka. They knew that bad things happen to people in big places, and there were too many strangers.

But one time, one person in one of the towns met a friend, someone visiting her town from a big place. The new friend didn’t understand much about the smaller place, except that it was a little wild and small. That is all this new friend understood.

The new friend said, please come visit me in my big place. It did not happen, but they stayed friends. Every year in the early autumn, the new friend in the big place kept urging the other one, “Please come to visit. There is so much I’d like to show you.”

Finally, one year the friend from the small place timidly ventured, I will come, if you promise to meet me at the edge of town.

Her friend had no idea that towns had edges! No idea that edges could ever be important! She had to admit to the friend from far away, Towns and cities here, have no edges. They run into each other.

But, exclaimed the other, Without edges, how do know where you are?

11 Comments

  1. Jonathan Cardew

    Martha,

    Nice to see you in another workshop! How have you been? Tired of the Wiscowinter yet? I know I am.

    I love the conceit at the centre of this piece: towns with edges. It’s a really great point! Or edge, I mean! It reminded me of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness when Marlowe says, “The yarns of seamen have a direct simplicity, the whole meaning of which lies within the shell of a cracked nut”–that is to say, I think edges and insides and outsides are rife material for storytelling.

    Great last line: “But, exclaimed the other, Without edges, how do you know where you are?”

    I like the mashup of town names, both Wisconsin and far-flung, and the use of a fabulist style of story-telling really makes this piece pop (though I would delete “in a land far, far away” so it starts more prosaically).

    HOW ABOUTS:

    Who knows what to do about anything, but we can brainstorm some ideas for this story!

    1. Edge more. Just ramp it up with the edge talk–what else has edges, what are edges good for etc.? I think you could mine more here in further drafts.

    2. Restructure? You could play around with form here (create one breathless sentence, use breaks etc.). I like the way it is structured now, and you may stick with that in your revisions.

    VENUES:

    I love the Fairytale Review–dare you send them something like this? This would be great fitting, depending upon the call.

    Thanks for sharing this piece, Martha! Good to read your words again.

    Cheers,
    Jonathan

  2. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Thanks Jonathan. Yes, I am tired of this semi-arid arctic, especially after the tease of 46 degrees here last week! I’m assuming you have had a clue about how August – autumn went. I learned a lot about the cardio-vascular system, and stronger for it. I love your ideas about what to do with this. I wasn’t sure how much I could turn out this weekend– three zooming workshops in one weekend, but I didn’t want to miss yours! I know it’s been awhile but I’m glad you’re back within a reasonable proximity. Hoping to make it to Milwaukee one of these months.

  3. Rogan

    Martha, I really love the sense of place and specificity in the beginning where you name specific towns and cities. You move to this general telling, a new person, a friend. I realize this may be intended to be a play on the subject matter but for me, the piece loses all its stuffing in the general haze. I love the commentary on edges and the way it’s bringing a kind of second subject to the piece. But I really think there’s a power in naming these two people and in the detail of place. It could be a Lydia Davis kind of short telling in that way.

  4. David O'Connor

    Martha, that last line is brilliant. I love the thoughts behind this village vs.city slice and how the tone captures the mythic/universal. Being essentially a village boy who has become urbanised, I’ve thought a lot about these questions–you did it so well. Yes, we need edges to tell us where we are! Well done, so good to hear your voice again! Thank you.

  5. Robert Vaughan

    Hi Martha, well… look at you! Not only did you produce a new piece, but this is truly masterful! Reminds me of Maggie Nelson, or Lydia Davis, the span and scope of city and village, the threats inherent of BIG CITIES and towns with “edges.” I love this and especially the strange way in which voice and POV is given to the edges. So curiously potent and wise. I love this idea and concept you are exploring here.

  6. Wilson Koewing

    Martha,

    I simply loved the final line. I also enjoyed how large and small this piece felt. The big city small town thing did a lot of great work. I guess my only suggestion would be giving a little more insight into the character telling this story. I feel like I’m saying this a lot. my personal bias. I just want character details constantly thrown at me! Nice work.

    Wilson

    • Martha Jackson Kaplan

      Wilson, I love that you are into character. I think I am shit at that, and would gladly take lessons— my genre is most often poetry, ambiance of places, and only somewhat, at lovely rare moments in my writing––unlike in my life––does a character pop up and instruct me how I am to put that persona into words.

  7. Lucy Logsdon

    I can’t begin to tell you how much I love this piece!! I am currently living outside the edge (in the country) of the small town I grew up in. I have been thinking lots about geography and culture and place—and have often wondered if anyone else knew this feeling of smallness, of constraint, of having been born in place with edges!!! Your language so perfectly captures all the nuances of the feelings and things I have been thinking about. I just have not been able to put it into words yet—-and I am so thankful you did. I read your piece, and thought yes, that’s it; she’s got it just right. For in the world I was born into, towns very much do have edges, and those edges are essential to knowing who and where you are. I have lived in NYC and Houston and LA—all places where the edges have been swallowed, and each time I experienced a strange vertigo because I had no edge to hold to. I would love to see this piece expanded into something longer. I thoroughly enjoyed what’s here; thank you for this.

  8. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Lucy, Thank you. I’m so grateful that this small piece turned out to be so meaningful to you. It’s so good to find you here this weekend. I was sorry to miss the Wisconsin retreat last summer, but I remember well meeting you in Indiana one very hot summer day a few years earlier. I too lived in Houston. I think that is most edgeless city I have lived in, although the characters there definitely had edges. Thank you again.

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