Monday, December 27, 2010

Six Questions for Timothy Green, Editor, Rattle

Rattle publishes poetry, translations, reviews, essays, and interviews. Learn more here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

TG: I didn't start it; I took over day-to-day operations in 2005. Alan Fox founded the magazine in 1994 as part of a class project for the private workshop he was attending, led by Jack Grapes of ONTHEBUS. So the first two issues of Rattle are actually just the typical cumulative anthologies of students' work at the end of a class that Alan had volunteered to put together chapbook-style at Kinko's. He'd probably say that he continued making the magazine after the class was over because he'd always been disappointed in the poetry he read in other journals and wanted to provide a venue for less academic -- but still complex -- poetry that wouldn't alienate readers as much as contemporary poetry has.  Foremost, Rattle is a magazine that tries to show prose readers that they're missing out on something if they're not reading poetry, too. He'd probably also say that he liked the processes of putting each issue together, and that it's fun to to play the god of a tiny universe.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a poem and why?

TG: There's really only one thing we look for in a poem. The name "Rattle" was more or less picked out of a hat, but there's something about a good poem that makes your whole body buzz in a way that sticks with you even after you put it down. It's a sense of resonance; it rattles around and echos. It makes you want to read the poem again, and remember it. But there are ten thousand ways to achieve that effect -- some poems do it through the music of language alone, some through the honesty of the voice, some through imagination. I say there are ten thousand ways to do it, because there are ten thousand poems that work, and each of them does it a little differently. And if they didn't each find their own unique way to work, they wouldn't work at all. So it's hard to pin down a list of what to look for. As a reader, you just have to be open to that transformative experience, and wait for it. As a writer, you have to do the exact same thing.

SQF: What are the top three reasons a poem is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to the above question and why?

TG: There really are no other reasons to reject a poem. My job as an editor is to read thousands of poems a week, and pan for the golden few that work some magic. Gold is gold; a rock is a rock. No amount of polishing will change that. I struggle with the notions of subjectivity and objectivity, because, while it's clear that the world itself is inherently subjective, good poems immediately make themselves known. It feels like it's possible to read just a single sentence and immediately know if what you're reading is worth reading. I don't know how that can be, but somehow it is. I could probably list a few common pitfalls, though:  1) No voice -- a lot of poems don't sound like they come from somewhere specific. 2) Revealing too much -- a lot of poems start too soon or end too late, rambling through needless introduction, or explaining away the revelation. 3) Revealing too little -- if it's too opaque to follow, where can it lead? 4) Rehashing other poems -- if it's not unique, why bother?

SQF: What is it about the characters in a poem that makes them pop off the page and grab hold of you?

TG: Well the only real character in most poems is the speaker, and I don't know if the speaker necessarily has to pop off the page. Sometimes the speaker just lulls you into absorption from the background. Consistency is probably all that matters. 

SQF: Will you publish a poem an author posted on a personal blog?

TG: It's funny you mention this, because I recently decided to start posting everything I write myself onto my own blog (, regardless of whether or not it makes them ineligible for publication at a lot of other venues. For years I've been doing the traditional thing, hiding my poems in a notebook and shopping them around until someone decides to certify them as published. The whole practice seems silly to me, and even though I've only recently taken the leap with my own work, this has been my editorial position at Rattle since I started. Poetry isn't a commodity -- and that's one of the beauties of it. There's no reason to try to fit it inside an economic model, no reason to promote scarcity by hoarding poems like diamonds in a vault. It doesn't even work when you try -- it's not as if you're selling First Rights; in most cases, you're just giving them away. So Rattle's always allowed poems from personal blogs. I figure, if you have a blog with a readership, and then publish a poem from it in Rattle, maybe some of your fans will buy a copy, and be turned on to all the other great poets in our issues. That's supposed to be a bad thing? It's the same philosophy that leads us to publish all of our back issues online in full -- many people assume that, having all the poems from an old issue available for free, no one will want to buy a print copy of that issue. But just the opposite is true -- as a new back issue goes up, so do sales. So again, I wonder, what are we holding onto here? Why not just share it all?

The only thing I don't want to do is publish an issue full of poems that people have already read -- to avoid that, you do have to draw a line somewhere. To me the line is self-publishing. Whether you're posting your poem on a blog, or making a chapbook with a photocopier, or printing a dozen copies for your poetry workshop, or reading your poem at an open mic, you're just sharing your work with "friends and family" in the loosest sense. Each of them could be considered forms of self-publication, and any distinction between them seems to me hopelessly artificial. It's you taking action to share your work, and because it's your choice the whole time, it's always really more about you as a person than the work itself. The situation only really changes when it becomes some third party -- an editor -- deciding to share your work with an audience that doesn't already know you. Immediately that seems to me to be a different entity, and a natural place to draw the line.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

TG: Gosh, I have no idea...and so no idea how I'd answer it...

Thank you, Tim. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

NEXT POST: 1/3--Six Questions for Beth Thomas & Tara Laskowski, Editors, SmokeLong Quarterly

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