SQF: Why did you start this magazine?
Roderick Bates: Actually, I didn't start the magazine. David M. Harris started it about seven years ago, and then his life moved forward and Rat's Ass Review took less of his time. As one of the poets who had found a home there, I asked him if I could re-start his effort, and he graciously gave me his blessing. So, recasting the question as why did I re-start Rat's Ass Review, I would say I did so in large part because I loved David's honest acknowledgment that editorial practices, no matter how well disguised with theory, pretty much come down to "I like that one, but those three suck." Once the pretense is out of the way, then a magazine can find an identity, can grow through time, can mature (or not), can find its unique place in the literary landscape or universe or scrap heap. I have been applying my sensibilities to Rat's Ass Review now for just about a year, and have been delighted with how it has grown.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
RB: I’m going to give founding editor David M. Harris the first shot at this question:
What is my kind of poem? . . . What they do have in common is that, if you read . . . carefully, you will understand something about what’s going on the first time . . . You will get a lot more out of each poem the more you read it, but you don’t have to study it to get the first level of enjoyment. I do want to see something going on beyond the surface, so that I can read the poem over and over and still get pleasure from it. But I need that surface pleasure. I’m not a great thinker about poetry, and I need my immediate gratification.
Adding to David's answer, I will say that I look for some spark of intelligent humor, some combination of fondness for and exasperation with the human condition. And finally, I also like to be surprised, to turn a corner and find unexpected beauty.
SQF: What common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a submission?
RB: Not all bad poetry rhymes, and not all rhymed poetry is bad, but the correlation is too strong to ignore.
Center justification will not resuscitate an otherwise moribund poem; neither will making it zig-zag across the page or arranging it in the shape of a bird or a cloud (not to mention the layout nightmare this nonsense presents for an editor engaged in mortal combat with WordPress).
Oscar Wilde was probably overstating his case when he said that all bad poetry springs from genuine feeling. However, the notion is consistent with much of the worst that has been sent to me. It simply is not enough to believe deeply in your Savior, or to love your child or hate your ex.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?
RB: Yes, if the poem is almost right, or if I sense that the poet would appreciate my thoughts, or if I am sufficiently pissed off at an utter disregard for my submission guidelines.
SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?
RB: I have learned that for many writers, writing and submitting are lonely processes with too little support. The level of gratitude that poets have expressed for the simple fact of acknowledging their submissions has been a revelation to me. And the effusion when I actually make some suggestion about honing their craft is at once very gratifying and profoundly sad. As a result of the feedback that I have gotten I have set up a (free) workshop group for poets who have been published in Rat's Ass Review. Many poets are part of some sort of actual workshop in their local community, but many are not, and can find support and advice from their peers in a virtual setting.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
Q: What do you see as the future of electronic publishing?
A: I have no freaking idea.
Thank you, David and Roderick. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.