Rattle, Timothy Green
Rattle began in Spring of 1995. It is published four times a year once in the Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. The magazine is solely a poetry magazine, and they are looking for poetry that “is accessible, interesting, moving, and memorable. If it makes you laugh or cry, then it’s the kind of poem that rattles around inside you for years, and it’s our kind of poem.” The misson of the magazine is to promote poetry. They also have an Anthology of Young Poets, where they highlight the best poetry by younger writers. Interview with Timothy Green, Editor of Rattle.
How did you become interested in editing? What was your first job in the editing community?
Honestly, I only became interested in editing after becoming an editor. It was never something that I planned on or sought out, or even knew existed, really. As an undergraduate, I pursued a duel-major in biochemistry and English, because I liked them both—creative writing was a hobby, and maybe I’d write a science fiction novel while science paid the bills. But after a few years doing a work-study in an mRNA lab, I realized that I didn’t have a passion for it—it was too much minutia, too little revelation. There was a specific day when one of the techniques the lab was developing finally worked, and everyone was so excited, and I pretended to be excited, and I realized that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life pretending to be excited. I’d already been skipping course labs too often, so that I could finish a story or write a poem. So I dropped the duel, and just became a directionless English major. Our college had a student-run lit mag, and I was on the staff, but it never even occurred to me that it might someday become a career—the thought literally never crossed my mind.
After college I ended up working as an overnight counselor at a group home—a great job for a wannabe writer. I was there for emergencies, and most nights had several hours to myself, and so I wrote every night, and got paid to do it. I thought I’d just do that forever, or maybe at some point go to grad school. But then I submitted a few poems to Rattle, a magazine on the other side of the country that I’d never heard of until that night. They ended up taking a poem, and I started chatting with the editor at the time, Stellasue Lee, over email, about poetry and life in general. I don’t know if it was dumb luck or karma or kismet, but out of nowhere she asked if I’d like the job of replacing her, so that she could retire. And not being pinned down to anything, I figured, why not—and that was my first editing job.
How did you first become involved with Rattle? How has your influence on the magazine developed since then?
From the start, my job was to take over, so Stellasue showed me how to do everything that she did, and gradually pulled back—this was 2004, and two years later I officially became the editor. It was Alan Fox who founded the magazine in 1995, and he’s still the Editor-in-Chief, but he owns a real estate business and does a lot of charity work, and is author of non-fiction books (People Tools and People Tools for Business), so he’d hired Stellasue and then myself to manage it day-to-day, so I’ve been doing that the whole time.
What are some of the challenges you face as editor of Rattle?
The only challenges are time and technology. Time, because there’s never enough of it. When I tell non-literary people that I edit a quarterly magazine, they always reply, “That’s a full-time job?” But those who understand ask, “Do you ever sleep?” I’m typing this interview up at 1 a.m., so obviously, not really. We receive about 250 poems a day, every day—it doesn’t stop for holidays or vacations or sick days. The poems just keep coming, five books of poems day after day, and someone has to read every one, and reply—that’s a full-time job of its own. Then there are orders to fill, subscriber lists, bookstores, social media, websites, marketing, design, accounting. I’ve found that what I love is the variety of it; all the tasks that I do throughout the day are very different from one another—I have to use every part of my brain at some point, and I like that. I like the challenge of having a tiny budget and a tiny staff, and trying to be as efficient in every single thing as possible. It’s a challenge, but it’s a fun challenge.
And technology because it’s always changing. At first I had to learn HTML so that I could build a static website. Then I realized it had to be dynamic, so taught myself enough CSS and PHP to get by. Then there were ebooks, and I had to figure out how to create those. That won’t be the end of it, I’m sure—I’ll probably have to start making iPhone and Android apps, and I have no idea where to start. But I’ll learn, I guess.
In what ways has Rattle changed since it began in 1995?
Rattle began as Alan’s class chapbook, so it couldn’t have changed more than it has. The first few issues were hand-stapled and printed at Kinko’s. Alan decided to keep it going, and added perfect binding, then color covers, interviews with poets, tribute themes, and our unique style of first-person contributor notes. When I took over I started the Rattle Poetry Prize, daily content online, shifted from biannual to quarterly publication, and added the annual Young Poets Anthology and, mostly recently, the Poets Respond feature, publishing new poems based on that week’s news. Our revenue’s grown, too, to the point where we now pay all of our contributors in real money.
I’ve also been moving away from prose more and more—first we moved reviews from print to online-only, then dropped them altogether. We’ve all but dropped essays now, too, though we still consider them. But poetry is our love—I’d rather publish five poems than a five-page essay on poetry, so I might as well.
Are there any major future goals for Rattle? If so, how do you plan on executing them?
Rattle is a 501c3 non-profit, and our mission is to promote the practice of poetry. That’s the only goal: Keep promoting the practice. I want to contribute to a world in which more and more people experience the joy of artistic creation, and the empathy, awareness, and meditation that poetry offers in particular. I want regular people to write poems in the same way that they write diary entries and Facebook posts—poems don’t all have to be great for poetry to do great things, and I want to teach that that to the public.
The how—I don’t know. I operate on whim; I get bored, think up an idea, and then try it out. My wife—and assistant editor—Megan and I were sitting over breakfast one morning and started talking about kids writing poems, and by the time the coffee was cold we decided to start the Rattle Young Poets Anthology. I was annoyed another morning by a well-known poetic response to the UC-Santa Barbara shootings, and hours later started Poets Respond, which has rapidly been gaining an excited audience. So I don’t really know what to do next—I’ll get bored or frustrated about something, and throw an idea against the wall to see if it sticks. That’s the fun of the job; there’s so much freedom. It’s only poetry.
One of the major issues literary communities discuss is the impending “death” of the literary magazine. What are your thoughts on this?
All that talk is silliness. Duotrope lists 5,000 publishers. Poets send me 100,000 poems a year. We’re living in the golden age of literature—those who bemoan the death of the literary magazine are really only upset about the proliferation of literary magazines, and the dwindling slices of a newly democratic pie. The internet and print on demand changed the publishing paradigm, so that magazines no longer need institutional backing to be sustainable. Anyone can make their own magazine in a matter of minutes—and they do, and still 99% of submissions are rejected, because there are just that many writers out there.
And it’s only going to accelerate—as technology advances, we’ll have more leisure time. Social media has lead to an increasingly self-absorbed culture (sorry, but it’s true) in which public attention itself has become a currency, increasing the natural drive toward artistic self-expression. And literature itself is blissfully quiet respite from the overwhelming stimulation of modern life. I think we’re going to see more and more people retreating to the escapist comfort of books—paper books, even. So there will be evermore readers of literature, and evermore writers of literature, and plenty of jobs for editors who help to connect the one with the other. The vetting, the filtering of literature is going to be a real issue—its life, though, won’t be.
What do you think is the ideal audience for Rattle? And do you believe the magazine is successfully influencing that audience? I always say Rattle‘s ideal audience is someone who likes to read, but hasn’t read poetry since high school, and picks up a copy in a dentist’s waiting room. Flips through, reads a poem, says, “Hey, maybe I do like poetry after all,” and then writes a little poem on a napkin later that night. That’s our target, anyway; that’s who we aim to please with every issue—and success is limited. We hear stories like that from time to time, but it’s hard to break through to the unindoctrinated. There are so many other things to be doing than reading or writing a poem. So much learned disinterest from a curriculum that taught all the allusions but not the passion. But we’ll keep pounding at the gates.
Can you talk a bit about the post-submission process at Rattle? Is it hard to choose what poems to include each issue?
It really isn’t hard at all—when a poem takes the top of your head off, you know it. Megan and I read everything. We pull out what we like, and take it to Alan, who—since he doesn’t read 250 poems a day—serves as our blank slate representative of the ideal reader. He doesn’t get caught up in the trends that we might. As an editor, I think there’s a real drive propelling you toward increasingly unusual pieces, because you’ve seen so much before. You want to publish things because they’re weird, even if they might not be good. Alan doesn’t have the same literary baggage, so his say is crucial. If he likes the poem, too, then we publish it. If not, we argue about it, and he’s the arbiter. But mostly we agree—when your scalp is lying on the floor, there’s not much denying it.
Tell me a little about the Rattle staff. What is the best way to describe the staff as a whole and on an individual level?
I’ve already described them all. Megan is our expert reader—she reads literally twice as fast as I do, and understands poems on instinct. She’s amazing. I plod along behind her, seeing if there’s anything she might have missed, and doing all the legwork of responding and running the actual magazine. Then Alan is the founder and vision and tabula rasa. And that’s the entire staff.
Do you have any advice for beginning editors and/or writers?
Just don’t give up. The one thing that every successful writer or editor has in common is persistence. Persistence trumps talent, even—because without persistence, you’re out of the game. Fourteen rejections for every acceptance. That’s what writers have to face. Constant criticism—mostly from themselves. So writers need the tenacity to keep getting back up on that horse, time after time, not matter how many times it kicks you off. Read what you love and write what you love and publish what you love, and everything else will take care of itself.