Poetry is often considered to be a semi-lost art form. In curriculum-driven, cash-strapped school systems art and humanities classes are regularly cut and rarely added. As literature becomes more obscure poems seem all but obsolete—a depressing situation, especially for young people who might have innate poetic talent that they will never get to uncover.
Luckily, there are several organizations and publishers that strive to keep the art of poetry alive. Additionally, many cyber schools, homeschoolers, and most universities offer classes to introduce students to the art and wonder of poems. In this vein, at the forefront of poetry publishing, is “Rattle” a magazine that publishes several times a year and encourages readers to submit work.
According to the official website, Rattle’s mission is to promote the practice of poetry. The staff at Rattle wholeheartedly believes that poetry should be accessible to everyone—not merely scholars or those enrolled in college workshops. Everyone’s life is compelling to a certain extent in that we all feel joy and pain, burdens and profound experiences and poetry is an intimate way to express such emotions. As is stated on the official Rattle website:
“When you read a poem, you become the medium; the poet speaks in your voice, paints the canvas of your inner eye. This connection is more direct than any other, and it doesn’t take a Hollywood budget to do it. Read the poems on Rattle.com for free. Write a poem on a napkin and share it with a friend. Keep a journal and send us a page. Participate. The pure love of language is one of the most important experiences in the history of human culture, and somehow most of us have forgotten about it.”
Rattle aims to promote a community of active poets. The people who have submitted—and subsequently published—poems via Rattle come from many walks of life including: lawyers, landscapers, homemakers, and Pulitzer Prize winners. Whereas most literary magazines cite a percentage of content that comes from the “slush pile” (work that is sent in unsolicited) the vast majority of poetry publishers strongly favor solicited (agented) work. At Rattle, every poem published starts in the “slush pile” and has to rise through the same process of careful consideration. In essence, if the staff at Rattle likes your poem better than the Poet Laureate’s, they will publish yours. Rattle is also open to feedback and editors are available through email, Facebook and Twitter (or whatever interactive technology comes out next).
Rattle is published in several forms, in effort to find as many readers as possible, but the primary version has been the print issue which was originally offered twice per year, but now appears quarterly in March, June, September, and December. Each issue is roughly 100 pages of poetry, essays, and an interview with a contemporary poet. Summer and winter issues are open; spring and fall issues focus on a specific stylistic, ethnic, or vocational group. For example, recent tributes have focused on sonnets, African American poets, cowboy poets, visual poetry, and nurses. Every poem published has or will appear on Rattle.com as part of the daily blog, which features a poem every day, (or, occasionally, relevant prose). Many of the poems include an audio clip of the poet reading their work.
Poems illustrate how moving words can be—especially when spoken aloud. Hence, Rattle aims to instill a love of poetry into as many people as possible, including young people for whom Rattle actually dedicates a contest (and publishes an annual Issue) for. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Timothy Green, the lead editor at Rattle. Timothy was kind enough to share his experiences working with Rattle and his hopes for the future of the organization:
Q: What inspired you to start working with poetry?
Well, I never thought I would work in poetry, it was just fate or luck that brought me here, not inspiration. I was writing poetry, and submitted it for publication in Rattle, and was offered a job here out of the blue, more or less. And when someone offers you a job that will pay you to read poetry, you don’t think twice. But there was an experience that made me fall in love with poetry for the first time. I’ve always been a cerebral, rational person—I loved the sciences, and hated the humanities, probably because in an English class there are no right answers, there are no testable facts. I didn’t have an artistic bone in my body—couldn’t draw, couldn’t sing, couldn’t dance, never wrote a story I didn’t have to. But during my senior year of high school, the JV baseball coach who never liked me was promoted to varsity—and he cut me from the team. Baseball was my favorite thing in the world and this guy took it from me in my senior year, frankly, because I was fat. The old coach didn’t care, I was good, but the new coach didn’t want a fat kid on the team. I was devastated. I threw a chair against the wall in his office when he told me, then ran home crying in the rain like some deleted scene from Forrest Gump. My English teacher gave us an extra credit assignment every week to write something creative—a poem or a story—based on a phrase he’d write on the corner of the chalkboard. It didn’t matter what you wrote, you got credit if you turned any piece of paper with words on it, so I did it every week for the easy A. That week the phrase was “angry cats,” and I sat down to write it that night, still full of rage, and this poem came out in perfect ballad meter—I didn’t write it, something else wrote it, some other secret part of me; it was magic. It was like a religious awakening. The poem itself wasn’t actually good, but there was that question: Who wrote that? Where does art come from? It became a powerful mystery. And I shouldn’t ignore, either, that the poem made me feel better; it was a release of something that needed releasing. So I’ve been writing regularly ever since. I never intended to be a “writer,” I thought it would always be a hobby, but then I fell into this job, and now here I am ten years later.
Q: Why did you start Rattle and how come you choose that name?
I didn’t start Rattle; Alan Fox founded the magazine in 1995, and hired me as the second editor to run it. Interestingly, Alan’s story is almost the exact opposite of mine: Alan always wanted to be a writer, but was pulled away to focus on an increasingly successful real estate business. At some point after reaching 50 he realized that he’d completely neglected that dream. So he enrolled in classes, first at USC and then privately with a Los Angeles poet and actor named Jack Grapes. At the end of each semester, Jack Grapes has his students put together a class chapbook, as is common in writing workshops. Alan volunteered to make it, and he and his secretary organized it, and printed copies at Kinko’s. And that was the first issue of Rattle. The name itself wasn’t anything significant—they’d had a brainstorming session and it stuck. At the same time, Alan was reading literary magazines again, for the first time in decades, and realized that he didn’t like the kind of poetry that was being published. It was too academic and detached, too full of irony, too scarce on meaning. No one wrote like they spoke, with the natural music of human speech—it was all pretentious and opaque. Obviously this was a hyperbolic generalization, but Alan couldn’t find a magazine he actually enjoyed reading—so he decided to keep Rattle going and make it one.
Q: I have heard that Rattle offers a “Young Poets Anthology.” Can you please provide more information about this program?
The RYPA is a project we started last year, and it was so much fun that we decided to start doing it every year. It’d taught a few classes with Writers in the Schools, and had really been blown away by what some of the students had written. Young writers have a natural spontaneity, and aren’t self-conscious enough to hide it; the magic of my “angry cats” experiences just pours out of them. I wanted to find a way to save some of that, and to honor it, and to encourage young people who were writing to keep writing. Poetry enriches lives, so let’s start early. For a few months, after every editorial meeting, we’d close by reading the kids’ poems, and they’d be the best poems of the day. Eventually it started feeling like our reward—if we get through all of this adult work, we can get to the inspiring kids’ stuff. There were strange connections, keen insights, and a larger awareness of the world around them than I’d even expected. Our first volume, which we published last year, is one of my favorite things that we’ve ever done, and I’m looking forward to continuing every year, in addition to the magazine itself.
Q: In terms of subject matter, is there any style of poem or topic that Rattle favors?
No—I always tell people to read our issues (in print or online) and send us whatever it is they think they don’t see there already. I want as much variety as possible. I want poems in every style on every topic there is—I want topics and styles that haven’t been thought of yet. The poems just have to be interesting, they have to be unique and insightful and memorable. But that’s it.
Q: What has been the most rewarding experience related to Rattle so far?
Well, if I hadn’t already mentioned the Rattle Young Poets Anthology I would say that. But I also love this other new series that we’re doing, called “Poets Respond,” in which we encourage poets to react to the news of the week in real time. Every Sunday morning we’ve been publishing a new poem online in response to the events of that week. Poems have covered all the major events of this summer—the war in Gaza, ISIS, MH17, Ebola, and the deaths of Robin Williams and Michael Brown. And they’ve also covered smaller stories—a teenager’s funeral in Connecticut, the #YesAllWoman hashtag, the closing of an Atlantic City casino. It’s been amazing to see the quality of poetry that writers can come up with so soon after the events happen—the first elegy for Robin Williams came two hours after his death was reported. And when poems touch a nerve that’s still raw, they become even more powerful. I usually end up bawling in my office on Saturday mornings, while selecting that week’s poem. It’s encouraging poets to write more regularly, too, and changing the way they consume the news—it can turn the daily bombardment of tragedy that the media feeds us into something positive. So that’s very rewarding.
Q: What are Rattle’s ultimate and long-term goals for the future?
The Rattle Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit, and our mission statement is to promote the practice of poetry. We’re going to keep doing that, in as many new ways as we can think of. We want as many people as possible to be reading and writing poetry regularly—I want there to be a billion poets in the world; I want it to become part of the culture in the same way many people keep diaries and blogs. I want people to blog poems, to tweet poems, to write poems on their lunch break and post them to Facebook. I don’t know how to get there, but that’s the goal—because poetry makes lives better. Whether it’s being created or consumed, poetry increases attentiveness and empathy, it helps us understand ourselves and each other better, and fills our days with new meaning. I think the number of poets in any society could serve as a barometer for its collective psychological health—so I want everyone to be a poet.
Q: Are there any up and coming events that you would like to mention?
We have a monthly reading series in the Los Angeles area that readers can find on our website, but beyond that we’re always looking for poems. We receive about 90,000 poems a year, and it’s never too much. Half of every issue has a theme, so we have specific calls coming up—we just published a Poets of Faith issue, and have haiku poets coming soon. We’ll be looking for poets of New York City until January, and then poets who work as scientists through the spring. After that it’s still up in the air, but I think an LGBT issue is long since due, so probably that. And we’re always looking for young poets (up to age 15) for the RYPA (deadline each year is June 15th).
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At Rattle, anything always goes. If a poem 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 Rattle’s kind of poem.
For more information about Rattle visit the official website: