"We Just Want to Encourage and Support More and More Poets Every Year."
A Chat With Tim Green, Editor of Rattle
All literary magazines have their own path, their own genesis. Each strives to find its place and the way to reach many readers. Rattle magazine has achieved great success in the literary world in part because it publishes poems that cause “a rattle in the heart.” This interview will take you through this journal’s beginnings and more!
Interview by Connie Post
It’s wonderful that Rattle has been publishing poetry and literature since 1995. Can you tell us how Rattle started? Who were the founders of Rattle and what can you share about them that will help us understand more about your magazine and its origins?
Rattle was founded by Alan Fox, a businessman in Los Angeles. I say businessman, but he’s really a self-made Renaissance man with a lot of interests—he already had advanced degrees in law, accounting, counselling, and education, had started a real estate investment company, produced films, and even owned an ice cream chain before meeting the poet James Ragan on a cruise in the early ‘90s. Ragan rekindled an old fondness for poetry, and convinced him to get yet another degree, this time in creative writing at USC. He had a good time with that, so wanted to keep it up, and enrolled in private classes with another LA poet, Jack Grapes. Alan volunteered to put the class anthology together at the end of the course, and that was issue #1 of Rattle, a saddle-stitched chapbook photocopied at Kinko’s. The first few issues gradually expanded from the two-dozen writers in the class to past graduates of the workshops, and then Rattle eventually began taking unsolicited submissions. Every issue was funded out of Alan’s pocket, because he enjoyed doing it. He saw Rattle as the outsider’s alternative to the avant-garde, academic poetry that was predominantly being published at the time. And that’s still what Rattle is 22 years later, as the non-profit Rattle Foundation.
Your website is very well designed, laid out and easy to use. That can be difficult when a journal has a significant amount of material to make available. How is the success of your website accomplished? Who plays the largest role in keeping it maintained?
Thanks—it’s nice of you to say that, because that was the primary goal in arranging it. At this point the website has 3,117 poems, 987 audio files, and 122 separate index pages, so it’s not easy to keep it all organized and navigable. Like anything else here, it’s grown gradually and organically. I’ve been editor since 2004, and one of the first things I did was take over the website, adding poems gradually rather than in one big swoop with each issue. The website was always extensive, even then—Rattle might have been the first print literary magazine to publish the entirety of its content online, and had already been doing that for years. Our philosophy has always been to give as much away as possible; that’s the only thing we’re here for, sharing poetry, so why not share it all? But I wanted regular traffic and not just brief floods every six months, so I started adding a few new poems every Sunday night. Not too long after that, WordPress made it possible to integrate a blog into your website without much computer knowledge, so I started formatting the poems as blog posts, taking advantage of all the platform has to offer. I never know what I’m doing, but I’ve learned on the fly. I’m the only one responsible for production at Rattle. Three other editors—Alan Fox, Megan Green, and Asha Blake—read and choose poems, but I’m the only full-time employee and do everything else, including the website, for better or worse. I’m always tinkering with it, and there are always things I could be doing better.
Your website says “it shouldn’t take a scholar to be moved by the written word—great literature has something to offer everyone.” I believe this very approach is part of the reason Rattle has been such a successful magazine. Can you say more about this core value and how it runs as a thread through Rattle’s daily operations?
As I mentioned, Alan only came back to poetry later in life. He loved reading and writing poetry when he was younger, but drifted away as his career and family took center stage. When he finally returned to it later, he felt like poetry was a big club, and he wasn’t in it. He didn’t particularly want to be in it, and it didn’t particularly want him as a member—he just wanted to read poems that made him feel something, and couldn’t care less about literary cliques and trends. I think a lot of people feel that way. I know it resonated with me when I first came across Rattle myself—I couldn’t care less about literary culture or who won the latest awards. Actually, I still don’t even know who won the latest awards. And Alan knows even less than me. He’ll read a book or two by a poet before he interviews them, and usually those are the only books of poetry he’ll read that year. This is both a practicality and by design—he’s a tireless but extremely busy person, between his business, other charities, and the non-fiction books he’s written, but Alan and his wife Asha are both our ideal readers. Asha has been a journalist, news anchor, and media consultant. They’re both well-read people who enjoy art in general and poetry from time to time, but that’s it. “Poet” would be at the bottom of their list of identities, if they listed it at all. So they’re both the kind of readers that the literary world has tended to ignore, and that we want to reach. If a poem is too esoteric or academic for them to enjoy, then we know not to publish it. It’s like having our own in-house focus group. And that really is necessary, because Megan and I probably read more poems than anyone in the world outside of Don S