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Editor Interview: Rat's Ass Review

Q: Describe what you publish in 25 characters or less.

A: 21st Century poetry

Q: What other current publications (or publishers) do you admire most?

A: Rattle, Dark Horse, Stillwater Review, Naugatuck River Review

Q: If you publish writing, who are your favorite writers? If you publish art, who are your favorite artists?

A: I won't play favorites with the writers whom I have published, so the list will not include many whom I admire greatly and whom I was lucky enough to be be able to showcase at RAR. Who would I like to publish that I haven't snared yet? Pat Fargnoli, Pam Bernard, Kim Addonizio, Kelli Russell Agodon, the late Mary Oliver. Who do I read for personal pleasure? All of the above, Dylan Thomas, Robert Frost, John Donne, Ann Sexton, Maxine Kumin, David Budbill. Non-poets? Joseph Citro, Ernest Hebert, Andrew Vachss, John Sterinbeck, Dorothy L. Sayers.

Q: What sets your publication apart from others that publish similar material?

A: I would like to think that RAR has a particular editorial style, which I may not be able to articulate, but which arises in part from the fact that no decisions are made by committee, and in part from having no fear of offending any institution or benefactor. RAR revels in that complete artisitic freedom which only comes from utter poverty.
Since I took the reins in 2015 I have answered to no one, and have made all decisions purely on the basis of "I like that one" or "Wow, that kind of sucks" (with an occasional "Okay, this isn't quite there yet, but let me see if I can tell you what troubles me about it").
For those poets who do get accepted at RAR, we offer a free ongoing online poetry workshop where poets can submit their work and get the advice of a large group of caring and intelligent fellow poets. As of August 2020 the group has been going for five years, with some of the original members still participating. Because it was virtual from the start, the workshop is one of the few institutions which have not been diminished by COVID. In fact, since the pandemic, the poets have begun holding ZOOM poetry readings, and have become even closer with one another.

Q: What is the best advice you can give people who are considering submitting work to your publication?

A: First, the selfish advice. Read the damn submission guidelines. Don't send me ten poems; don't send ANY poems when I am not accepting submissions; don't send them in .txt format or in the body of the email; don't send me material that has appeared elsewhere. And so on. Read the guidelines.
Next, the advice that should be obvious but often isn't. Edit your own work before you send it out. Use spellcheck, for God's sake. Think about grammar and punctuation, and have some sort of purpose and consistancy in its use. I don't care if you use no capital letters and don't end sentences with a period. But if you sometimes use caps and sometimes don't, if you have two sentences that end with periods and seventeen that don't, then those had better be deliberate, rational choices which I can decode. If I come to the conclusion that you are just sloppy and lazy, that impression will extend to the content of your work as well.
And finally, the advice for serious poets. Every editor says "Send me your best work" so I won't start with that. Instead I might offer this: send me that poem that deep in your heart you love more than any other but which has been collecting rejections while other work is being accepted. If you are right in your feeling about that poem, and if I am actually a perceptive editor with idiosyncratic but solid values, then maybe I too will see what you see in it. The same goes for that poem which you wrote in a moment of atypical boldness but now are a little abashed by (or perhaps you have sent it out and it was a too strong for some editorial tastes). We at RAR are not easily offended.
And, yes, of course, send your best work as well. Not everything that RAR prints is shocking or vulgar; some is just good, imaginative, thought-provoking poetry. We like that, too.

Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: I'm afreaid I'm going to sound a bit like the late SCOTUS Justice Potter Stuart here. I'm not sure I can describe the ideal submission, but I know it when I see it.
The ideal submission is one which makes me think "Holy Shit! I have to have this!" and then sets me to furiously typing my acceptance. I have been known to ask for a poem within ten minutes of its arrival in my email Inbox. So, I guess the poem needs to somehow induce a startle reflex in me. It has to be original; it has to be self-assured; it has to be the perfect version of itself. It needs to provide that "Aha!" in some form. It has to make me see something a new way; it needs to make me feel something. Joy, sadness, personal discomfort, anything, so long as it is abrupt and strong.

Q: What do submitters most often get wrong about your submissions process?

A: Some are sloppy in one way or another (or in several ways). They don't follow the submission guidelines. They don't proof-read their work. Or (warning -- pet peeve alert) they insist on writing rhymed poems before they have developed their craft to the point where they can do so in service of creating an original piece of work. Being able to twist syntax to the point where you have two adjacent lines ending with "moon" and "soon" does not make you a poet. Until you can do it as naturally as did Robert Frost (or at least Ogden Nash), don't send it to me.
For the record, most poets do a good job of sending their work; this complaint is only about the few who don't.

Q: How much do you want to know about the person submitting to you?

A: I do want the poet to send me a short bio, but I won't read it until after I have read the work. I don't care where you have been published; I care about the quality of the work you send me. I will happily be the first person to recognize an emerging poet; in fact, that is one of the great joys of this work.

Q: If you publish writing, how much of a piece do you read before making the decision to reject it?

A: I read every poem that is sent to me. If I really dislike the first two or three, I will still plow forward because I don't ever want to let a good poem slip through my hands. However, if a poem offers me nothing in its first half, I will probably hurry through the rest of it.

Q: What additional evaluations, if any, does a piece go through before it is accepted?

A: Just me. That's the strength and weakness of Rat's Ass Review. Nothing gets published because it got four tepid yes votes and three strong no votes (or even four vehement yes votes and three weak no votes). It gets one vote.
I will, on occasion, accept a poem contingent on an author agreeing to some sort of editorial interference from me. In those cases I will send the poem back with my suggestions and ask if they are OK. And, of course I will fuss with spelling and punctuation, again with the OK of the author. But any of this tinkering will be done after I have made the decision that the poem is, or could be, acceptible for publication. And in no case will I make changes to an author's work without the author's permission.

Q: What is a day in the life of an editor like for you?

A: I get up, get coffee, flop into my recliner, and open my email. I then deal with whatever has come my way. Today I am updating my info with Duotrope; so far, this has taken three hours of my morning, which will be well repaid if it helps you to a better decision regarding submitting your work to Rat's Ass Review.
When I'm accepting submisions, I spend several hours each day reading poems. I open an email, then download the attached .doc or .docx file and open that. I read all of the poems quickly, then go back to any that particularly interested me and re-read them. At this point I usually know whether I want any of the poems or not, and I send out one of a few boilerplate responses, either asking for one or more poems, or thanking the person but declining the poems. Sometimes I will want to include some personal message. Generally this is either because I want to propose a change to a poem that I am asking for or because I want to articulate why I didn't accept something. The latter only happens when I think the poems have merit and I want to acknowledge that and provide my thoughts on how the work could be stronger.
On relatively rare occasions I will sit with a poem for a while because I can't immediately decide whether or not to ask for it. Usually two or three days are enough for me to know which way to go with the poem. And, on some occasions, although I know that I do not want the work, I will wait before sending out a rejection. Those are painful enough without getting one fifteen minutes ater you sent the work.
Toward the end of the submission period I beging to pull together the poems and prepare them for WordPress. I do not have good luck with the Visual Edit part of WordPress, so I need to put the issue into HTML format. My current practice is to create a Word .docx document that is laid out the way I want, then when It is complete, to copy it into the Visual Edit version of WordPress, and then to immediately switch to the HTML version and copy that into a new Word document. I now have an HTML Master of the new issue in a Word document. From this point forward, I make all changes to the HTML Master, then update the HTML in WordPress. During this process the new issue is on the website, but passworded so that it is not visible to the public.
When I think I am ready to publish a new issue, I share the password with the poets and invite them to check their work for any inaccuracies that I have inserted into the issue. Once all of the final tweaks have been made, I remove the password and the new issue is available on the website. I then spend a day or two promoting the issue on various social media outlets.

Q: How important do you feel it is for publishers to embrace modern technologies?

A: Well, there's a qeustion that could spike my blood pressure and send me off into an inarticulate rant. I will attempt to moderate myself.
I would wholeheartedly embrace modern technology if only it were a bit more embraceable. As it stands, I insist on electronic submissons; I only publish on a website; my website has a FaceBook page and a Twitter handle. I am my own webmaster. So, pretty good for an old guy.
However, taking the step from website to e-book and POD has proven hugely frustrating and difficult. I have started the process with Amazon's self-publishing platform, only to find it insanely opaque. I have purchased a How-To guide to the process, and have not fared any better. I have left in disgust, and returned a few months later to try again, only to find that Amazon has a new platform, and what little I had accomplished before is now of no use.
For the record, I learned computer programming 50 years ago at Dartmouth when Professor Kemeny was developing BASIC. I have had home computers since the days of cassette storage of programs, and I used computers at work since the days of MS-DOS 3.0 and floppy disks.
I will eventually have e-book and POD versions of Rat's Ass Review. But damn, it should be a lot easier than it is.

Q: How much do you edit an accepted piece prior to publication?

A: I covered this above, but let me state it here: I will never edit an author's work without first getting permission.
Having said that, I will regard any part of the poetic process as fair game for improvement. I will suggest changes to lines or stanzas, I will suggest the deletion of whole sections of a poem. I will fuss over whether a comma should be added or removed or replaced by a semi-colon. I will identify a weak word, a cliched phrase, an unclear image.
I may make acceptance of a poem contingent on certain changes, and if the author and I cannot come to terms, I will reject the poem. However, in other instances, I may make suggestions but still be willing to take the poem as it was originally sent to me.

Q: Do you nominate work you've published for any national or international awards?

A: I have nominated poems for Pushcart Prizes and for Best of the New recognition. I will continue to look for venues in which to promote the work of poets whose work I have accepted.