In December, The Rose & Thorn accepted three of my poems (now posted in their Winter 2010 issue). I didn’t write about it then, because I tend to procrastinate when time is needed to gather the full edge of my emotions. The problem is that, in this case, there is no way to encapsulate my gratitude to the editors and my praise for this journal. It is boundless.
The Rose & Thorn has done more for me as a poet than any other venue. They have repeatedly accepted my work, rejected it when unready, and even let me guest blog, an invaluable learning experience. These gifts remain in my heart. I must also mention the quality, which makes R&T an exemplary leader and literary standout. It is wonderful to be recognized by any good journal; but because R&T is original, sensuous, and expert, the honor is greater.
In addition to the aesthetic word-smithery, there is also a streetwise aspect to this zine. It doesn’t dominate, but it’s tangible enough to instill a scrim of shadow. If you met this side of R&T on the mean streets, you’d be dealing with a charismatic scamp, leather-clad and with dark allure, eager for revel yet steeled for trouble. A Neruda of graffiti, and a Sylvia Plath of thieves jargon. Not someone who faints at the sight of poetic blood.
You’ve got to take the title of this magazine seriously: rose AND thorn. It is not a tepid place to hang out. The writing ranges from pure beauty to raw pain (though never distasteful or obscene). If this shocks you, remember that part of R&T’s goal is help writers who want hard publications. An excellent story, novel or poem avoids humdrum and takes a bare-souled hog ride.
I could just say the journal is “gritty” as well as lovely; but the word is well-worn. To do justice, I have coined my own adjective: switchblade. R&T is switchblade: agile and honed with a sharp-edged intensity so good it seems both attractive and dangerous.
That is the Thorn. Sometimes, too, the poems evince a dream-like melody, the ensorcelling sensualism of Lorca and Rumi. That is the Rose. Of course, the energies of the Rose and the Thorn can appear together in one story, ineffably commingled to reflect the mazy Scales of life.
Reflecting its diverse nature, R&T has done an admirable job with its new improved web design. If you suffer from any allusion that a red rose implies a docile plant in a vase, one look disabuses you of that ghastly error.
What struck me first was the logo: an old typewriter keyboard narrowed down to a shot of two letters side by side: R T. To me, this indicates a truth to which all would-be writers must kneel down: writing is a painstaking and mindbreaking craft. It requires toil, anguish, and a super-tough hide.
Until the keyboard, in a mysterious sense, drinks of your blood, you will not be a true word artist.
R&T serves eager new writers, budding professionals, and literati who expect the very best sentences, and who want savvy insights from the contributors, blogs, podcasts, and forums generously offered. You won’t find greeting card sentiment here, but you will find a tremendous staff that loves the magic of language and plunges in with relish. They are phrase dancers. The team’s enthusiasm is palpable and contagious, and deserves full respect. Don’t dishonor them with wildcat submissions or impetuous prolix.
Although I’ve been loosely associated with the journal for over two years, through my poems, I do not know any of the staff personally. As befits true professionals, their main goal is the pulse of the craft, and I’m sure they are exceedingly busy.
I was just starting to get acquainted with Cesar Garza, now retired as editor. He was Senior Poetry Editor for years and did a splendid job. More importantly, he possesses one of the greatest passions I have seen, a true seeker and poet along the winding mystical paths of well-wrought sentences.
The new contact editor is Cynthia Toups, who is just as dedicated and unpretentious. I’ve emailed with her twice about the Winter 2010 issue and she seems friendly, astute and kind.
Many other people are vital to this journal, like dexterous vines of one of those roses that trellises out to become venerable, and hence earns the name of “rambler,” reserved for climbers especially beautiful and revered.
I know from reading the latest newsletter that founder Barbara Quinn has recently stepped down and now Angie Ledbetter and Kathryn Magendie are at the helm (Co-Editors and Publishers). You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce they are doing an outstanding job. The tree is known by its fruit.
In the Winter Issue, Ledbetter interviews Kristina Marie Darling, a former editor at R&T, who has gone on to become a world-class poet. Her multiple publications in meridian journals indicate that she is bursting onto the national scene. Very impressive!
Ms. Toups, in addition to being Senior Poetry Editor, is also Managing Editor of the journal.
The Poetry Editors are MFA and english instructor Yu-Han (Eugenia) Chao, who published a poetry book (We Grow Old) with Blackwaters Press in 2008; and William Hough, a dedicated presence in the realm of writing. He was one of the founders of R&T and before that spent a decade networking in the AOL Amazing Instant Writers Group.
There are many other staff members at R&T. All have interesting bios:
I want to end with a snippet from the email I hastily wrote back to Editor Toups when I learned that R&T had accepted me for Winter 2010. I was an effusive message, tangled and bumbling. I was very excited and spoke with childish candor:
“More than ever, I believe R&T is a singular presence in the literary world, spearheading the rush of awe, joy, anguish, and all other highest expressions of emotion, into the future. Thank you for the great amount of time you must put into this noble task ... Even the most ardent and driven poets, like me, ought to step back and thank you most profusely for doing work that is surely more important than our feverish toil, much of it vain and wasted. Much more.”
And so it is: Editors at great journals do more for the poetry world than even the most obsessed and meticulous poets. They are the true stars, who ferry talent and yet in that portage express a talent of their own, one just as wonderful, just as prodigious, just as needed and deep.