There have been rare yet special times in my life when I wished to write with great eloquence, urgent to convey the full intensity of my pith. This is one of those times. I know from experience I will fail to encapsulate my gratitude, let alone succeed in masterful prose that might capture some bit of its inner fire. As always, all I can do is fret, trying not to damage my lower lip, when I am forced to confront my limitations.
Poetry has been my vehicle of soulful purpose from over a decade now, with no signs of abating; and Rose & Thorn has been essential to that journey. They accepted my work more than once when, despite best and painstaking efforts, my good poems were like a pittance of gems hidden in tonnages of coal.
Miraculously, the Poetry Editors at R&T ferreted them out. They were personable and spoke to me outside formal templates. My first acceptance with them was in 2006. The poetry chief at the time was Cesar Garza, who was friendly and generous in sharing. He arranged for me to write three guest blogs and also posted a podcast of one of the best poems I ever wrote: “Owl.”
The staff today is every bit as competent and patient with my submissions (which are hopefully less flawed than in the past). It has been a true pleasure to correspond with Cynthia Toups, Senior Poetry Editor. It is under her leadership that R&T transitioned a few years ago from the old website to the new one, which included a complete change in tone and aesthetic while preserving the excellence and mission of the journal. Judging by the quality of the quarterly issues, her diligence, fortitude, acumen and organization skill are astounding. No doubt a huge amount of talent and effort are prerequisite to make the brilliance that is R&T coalesce.
Toups must also possess fine networking skills because she works with three other poetry editors. One of them is Wil Hough, one of the founders of R&T, which qualifies him as a luminary by itself; and yet his presence in the literary world is legendary for other reasons, too. I am going to share his bio from the website:
Wil Hough, one of the founding editors at Rose & Thorn, first spent a decade as NOVLPapa in the old AOL Amazing Instant Writers Group. While earning his living as a faux finishing artist specializing in Impressionist and Post Expressionists wall art, he best expresses his contrarian outlook through poetry, essays, and short stories.
I’ve submitted to thousands of journals and yet Hough surprised me by doing something that has never happened before: while my work was being considered at R&T, he contacted me to say that my poem “In the Philosopher’s Condo” resonated deeply with him on a personal level; and he also told me why in specific terms. I thought this amazing, since it is rare for anyone to express that my poetry affected them deeply, much less to say why. Furthermore, this occurred during an evaluation process, a delightful deviation from protocols.
My opinion, bolstered by Hough’s note, is that we all ought to break out of the box more often. By doing so, Hough left me with a permanent memory and a story to tell about my poem. He made the poem more alive for me, gave it a Lazarus quality.
(As an aside, I am curious how Hough’s “contrarian outlook” adds to the dynamic of the Poetry Staff, and how it affects the chemistry of the team. I don’t mean to imply that it makes things more difficult. As I have learned from studying psychology, it is good to have many perspectives, and for each individual to speak their mind, to avoid the insidious conformity of Group Think).
There are two other poetry editors at R&T whom I have never had the privilege of communicating with directly. Yu-Han Chao has a Masters in fiction from Penn State and teaches at Merced College. Among her other accomplishments, she has published a book of poetry, We Grow Old, with Blackwaters Press. On amazon, it is described this way by Joe Farley:
Yu-Han Chao writes with delicacy and power. Her poems speak on many levels about life, relationships and personal nightmares. Her work flows from a mix of traditional Chinese culture, contemporary Taiwan and post-modern America. The resulting poems contain beauty and often wisdom. Many are worth reading over and over again.
The following short excerpt from the book has changed the way I view clocks--has sunk through layers of reflection to nestle deep. The title of the piece is “Song Zhong,” which means “Give Clock”:
The Chinese do not give each other clocks as a gift, because to song zhong, give clock, means to see someone to their grave, to be present at their deathbed, to give last rites.
The next Poetry Editor is Marilyn Shapley, self-described as a “life-long lover of poetry.” In her essay “Why Read Poetry,” she contrasts novels with poems. Of the former, she writes:
These books are places to lose your life, page by page; like sleep, a way to waste time, to follow another’s words down a lane of forgetting. Afterward, they sit on shelves or lay in dusty corners, are stuffed into rotting cardboard boxes and congregate in attics, waiting to grab my attention once again.
The latter, on the other hand, transcend words to challenge and instruct many facets of her psyche:
How could they know that their words cease to be words at all to me but become, instead, an artist’s brush (or more nearly the paint itself ), bold strokes and small nuances that I am sure to miss on first reading. I sit with them, study them as I would a work of art in a gallery, straining to discover the artist’s essence on the canvas or catch the one detail of great importance to him. Sometimes it is a fleeting beauty that cannot be described regardless of the medium used — paint, glass, ink or paper — whatever it is, is just there, a moment of discovery tucked away in a remote place, preserved for the discriminating viewer or, in my case, fearful reader.
As you can see, the Poetry Staff at R&T is eclectic and iconoclastic, sagacious and meticulous. It’s an amazing team, a complex yet effective synergy. I want to thank them most fully for taking my poems, “In the Philosopher’s Condo” and “Cat Among Curios.” Look for the them in the Fall issue, due out October 15!
I didn’t get to mention (tempus fugit!) the interviews, reviews, podcasts and essays that appear in R&T. This is indeed a fantastic venue. As mentioned, without their support, I might have given up. Today, I am a little less worried about recognition. I know I will continue to pile up rejections, and that greatness will most probably elude me. I want to be the best writer I can; to work at it continuously because it feels right; and to express my ethos, passion, worldview--and also that mandalic phantasmagoria which courses my veins, daring to be visionary.
In all these things too, R&T has helped me.