Literature Lives in Print

Note: This article first appeared in the print edition of the Press-Enterprise on December 15, 2013, in the Inlandia Institute’s weekly column.

Last month San Antonio, Texas, opened Bibliotech, America’s first bookless public library, which allows patrons to borrow inexpensive e-readers and download electronic books from home. For us writers and lovers of literature, the mission before us was clear: Lament! My Facebook feed was full of posts forecasting the end of paper books: Would it be five years? Ten? “Technology doubles ever year, Moore’s Law!” the pessimists fretted. The more nostalgic among us simply shared their first encounters with books: the smell of the glue, the weight of the pages, the paper-cuts—all things our children will never have a chance to experience.

As a publisher of print literature, my career is on the line—I should be rending my garments as much as anyone. But I’m not worried. Paper books are here to stay, and every tablet and e-reader that’s sold only makes them a better home for writing that we truly value.

When I hear publishers complain about ebooks, I’m reminded of broadcasters predicting the demise of radio when television was introduced in the late 1940s. Their concerns were understandable: Why would anyone just listen to a program that they could also watch? And it is true that television brought an end to the Golden Age of Radio—but it’s also true the producers were able to adapt.

When an environment changes, creatures survive by learning to fill a new niche. There was no longer a need the serial dramas and quiz shows of the past—television could clearly do that better. But there were other formats that played to radio’s strengths. The high costs of television production meant that radio was more nimble, and it quickly became the superior format for up-to-the-minute news. This led to further development as a medium of discussion, with popular call-in shows that gave their audiences a new and broader soap box, and then the modern shock jocks and NPR story hours in counterpose.

Six decades after the introduction of television, there’s still a radio in every car—and the internet has brought it back into our homes, in a way, with the ubiquitous and often idiosyncratic “podcasts.” I don’t have access to television, but I listen to radio-like streams every day—interviews with authors and lengthy lectures on an array of topics that would have never been broadcast otherwise. What’s more, this content works better as audio, where complicated information can be presented without any excess visual distraction. The mind has room to muse. Podcasts, I think, have become the medium of the day-dreamer—and millions of listeners take advantage of that every week.

As we become increasingly plugged-in to the digital age, I’m sure paper books will find a similar fortune. Books provide something that technology tends to destroy: Let’s call it “sanctuary.” I don’t have to explain how this happens; everyone who has a smartphone knows the bitter-sweet buzz of a new message. Everyone’s read an article online and been distracted by the banner-ad at the side of the screen. This will only get worse. Google Glass. Cortical implants to project the web directly into the mind’s eye. If you think you feel distracted now, just wait ten years.

And in ten years, when you want a break from it all, you’ll pick up an old-fashioned, dog-eared, glue-smelling, paper-scraping book.

The tech companies want you to pick up an e-reader, but the problem is e-readers feel too much like what you’re longing to avoid. E-ink is nice—especially for those with vision problems who need to enlarge the text—but anything that has a screen and is the size of your phone looks like your phone. And you’ve already spent too many hours conditioning your brain to be distractible while using it. When I read an ebook, I can feel a tingling on the left side of my frontal lobe that’s telling me to toggle over to another program and check my email. It’s an itch that I’m wasting attention on by not scratching even when I don’t. My fingers are ready to X-out a pop-up ad. My auditory cortex is primed and waiting for the next beep of a tweet. Even though none of these things will be coming from my e-reader, my brain has been trained to expect them. It’s impossible to lose myself when I’m so self-aware.

Only when I open a real book can I finally relax and become immersed in what I’m reading.

In the future, we will return to paper as a sanctuary, as a place for quiet contemplation and introspection. We won’t bother reading tabloid magazines or informational texts in print—ebooks are better for that; we can give up that ground. But when we want to escape our world, when we want to explore complicated ideas, when we want to feel deeper emotions and come to truer understandings and use our imaginations at full capacity—when we want to experience literature, in other words—we’ll always turn to paper books.


p.s. This article was written almost five years ago. In the time since, Real Books Are Back: ebooks sales are down, print sales are up. You can also see our waning interest in ebooks by looking at the download totals of Rattle‘s ebooks, which are offered free to subscribers. Every issue sees fewer download than the last, despite the fact that print subscriptions are up 105% (more than double!) since 2013.

To Blurb or Not to Blurb

Once a week, on average, I receive a request to blurb someone’s poetry book. For the last five years, I’ve been saying no. For a while it was a hedged no; I’d say that I probably won’t have time, but feel free to send the manuscript, anyway. A few dozen consecutive failures and that evolved into a blanket no. No, sorry. No, sorry. Sorry, but no.

Time, of course, is a major problem—even with the best intentions, and when I know I’ll probably love the book, it’s hard to find the time for extracurriculars when 20,000 poems still need replies (and they always do).

It’s more than that, though. When my own book was in pre-production, I asked seven of my favorite poets for blurbs. It was as awkward as it is for everyone else, but that’s what you do with a new book, and I did it. Almost immediately two of them replied in a way that I never expected: They said that they didn’t have time, but that they trusted me, and/or already knew that they liked my poetry, so if I needed a blurb I could just write one myself, and put their name beneath it. One said that I should send it to them for approval, but the other said I could use whatever I wrote unseen. I told them both I wasn’t comfortable blurbing myself, and used other blurbs instead. I know they were genuinely trying to be kind and not unethical, so I won’t say who they were. But I was more than a little taken aback—one might be a fluke, but two of seven? Every time I read a blurb now, I think of this.

And then there’s the fact that blurbs are ridiculous. I don’t need to describe how they’re ridiculous; everyone who’s read them knows they’re ridiculous. Dan Waber put together a great take-down with his Blurbinator, but there have been many.

They are hard to write, of course; that’s why they’re ridiculous—the balloon is so inflated that anything less than “John Keats reincarnate occupying the emotional space between an orgasm and angioplasty” sounds like faint praise. There’s an art to it, but it isn’t a fun art, nor an art that, I think, does much good.

Needless to say, all of this really interferes with my natural impulse to help books that I enjoy find a wider audience. I’ve been planning on writing more of these microreviews, which are basically just honest blurbs after publication—it’s still hard to find the time, but I want to try.

This morning I was declining my 40th blurb request of the year, and found myself halfway through a sentence saying that, while I can’t blurb the book now, I might be able to microreview it after publication, when the obvious occurred to me—why the hell am I offering to consider blurbing later, but not now, when it will be much more useful to the author now?

Here I am, holding a grudge against blurbs for the simple fact that I hate them because I can’t trust them, when I could instead simply try to make them trustworthy.

So I think I’m going to start treating blurb requests the same as I treat review copies: You can send me your manuscript, and a deadline, but you can’t count on me. If I don’t reply, it will either be because I didn’t find time to read the book, or because I didn’t love the book—but I’m not going to tell you which it was. The fact is, I don’t love many books, but I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. And of course I’ll continue to only comment on books that I actually love. And have read.

I shouldn’t have to say that. And I probably don’t; the whole enterprise probably isn’t as bad as it seems. But I vow to stop being so cynical about it from now on.

After Reading Fifty Poems From the Best Literary Magazines



Either I
have very

good taste
or very

poor taste
or there’s

no such
thing as

at all.


Most poems
are bullshit

pinned with

and pinafore
lit up like

a damn
beer sign

but this poem
says it’s bullshit

which means
it’s less

than at least

fifty poems
so print it

up somewhere
preferably paid

and give me
an award.

I’ll write ten more
for tenure.



In all seriousness
I wouldn’t

like one in fifty
of my own


Oh Contrarian

On Sunday, I sat on a panel of editors talking about “How to Stand Out in a Slush Pile.”  Whenever I do these things, I can’t help feeling like an arrogant iconoclast.  Like the class show-off, asleep with his feet on the desk, because he breezed through another mid-term exam.  That was me in high school and college, though, so maybe that’s just me.

The rest of the panel was a quintessential group of editors — well-meaning, selfless, committed people — but I find myself disagreeing with almost everything they say, right down to the very nature of what a literary magazine should be.  Other editors never say they like chatty cover letters, they never recognize the importance of the internet, they revere the established literary order, rather than approach it skeptically.  There are many exceptions, of course, which is why they’re worth pointing out (praising the decisions of the Poetry Foundation, for example), but the old guard is an old guard, and for the most part, I think they’re wrong.

Rather than talk about the panel, though, I thought I’d turn back to the always-useful CLMP Directory (if you care enough about the business of poetry to be reading this blog, you really should at least flip through a copy at the library sometime).  Scattered throughout the book are interviews with editors, each asking the same dozen or so questions.  Since they didn’t ask to interview me, I’ve never answered them before;  I figure now’s as good a time as any.  Maybe I’ll get in the next issue.  What I’ll do is quote from a typical editor’s answer, and then explain how I’d disagree.

Do you have any cover letter advice?

Definitely: keep it short and to the point… You may include a brief bio note (professional, not cute — or at least in the style of the notes in that particular publication), but more than that may do more harm than good, sometimes revealing more than you intend to…
–Margaret D. Bauer, Editor, North Carolina Literary Review

Editors always say this, and it’s perplexing to me.  If I read 50 cover letters a day, and they’re all short and to the point, using the same form paragraph, I’m not going to read them — so why even include one?  For the most part, despite all the submitters’ hand-wringing and editors’ admonitions, I just don’t pay attention to cover letters whatsoever.  I skim them to see if there are any specific questions, and if they have a personality and the poet is funny or friendly or freaky or smug, I think, “Well isn’t this person funny or friendly or freaky or smug!”  But how does that have anything to do with the poems they sent?

The same thing applies to bios.  Yeah, sometimes people write whole paragraphs about their cats, and that’s sad.  Sometimes people list all 160 of their publication “credits,” and that’s obnoxious — but we publish obnoxious people all the time, why should I care?  I’m not inviting them to my house for dinner or adopting one of their arthritic cats; I’m printing their poem inside a stack of perfect-bound papers.  Most of the people we publish never meet me outside of a letter or two.  I don’t have to like you — and even if I do like you, I trust my sense of objectivity enough that it holds no sway.

To go even further, I don’t understand why it’s assumed one should include a bio in the first place.  If you read Rattle‘s guidelines, you might notice that we don’t really ask for one.  Yet they always come, because it’s standard procedure, because when typical editors tell you that your publication history doesn’t matter, it’s B.S.  There’s always a steady stream of posturing about how only the writing really matters — but if that were true, bios would only be requested after the fact.

What do you look for in a submission?

I would guess most editors would answer this question in much the same, vague way.  We look for work that is exciting, dynamic, and fresh.  We want excellent prose and images that surprise. … Finally, we look for what we’ve come to call the “pop-up factor.”  I finish reading a piece, I pop-up out of my chair, find the first person I can, and say, “Oh my god, you’ve got to read this!”
–Jeanne Lieby, Editor, The Southern Review

She’s right that this is a very difficult question to answer without being vague, but my answer is technically (at least) specific — I want a poem to be memorable.  I want to be walking through my day and spontaneously think of something I read in Rattle five years ago.  That’s no easy task, reading 50,000 poems one year, and having any of them live in your heart to the next.  But that’s the challenge.  And I don’t think the prose has to be sparkling or the images startling to achieve that — transformation can come in any register, from any poet, on any subject, in any style.  And does.

That is a vague answer, though.

How are submissions processed at your magazine?

Even though we reject 95% of what we read, we read eagerly. We are incapable of disrespecting the slush pile (even when we experience a long run of bad material) because we have learned that the slush pile, like the world at large, contains surprises.  Some of our best material came in the mail, unbidden.  Once that happens, you, as an editor, are forever altered; you will always see the possibilities of submissions, no matter how grinding that reading can sometimes be.
–Marc Smirnoff, Editor and Founder, Oxford American

Well, if we only rejected 95% of what we read, each issue would be 2,500 pages long.  And if only “some” of our best material came in the mail, unbidden, we’d be publishing an awful lot of blank pages.  For me, the slush pile doesn’t just contain surprises — the slush pile is the entire enterprise.  I’m trying to build an active community of participating poets, and that means everyone who submits is a part of the community.  There is no VIP entrance straight to the balcony.  Everyone who comes here has to knock, and it’s our job to answer the door every time.

I think this is the fundamental difference between my view and the common view.  Reading submissions is, indeed, like panning for gold (a common metaphor), but to me the stream is more important than the gold itself.  The gold is always there; it’s the water that gives you life.

Do you have a favorite unsolicited submission discovery or anecdote?

This may be contrary to popular belief, but we don’t solicit often.  Because of The Southern Review‘s history and stature (and because we pay our authors), we really don’t have to.  The daily mail contains work from some of this country’s most important writers.  On one day, I received poems from Charles Simic and Mary Oliver. But that should in no way discourage new writers. Our greatest joy is finding writers whose work has not yet reached a wide audience.
–Jeanne Lieby, Editor, The Southern Review

If you take a look at the Winter 2009 issue of The Southern Review, you’ll notice that both Charles Simic and Mary Oliver are there in the table of contents.  I’m sure those poems did come in the mail, unsolicited, as I’m sure does most of the work in the magazine — and let me say, too, that it’s a wonderful production full of fine writing, and one of the magazines I admire.  But there are two kinds of solicitations, I think — when we use that word, we’re usually referring to the active process of asking a poet directly if they have some work to share.  Most often, I assume, there’s the implication that the editor might look at the work and ultimately say no, even though it was requested.  Of course they rarely so no, but they could say no — fine.  In a typical magazine, these kind of solicitations seem to account for about 20% of the work in an issue.  Some entries in the CLMP Directory list that self-reported figure, and 20% seems to be the average.

But in addition to that, I think, is an unspoken Godfatheresque “offer-too-good-to-refuse” solicitation, wherein the editor, upon receiving poems from both Charles Simic and Mary Oliver on the same day, ends up publishing poems by Charles Simic and Mary Oliver.  Every single time.   This is just a hunch, because there’s very little evidence one way or the other — editors don’t talk about poets that they rejected; to do so would be offensive, if not unethical.

I won’t tell you who, either, but I’ve rejected my share of well-known poets, and I can guess from some of their reactions that it doesn’t happen to them often.  Some are gracious and understanding, but many of them get pissed.  They write back telling you how many awards they’ve won, and how worthless your opinion is, and then they never send you new work ever again.  They see you at a conference years later and act like it never happened, because maybe they forgot, or maybe they want to prove to you how little that interaction really meant to them.

Now, I love both Charles Simic and Mary Oliver.  In all honesty, they’re two of my favorite poets.  But when I read their books, I can’t turn off my editor’s cap, and I know that I’d only want to publish maybe 1 in 10 of their poems in Rattle.  Sometimes the poems only work in the context of the book, sometimes they’re on topics or in styles that we’re tired of, and sometimes they’re just not interesting poems.  So if both Simic and Oliver sent us poems on the same day, the odds of them both appearing in our next issue wouldn’t be very high.  (And if you two are reading this, feel free to test me!)

There’s an idea that’s pretty ubiquitous throughout the literary world, that having names like Mary Oliver and Charles Simic on your back cover helps you sell copies.  But I really don’t think people read literary magazines to see big names — I think what sells copies is a consistent and fair editorial process, and poems that are memorable.

If I were answering this question, I do have a favorite anecdote.  Again, I don’t want to reveal the poet’s name, because the story might be embarrassing for him.  But there’s one poet who sent us a submission every month for years, and had been doing so long before I joined the staff at Rattle.  He was always friendly, but eternally persistent.  And then with submission #45 — after showing us almost 200 poems — he sent one that I absolutely loved.  I really wish I could tell you which it is, because I was so happy to publish it, but I won’t even hint. Sorry.

What advice do you have for first time submitters?

For crying out loud, read the magazine you are submitting to. … Guess what?  Editors aren’t interested in pieces that falls outside of their interests and inclinations.  Luckily for freelance writers, editors are predictable beasts.  To find out all about their secret and hidden loves and hates all you need to do is scour their magazines.
–Marc Smirnoff, Founder and Editor, Oxford American

This statement is everywhere, and usually accompanied by a plea for subscriptions.  I do think it’s important to read a magazine’s guidelines, because certain rules do have important administrative implications.  For example, because of our email system, it’s really important that subject lines are unique, so we ask that people include their name, rather than just “Rattle Submission.”  I’m not the Soup Nazi — it just makes it much easier to organize 50 submissions a day.

But I couldn’t care less whether or not you read Rattle first, and the last thing I want you to do is read the magazine and send us poems that sound similar to pieces we’ve already published.  Why the hell would we want t repeat ourselves?

Contrary to Marc’s statement, I’m particularly interested in pieces that fall outside of my own personal tastes.  If you really want to be manipulative, the best way to get into Rattle is to write a cover letter that says, “I’ve read a few issues and didn’t see any of ____ kind of poetry.”  I want the magazine to be eclectic, and the quickest route to a guilt-trip is to point out my own blind spots. Getting past them, and imagining how a poem will effect a reader other than oneself is the biggest challenge for any editor.  I can use all the help I can get.

If literary magazines ever get unstuck from the mud of cultural irrelevance, editors are going to need to change the typical mindset.  Journals aren’t tabloids or glamor magazines or Sports Illustrated, and they never will be.  They’re not objects of consumption; they’re organisms of involvement.  They shouldn’t be disseminated from a mountaintop, but rather grown from the ground.  Poetry isn’t spread; it’s cultivated.  Slush isn’t slush; it’s soil.

Falafel Salad Soup

Back in the 1930s, magazines like the Yale Review or VQR saw maybe 500 submissions in a year; today, we receive more like 15,000. This is due partly to a shift in our culture from a society that believed in hierarchy to one that believes in a level playing field. This is good—to a point. The reality is that not everyone can be a doctor, not everyone can be a professional athlete, and not everyone can be a writer. You may be a precious snowflake, but if you can’t express your individuality in sterling prose, I don’t want to read about it.
–Ted Genoways in Mother Jones

I know I shouldn’t pen a post at 3am after spending the last 4 hours reading submissions, but (as much as I like VQR) this month-old quote made me throw up in my mouth just now.  It’s the continuation of a viral meme that’s been spun ad nauseam for the last two decades, and I think can be traced directly to Dana Gioia and his ubiquitous essay “Can Poetry Matter?“  In a 1991 issue of Atlantic Monthly, Gioia was just the first to break out of what must have been an academic quarantine, bemoaning the sheer volume of creative writing students produced by the university programs in public, rather than behind the closed doors of faculty parties.

If you read about poetry, instead of just reading the poetry, then you’ve heard this paranoia already:  Oh no, there are 200 graduate writing programs.  Oh no, that means there are 20,000 certified poets graduating every decade.  How will the publishing structure manage, how will I ever keep up, how will anyone ever notice me at the top of such a redundant, self-aggrandizing pile of custom-molded electric meat?  Genoways is talking about literary fiction in the quote above, but all viruses evolve — Hepatitis is up to G.

Rattle has actually published one such mutation, an essay on the supersaturation of poetry book contests by David Alpaugh in e.5 (download the PDF), and I liked that because it was well-written and provocative, and seemed to break new ground for the epidemic.  I also appreciated how kind he was to those who run the system he was criticizing — articulating very clearly their good intentions.

So obviously I don’t mind folks writing about the overwhelming volume of literary writers at work today — I like a good debate, and there’s nothing to debate if no one takes a strong position.  But I think their complaints stem entirely from a localized elitist paranoia, and a broader illusion of grandeur.  And nothing I’ve read demonstrates that better than the Genoways quote above.

When he compares the volume of submissions 80 years ago to that of today, what he’s saying is that those 500 submissions were somehow better than that 15,000 he sees now — better on average, certainly, but also in the final published product:  Fiction can’t be dying if it was never alive in the first place.  How is the product of 500 submissions better than the product of 30 times as many?  Well, those 500 submissions came from real writers, of course, not the wannabes that try to peddle their inferior wares today!  They were coming from Huxley, Sherwood Anderson, Thomas Mann…

This might seem to make sense — but we have no perspective when it comes to literary history.  When considered objectively, the study of literature is akin to idol worship — we focus on the greatest works of the “great writers,” as if their careers weren’t also full of flops.  Unless they die too young for the full biopic to play itself out, they have periods of illumination and innovation, only to flounder for years trying to recapture that magic.  I won’t name names, because that would be mean, but the examples are countless.  If you’re reading an Ernest Hemingway novel, it does not necessarily follow that you’re reading a great novel — or even good novel.   (Okay, so I named one name.)

The idol fallacy appears over and over again in editing a poetry magazine.  I can’t tell you the big names of some the poets I’ve rejected, but it happens over and over again.  Big names can give you great poetry, but they can also give you pretty lousy poetry.  Knowing this, and seeing it happen time and again, the idea of 500 submissions from “real” writers outperforming 15,000 unknowns isn’t really plausible.  Unless you’re paying too much attention to what’s in a name.

What’s more, this “golden age” theory also assumes that the previous system did a good job at finding the best work — simply because we have a set of work that we call the best.  How do we know that the esteemed editors of Faber & Faber didn’t pass up a better poet to publish Phillip Larkin?  Maybe there was a better Phillip Larkin out there that went unnoticed — if there was, we’d never know about it.  So much of historical publishing has been clique and kin and strange coincidence.  If Plath or Sexton hadn’t attended Lowell’s workshop, can we be sure we’d know the names Sexton and Plath?  Would “Howl” have been as successful without the forward from William Carlos Williams, who had met the young Ginsberg when he was a boy?  Maybe.  But it’s also possible that there’s another poem on a shelf somewhere that could have been “Howl”, had the poet been more memorable in person.

As soon as we start to revere the writer over the writing, literature becomes a cult of personality.  We crown these gods and pretend there could be no other.  And I think that’s the real problem with literary publishing.  That’s the reason why so many literary journals are so unreadable — when the poet laureate sends a poem, it’s hard not to publish that poem.  I love Kay Ryan so I’ll pick on her — when was the last time she’s had her work rejected?  Who says No to Billy Collins?  And the same applies, to an increasingly lesser extent, to every award and publishing credit ever listed.  “Well she was nominated for the Pulitzer, maybe I’m missing something…”

Think of literature, not as a ladder or a mountain, but as a dome — the higher you climb, the easier the climb becomes.

But that’s not even what upsets me about Genoways’ quote.  That’s just a truth that few acknowledge.  The second half is what has me tasting chickpea — “not everyone can be a doctor…”

There’s so much wrong with that part of the quote that I’m hesitant to even address it all.  There’s the obvious arrogance that comes with being on a board that certifies — you’re a doctor if he says you’re a doctor, if your prose is “sterling” enough that he wants to read it.  It might be possible to weasel out of that implication, but Genoways is a literary editor, speaking about literary editing.  He’s the one that has to put up with 15,000 quacks and snake oil salesmen.  He’s the decider.

But beyond the tone, Genoways is just wrong in principle.  Not everyone can be a doctor, sure, but anyone can learn CPR and then maybe — not likely, but maybe — use it to save a life.  Not everyone can be a professional athlete, but anyone can be an amateur and have an enriching experience on the field.

In another essay that just came out, “The New Math of Poetry,” David Alpaugh uses the analogy of a golfer:

[T]here’s a difference between writing and publishing. Golf, after all, has an agreed-upon scoring system that lets every player know his or her standing, stroke by stroke, game by game. Mediocre amateurs cannot deceive themselves (or be assured by pros) that they are contenders. None of the golfers who end up on the green with Tiger Woods…

It’s true that no amateur golfer will ever be able to compete with Tiger Woods.  But some amateur, somewhere in the country, hit a hole-in-one yesterday.  And Tiger Woods (if he played a round) probably didn’t.  If my goal is to find as many holes-in-one as I can, I very well might be better off looking at 15,000 amateur rounds of golf, rather than 500 pro rounds.  The only question is how much better the pros are — but no matter what that ratio is, there’s always a critical mass of amateur golfers that, taken together, will hit more perfect shots than those 500 pros.

As a literary editor, it’s my job to find as many great poems as I can.  And the definition of a great poem is really simple:  Poems that have the power to effect the lives of some of the people who read them.  Every poem we publish doesn’t have to be memorable and moving for everyone — but it has to be memorable or moving for someone, some kind of person who represents a subset of our readership.  The easy part is finding poems that move me — the hard part is imagining how a poem that I don’t care for might move someone else.

Every year we choose a winner for the Rattle Poetry Prize, and every year we get feedback — about 5 people love it for every person who hates it, but no poem pleases everyone.  We chose a lyric poem last year, and some wrote in to complain that it was too imagistic and detached.  We chose a narrative poem this year, and some people wrote in to complain that it wasn’t lyrical enough.  Seeing outside of the boundaries of personal taste is the challenge for an editor — but the task is just to create as many positive experiences as possible.

And the best way to do that is to read as many poems as possible and ignore the names at the top.  Because the names really don’t matter much, beyond name-recognition.  A poetry magazine is not a tabloid.  Their covers aren’t sprawled across the checkout stands of America.  No one buys a poetry magazine because of names on the back cover.   What really matters is brand loyalty — readers don’t come to us for any individual poet, they come to us for the collective body of poets that form an issue of Rattle.  They come because, when our editors say, “You might like this,” more often than not they do.

Or they don’t.  And then they don’t read us.  And that’s fine — it just means I need to be doing a better job thinking outside of my own personal aesthetic.

This is my main point:  Anyone who complains that too many people are writing today — whether it’s poetry or fiction or blogs — just isn’t doing their job.  Their job as an editor, or their job as a reader.  Because the more people who are writing, the more quality work gets produced.  You just have to find it.  Reading through 15,000 submissions might be a pain in the ass, but it’s your job.  If you run a magazine, that’s what you owe your subscribers — that’s the service you’re providing.

And if you’re a reader of literature, then it’s your job to find writers you like, and editors you tend to agree with.  Because they’re out there.  Out there in a greater abundance than any time in history.  And that’s always a good thing, no matter how far the hand-wringing contagion spreads.