Glenn McKee Retrospective

I can’t make any claims to have known Glenn McKee, or to even have corresponded with him. I’m not even sure who it was that sent us his four MP3s, from the CD, Lester’s Calling, that we’re featuring this week at–it was Dory Hudspeth, a former Rattle contributer herself, who is acting as his literary executor; I don’t remember if she’s a family member of Glenn’s, or a friend. All I know about Glenn McKee is that he appeared more often in Rattle than anyone–twelve poems and an essay, by my count–and that when he passed away from cancer in 2004, former editor Stellasue Lee cried. But after reading his poetry, had I known him, I think I would have cried a little, too.

Here’s the last of those twelve poems, which appeared posthumously in issue #23:


My glass regardless of its contents
is full of Now–so full of Now

I can drink my fill without fear
of Now going out of business.

When unable to bend an elbow,
I take my Now through a straw.

One of the important things poetry can do, I think, is to make us more fully appreciate life, both the good and the bad. They remind us what’s worth noticing. This is where Glenn McKee excelled, translating his passion for the moment onto the page. Read this poem and your glass of ice water won’t taste the same.

This weekend I googled Glenn, so I could write a little blurb for his feature. Other than mentions in the back-issues of various literary journals, the most detailed information I could find was an obituary, preserved by the Oberlin High Alumni website. It turns out that he wasn’t only our most frequent contributor–he might also have been our most ideal.

Glenn McKee wasn’t the kind of poet who got an MFA with an assistantship from some university. He didn’t publish a book or list his credits in a CV. He didn’t have a flock of former students or, I assume, make the annual flight to the AWP. Instead, he “engaged in a long and varied work history, including careers as a Unitarian Universalist minister with parishes in both Maine and New Hampshire; as a newspaperman in Massachusetts; and as a human services administrator in Augusta.” It was only upon retirement that he finally focused on his “first and last love.”

I would never want to claim that poets shouldn’t be career poets, or that the best poets appear, somehow, outside of academia. The truth is, most of the great contemporary poets are professors–if you love poetry that much, and our society allows it, why not work in poetry full-time? What I do want to claim, though, and what I think Glenn McKee exemplifies, is that, while most of the great poets these days are professors, they don’t have to be. It doesn’t take a scholar to be moved by the written word, and it doesn’t take a scholar to move others with it. Great poetry is great poetry; it’s mine, it’s ours, it’s yours, it’s Glenn’s.

So here’s a Tuesday morning toast to a poet I wish I could have known. You can listen to Glenn reading four of his poems in our audio archive.

Feedback Is a Fickle Mistress

Tuesday’s post has me thinking about how hard it is to find good feedback, and a brief Googling of poetry forums only left me more curious. We’re always looking for ways to improve, but what could use improvement?

This blog allows anonymous comments, and I’d love for you to leave one. What do you really think? Any opinions or objections or questions — hit me with them. This seems like a good thing to do occasionally. If you don’t have a comment in mind, here are some questions:

–If you’ve read it (and listened), what do you think of the slam tribute? Was it worth doing? Was it enjoyable? Did you learn anything from it?

–What about the E-Reviews? We’re trying to publish any cohesive and thoughtful opinion, that’s reasonably written. I’ve had to turn down several reviews, but the acceptance rate is pretty high. We have reviews written by last year’s Pulitzer Prize winner, right next to those who are first publications. Is this a good policy? Are the reviews useful, or should we be more restricting?

–We publish a poem by Alan Fox in every issue. Does this bother anyone? Is this accountability? A curiosity? Vanity? I see it as a kind of editorial, but we’d stop doing it if people started to complain. No one ever has, though, and the only responses we receive have been positive. What do you really think?

–Does finding a RATTLE postcard in your mailbox piss you off?

–For the future, what tributes are more interesting — social group or stylistic groups? Greatest Generation or Slam Poetry?

–Is there anything wrong with the way we handle submissions? Have the contents of rejection letters bothered you (mentioning features of the website or the Rattle Poetry Prize, for example)?

–Speaking of the Rattle Poetry Prize, is there a way we might improve that? How do you feel about contests in general?

Answer any of these questions, or just use this as an opportunity to say anything that’s on your mind, good or bad. Just please do it anonymously, so you don’t feel inhibited. We won’t know unless you tell us.

RATTLE: Surprisingly It Doesn't Suck

The best compliments are the ones that people don’t expect you to see. Sure, it’s nice to hear in a cover letter that someone really loved some poem in the last issue, but you obviously have to take that kind of statement with a big bucket of salt.

Every few days I check our web traffic and referral stats, mainly to see which attempts at getting the word out are working. Today I stumbled upon this comment, at StumbleUpon, posted last week by “ragingtexin”:

Just got a free copy of this from my Creative Writing professor, and surprisingly it doesn’t suck. Definitely voted as worth a look-see, and I fucking hate poetry.

It’s great to get a blurb from your favorite poet saying how much she enjoyed the last issue, but this type of comment is what we live for; it’s so perfect it could be a plant. Our whole reason for being here is to show people who’ve become distrustful of poetry that, hey, it doesn’t have to suck. It really doesn’t.