A Stubbornness of RHINOs
For those of you who are unfamiliar, RHINO is an international journal that publishes poetry and flash fiction including translations. We have a long history that stretches more than forty years. We call "home" Chicago, but recently we have a small contingent in the West near LA.
And it's no secret that the way RHINO editors work is a bit unique.
We actually meet eye-to eye! Not just three or four of us, but a whole crash of us. After doing a bit of research, I understand there's another (little-known) name for a congregation of rhinos--a stubbornness. (Check out this list of animal group names by clicking here.) That seems a bit odd, a stubbornness of rhinos, or RHINOs, but maybe it's a fit.
In the two weeks before each meeting, and every day really, editors are reading submissions on the online submission manager. Once a poem (or a group of poems) has had four readers or more and at least ONE of those editors gives the poem a ONE using a three-point ranking system, it is sent to the table for discussion. Any and every poem given a "1" by even one editor gets discussed. That's pretty amazing considering we receive thousands of submissions a year from April to October. Click here to learn more about submissions. And check out our new website while you're there.
Between 10-15 editors on any given week gather around a big table in someone's home. We open our laptops and fire up the iPads to call up the submissions that will be discussed. The poem is read aloud at least once, and then discussion ensues! We try to be somewhat efficient given the volume, but often the six or seven minute timer goes off and the discussion about how well the poem works, how it impacts us as readers, how it fits with what we've published, and what we'd like to publish continues.
Believe it or not, there's not much arguing. We try to keep things friendly. We have editors among us working as teachers, the self-employed, employed in a library, or working out there in the world somewhere, and the retired from a variety of careers. Many of us have MFA's but not all. Most of us write and publish poetry. Quite honestly, we celebrate the differences among us. We need those differences. Some of us lean to the lyrical, some the experimental, and others might be fans of a good narrative. We're always paying attention to language. That's hard to ignore! And craft! I'd have to say that when one reads as many poems in a year as we do, a poem really needs to stand out to make it to the table. Maybe the language just sings. Or there is an adept handling of a topic that outshines many others, for instance, love poems or poems of relationship or family strife--types of poems we see often. Taste naturally also comes into play. And we all want something that moves us!
One of my favorite parts about the discussion is that on first blush one might not be interested in a poem at all. After a convincing argument is made, one can become a convert!
We vote by simple majority. If there are ten of us at the table, it takes six votes for the poem to be accepted.
We're not just one editor making decisions, or even two or three. We're a CRASH of rhinos. Most of us have a "job" we do to make RHINO work in addition to reading--database, website guru, book-shipper, event managers, business manager, publicists, FORUM hosts and RHINO Reads moderators--plus the people who get that publication to the printer every year! We're not always well-oiled. But our intent is there. And the only way this works as Ralph Hamilton, editor-in-chief, will tell you is through mutual respect and concerted acts of kindness in an effort to celebrate a bit of the poetry that comes our way.
In the end, we stubbornly and with deliberation publish poetry, yes. But I've met a lot of wonderful people through my Rhino connection. Publish, poetry, and people. The perfect trifecta.
Thanks for a fascinating glimpse into your editorial process. I must admit I get skeptical when I see a lengthy list of editors on a masthead - I tend to assume it's just a few people doing the actual work, and the others are there to lend respectability. But it sounds as if that is very much not the case with RHINO.
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