Poet and editor Chris Campanioni interviewed our Editor-in-chief Ralph Hamilton about Ralph’s book, his approach to writing, and reflections on RHINO, our process, and accomplishments. The interview posted May 2016. An excerpt appears below; for the full interview, click here.
Chris Companion (Rail): How has your writing been shaped by your role as editor of one of the most celebrated contemporary poetry journals?
Ralph Hamilton: I read about two-thirds of the 15,000 poems submitted to RHINOeach year. Some are wonderful, some are not; regardless, the writers have given us a piece of their heart. The sheer diversity of the poems we receive shapes me in ways I can neither control nor fully explain. It’s humbling to see how much we all need to grapple with ultimate questions of meaning and loss—to come to terms with suffering and cruelty, how we still dare to love others, how we are able to find and take sustenance from the beauty all around us, how we maintain the capacity to wonder, to make joy—how poets have the courage and audacity to speak the truth the best we know how. Maybe all poetry is about loneliness in some sense, even as it’s about reaching beyond the echo chamber of our own skulls in order to be heard and understood, to connect with people and the natural world. RHINOhas also definitely taught me about the role of form in expressing the content of a poem. And it’s definitely taught me that most poems need less, not more. The best poems take me out of myself, out of what I know and expect; they stretch me to hear and understand a poem in its own terms, to enter the world it creates.
My fellow editors have also been critical to my growth as a poet. They provide me with a continuing lesson in how to read poetry. Many of us have critiqued each other’s work for years now—we’ve watched it grow in depth and ambition. Their skill and insight continues to challenge, frighten, and inspire me.
Rail:Can you talk a bit about the emergence and success of RHINO in the last few years?
Hamilton: RHINO is a collaborative venture, but there is a set of core values that hold it together. We’re committed to publishing the best poetry in English annually (including flash fiction and translations), regardless of style, and whether the author is established or an emerging poet. With an ever-changing group of twelve to fourteen volunteer poet/editors, we embrace being a work in progress. The journal fosters a diverse and changing cadre of editors who love poetry, cover the demographic spectrum, and represent varied tastes. From its earliest days, the respect and gratitude that the editors have for each other and for the poets who share their work with us, is the very heart of our endurance and growth. Every bit of our progress—a new website, better submissions, use of Facebook and Twitter, our Big Horn blog, grants, our layout, etc.—has happened because different editors have stepped forward to take leadership, and the rest of us have backed them up.
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The range of wonderful poems in the issue stuns me. As I was proofing them I kept thinking that I hope to write a couple of poems half as good as many of those.