Rattapallax Press



George Dickerson, Editor-in-Chief


Reflections on the Creation of the Literary Journal

by George Dickerson, Editor-in-Chief

Now that Rattapallax has issued its specially expanded first-anniversary issue (no. 3), it seems a good time to reflect on the past year and a half of the literary journal's founding and growth. When publisher Ram Devineni, a young award-winning film-maker from Philadelphia moved to New York in early 1998, he began reading his poems at some of the city's poetry venues.

At the Phoenix Reading Series, he encountered Michael Graves and me and, by the summer of 1998, had convinced us to create what would eventually become Rattapallax. Ram had some publishing experience, Michael Graves had the contacts among the poets, and I had the editorial background (The New Yorker, Story, Time). The three of us felt that there seemed to be too few outlets for some of the more lyrical and musical (and perhaps more traditional) poetry we were hearing read by ourselves and other poets.

Our initial choice for a name was "The Raftered Garret," a choice we were uneasy with, especially after seeing the grimaces by the poets we tested it on. Too Victorian! Too musty! A hundred names later, we settled on "Rattapallax," because we all liked Wallace Stevens' poetry and his word for the sound of thunder. It was catchy. Nobody knew what it meant. It would provoke curiosity and, hopefully, be remembered. Best of all, nobody seemed to know how to pronounce it!

Well, we had a name but some uncertainty about what was to go into the magazine. Were there going to be memoirs, critical pieces, letters, biographies, analyses by psychiatrists of poets' works? What? There were disagreements, but we finally settled on, for the time being, a journal devoted simply to fiction and poetry, mostly the latter, with some artwork for visual relief and enrichment. And all the work was to be selected only on merit, with no consideration given to the name or connections of the writers or artists--a credo we continue to live by.

We decided that the poems and stories should be there for the reader. (As the Broadway director and great acting teacher, Aaron Frankel, told one student: "I don't care if you ever feel it; your job is to make me--the audience-- feel it.") Each piece of artwork should not be just an illustration or a visual representation. It should be a poem in itself and should resonate with the work around it. And the poems, stories and artwork should be orchestrated through the book to lead the reader on a journey of music, emotion and idea, from one work to the next. And the writing has to be edited, sometimes heavily edited--an experience that some writers have balked at, though others have responded with gratitude for the attention paid to their work.

But all of this has taken an exhausting amount of time and effort. The artist and book designer, Robert Harding, generously agreed to help design the journal and to find artwork for us. Others pitched in to help, for as long as they could . . . Judith Werner, Taj Jackson, Arlette Luriť (our current art editor), my son Sam W. Dickerson, my wife Suzanne Hartman, Matthew Laufer--a remarkable group because we all shared to some extent a sense of the same aesthetic. We were all donating our time for the love of an idea--a coming together, a community of writers and artists, a dialogue between editors and creative folk.

On the publishing and promotional side, Ram Devineni had a visionary idea for a CD, with poets reading their poems from the journal, to accompany each issue. (When Poet Donald Hall recently saw the journal with its CD, he exclaimed: "This is a first!") Ram also had the idea and energy to create the Rattapallax reading series, with readings in New York, Philadelphia, Princeton, New Jersey, at the Walt Whitman Center, at the Harvard Coop, in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and, last fall, in London and Paris. Poets from the journal were traveling by train, bus, van, car and plane to participate. Some of our poets were initiating Rattapallax readings in their home towns. (Our launch readings at New York's Mid-Manhattan Library have become a twice-yearly event, with a dinner for the poets and their guests afterwards.) Writers were visiting our website at www.rattapallax.com and e-mailing their poems (only from outside the U.S., please!), some of which we have accepted from as far away as West Malaysia and Rio de Janeiro. The community was being formed. The news about the journal had spread in our advertising, but as often by word of mouth from one poet to another, one artist to another. Almost immediately, we were picked up by distributors and, today, we are being carried by all the major distributors of literary magazines.

Because of the journal's success, Ram Devineni has launched Rattapallax Press--with the publication this spring of books of poetry by Elaine Schwager and the artistic work of Allen M. Hart. Again, each book is accompanied by a CD or, in the case of Allen Hart's book, a CD ROM--another ground-breaking publishing idea! From an idea to a journal to a press, what an exhilarating (and exhausting) journey it has been--a journey undertaken for the love and challenge of doing it and, oh yes, gratitude for the hopes and dreams and craft of literary and visual artists who so graciously donate their work to our enterprise. Visit Rattapallax Press! _______