Rhett Trull is the editor and founder of Cave Wall, a biannual print journal out of Greensboro, North Carolina. Flyway blogger Andrew Payton got the chance to ask Ms. Trull a few questions about her work.
Andrew Payton: What is the story behind Cave Wall? How did it start? What was the driving force?
Rhett Trull: My husband Jeff and I started Cave Wall five years ago in order to celebrate poems we love. I’ve been a collector of favorite poems my whole life and for years have kept notebooks and files of them, returning to them often. Also, I love literary journals. I’ve subscribed to many over the years and always wanted to start my own. When I met Jeff, someone else who appreciates journals and poetry, the timing was right and Cave Wall was born. Maybe it sounds kind of cheesy, but the driving force is love. When a poem excites me I want to shout it out to the whole world; I want everyone to experience it. Cave Wall is a way to try to share those poems with, if not the whole world, at least an enthusiastic, appreciative group of readers.
AP: Would you say that you have a particular aesthetic as an editor? What do you look for in a poem or poet?
RT: Whatever my editorial aesthetic is remains somewhat of a mystery to me, and I like it that way. My tastes in poetry are ever-changing. I try to be open to all styles, as do Jeff and our other main Cave Wall reader, Michael Boccardo. We like poems that are long, short, lyric, narrative, funny, sad, and everything in between, as long as they move us. I guess that’s what I’m looking for when I read through a stack of submissions: I want a poem to leave me somewhere different than it finds me. I want to be changed by a poem. Also, I’m looking for a voice, one that engages my attention in a way that makes me forget everything else but this poem in this moment.
One interesting thing I’ve noticed as I put together these issues is how each one ends up developing its own aesthetic; certain themes emerge and are echoed. Sometimes, at the end of a reading period, when we’re trying to figure out which poem out of twenty worthy poems gets the last slot in an issue, one of the deciding factors becomes which poem fits best with the others we’ve gathered.
AP: Your first collection of poetry, The Real Warnings, was published in 2009 by Anhinga Press. How does being a poet yourself inspire your work as an editor? Where do these two roles intersect?
RT: I think the main intersection between editing and writing, at least for me, has to do with an exchange of energy. Getting to spend the majority of my time bouncing between two types of work about which I’m passionate is a luxury I try not to take for granted. If the work on one gets frustrating, I turn to the other and am refreshed, renewed. Certainly, working on Cave Wall has improved my writing, as does any time spent reading and studying good poetry. Plus, spending time with poetry I love makes me a happier person, fills me with gratitude, and that good energy gets carried over into all other parts of my life. As for how being a poet might inspire my work as an editor, well, it helps me appreciate how much work goes into each line, each word, of each poem. I hope this appreciation comes out in my responses to submissions. We receive many strong poems and have room to publish just a few, but I try whenever possible to respond personally to those we don’t accept, pointing out something I liked about the poems, letting the poet know that I value the time I spent with their work.
AP: As I’ve said, I found the most recent issue of Cave Wall superb. As the magazine is not affiliated with a university, like many seem to be these days, how do you promote Cave Wall? Who are most of your readers? And do you hope to expand that base of readers?
RT: Thank you. Your enthusiasm about issue 10 makes me happy. And this interview will, I hope, bring a few more readers our way. Word of mouth and advertisements here and there are our main method of promoting Cave Wall, as well as venues like Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, Luna Park Review, and New Pages. The editors of those sites are invaluable when it comes to letting readers know what’s going on in the world of small presses. It helps to win some awards recognition, too, and we’re thrilled that two poems from issue 7 were chosen by Kevin Young for the Best American Poetry that came out this fall. Our subscription numbers continue to climb each year, and yes, we want to keep that number growing. We try to expand our advertising a little every year. We go to AWP. Meanwhile, we try to keep the subscription cost low, knowing how many good journals are out there and how precious each dollar is these days.
AP: Cave Wall publishes exclusively in print and exclusively poetry. Is there any impetus to move some material online or to work in other genres?
RT: I love all genres, but Cave Wall is strictly a poetry and art journal. We like the size of it: just 72 pages each issue. And although we put a few poems from each issue online and may add some other digital supplemental features, Cave Wall will remain a print journal always. The simple reason is that I love books and don’t enjoy reading on a screen for long periods of time. We’re happy with Cave Wall just the way it is. Technology is exciting and fun to explore, but isn’t there something about print publications that ought to be celebrated and continued, too? I think so. I’m going to keep celebrating. I’m in love with books.