he image “has got different voices,” Kate Birch, publisher and manager of Ink Sweat & Tears (IS&T), said. This matches a similar thought from Vilém Flusser, a twentieth-century philosopher and writer, who saw images as taking on a new life-form with technology. A photograph is not a mere lens on life, but a medium that creates a new reality and is shaped by the technology itself. Think about gifs and memes, which also enable a new creativity that is shaped by the technology they populate.
Ink Sweat & Tears, a UK-based webzine, has Filmpoem and Word & Image submission slots for exploring a poetic image’s more contemporary forms. They also accept the more common genres of prose, written poetry, and reviews. The “magazine, publication, ezine, e-magazine, website, we call it all those things,” Kate explains and continues to describe it as “a repository” for poets and writers at every imaginable career stage. From “people who are up and coming” to “regulars who are print published, but still submit anyway because of their history with us. We have a range of ages and backgrounds and the like.”
WOW: Welcome, Kate. Thank you for joining me today. Tell me about Ink Sweat & Tears! How did it start?
Kate: It was started by a man called Charles Christian in 2007. Nobody really had online magazines at this point. He wanted to see what he could do with poetry. If you go back into our archive, you’ll see entries for animations, so image was part of the webzine from the very beginning. Because we had to revamp the website several times, those animations are sadly gone, which is a real shame. Charles ran and funded IS&T himself until about 2010, when poet Helen Ivory came on as a deputy editor. Then Charles decided, in 2011, that he wanted to take his focus elsewhere.
Helen and I had collaborated on other things, namely the Café Writers Pamphlet Commission Competition (now called the Ink Sweat & Tears Pamphlet Commission Competition). She asked me if I wanted to take over. So I became publisher in April 2011 and began supporting and funding IS&T myself. We don’t have Arts Council funding, and the advantage of that is we have greater scope. In 2012, we did the first revamp of the webzine, and I became more involved in the social media side. Helen has remained on as chief editor.
WOW: You’ve just mentioned a Pamphlet Commission Competition. What does that entail?
Kate: We ask poets to send samples of their work to us and an idea, a theme, for a pamphlet. The winner is given the time and space to develop that theme. In the early years, the competition was held through Café Writers, a spoken word group in Norwich, and the pamphlets published by Lighthouse Press.
We brought the competition in-house after we introduced our first IS&T Press print publication: Twelve Slanted Poems for Christmas (2013). We’ve had two competitions since 2014 with two winners each time. Three of those four winners were shortlisted for significant poetry competitions.
WOW: Nice! That’s exciting. Slanted poem? What do you mean by that?
Kate: We draw on the title of the Emily Dickinson poem, “Tell the truth but tell it slant.” Poetry should show truth but not in an overt, obvious way. That is what we look for.
WOW: And do you receive enough slanted poems to publish frequently? How often do you publish?
Kate: We publish poetry every day, including on Christmas and all the holidays. Very occasionally, we will miss a day because of unforeseen circumstances.
We do a Twelve Days of Christmas feature every year. It originally ran for the proper Twelve Days but had lost its impetus by January 6th. So we now have it from December 21st to January 1st, which works perfectly, running from the beginning of winter to New Year’s Day.
WOW: If you’re publishing every day, there must be a range of submission opportunities! What are the different slots and the ones you work on?
Kate: We used to be open for submissions all the time, but it became complicated when we started our editing internship program in 2020. So now the IS&T intern, currently Kayleigh Jayshree, is open from the 1st to the 15th of each month for poetry and prose submissions, and we usually carve out a submission slot for these for Helen Ivory from the 16th onwards. Sometimes, particularly for Helen, we have to close submissions down, limiting these to a certain number, usually one hundred. And that is one hundred submissions, not one hundred poems / short prose works; some people will send three or four poems. It’s an awful lot of work.
Submissions for Word & Image, Filmpoems, and reviews are open all the time and these go to the IS&T intern. They will look at these and then send them on to Helen and me, and the three of us decide which to accept. We rarely suggest edits to anything, perhaps to reviews occasionally or if there are obvious spelling or grammatical errors.
“Poetry should show truth but not in an overt, obvious way. That is what we look for.”
WOW: Not suggesting edits to poetry removes a hurdle on the way to publication for poets. It fits in with your mission to “support those who can write poetry” to get published. What motivates you to do this?
Kate: I think poetry has long been dominated by middle-aged white men, and for many years, you could not win an award, you could not get anywhere without having those kinds of connections. And we are very, very egalitarian. The internship program was in response to the underrepresentation of writers of color in UK publishing. Ink Sweat & Tears offers editing internships for up to four months for poets from Black, Asian, Latinx, Mixed, and other global majority backgrounds.
WOW: Is this why your Submissions page is not specific, to enable new and more diverse voices to break through? Or are you looking for poetry that makes you respond in some visceral way, which may be hard to pin down on a Submissions page?
Kate: I am not a poet, and I don’t usually decide on what is published, though I have input on Word &Image and Filmpoems. I know from the editors, I know from hearing the editors chat, it’s something that just gets them. They have written, studied, and read enough poetry. They know enough poetry—they’ve studied work from across the centuries. It’s something that has that catch.
WOW: A lot of your poems and uploads are of a “secretive” nature. Is there something about the secretive that just “gets” them?
Kate: It’s not really secretive. It’s more about looking at things differently. So a poem may seem secretive initially, and then you read it again and again, and your understanding increases with each reading. Sometimes, it’s not about what is said, but about what isn’t said. Poetry can be about the spaces between the words as much as it is the words themselves. That’s why it may seem secretive because you need to—it’s like an unveiling. And it tells the truth in a very different way from what we’re used to.
WOW: An unveiling—I love that! And two outlets for unveiling the truth unconventionally are your Word & Image and Filmpoem categories. Tell us more about them.
Kate: We have been doing Word & Image for a long time, for as long as IS&T has been around.
We are a little more relaxed with Filmpoems, which are a relatively new thing for us and probably around more because of advances in filming technology. It’s not just someone filming themselves reading a poem, however, although that does or can come into it. It has to have something extra; it still has to have that catch. And a great film won’t get a bad poem accepted or vice versa.
Word & Image we’re very strict on. Both the words and the image have to be good. No, they have to be great. And not published anywhere else. We only accept pre-published work for our special features, such as Twelve Days of Christmas or in the Filmpoem category.
“Sometimes, it’s not about what is said, but about what isn’t said. Poetry can be about the spaces between the words as much as it is the words themselves.”
WOW: But defining good poetry is difficult. “Bad” poetry may comfort people in hospitals or make the commute to work more bearable. So who are we to judge what’s a waste of time?
Kate: Good poetry editors can sense when a poem has been thought about and crafted. They know when it’s gone through many versions; they can also tell when something has been overworked. And they can equally tell when something has literally been thrown down on the page, when it’s a cliché. To your point of: Who is to judge? I agree with that. But when you’re a webzine and print publisher who has previously published poets who are known internationally, you have a responsibility to feature work that has been done professionally. I completely believe in poetry as a personal thing. In that case, I don’t think it matters how well you write. I think that if you want to write for others and be published, you need to work on your craft, no matter how good you think you are. If you’re not getting accepted into magazines, either online or in print, and there are plenty of us out there, then you should perhaps re-examine your work, maybe join a workshop, attend a poetry surgery, take classes, and read more poetry.
WOW: Yes, that all makes perfect sense. Thank you for explaining! Okay, so tell us about some of your deeply thought-out and well-crafted submissions to the Filmpoem or Word & Image slots. How have contributors worked (together) to marry the word with the visual?
Kate: Sometimes you have Word & Image where you have a poet and artist working together collaboratively. We have extensively published work by Helen Pletts and Romit Berger. Helen would write the poems, and Romit would look at them and create amazing digital images to go with these. They actually published a book together—not through us sadly—about a year ago. For us, they were the benchmark of how you could make word and image work and fit together beautifully. Helen is an exceptional poet, has been shortlisted and honorably mentioned for any number of poetry prizes. Romit is a brilliant artist. It’s like looking at the poem in a different way.
Sometimes, the poet is a poet-artist and effectively collaborates with the self. Helen Ivory herself does collages, and hers are often like that. She sees an image she likes; she takes that image and then she takes words from other, usually Victorian, books and documents, and she puts them together as “found” poetry Word & Image.
Another example was when an artist merged her image with a poem from a friend of hers; he said, “Do what you want with it.” And she almost erased the entire poem, just leaving maybe eight or nine words visible, and he was fine with that. That is a very generous poet.
WOW: Those sound like interesting endeavors! Are the Word & Image and Filmpoem media homages to the poetic process itself? Showing the images that run through the poet’s mind as that mind constructs the poem?
Kate: Homage, no. It’s an interpretation, a personal interpretation from the point of view of the artist but that the poet has to approve. Homage? Strictly? No. When you think of homage, I think more of ekphrasis. This is when a poet sees an artist’s word and responds to it with a poem, even if the poet and the artist know each other. It’s usually the poet responding to the art—it’s called ekphrastic poetry. Whereas Word & Image is collaborative. The art responding to the poetry is a working together.
WOW: Art collaborates with poetry to make Word & Image. Does Ink Sweat & Tears favor the fusion and bending of genres?
Kate: Absolutely loves it, but we are restricted by our hosting platform, the design, and the bandwidth required. Our Filmpoems are on YouTube because they require bandwidth. We’re restricted more in some ways now than when Charles started in 2007. He was restricted by what he could do online, but he didn’t have to worry about paying for bandwidth. We’re really open to genre bending, but we’re restricted by budget, by being on a standard WordPress site.
WOW: And speaking of genres that beget other genres, is the Filmpoem a close cousin or sequel to the prose poem? Prose poems are often very filmic in their own right.
Kate: I’ve never really thought about it that way, but you could be right. Free verse poetry is in Filmpoems as well, and some Filmpoems have come out of the spoken word genre. It could be what you say, but it’s not just that. I like that idea though! I think that’s an interesting way to interpret it. And yes, there’s a flow in prose poetry, perhaps like film, that you don’t always have in a more traditional verse poetry.
WOW: So true! Thanks for speaking with me today and sharing Ink Sweat & Tears with us, Kate.
Got an idea for a Filmpoem or Word & Image? Inspired to get creative? Ink Sweat & Tears is always open for Word &Image, reviews, and Filmpoems. Contact Kayleigh at firstname.lastname@example.org. She will also be open for general submissions of poetry and prose from February 1st to 15th. For more up-to-date details, go to https://inksweatandtears.co.uk/submissions/.
Rosie MacLeod is a London-based translator, interpreter and reporter. She has made reports for Global Radio and regularly reports for ShoutOut UK and East London Radio. She has written for Drunk Monkeys, World Literature Today, Inside Over and the Journal of Austrian Studies. You can listen to her radio work here: www.mixcloud.com/rosie-macleod. She tweets as @RosieMacLeod4. Get in touch via LinkedIn. Website: rosiemacleod.com. Instagram: @rosie.macleod.3