Ink Sweat & Tears: Women of the Webzine

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Kate Birch and Helen Ivory from online poetry magazine Ink Sweat & Tears talk to The Sunday Tribune

TST: INK SWEAT & TEARS. It’s my favourite online magazine for poetry in the UK. Welcome to TST Kate and Helen! First of all let’s talk about the magazine today. How would you describe Ink Sweat and Tears. How does it work and who does what?

Kate: Ink Sweat & Tears is a UK based webzine which publishes and reviews poetry, prose, prose-poetry, word & image pieces and everything in between.  Our tastes are eclectic and magpie-like and we aim to publish something new every day.’ Helen is the editor. She has a genius for picking excellent and varied work and sifts meticulously through all our submissions then posts those she accepts.  I fund the project, manage things behind the scenes and do all the social media which is vital to an online zine. We both do as much PR for IS&T as we can.

TST: Ink Sweat and Tears in history. When did it start. Helen – was it just you at the beginning, did you do everything?

Kate: IS&T was founded by Salt author Charles Christian in 2007 as a platform for new poetry and short prose, and experimental work in digital media.   Charles ran the site single-handedly, publishing new work every day till 2010, when now sole editor, poet and artist Helen Ivory came on board as Deputy Editor. I took over the management of Ink Sweat & Tears in April 2011.

Helen: I think we are pretty much the longest running online magazine in the UK and the years have really flown by! 

TST: Where is IST based? Norfolk, Norwich? Is it important to have bases outside of London driving poetry culture? How much is the local base of your area important to what IST is? Is it important to your life? Do you think internet magazines can benefit from also having feet in the local community (or is this not relevant to IST)?

Kate: Helen is based in Norwich. I am based in London and Norfolk but mainly London. She is very much involved in the local poetry scene (and also has connections across the UK.) I am starting to get involved with more London initiatives such as the Poetry School. Conversely, I also personally support a couple of University of East Anglia (UEA) MA Poetry Scholarships. And our web site and pamphlets are both designed in Norwich by Nick Stone at Starfish Design and the pamphlets published there. I think it is vital for an online presence to have local roots – it helps to create a poetry community.

TST: There must be so many highlights over the past years. Great poems, contributors, moments. Can you tell me a couple of significant moments in the trajectory of the magazine?

Helen: One of the best feelings is when people come up to me at a poetry event and tell me that IS&T was the first place to publish them and then they list what they’ve gone on to do since.  It’s very rewarding to be told that we have given writers the confidence to think of themselves as poets –  because is a state of mind, rather than just the action of writing poems that enables writers to realise their voice is valid and people want to hear it, and they should start engaging with the poetry world at large!  This happens to me quite a lot of the time, so I have lost track of specifics, I just have a general warm and fuzzy feeling about these new writers who are discovering their voices. 

Kate: One of the poems we published, ‘Frequency Violet’ by Kate Edwards was Highly Commended in 2018 for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem and published in The Forward Book of Poetry 2019.

(From a print publishing point of view Jay Bernard getting shortlisted for the Ted Hughes for The Red and Yellow Nothing was simply huge!

TST: What are your ambitions for the magazine going forward. Personally longevity and life are two incredible achievements. Congratulations to you. But do you have ambitions beyond that, anything specific you’d like to achieve?

Kate: It would be good to take our web site to the next level. One of our regular contributors, Helen Pletts, suggested improved access to poetry for the blind and more audio presentation. Also movement in poetry or animated poetry. How feasible that it practically and financially, I do not know, but it is definitely something to look into.

TST: Do you think poetry on the internet has an interesting future? Any thoughts on formats that might bloom in the near future? Is it important for all writers to move beyond paper? Or is paper going to continue as part of the mix?

Kate: There is so much that can be done on the internet. The combination of word and sound. Word and moving image, film poetry. And platforms like Instagram have already introduced poetry to people, particularly the young, who are much more engaged with it than previous generations, young people who would never have looked at it before because it was something that came from a book. However, electronic reading devices can never replace a book particularly for poetry. Formatting loses its shape. Concrete poems can lose their significance. Golden Shovel or acrostic poems will mean nothing if the font increases and as a result the structure changes on the screen. And the personal connection that readers have with poetry can feel more real when it is on the printed page.

Helen: As a visual artist I have a love of materials – different types of paper and how the ink works on and into the paper, are all part of that perishable tangibility. I also think that because of Kindle, books will generally become more beautiful as objects and be valued as such, rather than just methods of giving and receiving information. It seems to me a bit like when photography was invented, when there was a device which could record the world in perfect detail so the reaction was that painters started to explore and question how they approached their medium.

TST: Ink Sweat & Tears also publishes pamphlets. Tell us something of that project. What are we looking forward to in that way in the near future? 

Kate: We have been publishing pamphlets since November 2013 when we issued our Twelve Slanted Poems for Christmas anthology. Our online ‘Twelve Days of…’ Christmas feature was so popular that we had this idea of dipping a toe into the print publishing water. Slanted had a modest success so when we got the opportunity to publish the co-winners of the 2014 IS&T/Cafe Writers Pamphlet Commission Competition after we took it nationwide – it had previously been an East Anglian competition – we jumped at it. One of those publications, Jay Bernard’s The Red and Yellow Nothing was shortlisted for the 2016 Ted Hughes Award and Jay has not looked back, winning the Ted Hughes the following year for their performance work Surge and being nominated for best first collection for the 2019 Forward Prizes. Jay’s success inspired us to go through the whole process again and in November we are publishing pamphlets from the 2017 Competition winners: Gail McConnell’s ‘Fothermather’ and ‘Firing Pins’ by Jo Young. They will be discussing their works and the feminist perspective along with Helen and other amazing poets such as Mona Arshi, at Poetry in Aldeburgh this year and then launching the pamphlets at November’s Café Writers in Norwich.

TST: Tell me something about your own work and a personal project that’s of interest to you right now.

Kate: With the Poetry School, I have set up a pilot poetry project at the first London site for the charity OnSide whose Youth Zones are all about giving disadvantaged young people ‘somewhere to go, something to do and someone to talk to’ It is being run by Yomi Ṣode who recently was one of three to be awarded the Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship for 2019/2020. We hope that if it is successful, OnSide will make it a part of their regular programme in Barking and Dagenham and expand to the other planned London sites and across the UK. I am also in the process of ‘curating’ a poetry event ‘Voices of London’ with Allie Esiri (creator of the iF Poems App and editor of A Poem for Every Day of the Year and A Poem for Every Night of the Year) and the actress Helen McCrory to be hosted by the next Lord Mayor of London, William Russell at Mansion House in the City of London on 26th November. It will involve contemporary London poets reading their own work and well-known actors reading that of London poets from the past. We are hoping that Yomi and the young people from his OnSide project will play a part in this.

Well, my most recent Bloodaxe collection The Anatomical Venus has been at large since May so I have a series of readings lined up from that over the autumn.  There is quite a lot of research in the Venus poems, which I absolutely loved doing.  This is what the book is about:

An Anatomical Venus – which gives this book its title – was an eighteenth-century anatomical wax sculpture of an idealised woman, a heady mix of eroticism, death and biological verisimilitude. Venus could be opened up and pulled apart by all the men who studied her. She would give up her secrets the first time of asking.

The Anatomical Venus examines how women have been portrayed as ‘other’; as witches; as hysterics with wandering wombs and as beautiful corpses cast in wax, or on mortuary slabs in TV box sets. A hanged woman addresses the author of the Malleus Maleficarum, a woman diagnosed with ‘Housewife Psychosis’ recounts her dreams to Freud, and a sex robot has the ear of her keeper. The Anatomical Venus imagines the lives of women sketched in asylum notes and pictures others shut inside cabinets of curiosity.

There’s an interview where I talk about The Anatomical Venus and other projects I’ve been involved.

TST: Finally, what can poets do to support IS&T that does so much for the community?

Kate: Get the word out; we want to be a goto place for anyone in the poetry community. And buy our pamphlets. Direct! 

Helen: What Kate said!  People can do this in many ways such as retweeting our daily posts or including us in their bios if they have been published by us.  I know space is often limited in bios but IS&T is only four characters . . .

Thank you so much Helen and Kate for all your hard work with INK SWEAT & TEARS 

And here are the links so we can call get sharing.

Twitter @InkSweatTears

Facebook: Ink Sweat & Tears (@InkSweatandTears)

Instagram: insta.inksweatandtearsB

Biographies for Helen and Kate:

IS&T: The Editor

Helen Ivory started as Deputy Editor at IS&T in 2010, and is now sole editor.  She was born in Luton but now lives Norwich with her husband, the poet Martin Figura.

She is a poet and visual artist and has published five collections with Bloodaxe Books, The Double Life of Clocks (2002), The Dog in the Sky (2006), The Breakfast Machine (2010) and Waiting for Bluebeard (2013), and The Anatomical Venus (2019). She is a lecturer for the UEA/National Centre for Writing online creative writing programme. Fool’s World, a collaborative Tarot with artist Tom de Freston (Gatehouse Press) won the 2016 Saboteur Best Collaborative Work award. A book of collage/ mixed media poems, Hear What the Moon Told Me, was published KFS in 2017. A chapbook Maps of the Abandoned City was published by SurVision in January 2019.Website:

IS&T: The Publisher

Kate Birch took over the management of Ink Sweat & Tears in April 2011. She has never had any claims to be a poet. Indeed in response to her attempt to get on a poetry course at the University of Toronto in the 1980s, its tutor referred to her submissions as “doggerel” and “a complete waste of my time.” She survived this, at the time, rather traumatic setback and has spent the intervening decades researching and writing about subjects as varied as 18th Century politics, machine tools and tap dancing.

Perhaps having been outed as one who could not write poetry, Kate has always been a keen supporter of those who can. In 2007, she and her husband, Dominic Christian, set up the IS&T/ Café Writers Pamphlet Commission Competition, for which she also sits on the judging panel. Four years later, she established the Ink Sweat & Tears Poetry Writing Scholarship at the University of East Anglia and then in 2018 the Birch Family BAME Poetry Scholarship, both of which go towards a MA in Creative Writing.

Kate is the voice of IS&T on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. She is based in London and Norfolk.