The first episode of Spellchats is here and we hope you are as excited as we are. The first introductory episode is an interview with Editor-in-Chief Amber Kennedy and Nonfiction Editor Linda Arrighi. Get to know all the ins and outs of Spellbinder by listening to the first episode! Hosted by Doriana Dyakova.
DD: So, we will now continue with asking some questions I’ve compiled over a couple of weeks, to get to know you guys, to get to know the journal, and what this creative publication is all about! I want to start off with, what drove you two to create this journal, and make it a multi-media company, with a blog, with a podcast 😊, despite the journalistic competition right now? What inspired you to make this unique?
AK: Primarily, it was our mutual passion for the written word, and for visual art. Obviously, there is competition, so we wanted to be different by giving emerging writers a voice. We already had a strong literary community and wanted to develop this; make it reach across the globe, and get the conversation started with people from different cultures, and from very different artistic experiences. I think conversations is a key word here, and therefore we also created the blog and the podcast. We wanted an extra avenue from which people can talk about art and literature and enjoy it most of all.
DD: Of course! Especially now that this is on the internet, with the pandemic still looming, it’s important to have those different avenues because that’s the only way people can engage in literature without a paperback. In a pandemic you can go into a bookshop, you must interact creatively in very different mediums. I must ask, in this industry, where everything is changing and creatives are boxed in by online marketability, how do manage to keep that authenticity alive? Both within the journal and yourselves.
LA: We want this to be authentic to the creators rather than having a pre-packaged deal that we know is going to sell, and we try to achieve this through having a variety of categories within our submitters, and in the magazine itself. We never set themes. In each category, whoever submits to spellbinder, we want expression without us guiding them towards a specific idea. We don’t focus on whether the person is emerging or established, we always choose with objectivity. We wouldn’t choose somebody just because they have a following. We aim to have a broader audience by having the categories that interests different types of readers.
DD: For sure, and having this many categories is obviously a very broad creative process, hard to filter. Are there any specific green flags/ promising features you look for? There must be some things that are more stimulating, more creative…?
AK: Definitely. With every issue we produce, the selection gets tougher as out market gets wider. As a magazine, we have certain values- we appreciate innovation, people who engage with traditions of the past and transform them, making them fresh and contemporary. As the main poetry editor, I’m looking for rhythmic flow and musicality. Interesting themes are nothing without a sense of flow and music about them. I do believe it is a spoken artform. I appreciate when the contributor’s voice is honest and sincere. The emotions need to be controlled in a way, not over-written.
DD: So, in a way you’re looking for more expression rather than originality- being vulnerable during your creative process, but also retaining a structure. However, some pieces might already have that potential but just need a push in the right direction. So, what does the editing process look like? How do you convey you want to make changes without being too overbearing?
LA: Even before we accept or reject a piece, we have a primary and secondary editor, it’s always a dialogue between two people. After the decision, it becomes a dialogue with the contributor as well. Whether we have minor grammatical edits or major structural ones, we offer suggestions rather than marking. I think it’s incredibly important to keep the piece as close to what the artist intended. We try to put ourselves in their perspective, keep their style and theme.
DD: So, keeping it as close as possible to the original, but highlighting the best parts of it. A little controversial, but I want to ask in what way do you think you as editors are qualified to judge somebody’s work? You’ve really gone global and include contributors of all ages and educational backgrounds, so how do you find the middle ground? Why should people trust you to comment and judge their art?
AK: This is a question we’ve all asked ourselves throughout. There is a side to editing that I think involves an English Literature degree, a creative writing masters, and that is my personal path into this. I also have experience attending and leading various creative writing groups, including the one at Durham university where the original team met. I’m used to submitting and am self-published as well. I think I have a traditional experience; but that’s not to say other members of our team are not equally qualified. They all have a passion for the written word and have explored this in individual ways. They have blogs, attend societies, educate themselves…They might not always know the technical details, but they can recognise what a successful work looks like. They have read widely, but as human beings they know what entertains them. Appreciation for art comes naturally in our team, and even though a more academic understanding will benefit you as an editor, it’s not essential.
DD: Of course, and this is what makes a rigorous editing process. In that case I want to ask, how do you maintain the authorial integrity of your contributors? They might not agree with the changes you want to make, or they must compromise with the meaning of the poem because they worry about readability.
LA: Everything we propose is just a suggestion. We can compromise with them as well. Apart from offering suggestions, we also ask the contributors themselves if they can come up with an alternative, their own change, instead of our variation.
DD: So, they maintain their authorship by making those changes themselves?
LA: I think more often we try to comment instead of editing ourselves.
DD: The power of suggestion is incredible really. I always think of Inception when you mention that. I bet you wish you could go into their dream and push them to change a line! Then they wake up and come to you with a change. 😊 This has been a very intense interview, so I just want to ask you a little about yourselves. Who are your favourite authors and poets, and would you have published them?
AK: It’s hard to pick a favourite, anyone who loves literature can never decide. I’ve always been a huge fan of Thomas Hardy; I did my undergraduate dissertation on him in comparison to D.H Lawrence. I would have published both, but I probably would have gotten in trouble if I was Lawrence’s contemporary.
DD: It would have been very naughty indeed!
AK: In terms of poetry, I love Sylvia Plath, Carol Anne Duffy…I remember watching a performance of her three years ago in Durham, and it was amazing. I’ve discovered horror writer Shirley Jackson more recently, I have her in the back of my mind when I’m editing. We can often disregard genre fiction, and subjectivity comes into play. I like playing with and exploring why we have certain biases when editing.
DD: Do you both think that there is an essential link between poetry, art, and all your favourite media? How do you consider it in the modern context that we live in? There’s a very strong sense of intermediality, when you look at our publication, but also works with illustration online. All creativity seems interwoven (arguably always has been.)
AK: This has been one of my interests for a very long time. I think there is a bond between all artists, including performance and music in that. When creativity is at the forefront of what you do and putting a part of yourself into a work that is going to be received by complete strangers, it’s a unique and uniting process. Artists are expressing themselves and trying to make you feel something too. They’re navigating the world through different mediums. I don’t think other disciplines can navigate the human experience as well as art.
DD: Our society is exceptionally STEM heavy; I think.
AK: I agree. Every art and humanities student has heard about how ‘easy’ their subject seems in comparison to physics and biology or anything else. Nevertheless, we who chose to do it understand its value. We’re saving people’s lives in another, much more subtle, deeper way. The conversation between art forms is fantastic at expressing this. Art will often depict literary scenes, and poetry will strive after the beauty of music. It’s something I really appreciate in a work I receive as well. I love the diversity that comes with being united through a common goal.
DD: I love to see that complexity being created. I want to ask you, exploring that link further, what do you think about the rise of social media poets and artists? Do you think the poetry and the art produced in this format is as credible?
LA: I see great value in social media and its potential to help jumpstart people’s careers- to get their foot through the door. People can really gain a lot of confidence and pursue something they never thought was an option. Creators can make a community around their work. At the same time, I think you can also find new artists and new inspiration so easily. I scroll through socials every day and see amazing things in such variety. Maybe not everything can be considered great; there is so much on there, some of it can be forgettable.
DD: There are some intense Rupi Kaur stans out there…very scary.
LA: Exactly because it could be absolutely anyone posting whatever they want out there. It could be their very first draft, very first drawing. It might not be academically as credible as something you see in a book show, but the emergency of this community, and having the option to share and communicate, is a very powerful thing. There are always two sides to it.
DD: I assume the social media aspect has been very helpful to make this publication go beyond Durham-bring it to the fore for readers everywhere. So, with such a global audience, how do you create diversity in your publication, and maintain it without force? Nowadays, diversity has become just a tick in the box, so how do you let it permeate without positive discrimination? Because I feel diversity is truly created when you don’t really pay attention to anything but the writing.
AK: Agreed. I don’t think diversity is genuine unless it comes naturally. We don’t set out to public eight Indian authors, four Irish poets and so on…it happens naturally because we advertise globally. We reach a wide submission basis. When it comes to the editing process, we don’t look at social media, we don’t ask for the nationality or headshot of the submitter. That is the only way to maintain an objective process of editing, because we could have subconscious biases, we need to limit in any way possible. We choose works based on merit alone, and this inevitably leads to diversity because there are great artists everywhere from every background.
DD: Definitely. Maintaining that objectivity, you look at something for the art and not just the creator. To finish off, what advice would you give your future submitters?
LA: This is a generous suggestion because I want to see what they send us unprompted, but generally, when you create something, do not think about who’s going to look at it or judge it. Just think why it’s necessary for you to create this, for yourself. Maintain the work true to yourself and vulnerable. That really shines through to whoever reads it.