Friday, October 6, 2023

Six Questions for Katherine Schmidt and Natalie Wolf, Co-Founders/Editors, Spark to Flame

Spark to Flame publishes collaborative poetry (preferably to 300 words). “We pair poets to co-author poetry anonymously through submissions of poetry fragments (sparks). If a fragment is accepted, it is then sent to another author, who turns it into a cohesive poem (flame).” They just published their first issue and are open for submissions from August 15, 2023 to October 15, 2023 for Issue Two. Read the complete guidelines here.


SQF: Why did you start this magazine?


Katherine: We started Spark to Flame to elevate and create space for collaborative poetry. Natalie and I had written collaborative poetry together in the past, and it was just so much fun. One day I suddenly thought: what if there were a journal that not only wanted to publish fantastic co-authored poems, but also had a mechanism to get more collaborative poetry out in the world? That’s why we run a process where poets can submit poetry fragments–or “sparks”–and can sign up to write a final poem–or “flame”–off of a different poet’s spark. We are as much about the final poem as we are about the process! We want poets to play with ideas and language they may be unfamiliar with, to lean into their creativity, to really embrace the improv concept “yes and…”


Natalie: I think Katie pretty much said it, but what I’ll add is that, when I had thought about starting a literary journal before, I hadn’t felt like I really had anything novel to contribute. But when Katie mentioned her idea for Spark to Flame, I hadn’t heard of anything else doing something similar (although we now know that Icebreakers Lit also runs a similar process). I thought that it was a really cool idea and was excited to help her with the journal!



SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?


Natalie: I look for vibrant and surprising imagery, interesting language choices, and ideally (although not always) something of a narrative/through line. They’re things that I enjoy when reading poetry, so hopefully our readers will enjoy them as well. And for sparks specifically, I look for things that feel like they have enough substance (in terms of language/imagery, ideas, and actual word count) for flame writers to work with, but that don’t feel like they’re already complete poems. For our first issue, we received some sparks that were nice but felt like they were already complete works.


Katherine: I love co-authored poems that surprise me, use inventive language, and play with form. I love playfulness and rhythm. I love thinking about new things in old ways or old things in new ways. For sparks, poets need to give their co-author something to work with! Often that looks like interesting imagery or a clear theme. We have a word count suggestion of 50-100 words for the spark because, like Natalie mentioned, there needs to be enough ideas for the flame writer to really work with it.


SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?


Katherine: We had a couple of submissions of single-authored poems, which is just silly and leads to an automatic rejection (we don’t publish single-authored poems!). Other than that, for our first issue, I was really touched by poets’ willingness to take part in our process. We can tell when poets sincerely want to be part of what we are creating and we are here to help that process go smoothly.


Natalie: I’ll second what Katie said about single-authored poems. Also, if sparks seem like they’re too short to provide much for a flame writer to work with (sparks that are only 2-3 very short lines, for example). Or if a submission doesn’t have anything that makes it stand out in terms of language choice, ideas, imagery, etc. Make it interesting! Make it you!


SQF: Guideline pages are often long and boring. Is it really necessary to read them?


Natalie: Yes! For me, it’s about communication and respect. If you submit something that doesn’t meet the basic guidelines of what a journal is looking for because you didn’t read the guidelines page, that wastes your time and yours. Everything is a lot smoother and more efficient if everyone’s on the same page (metaphorically and literally). Also, if you took the time to read and follow the guidelines, that shows you are invested in your writing and the submission/publication process. With that said, journals rejecting work just because of small formatting errors seems a little silly to me personally.


Katherine: Reading the guidelines is 100% necessary. We not only accept submissions of sparks, which themselves are a new concept (how many poetry journals do you know take not-yet-fully-formed poems?), but we also have a process to pair sparks with flame-writers. The process relies on back-and-forth between us as editors and the spark and flame writers. Think of it in two ways: our guidelines are our way of being upfront with poets about the type of communication and pacing we need from them; our guidelines also let poets know what they should expect from us as editors. Setting these expectations is how we attempt to build a foundation for trust and respect, which our whole process relies on.


SQF: Many editors list erotica, or sex for sex sake, as hard sells. What are hard sells for your publication?


Katherine: For co-authored poems, anything NSFW, in addition to excessive violence. We welcome tough themes, but they must be handled sensitively and appropriately. For sparks and flames, even more sensitivity is needed. Spark-submitters should think about how their sparks will be given to a stranger. And I want to see flame-writers respect and honor their sparks.


Natalie: I’ll basically just second what Katie said: graphic/unnecessary violence, graphic sexual content, and anything promoting bigotry, hatred, or violence. We’re open to submissions on difficult themes, but they need to be handled with care. 


SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?


Natalie: What would we say to people who may not have submitted to journals before and are nervous about submitting? And I would say go for it! We want to read work from poets of all levels of experience and backgrounds. And if you have any questions, we’re here to help. We’re excited to read your work!


Katherine: Who should submit to Spark to Flame? Our answer: everyone. The only requirement right now is 13 years old or older. Like Natalie said, we want to be a place where both new and established poets connect across backgrounds and cultures.

Thank you, Katherine and Natalie. We all appreciate your taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

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