Earlier this year, Jenny Danes was placed Second in the inaugural Hawker Prize for her poem ‘Kiwis‘, published in Issue Three of The Kindling! The prize is awarded by the Singapore-based literary nonprofit Sing Lit Station, in a push to spotlight literary journals with ties to Southeast Asia. We’re thrilled to include here a fragment of an interview with the organizers, which will be published in full on their site in due course.
Find out more about the birth and inner workings of this journal below!
Sing Lit Station (SLS): How did you decide which poems to nominate for The Hawker Prize, and what are your thoughts on “Kiwis” by Jenny Danes winning second place?
Theophilus Kwek (Theo): We’re absolutely delighted. When the Hawker Prize was launched late last year, we had not yet published Issue 4 (December 2017), and so only had the poems from Issues 2 and 3 of The Kindling to choose from. We both independently shortlisted three or four poems each, and noticed that ‘Kiwis’ from Issue 3 landed on both our lists, along with Mary Jean Chan’s ‘Field Notes on a Chinese Meal’, which appears in Issue 2. We then discussed a third poem to nominate along with these two, and sent them in! ‘Kiwis’, in particular, caught my attention because of Jenny’s thoroughly naturalistic sense of spoken rhythm, which which beautifully veils how clever and intricate her choice of diction is. It’s one of the most unpretentious poems we’ve ever published.
Tash Keary (Tash): We’re lucky enough to be wowed by all the poems we publish, but across our short time as a journal I think we’ve both had our ‘completely speechless’ moments. “Kiwis” was one of these moments for both me and Theo, and luckily it fell in one of the two issues which qualified for the Hawker prize. It was a natural choice for our three to be submitted to the award. The poem has a delicate quietness to it which has always made it memorable to me – it’s understated and leaves an enormous sense of aching in its wake. We could not be more pleased that it was one of these stand-out poems for the judges too!
SLS: What do you look for when you’re accepting works for publication? How do you determine what works will be included in a particular Issue?
Theo: Balance is very important to us, as is persuasiveness. Though our Call for Submissions states that we’re looking out for writing from universities across the UK and Ireland (that was a strong reason behind founding the journal), each issue is in fact a far more cosmopolitan creature – with poets writing out of different identities and circumstances. Stylistic balance is also important, and I think in each issue we have a lovely mix of more experimental poetic forms and uses of language alongside the ‘traditional’ lyrical approach (although there often isn’t anything conventional about this latter group at all!)
Tash: We don’t tend to open our submissions folder with a preconceived idea of what we’re looking for – each issue brings with it a brilliant jumble of styles, themes and speakers, and that’s what makes our job so enjoyable! Basing our journal loosely on writing from universities means that we encounter a great deal of experimental work, sometimes a reworking of a conventional form, or a new perspective on using language. We’re largely unthemed, and this opens up the scope for variety even further.
SLS: Could you walk us through the process of selecting, editing and publishing works in The Kindling?
Theo: We open a call for submissions about two or three times a year, which typically lasts between 6-8 weeks. Following which, we sift through the poems independently and then meet (over Skype!) to settle on a list. Each issue also usually features (by invitation) two or three more established poets, who either contribute poems or are interviewed: it’s important that our young writers are featured alongside these experienced voices, such that their works can speak across to each other.
Tash: After our call for submissions has closed, we independently select the poems we want to publish and then (virtually) meet to compare. Sometimes there are compromises, sometimes trade-offs, but generally the same poems speak to the both of us, and we settle on a list of 10-15. We invite established poets to contribute or be interviewed and publish these alongside our new voices. Bridging the gap between poets established and new was one of goals which inspired us to start The Kindling.
SLS: It’s great that one of your goals is to bridge the gap between already established poets and the younger writers! What else motivated you to start The Kindling?
Theo: Tash and I both felt when we started the journal back in 2016 that there wasn’t really a space in the UK run by younger writers for younger writers. Most of such platforms either existed in university cities (and were exclusive to members of their university) or in London – where a lot of exciting stuff happens but can feel a long way off, geographically and metaphorically, for writers elsewhere. So The Kindling was started as a kind of in-between space to fill that gap.
Tash: There are so many great journals out there for younger writers, but they can often feel separate from one another – many are exclusively for writers at a particular university, or living in a particular place. Theo and I wanted to create a space which allowed writers to feel part of a community, without having to be in a particular place or at a particular institution. The Kindling hopes to productively fill the geological gaps.
SLS: What are some of your greatest hurdles and successes in setting up and furthering The Kindling?
Theo: I think we’ve been very, very lucky in setting up this platform – and people have been incredibly generous with their time and their words. I’d say the greatest hurdle might be up ahead, keeping it sustainable and figuring out who might be able to help us take the journal into its next phase!
Tash: We’ve certainly learnt a lot in the process, from structuring our issues to wrangling with WordPress! The journal’s been met with such generosity and enthusiasm since 2016, and we’re constantly wowed by the number of poets who are kind enough to share their work with us. We’ve been incredibly lucky, and our greatest hurdle at this point is keeping up the momentum which we’ve gained thus far.
SLS: What are your future plans/dreams/goals for The Kindling?
Theo: I don’t think we’ve actually thought that far ahead, but it’s always a joy to see our former and current contributors go on to other brilliant things. And if The Kindling has been part of developing them and supporting their journey in some way, we’ve achieved what we set out to do!
Tash: To keep going! We’ve never made any concrete plans for the journal’s future, but as each issue continues to surprise us with its huge range of styles and voices – I’m always excited to see what’s next.