Friday, 15 July 2011

Friday afternoon with Barbara Temperton Poetry Editorial Advisor of Westerly

I love the ability of poets to both observe and express the human condition, the transformative process that occurs when a poet has been out in the world, watching, listening, recording, taking the time to allow poems to bubble up to the surface, dwelling in ideas and images, catching the thoughts that are thinking themselves.

Westerly’s aim is ‘to generate interest in the literature and culture of Australia, particularly Western Australia, and its neighbouring regions in South-East Asia and the Indian Ocean’. Information about Westerly, including the contents of past issues, is available at, as are the submission guidelines.

Westerly is published twice a year, but it is worth noting that from time to time an issue will be dedicated to a particular topic, which may exclude more general submissions. For example, of the last five issues two were on special topics (Aboriginal writing and Western Australian writing). The next issue (56:2) will focus on South-East Asian writing and is to be guest edited by Shalmalee Palaker (UWA) who will be soliciting contributions. I am reading poetry submissions now for the first issue in 2012.

The assessment process involves packages of poems being sent to me via the Westerlyoffice. I’m looking for the best poems and my interests are wide-ranging. I seek well-crafted pieces, contemporary in their focus. There are no restrictions on the form a poem takes or its content. I read everything at least once, if not more, and will go through the stack of the selections I shortlist again before returning them to administration for processing. Once submissions have closed for an issue, all the shortlisted poems are returned to me for my final selection. Whether or not the poems I select are published is dependent on several factors: mainly the length of poems (we don’t have a set requirement for line length, which allows us to be quite flexible in this regard), and the amount of space available, taking into account short fiction, articles, reviews, etc...

The acceptance rate for poetry submissions to Westerly is approximately 5%. For example, around 230 poets submitted approximately 690 poems for consideration for Issue 56:1. There were 35 poems on my final shortlist. Of these, the editors – Delys Bird and Tony Hughes-d’Aeth – selected 28 poems for publication in the journal. (This figure doesn’t include the solicited works in the Dennis Haskell tribute).

In regard to submitting poems to Westerly: First have a look at several issues of the journal; then visit the website, read the guidelines for submission and comply with them. Submit no more than three previously unpublished poems. (We once received a submission of over 40 pages containing an equivalent amount of poems. I only read the first three.) Submit your very best work. I can’t emphasise enough the importance of ensuring that the work has been through a process of development/workshopping, and has had some kind of editorial/informed input. An interesting metaphor or a clever rhyme is not enough, the whole poem has to work so make every line count. Please wait for a response before you submit more poems. Sometimes a poet may submit a number of really strong pieces and have them all shortlisted. However, in order to publish as many poets as possible in the limited space available, I have to make very hard decisions and only one or maybe two of an individual’s poems may make it through to the final selection.

- Barbara Temperton

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