Blue Bottle Journal is the 2020 creation of QUT Fine Arts graduate, Sean West. A poet himself, Sean set out to create an online poetry journal for emerging and established poets, give editorial feedback, and give poems homes. Glass Magazine is an ardent supporter of independent publications, and sat down with Sean to talk about Blue Bottle Journal, poetry, and advice for students starting out in the creative industries.
Tell us about Blue Bottle Journal and how the project originated?
Hey Glass team! It was around mid-last year when I began feeling I wasn’t doing enough to elevate other voices in my community. I also had poetry friends who were struggling to get their work out there and I had been in that position myself before, where zines were my only platform to build a writing portfolio. A lot of my favourite local zines were also dwindling away or their online domains were lapsing in the face of the pandemic. I wanted to create a safe online space long-term for new poets to get a leg up into the publishing industry.
You’re a QUT Graduate, what did you study at QUT and how did it inform the creation of Blue Bottle Journal?
I studied a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Creative and Professional Writing) at QUT and graduated in 2018. My degree was hugely influential to creating Blue Bottle in 2020, primarily due to my subjects in poetry, publishing and editing, of course. But what was probably the best advice out of uni came from Mel Saward, who I had for a number of units. She told us that the degree is really just a piece of paper at the end of the day and it’s what you do with it during your degree and after graduation that counts, so go out and break some eggs.
Why did you decide to create your own publication, and what space does it fill in the Queensland writing scene?
I felt like there was a widening publishing gap mid-pandemic where small print zines were starting to feel like a thing of the past because zinesters could no longer print, circulate, and launch their art in person anymore. In 2017, I got my start in publishing with such amazing community-focused local zines as Ibis Zine, The Tundish Review, Pastel Magazine, and Concrescence. If new poets could no longer turn to zines for a platform to get their work published, something else needed to be that pillar of support for emerging voices. I guess that had to be Blue Bottle.
Which achievement in Blue Bottle’s young life are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of giving new or struggling artists a home for their weary poems. I won’t name names but there’s one particular poet we’ve published who had been struggling for a long while to get her work published anywhere and I’m so proud to have sent her first acceptance. We’re a debut publication for many poets and that’s such a rewarding experience. I’m also really proud we have the emotional energy and time to offer personalised feedback to every single poet who submits to us. There are not too many journals who can say that today.
What advice would you give to student poets that you wish you had when you were a student?
Luckily, I had Mel in my corner with that golden advice but I’d just reiterate for any students who may not be lucky enough to have her: get submitting! The earlier the better. You’ll face a whole heap of rejection at every level of your career. The best writers are the ones who pick themselves up off the canvas every time and keep going. Getting published is mostly a matter of timing and luck but also immense patience and grit. Sometimes rejection is just down to style and aesthetic. Try to read the publications you’re submitting to as much as you can to get an authentic feel for what they like, tailoring your work to an editor’s tastes can be a really satisfying experience when you pull it off. The editor will likely get a kick out of it too; I know I do.
If QUT students wanted to get involved with Blue Bottle Journal, how would they go about doing that?
We’re open to bi-monthly submissions! Our open submission months are Jan, Mar, May, Jul, Sep, and Nov, so keep an eye out on our socials for when we’re open and hungry for more work. Feel free to get some poems ready for us next month as we’ll open from May 1st. Again, we always offer tailored editorial feedback, so you’ll never receive a generic rejection from us. Any submissions, queries, or invites to collaborate should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
What else do you do besides Blue Bottle Journal?
I’m also a published poet, producer and workshop facilitator. I keep a portfolio of my published work here and have interned for Ruckus Slam Brisbane for a number of years. I particularly love co-facilitating writing workshops with Angela Peita for Brotherhood of the Wordless, who are a group of non-verbal communicating poets and lovely humans. If you ever get the chance to come along to a Ruckus Slam or see the Brotherhood perform, don’t miss it! We’re always a good time -Sean, founding editor of Blue Bottle Journal.
Blue Bottle Journal is a Meanjin-based online poetry publication for emerging and established poets to showcase innovative work: often ecocritical, ever-colourful, and always with the intent to dismantle our industry’s gatekeeping structures. We welcome poems from marginalised communities, always offer editorial feedback, and prioritise new voices in the poetry scene.
Sean West is a Meanjin-based poet, arts producer, and workshop facilitator. He’s been shortlisted for the 2020 and 2019 Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize. His work appears or is forthcoming with Meniscus, Quadrant, and Red Room Poetry. He is the founding and sole editor of Blue Bottle Journal. Find more of him at www.callmemariah.com.