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Shearsman Interview

Posted on 07 September 2006. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
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WriteWords talks to Tony Frazer, editor of poetry magazine and press Shearsman

Tell us all about Shearsman; history, ethos, etc

Well, Shearsman is two things: a magazine and a press. They intertwine of course, but I tend to see them as slightly separate enterprises. The magazine was founded in 1981 out of the ruins of a joint venture with two other editors ó I had a lot of manuscripts left over and didnít want to lose them ó and itís continued ever since, albeit at times in different guises. The most dramatic changes in its appearance have occurred in the past 5 years, when first it went onto the Web as well as being a print publication, and then when it metamorphosed into a book-sized publication appearing twice yearly.

Ethos? Well, I say that my taste tends to run to work in the modernist tradition, which can cover a number of sins. I tend to be more comfortable with poets such as W.C.Williams. Oppen, Snyder, and Sobin (to take 4 Americans), than with many of their British contemporaries. On this side of the Atlantic, Iíve long been a fan of Bunting, (David) Jones, Roy Fisher, Lee Harwood and Tom Raworth. Coming to more contemporary writers, and to women writers at that, I admire C. D. Wright, Karin Lessing and Pam Rehm from the US; Frances Presley, Elisabeth Bletsoe, Alice Oswald and Harriet Tarlo from the UK, Gig Ryan from Australia.

How do you find writers?

Three ways: by recommendations from people I trust; from reading around and soliciting work from those whose work I like; and lastly from the mail. The latter is a safety valve, which ensures that I donít miss poets that I, or my other contacts, donít know. Iíve published a number of poets in the magazine who came in that way, and have taken on an increasing number of book manuscripts that way. These are still a distinct minority though and will probably remain so.

What excites you about a piece of writing-

Iím only interested in poetry ó at least from a publishing perspective ó and the first thing that hits me is language. Secondly, I like unpredictability: poetry does not have to be in prose rhythms; nor does it need to be in strict forms; it does not have to feature sentence-based syntax; it does not have to be drawn from personal experience. It DOES need to show some evidence of having HAD to be written.

and what makes your heart sink?

Poems about the writerís holidays; memories of the family, the pet dog, etc; religious fervour; poor use of, and understanding of, rhyme and metre; chopped-up prose (and bad prose, at that). Poor spelling and grammar seem endemic these days and I can put up with it in small doses, but a total lack of awareness of basic writing rules is very depressing.

A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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