Shearsman and the Steel City
It wasn’t until the age of twenty that literature came to play a role in my life. Ignorant of the rifts and divisions which by then (2002) had become rooted in the British poetry scene, I was free to stumble with amateurish excitement from one collection to the next, oblivious to the bitter rivalries which existed between many of the authors I read and the insulated communities which nurtured them. Rather, I was stimulated by the rhythm and musicality wrung out of something as commonplace as words; images seared up from ash! I arrived at Philip Larkin because his books were easy to get hold of in Sheffield Central Library, while at the same time selecting Poems by JH Prynne from the Bloodaxe catalogue for no other reason than his being the only title which was not accompanied by a profile shot. As far as I was concerned, both Larkin and Prynne wrote poetry, and that was that. Larkin, perhaps, was less hard to understand than Prynne; but for me poesy was there to be experienced, not understood. Slowly I began to feel my way around the contours of the poetry world, and the fissures were all too apparent and pronounced. In those days, Shearsman was one of the few magazines in which I took any interest. Although it expressed a preference for the experimental, the border, as it were, seemed wonderfully porous, and its agenda, if such a thing there was, appeared no more complicated than a desire to publish a range of poets from all over the world - a desire which extended from the magazine to the press itself. Space was reserved for the ‘experimentalist’ and the ‘traditionalist’ alike. It struck me that William Blake would have been proud; for here was a small patch of Eden where the lion and the lamb did truly lie down together. So I submitted my own poems to Shearsman. Quite rightly, they were rejected. However, in contrast to many editors, Tony always responded personally, and always in a manner that despite the rejection was nonetheless supportive. Alongside Alan Halsey and Geraldine Monk, with whom I became acquainted around this time, Tony was willing to tolerate, or overlook, my dreadful verse so as to offer words of encouragement; all three responded with a kindness that went beyond their individual duties as editors and/or poets. Eventually there was an acceptance; later one more; and later still Shearsman published my first collection, Icarus was Right! In the mess and error that go towards composing oneself, it would surely be a fool who could look back and say s/he was proud of their every act. Yet to have been a part, small though it might be, of Shearsman is indeed a source of pride for me, and it is my sincere hope not only that the press continues under the directorship of Tony Frazer for many years to come, but that others might follow his example in the century ahead.