Tony rang me once. It was soon after I had returned to live in Scotland, after almost thirty years away in mainland Europe. I’d only just begun working seriously on poetry and had sent him a sequence written in the Netherlands, just before coming home. He rang to say how much he liked the work, and offered publication, even a book.
I was completely nonplussed. I’d been away from the UK for so long that I’d lost touch completely with the way the literary world worked here. Apart from the tutors on the Arvon course I’d just attended, I hadn’t spoken to an editor for many years, let alone a poetry editor. I listened to Tony, paralysed. After all, I was a complete fraud. The poems I’d sent him were almost the only coherent verses I’d ever written. A poetry collection was the remotest possibility. How hadn’t he realised that?
Blustering and wittering my way through our conversation, the telephone acting as even more of a monstrous impedance to normal conversation than it usually did, I gave some explanation as to why I couldn’t send him anything else to read, why I had no more work to offer, let alone enough to fill a book. I think I also managed to burble some stuff about how I never took advice, too.
Tony patiently heard me out, and the call ended. In the ensuing silence came the shock of realising my complete incompetence, followed by a numbing sense of lost opportunity. Some weeks later Tony published my sequence on his website gallery, along with the gorgeous photographs by my collaborator Gerrit Offringa, and this became the most valuable showcase for my developing work and confidence. I felt unbelievably honoured to have work validated in this way, and encouraged in what was for me a new and intimidating exploration of poetry writing.
In the long years since, subscribing to and having had other work published in Shearsman magazine, I’ve gained a true appreciation of just how extraordinary and pioneering a poetry editor Tony Frazer is. He remains always an enigmatic figure. He doesn’t bat about pontificating at literary festivals, teaching, or making his presence felt personally on ‘the poetry scene’. He just works, and his editorial judgement is rapier-sharp, pure and uncontaminated by superfluous considerations - barmy poets included. Shearsman has become for me a beacon of where poetry can and may go.
The longer I live back here, ‘at home’, the more I observe the status quo of poetry and literary translation in this country, the greater my understanding of how rare is Tony’s erudition, his editorial eye and the range of his literary and cultural vision. I feel so privileged personally in his advocacy of my work; we are all so fortunate in having had his influence on poetry publishing in the UK, to have it still.