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Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:40
Book Depository: What/who do you see as your primary market?
Tony Frazer (Shearsman) That very tiny niche which consists of people interested in contemporary poetry, and "literary" poetry at that - quite a lot of contemporary poetry has no literary pretensions at all.
BD: What are the principal challenges/opportunities you see at the moment in the business of publishing books?
TF: I can't speak for the industry as a whole, but the key to making this press work is down to (a) keeping costs as low as possible, (b) finding the right new titles and (c) somehow finding a way to let the public know about (b).
The most difficult thing for any small press - and this is a small press, despite the level of output - is to be taken seriously by those at the centre of things. I would like to see more and better reviewing of new poetry books, although I don't actually kid myself that this would necessarily help sales - few reviews do that unless they're in the TLS, or in one of major dailies.
BD: What brings you to the decision to publish a particular title/author?
TF: Quite a lot of the list consists of writers whom I especially admire and whom I've chased after to get onto the list: Nathaniel Tarn, R.F. Langley, Roy Fisher, Christopher Middleton, Peter Cole, for instance; there are also a lot of writers who have come to be part of the family from regular appearances in Shearsman magazine. Then there are the translations, a majority of which are either classics (modern or otherwise) or poets I've read in their native language and wanted to see available in English. Finally, there are the surprises, that come through the post-box. The longer the press keeps going, the more of these there are - simply because we now publish more books and because we're better known. A good deal of our American list, for instance, consists of poets that came to us by word-of-mouth, which is as it should be.
BD: What books are you most proud of having published?
TF: Lee Harwood's Collected Poems, Vallejo's complete poetry in 3 volumes, Gloria Gervitz's Migrations, Pessoa's Alberto Caeiro poems, Tom Lowenstein's Ancestors and Species, and recently, D.S. Marriott's Hoodoo Voodoo. There are others, but these stick particularly in my mind.
BD: What books are you working on right now?
TF: My time has been consumed recently by a verse-novel called The Lovemakers, by the Australian poet Alan Wearne. This originally appeared in Sydney in 2 volumes in 2001 and 2004, but went out of print, despite winning every prize available down under. The Shearsman version is a single-volume version running to just under 700 pages. It's a great read and a tour-de-force of poetic styles at the same time.
Then there's Andrew Duncan's essay-collection The Council of Heresy, Kent Johnson's collection of poems, Homage to the Last Avant-Garde, an extraordinary book of Russian poems by Anna Glazova, plus Judith Infante's Love: A Suspect Form, which deals with the story of Abelard and Heloise.
I've also been working on some of the 2009 publications, one of the highlights of which is Kenny Knight's first collection, The Honicknowle Book of the Dead, a kind of deadpan autobiography in verse, set in a working-class suburb of Plymouth. On top of this there are a number of major translations, which I can't mention here as the rights and/or support are still being negotiated, and a collection of essays on the poetry of J.H. Prynne, which I think fills a considerable gap in the market, and is readable, unlike most critical volumes on poetry.
These are The Book Depository's 5 favourite Shearsman titles:
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