Tag Archives: Laurie Smith

Saturday: Liardet, Shearsman & Magma

7 Oct
Helen Dewbery

Helen Dewbery

It’s Sunday morning and I’m just writing up my notes from yesterday at the Swindon Festival of Poetry. There seems to be a fat wodge of them – oh dear. But I couldn’t help it – so much to write down .

Tim Liardet reading

Festival Director Helen Dewbery introduced Tim Liardet (“Lee-ar-day”, for those of us who weren’t sure) who gave a short reading, after which he was interviewed by Kim Moore.

Tim has written ten collections and been shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize twice; he’s also Professor of Poetry at Bath Spa University. He was talking about, and reading from, his ‘new and selected’ collection Arcimboldo’s Bulldog (Carcanet). Interesting to hear about the kinds of dilemmas facing a poet who reaches such a stage in their career – Tim wondered: what do you do with a ‘new and selected’? It’s not eligible for any of the prizes, he doesn’t want to jeopardise his next collection by including poems from that (the next collection, by the way, is more or less written.) To those of us poets a long way down the food chain these are ‘first world problems’… but fascinating nonetheless.

Arcimboldo’s Bulldog starts with Tim’s new work and then plunges into the earliest poems, dating from 1996. He admitted there were weren’t a lot from that period he wanted to include. In the Q&A with Kim that followed, he said he felt he only started to write in about 2006, when he began teaching in a high security prison, and ‘had to find a new register’. Before that he was ‘only trying to write…[…]  the older poems… I can’t hear them any more.’

Tim read a number of poems from the latter sections of the book, starting with ‘Loy’s Return’, an ‘apocryphal tale of an inmate returning to the outside world’. Another event that shaped his writing was the tragic drowning of Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay in 2004. He told us he wanted to respond to this by creating a mythology around it, to ‘put a marker in the ground’, particularly as he felt it was made so little of by the media.  Tim read a poem called ‘Riding the Ghostly Velocipede’ in which he explored the topic through the means of a near-drowning experience from his childhood.

Kim Moore and Tim Liardet

The Kim n Tim Show

In the interview that followed, there was some discussion of issues such as appropriation – how does a poet write about events without taking responsibility for telling someone else’s story? Tim’s answer (as regards the cockle pickers) was that he didn’t want to imagine/tell their stories, but rather create a monument to them. Another question was in what ways did living in the US affect his writing. Tim response was that he felt a sense of spaciousness in the US, rather than the claustrophobia of here. He reads John Ashbery every day and feels his writing somehow personifies this spaciousness.  ‘Precision doesn’t exist in density’.

Kim did a great job having stepped in at the last minute when the scheduled guest Jennifer Militello was unwell.

Poets & Publishers

The mid-afternoon session was a roundtable chaired by Carrie Etter with guests Tony Frazer of Shearsman and Laurie Smith, one of the founding editors of Magma.

Shearsman was founded in 1981 and publishes a twice-yearly magazine as well as books – 51 books in 2017 alone – and Tony Frazer does it all himself – pretty amazing. Interestingly he described himself as ‘a reader, not a writer’. 15% of Shearsman publications are in translation and another 10% or so are works by US or Antipoedean authors.  Tony told us how his background was in reading mainly US poetry, which no doubt informs his tastes. I’ve always thought of Shearsman as being relatively avant-garde, so much so that I don’t think I’ve ever submitted anything there, but Tony claimed that what he liked was quite broad – from sonnets to explosions of phonemes across the page. It can all be fine  “if it works!”

Magma magazine, as Laurie explained, has always had two different editors for each issue, something that he admitted did mean there was no consistently recognisable style or ‘type’ to what it publishes.  He also described how for each issue the magazine received an average of 2,500 submissions. That’s a lot of poems to read!  But it was noticeable from both editors that they took the responsibility of reading seriously, otherwise, as Laurie said, ‘each poem that comes in gets the same level of attention – or you might miss something.’

Here are a few of the questions and answers:

Q: Would they ever start charging for submissions, as is common in the US?

Tony: no

Laurie: we wouldn’t dream of it. We’d like to be able to pay contributors, not the other way around.

Q; What do you think of simultaneous submissions?

Tony: it’s OK, although he’d like to be told (particularly in the case of books under consideration)

Laurie: you can’t prevent simultaneous submissions. It’s really up to the editor to get through the submissions in a timely way, you can’t expect people to wait six months before sending a poem about again.

Q: Who are you most proud to have discovered?

Laurie: Jen Hadfield

Tony: Janet Sutherland (I was very happy to hear this as Janet is a friend, and co-member of the Needlewriters collective in Lewes.)

Q: Would you ever move your magazine away from print and go completely digital (like The Interpreter’s House)?

Tony: no, although he may offer a digital version of the print magazine.

Laurie: Magma already has a digital edition but it would never going entirely digital. “There will always be a place for poetry on paper,” said Laurie, holding up a copy of Magma, “this will still be around in 100 years.”

Q: What would be your one piece of advice to someone thinking of submitting their work to you?

Tony: read a sample of what we publish – there are plenty of PDF downloads available on the website.

Laurie: Express strong emotion in original language.