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Tears in the Fence 56

Is it ‘teers’ or ‘tares’? No idea. I have been a subscriber for about three years (and the magazine has printed one poem of mine in the past). Tears in the Fence has been going for some time, edited by David Caddy from the hotbed of intellectual ferment that is Blandford Forum (maybe it is, I’ve never been there, it just sounds beautifully incongruous). The magazine has had a facelift and issue 56 has a smart colour cover on 176 (yes that’s 176) pages of crisply printed content. Tears publishes poetry, short stories, reviews and some more amorphous commentary. The magazine tends to position itself to the ‘innovative’ wing of the poetic debate and now has an internationally dispersed team accepting submissions (US, UK and France).

Tears is a great mixed bag. I really liked some of the poetry in this issue (Michael Grant, S.J. Litherland, Geraldine Clarkson) others, for instance the quite well known Steve Spence, clearly know what they are doing and are good in small doses (but I can’t see why I should want too much of it) and a few seemed hopeless (names withheld etc.). What is great about Tears is that some of the good poems might have a hard time making it into a ‘mainstream’ magazine because of their approach (perhaps most evidently the Clarkson of the poets I’ve named).

Non-mainstream positioning is even more evident in the reviews, which cover material you would be unlikely to find considered in (say) Poetry London – e.g. Robert Duncan’s H.D. book, books by Robert Vas Dias or Luke Roberts – alongside work you will find reviewed everywhere (Matthew Hollis’ All roads lead to France). Some of the reviewers seem to think they have to be a cheerleading squad for innovative work, which can erode trust – particularly if the quotations given don’t seem to live up to the hype. On the other hand the review of Michael Heller’s memoir served to introduce me to a poet I knew nothing of, and his poem quoted in full on p140, is so impressive that I will have to buy some of his books. Some of the other names reviewed will probably be unfamiliar to many but are well worth seeking out too (Ken Edwards, to name one personal favourite).

The prose can feel like an academic community talking to itself – with a surfeit of names from the literary theory cannon – and often makes wounded noises about being outside the bright lights and riches of the poetic ‘mainstream’. (In my humble opinion the ‘mainstream’ has no such riches/bright lights to be envious about – most of the Eliot shortlist will do a reading for the price of a train ticket and a curry.) That chippiness is a shame. The positive task of making literary variety available and promoting the merits of work in its own terms is difficult enough to be worth sticking at.

It is a terrible terrible confession, but I do not (generally) read the short stories. They do not appear to me to be as innovative as the poems, I’ve often been disappointed in them in the past, and as a pseudo-professional poet I don’t really have the time.

Summary, at £10 for 176 pages (or £25 for a three issue subscription) that you probably won’t find elsewhere, Tears is one of the subscriptions I shall keep renewing.