Vernon Frazer

Vernon Frazer defies ready classification, regardless of idiom. From poetry to fiction to multimedia and points in between, his creative work bursts with energy, humor and exploration. Frazer has written more than thirty books of poetry, three novels, and a short story collection. His poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared in Aught, Big Bridge, First Intensity, Jack Magazine, Lost and Found Times, Moria, Miami SunPost, Muse Apprentice Guild, Sidereality, Xstream, and many other literary magazines. He introduced IMPROVISATIONS, his magnum opus of visual-textual poetry, at The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church in Manhattan. Working in jazz poetry, Frazer performed his poetry and music with the late saxophonist Thomas Chapin, the Vernon Frazer Poetry Band, and as a solo poet-bassist. His jazz poetry recordings and multimedia appear on YouTube.

Vernon FrazerFrazer began writing soon after he learned to read. At fifteen, isolated by a crippling stutter, Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums inspired him to make writing his life’s work; writing would enable him to communicate all that his speech obstruction prevented. While Charles Olson’s Maximus Poems introduced him to modern poetry, William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch influenced Frazer’s approach to writing fiction and introduced him to literary techniques that he would use in several genres over his career. A trumpeter in fifth grade, Frazer discovered a deep affinity with jazz about six months after he began writing seriously. At seventeen, a chance encounter at a jam session introduced him to the bass violin, a second love that has assumed varying degrees of importance in his life and work. 

While earning a B.A. from the University of Connecticut, Frazer studied fiction with Rex Warner, poetry with James Scully and bass violin with Bertram Turetzky, who also introduced him to the avant-garde music and literature of the 1960s. Frazer briefly attended graduate school at Simon Fraser University. 

After dropping out of graduate school, Frazer experienced writer’s block and joined a jazz workshop in Hartford, where he played and practiced—casually, at first. A 1971 recurrence of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which he first contracted in 1969, drove him to dedicate himself to playing jazz more proficiently. In the Barbour Street Jazz Workshop, Emery Smith, the workshop’s founder, taught him the amount of time and depth of commitment needed to develop a talent fully. Frazer also studied with pianist Ran Blake at the New England Conservatory.

Facing the dearth of performing opportunities for local jazz in a Rock-dominated era, Frazer returned to writing, initially as a jazz critic for All About, a Hartford arts paper. Several months later, Frazer returned to writing fiction, while moving his jazz journalism to CODA: the Canadian Jazz Magazine. He wrote novels, plays, and short stories, many of them unpublished. His writing for Coda evolved into a column that covered jazz events in Connecticut and Western Massachusetts until 1988.

A year after launching his Coda column, at age 36, Frazer began writing poetry. In 1983-84 he participated in Brendan Galvin’s poetry workshop at Central Connecticut State University.

After several years of publication in little magazines, Frazer, adding bass violin accompaniment to his poetry recitations, pioneered the resurgence of the jazz-poetry fusion with three recordings: Sex Queen Of The Berlin Turnpike, SLAM! and Song of Baobab. He has performed at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, the Knitting Factory, and the Poetry Project in New York, the Middle East in Cambridge, and the Librairie Avant-Garde in Nanjing, China, a nationally-televised event. Collaborating with the legendary jazz saxophonist Thomas Chapin, Frazer appeared as guest poet on Chapin’s Menagerie Dreams CD. “Put Your Quarter in and Watch the Chicken Dance,” the piece Chapin commissioned Frazer to write, also appeared on The Jazz Voice, a Knitting Factory compilation of jazz vocalists and poets. 

In 1994, Frazer was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, which he considers a defining moment in his life. Frazer credits the widely misunderstood neurological condition with a lifelong exposure to the “existential edge” that shaped his creative work accordingly. His 1998 poetry collection, Sing Me One Song of Evolution, documents his life-transforming discovery. Reassessing his past life in the context of his Tourette diagnosis also gave Frazer the insight he needed to complete Relic’s Reunions, his first published novel.

A 1997 chance meeting with Wen Chu-An, a visiting professor at Harvard University, led to their collaborating on an anthology of Post-Beat Generation Poetry published in China in 2008.

Meanwhile, Sing Me One Song of Evolution created an artistic challenge: if he continued to write within the same artistic boundaries, he risked creative stagnation. The ground covered in Sing Me One Song of Evolution led Frazer to explore language and visual poetry as a means of expanding his range of expression, but the new possibilities placed him at a crossroads. 

Sustained exposure to Peter Ganick’s Potes and Poets Press turned Frazer away from his Beat Generation influences toward language and visual poetry, a change of literary direction first expressed in Free Fall, Demolition Fedora and Three Longpoems. Frazer subsequently began IMPROVISATIONS, which expanded Charles Olson’s compositional “field” from the typewriter to the computer, extending projective verse toward a realm of fonts and images analogous to the free improvisation of Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor and John Coltrane.

His exploratory work has appeared in many prominent print and online literary magazines, as well as in such poetry collections as IMPROVISATIONS, Avenue Noir, Bodied Tone, Holiday Idylling and Anchor What. Samples of his visual poetry are housed in the Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry. 

Frazer is widowed and lives in central Connecticut.

Copyright © 2021 Vernon Frazer.
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