Follow by Email

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Robert Sheppard: 'PULSE: All a Rhythm' published in Tentacular 5 (with links)

I am pleased to say that an excerpt from my prose processual poetics-critical piece, Pulse: All a Rhythm, has been published in Tentacular 5 (more about this issue and the magazine below).

Pulse is a ‘treatise on metre’ which was produced by a strange method. The first draft of this piece was made by ‘writing-through’ Tiger C. Roholt’s Groove: A Phenomenology of Rhythmic Nuance. New York and London: Bloomsbury, 2014, between August 2016-February 2017. Throughout this process, contingency is its rhythm, a pulse that matches the varieties of montage, de-montage, that I attempt in my own practice, with interruption as structure, with transformation and transposition, formal resistance, creative linkage, ‘imperfect fit’, near-perfect fit, all kinds of multi-form unfinish. Later drafts were subject to the usual processes of revision and editing, in the light of that poetics.    

Its subject? Rhythm. Not metre – rhythm: pulse, surge, the ‘sound-mind’, which becomes ‘rhythmizing consciousness’ as chance throws theoretical materials my way to sharpen my vocabulary. It is an extension of the critical work (though it is not itself a critical work) in my The Meaning of Form. (See here for that tome: ) It’s also about cognition.

Pulse is HERE:

The whole of Pulse is due for publication as a booklet from Like This Press.  

Issue 5, Spring 2020, is edited by Jonathan Catherall with guest editors Flo Sunnen and Dylan Williams - spring 2020. See here. – and my thanks got to all three! And congratulations on the issue.

There is an editorial here:

which is contained in one of the interesting ‘extras’ on this well-thought-out online magazine, the ‘Elsewhere’ blog feature, though that word does a disservice to the quality of the pieces here. (Find that Robert Hampson piece on the British Poetry Revival.) See:

In a previous issue, Patricia Farrell’s ‘Handshoe’ may be read here:

And an excerpt from Charms and Glitter, my poetry-photo collaboration with Trev Eales (which is due for publication by Knives, Forks and Spoons within days) may be read and seen, here:

Friday, April 03, 2020

Robert Sheppard: Thoughts on Collaboration 10: SJ Fowler’s poetics of collaboration

You need to have read at least my previous post (here) and the link to my review of SJ Fowler and 54 others: Nemeses: Selected Collaborations of SJ Fowler, 2014-2019. HTVN Press, 2019 (here) before you read this. Better still, is to follow all posts in this ‘Collaboration’ strand; they may be accessed via links on the first post, a hubpost, as I call it, here:

Nemeses carries two prose ‘explanations’, the first short and introductory, the second more reflective. The first is entitled ‘A Note on How the Collaborations have been revealed’. Unlike me, Fowler’s not wasting time interrogating the word ‘collaboration’. Which is just as well, given the range of activities that he has undertaken under its umbrella. Indeed, that is his major concern here, his worries about trying to stage on the page, not just texts, but the performances they were often written for, or out of. Remember, some of the texts are post-performance notes. This worries Fowler: he is content to offer ‘a new work, at the very least an iteration or spawn of the collaboration that inspired it’, which offers a performative and an organic metaphor for the ‘new work’. (His use of the word ‘inspired’ is a surprising choice, perhaps shorthand, but it causes problems later.) But he is worried that some might be not inspired at all; he hopes they are ‘not a shadow of that, not a dead trace’. He admits to having to omit certain live performances that won’t fit in the book. My review proves that he has produced spawns not shadows. (If you are going to mix metaphors, mince them.) 

On the other hand, he is clear his book is probably unique, with its cross-art explorations. But poetry is the starting point, he insists. In a parenthesis, he defines poetry (or the ‘language arts’) as ‘something language referent used for a primary purpose other than information or literal communication’ (a distant, clumsy relative of Wittgenstein’s comment in Zettel that a poem, while it uses the language of information, is ‘not used in the language-game of giving information’, a fragment which so energised Veronica Forrest-Thomson). But, more germane to my current theme, he talks of poetry, in these works ‘emerging with film, music, sculpture,’ etc. A formulation that might be contrasted with a sense of collaboration as ‘merging’. Emerging not merging. (p. 9) Co-emergence.

He offers one definition: ‘… collaboration is a way of learning, and a way of being a writer’. (p. 10) Learning, for the collaborators, could be positive or negative in terms of results (though all learning is arguably positive, whatever the results). As a way of being a writer, it’s a novel and learningful way of being so, guiding the emerging without merging. 

The essay at the end of the book is entitled ‘A Nemetic Poetics, or Being Happy Alone in Company’, which, in its very name, pitches challenge (Nemesis) against the creative joy of collaboration, which is necessarily communal (although Fowler himself still clearly feels solitude in that situation). This piece divides between the personal (what collaboration does for Fowler) and the textual (the nature of what is produced via the modes of collaboration employed).
However, he rejects the argument that writing is a particularly lonely activity. It is a cliché of the profession. (But, writing as I am at home, with Patricia downstairs drawing, and Stephen in the next room, drinking his way through the morning, I’m not lonely at all. I would hate one of those Yaddo-type weeks in solitude writing, but neither am I a café writer.) ‘Everything that requires concentration is lonely,’ states Fowler, and I think I agree. (279) But ‘The usual monoculture of poetry is a stereotype responsible for quite a good deal of bad poetry,’ by which I take him to mean that the still-prevalent idea of the solitary genius leads to a particular kind of self-based poetry, or model of poetry: ‘ “popular” poetry is now resting upon a strong biographical context…’ (279). Poetry is quicker to write than a novel (Discuss!) but that’s not the main point. ‘Poetry is lonely because of the very specific 21st century milieu. Poetry is out of these times… It is a thing without market force, which allows it to create weird contextual manipulations of what quality is’ and requires concentration (from readers and writers). (279) This is perhaps a recasting of traditional arguments about the autonomy of the art object, the kind of thing that you find in Adorno and Marcuse (see here for some of that aesthetics
And here:
): it is beyond the clutch of capitalism in its unusual self-definitions of quality. This is sometimes thought of as the source of the critical function of a poem (in this case). 

But Fowler doesn’t follow this argument. Instead, he argues that ‘we are in an era when everybody’s brain is morphed by rapidity’. (279). He doesn’t bemoan this. ‘This is not necessarily a bad thing,’ (it’s just the way we are in our post-postmodernity, one might say, though Fowler, wisely, avoids this term; see here:
). ‘But it is bad for good poetry,’ presumably because the morphed brains of poets are trying to work in a no-longer-sustainable solitary concentration on something with weird qualities. Fowler doesn’t recommend slowing down, on an analogy with slow food, for example. ‘The world has changed and the poem can only change so much.’ (280) There’s a minimal catch up possible on the poem’s part. 

I don’t think Fowler is arguing for a golden era when age and poem worked in harmony. Indeed, that myth of such a golden age is found throughout the history of literature. I’ve been tracking the Renaissance and now the Romantics, in my ‘English Strain’ project, and the sense of poetry’s alienation from one’s age is felt throughout, is almost a cliché. ‘The world is too much with us,’ complains Wordsworth. Poetry’s critical distance (perhaps its formal distance; see here: could be regarded as its strength, its critical function, but that isn’t a common thought, and it isn’t one entertained by Fowler. In short, whatever you do as a poet, ‘no one can care’. (280) That’s not a Sinatra-like chorus of ‘No One Cares’. No one can care – because of (let’s use Fowler’s word as shorthand) societal ‘rapidity’. Fowler surmises that this is OK, and could even be how we measure success: there’s no one here! But it’s lonely and, although academia might support one (does it?), on one hand you’re ‘unable to swallow the anti-intellectual and sentimental thrust that dominates’, but you’re ‘stuffed’. ‘What can one reasonably expect? To write difficult, strange, hermetic, coded, weird books and expect them to appeal to readers?’ (280) It’s just ‘funny’ to say so, Fowler concludes. (280) It is.

What do I expect? Gentle reader, digression alert! I am still genuinely surprised that anybody is interested in my work. Which is not to say, on occasions, I don’t wonder why this or that poem isn’t more read or talked about. I suppose I am different from the younger poets one hears about, who won’t do a reading for less than £300, or who Tweet about their one day being gracious to younger writers when they are venerable, as though fame and position were now permanently assured for them (remember Nicholas Moore, George Barker, even Alex Comfort. I can hear voices asking: who?)… I never thought there would be a general audience, certainly no money. I grew up in the aftermath of the British Poetry Revival’s early days. I prepared for penury and obscurity on the basis of poets I met (Bob Cobbing, Lee Harwood, Paul Brown): I never learnt to drive; I eventually sought out an occupation to support me (English and Communications teaching in FE; the HE Creative Writing came later, after a different revolution, which has been successful in dragging some writing back from scripts of self-disclosure (pat on the back). Steven Fowler now teaches in HE, accomplishing the same.). I suppose I am a bit surprised to find some of the revered figures of the ‘underground’ still under the ground (despite a number of us undertaking scholarly work). But part of post-postmodern rapidity has destroyed the concentration necessary for the historical spade-work required (though the recovery of women writers over that last 35 years shows it’s possible). I think I genuinely believe that literary works can have efficacy (at the level of form) that is truly liberational. To take my recent ‘Poems of National Independence’, I take it that the satire about Brexit is on the surface, but the real aesthetic work, the lastingly moving part of the experience, lies in the act-event of the reception of the formal distance between Wordsworth’s original ‘Toussaint, the most unhappy man of men!’ and my ‘Flat-Battery Bo, rusticated man’s man!’ That’s where I locate the active, eventful innovation. (See here for more on that latest creative work: But more on my poetics and literary theory, for it is both: Here'. While I’m at it, here’s another meditation on the poetics of form:

Finding poetry by a circuitous route (Steven has told me about this) Fowler asks the unusual questions. One of them, ‘Why don’t poets do collaborations?’ he has answered, in some ways, by organising Enemies. In other ways (as I say in my review of the book) he leaves concealed (mercifully, in some ways) all the collaborators’ separate poetics of collaboration. But we do get his. He notes, rather oddly: ‘I have proofed my concept with others, forming transitory but generous communities which have supported the making of challenging and complex work, live, and it has taken me on an extraordinary personal journey.’ ‘Challenging and complex’ tells us that this collaborative work conforms to the definitions of poetry he offers above. He admits, also, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, that the whole endeavour is ‘selfish’: ‘I have somehow mitigated defeat in my other works by constantly working with others … collaborating has left me smug’! (I couldn't resist that photo above!) Working with others mitigates defeat. I wonder if that only applies to working with writers he regards as ‘better’ than himself? Not necessarily: there is the proofing of its concept with others that is the ‘thing’. This is a different notion from whether they are ‘friends’, these ‘enemies’, these ‘nemeses’; he notes he has a variety of everyday relationships with his collaborators. Again, isn’t this just because writing is so often not considered collaboratively? Think of any combinations of musicians in any field, and collaboration is non-controversial. Not necessarily easy, but normal, matter-of-fact, everyday...   

Before Fowler moves onto a more introductory focus (introducing types of collaboration in the book) he again repeats his definition of (innovative) poetry above, and has a final word on collaboration, which oddly reverts to the more conventional statements that one can make about it, whilst still acknowledging the ‘selfish’ edge to proceedings: ‘Collaborations are a means of friendship, yes, and they are an innately social act of writing’, particularly ‘live’, one might usefully add, ‘one that replaces the unknowable inspiration of the solo piece with the equally vital and viable suggestion or genesis of another active presence in the world.’ I shall come back to these formulations. ‘But they are really just about ourselves. Collaborations are really just mirrors rather than procreations.’ (283)

This is a little odd. Is ‘inspiration’ (not a word I use as either appropriate to solo or collaborative writing) only relative to solo production? It would appear so. It is not less ‘vital and viable’ than collaboration – nor more so – but collaboration is a mirror, a reflection, of ourselves, in this formulation. Are solo ‘procreations’ inspired creations, equal but different? Fowler assigns equal vitality to the two modes of literary production but the metaphors seem to favour the solo mode.

I suspect some confusion here (and it might be mine!). ‘Inspiration’ is the problem. His dismissive conclusion, ‘I mix my metaphors to not mention wanking and poetry in the same sentence,’ seems to deflect from this minor aporia, but I can’t say I know what that means, precisely, either. Solo ‘procreations’ I suppose?

I don’t think I recognise this model in the collaborations I’ve undertaken. To me, the main thing has been (this is another cliché) to produce something I could not have produced by other means, and with the ‘vital and viable suggestion or genesis of another active presence in the world’. It’s something that feels like growth. It’s something akin to the mental enlargement that one experiences in active reading: and that may be because ‘reading’ (co-reading) is precisely a necessary part of the process, possibly the essential part of the process.

Like listening in free improvised music. Deep listening. (This is an important consideration.)

To be contunued! All posts in this ‘Collaboration’ strand may be accessed via links on the first post, a hubpost, as I call it, here:

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Robert Sheppard: Thoughts on Collaboration 9: Nemeses: Selected Collaborations of SJ Fowler, 2014-2019 (+ review on Stide)

All posts in this ‘Collaboration’ strand may be accessed via links on the first post, a hubpost, as I call it, here:

If you jump back to ‘Thoughts on Collaboration’ 5 and 6 you may read about The Enemies Project, curated by SJ Fowler. Part 5, about 'Enemies' and my part in them (with videos), may be accessed here.

Part six is a round up of my own literary collaborations in Twitters for a Lark: poetry of the European Union of Imaginary Authors (the EUOIA), which formed parts of a number of ‘Enemies’ gigs; see here.

Here is an example of a collaboration between Tom Jenks and SJ Fowler. It is an hiliariously funny guide to life after Brexit. Perhaps you’ve already seen it. It’s less part of my ‘Thoughts on Collaboration’, and more of an interlude between parts 5 and 6. I witnessed this performance, April, 2019, but it is unfortunately not documented in Nemeses. ‘Next slide please Harry!’ 

Steven Fowler comments on my earlier posts about collaboration here:

More recently, I have written a review of SJ Fowler and 54 others: Nemeses: Selected Collaborations of SJ Fowler, 2014-2019. HTVN Press, 2019. Please read that review before moving on to what I have witten below. Thanks to Rupert Loydell at Stride for publishing it.

That may be read HERE

It was, as you will have just read, not an easy book to review, and I really couldn’t do justice to the richness of the contents, though I had a good go! In terms of the longer piece I am writing on collaboration, I think it will be useful to look at other collaborations than the ones I focus on in the review. After all, I am very clear that I want to focus upon ‘literary collaboration’ rather than collaboration across media, not because I am committed only to that, which I hope is clear from the range of my own creative collaborations, but because an 8,000 word essay can only hope to examine three collaborations at most.

Another ‘problem’ – it’s not a problem, of course, but a delight! – is that Steven Fowler collaborates with many European writers. Indeed, it looks as though the European Poetry Festivals he has organised for the last few years are taking over from the more UK-focussed ‘Enemies’, while using a similar format. (See here for the latest: It's been postponed by the you-know-what until an optimistic October.)

The streak of internationalism in all of Fowler’s work has intensified since Brexit. (Our collaboration in Twitters for a Lark was to invent a Swedish poet: he now consorts with real ones!) But the book I am writing the essay for is clearly going to be a survey of British poetry, so I will have to limit my approach (a bit).

What I want to do in the next post in this strand is to examine the poetics of collaboration at play, which I outline but I don’t examine in my review. Indeed, I say: ‘I want to leave the poetics to one side and plunge into two sample offerings.’ Now, I want to return to those poetics. One paragraph I wrote I thought was potentially useful in my critical examination:

In reading literary collaboration on the page, the reader often has recourse to a peculiar binary refocusing that feels like a lack of focus. That’s because the flow of the writing is continually interrupted by itself, by the switch between writers. (Imagine two drivers switching at the wheel of a truck, without stopping.) In some cases, where the dialogue is not visible, you stop trying to guess who wrote what. This, I believe, is a sign of success. It hasn’t achieved a third voice (a term which is based on identity of writers not on the identity of writing), but it could be said to leave a linguistic trail coherent enough to regard as a single discourse.

I’m sure some version of this paragraph, in its way, a bit of a summary of much that I have said (in these 12000 words so far!), will appear in my piece. One problem, though: I can’t find any origin for the idea about collaboration producing a ‘third voice’. I know Laura Tansey used it at the Edge Hill conference I write about in Thoughts 7, but I don’t recall, neither do my notes indicate, a source.

All posts in this ‘Collaboration’ strand, including those posted after this one was posted, may be accessed via links on the hubpost here:

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The last of my Wordsworth versions in 'British Standards' (Book Three of 'The English Strain')

My ‘English Strain’ project has sped on, given the rapidity of production in the last few weeks. Poem one was written in the very different world of the first week of February; this last poem is being written on the last day of March. There are two posts about the background to the project: one that looks back at Book One, The English Strain here and another at Book Two, Bad Idea here .

The final part of Bad Idea is called ‘Idea’s Mirror’, which is described, along with some of the prospective poetics plans I had before the general election in December 2019, here:

The manuscripts of both books are ready for publication. Both submitted.

The third book is entitled British Standards. Its preface is a version of Shelley’s ‘England in 1819’ (obviously retitled ‘England in 2019’), written in October of that year, whereas the body of the book was begun in 2020, after Independence Day.

For the first section, I have used poems from a part of Wordsworth’s ‘Poems Dedicated to National Independence and Liberty’, retitled ‘Poems of National Independence’, and subtitled ‘liberties with Wordsworth’, which is what I have taken. I’ve selected ones written 1802-3, around the Peace of Amiens, when he returned to France, briefly. Each carries the first line as a title, for identification. The poems are easy to find, though not always in the versions I have used. Wordsworth wrote over 500 sonnets; I’ve read about 100 of them in the last three months or so.

This blog post from Jonathan Bate, who is about to publish a Wordsworth biography (which I have on order, but it’s going to be a little late for this initial writing of my project, I know) is illuminating about the early vs. the late poems. This is relevant, since the poems I have used are late revisions of early poems. That’s a further twist, about which much has been written, I know: which is why one poem We had a female Passenger who came from Calais deals with the finding of two versions of the poem I’d selected: 

In your fidgety revisions, she’s ‘a fellow-passenger… 
from Calais’ (tracking today’s trafficking route); 
‘gaudy in array’ you wrote, though ‘spotless’ is
nobler, this ‘Negro woman’ now ‘white-robed’
in your neo-Netflix pot of time.
‘Pot of time’ is very cheeky, I know. For some reason, I’d imagined that Wordsworth’s revisionary poetics was limited to The Prelude, but it pervades his publishing history.

My poems present a vision of post-Brexit Britain, which is now overtaken by the coronavirus, which was hardly an issue when I began this ‘corona’, though it does get a mention, even in poem 2. Maybe ‘overtaken’ overstates it: it mingles with it (in all kinds of ironic ways). I’m also going to leave the poems posted a little longer than I do usually, though they are still temporary. 
Patricia Farrell's representation of a Techno-Dogging Site (December 2019)

This is the last poem of the 14. It mutes (hopefully extinguishes) the dogging theme, but it’s there. As you know, the National Thrust (formerly the Department for Rural Affairs) has opened a number – the government says 40, but it’s nearer zero, like their pre-Nightingale hospitals – of new dogging sites. Most were ready for Independence Day (31st January 2020), and several were the new Techno Dogging sites promised in the Conservative Party Manifesto. Ever since the current Chancellor of the Dogging Sites of Lancaster was at Rural Affairs, around the time he issued his famous Christmas Message in 2018, anticipation has been growing, but it's all on hold now. Read it again here:

Pre-social distancing

Of course, now all the dogging sites are shut. (You couldn’t make it up: they are shut. The national press made much of an online message cancelling one dogging meeting in the Midlands. You will see that self-distancing is practised by my men of Kent.)  

Vanguard of Liberty, ye men of Kent

Vanloads of libertines, playboys of Kent, 
you once set your calcic frowns against
France’s toothless coast! Now’s the time
to prove you’re rock hard tarts! Let Gillray’s 
Bum-Boats dump the last of your hops. Those 
French hear your brave woodland shouts for show 
as you roam, single, in self-distancing self-love; 
they watch your glistening lance throb
in your (well-washed) hand, as you film 
an isolated maiden in a mask. (It’s a nurse!) 
No partying now: we’re ramping up mass testing, 
damping down individual urges. In breathless 
Bo’s Britain, each stay-indoors chartered street 
is mothballed in his notional socialism.  

31st March 2020
The last phrase I’m particularly proud of. Let’s say no more. This post will be permanent, though the poem will disappear, to leave a hub post. (That will catalogue any publications, with links, particularly if they appear on line.)

The Gillray is reproduced here. I saw it in Wu, Duncan, ed. Romanticism: an anthology. Third edition. Malden and Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007. 

British Standards aims to present versions (or transpositions) of sonnets of the Romantic period (between those of Charlotte Smith, which I’ve already worked on here,

and those of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, that I’ve also worked on, both of them in the final parts of Book One:

EBB is clearly a BDSM freak with her dog (and slave Robert Browning) locked in that top floor flat. (‘Knock here for Latin lessons with Mistress Elizabeth’). She's also a Tory minister's 'mistress'. Four more poems have appeared in print recently: see here:

I’m thinking of the poems I ‘transpose’, and the ones I plan to process, as ‘Standards’ in two senses: I have been listening to Anthony Braxton’s ‘Standards’ albums, where he plays those communally malleable tunes dubbed ‘standards’ by jazz musicians, but I’m also thinking of the ‘standards’ that British locks and other devices conform to, which seem, incidentally, to have survived the supposed uniformity of 40 years of EU Regulations, and which Bo and others will doubtless champion, along with Imperial Measures and £.s.d. Oh, and hanging.

Hear an Anthony Braxton ‘standard’ above, or here: 

Braxton is still at it too: look at this: filmed live, at one of the only jazz concerts this year so far:

In a piece to be posted soon, on ‘collaboration’, I was moved to make a remark about ‘the meaning of form’ and I found myself reflecting upon ‘The English Strain’ as a whole, contrasting the formal and the content. You can read the ‘collaboration’ strand from here:

And you can read about my critical book The Meaning of Form here:

I genuinely believe [I wrote] that literary works can have efficacy (at the level of form) that is truly liberational. To take my recent ‘Poems of National Independence’, I take it that the satire about Brexit is on the surface, but the real aesthetic work, the lastingly moving part of the experience, lies in the act-event of the reception of the formal distance between Wordsworth’s original ‘Toussaint, the most unhappy man of men!’ and my ‘Flat-Battery Bo, rusticated man’s man!’ That’s where I locate the active, eventful innovation.

In fact, the address to the reader that begins Book Two, already states a similar case, basically a version of the first sentence (and axiom) of The Meaning of Form:

I hang out inside these sonnets, punching
echoes into new shape, because I take 
poetry as the investigation
of complexity through the means of form. 

You can access six poems, transpositions from Michael Drayton, see above, from Bad Idea here:

Another eight online poems from Bad Idea may be accessed from this post:

Three sonnets from the last section of Bad Idea, ‘Idea’s Mirror’, may be accessed here:

In ‘Petrarch 3’, the opening part of Book One, the transpositions are achieved by having 14 versions of one translation from Petrarch. This part of Book One, ‘Petrarch 3’, is published under that title. Another part is published as Hap which ab(uses) the sonnets of Thomas Wyatt. (It’s also where the dogging in Kent theme began: he lived in, was banished in, his wife possibly played around in, Kent. Both pamphlets are still available.

Look here and here for more on my Petrarch obsession/project, including how to purchase Petrarch 3 from Crater Press in its ‘fold out map’ edition.

Hap: Understudies of Thomas Wyatt’s Petrarch (Does. Tin. On. It. The. What. Says) is available from Knives Forks and Spoons here:

If you are fed up with Hilary Mantel, or you can't get enough of a 'modern' Thomas Wyatt, try it!

Occasionally my method of transposition is demonstrated in publication. Here’s a poem by the Earl of Surrey (he's also in Mantel) with my take on it: .

I contemplate the term ‘transposition’ at the end of the following post (that is mostly about collaboration, you can scroll past that bit). In determining that ‘transposition’ isn’t collaboration proper, I also demonstrate that ‘transposition’ isn’t translation, even of the fashionable, ‘expanded’, kind.

I’m not only working on this sequence, by the way: my website is updated annually with life, writing, collaborations, criticism (by and on), etc. here:

Here is a link that links to all the links to the good things on this blog:

The National Thrust: the national sport