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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Robert Sheppard: 'The Lowry Lounge' at the Lowry Lounge 2016 (set list, poem, talk and report on the day)

Each year since 2009 Bluecoat has staged a celebration of the life and work of Wirral-born writer Malcolm Lowry (1909-1957), famous for his influential 1947 novel, Under the Volcano.

The Lowry Lounge took place on Saturday 22nd October this year at the arts centre and included a guided tour of Liverpool city centre, a book launch, talks, readings, (drinks), and a film.

Lowry's passport shot

The central character of Under the Volcano is a drunken British consul in Mexico on the eve of the Second World War, roaming the streets of a fictional Cuernavaca during the Day of the Dead, and this year’s Lounge adopts a consular theme.

In 1927, the year of Lowry’s first sea voyage as a young deck hand bound for China, Liverpool had 43 foreign consulates, including Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Colombia, Italy, Germany, Nicaragua, Norway and the United States – most of them now gone, but not all, as I pointed out in my piece.

New Brighton-based Lowry expert, Colin Dilnot, started the Lounge by leading a walking tour of these ‘lost’ consulates, stopping at each site to reveal their relevance to Lowry and for Helen Tookey to read short extracts from his work. We also had a British passport stamped by Bryan Biggs at each stop. (Lowry walks are always lucky with the autumn weather: bright. sunny, nicely chilly.) Colin excelled himself taking us around the consular sights. Perhaps the most directly relevant to Lowry (or to our re-readings of Lowry in an increasingly political way) refers to Firmin's captaincy of a Q Boat, an armed naval vessel camouflaged as a merchant ship, in World War One. Were German sailors boiled alive in their U-Boat's boilers, deliberately? Firmin looks less self-pitying in that light, more culpable. Certainly at least one American sailor spilled the beans to his consul in Liverpool and we stood outside the consular site in Water Street to contemplate this.  

The day continued at Bluecoat with talks and readings on this consular theme. It was largely a showcase for the Firminists. Liverpool-based poets Helen Tookey and Robert Sheppard read Lowry-derived poems to kick the afternoon off. I was first on. This is what I said and read:

I’m going to read my short poem ‘The Lowry Lounge’, one of my ‘Twelves’, 12 line poems, which was published in The Wolf magazine. The Lowry Lounge is of course the name of the annual Bluecoat celebrations of Malcolm Lowry, loosely organised by a loose group of Lowry activists and enthusiasts called The Firminists, named after Geoffrey Firmin, the consul in Under the Volcano. It’s also the name of a Vancouver bar, and Bryan Biggs, the unwobbling pivot of the Firminists, chose it as a suitable name for these days. My poem was a birthday poem for Bryan, and it seemed that out of all the poetic foci one could adopt for the occasion – obscure British blues bands of the 1960s, for example, or Jack Bruce [Bryan had just played Bruce's 'The Consul at Midnight' about the book] – a Lowry homage seemed the most apposite. I’ve wanted to read it at previous Lounges, but it never seemed to fit. And I’m glad I didn’t, since it involves the theme we have chosen for today: the consul, that peculiar and often underemployed and part time job as a representative for home governments abroad, often in cities away from the capitals, which is where the ambassadors commonly reside. To be rude, consuls are often amateur ambassadors. Holbein’s famous portrait is not called ‘The Consuls’. [a slow burning joke, that one!]

I didn’t want to write about Geoffrey Firmin and I only allude to Under the Volcano. I wanted to place my consul in the Smithdown Road or overlooking the Docks, but he shares some features with Firmin, and with other Lowry figures (a Manx connection, including with its beer, Okells) but he also took on aspects of the only consul I have ever met.

This real consul was (maybe still is) consul for one of the poorest nations on earth, and he ran a Liverpool restaurant which ironically purveyed the cuisine of that nation’s former colonial power. It was very good, if old-fashioned; in one corner was an office area, where consular work was undertaken. I couldn’t imagine very much work, but he was there if needed. The consul seemed a rather regal figure, accrued respect from those around him. He limped dramatically and that seemed somehow romantic. There was a bad portrait of him fishing … in the Mersey. He isn’t really the consul in the poem. (It strikes me he deserves his own poem, if only I were a different kind of poet.)

When the restaurant was destroyed by fire, the consul moved and it was some months before I bumped into him, in a pub, sat at the bar, as at a desk. He muttered something like, ‘I shouldn’t really be doing this here,’ laughed, and trousered what looked like passports and official documents. I’ve never seen him since.

But he breathed real life into what might otherwise have been either a stiff or limp Lowryesque puppet. (The barman’s real too: for him it is the Day of the Dead every day!) Despite the smooth surface – what else for Bryan? – this poem, like nearly all my poems, is a collage, formally speaking.

 The Lowry Lounge
The Consul shuffles passports on the bar tabletop,
beer-mat blotters, varnish thick enough to coat
Irish Sea decks. Shutters slam as wind rises
across the dunes, the gull-tormented sand. His
Manx legs spin, as he stumbles, after sinking Okells,
wooden piers rotting into the empty river. A humped
wisp on the skyline whips up volcanian cloud. The
mouths of empty bottles whisper on the doorstep:
a tug pulls a ghost ship into Birkenhead. Once
outside, the Consul brushes smuts from his starched
flannels; inside, the barman with the skeleton grin
tweezers nobody’s sodden visa into the rubbish.


Mark Goodall from University of Bradford spoke of 'The Consul', Ralph Rumney.Great stuff on an interesting and neglected artist and member of the Situationists. Canadian publisher Ottawa University Press has an ongoing series of Lowry-related books and Bluecoat hosted the European launch of its new volume of essays, Malcolm Lowry’s Poetics of Space, including talks from two of the book’s authors, Mark Goodall and locally-based short story writer Ailsa Cox, and another unscheduled contributor (Michael?), mainly about the Vancouver conference the book grew out of, and a little about our collective project to bring Lowry home to Liverpool and the Wirral. We saw some footage of the conference, and the Dollarton littoral.

The Lounge finished with a toast of mescal to Lowry and a screening of one of his favourite films, Mad Love (1935) - the American horror adaptation of Maurice Renard's story The Hands of Orlac - directed by Karl Freund and starring Peter Lorre. This was a wonderful film, cinematically superior, but script and plot-wise as ridiculous as Lowry said it was! Peter Lorre (Lowry!) was magnificent.

I've written about previous years' Lounges here, 2009, 2012 and (with lots of pictures) 2014, when Iain Sinclair joined us. Do have a look at those posts if you weren't there - or even if you were.

This year was homely and intimate (one regular couple made us all Day of the Dead related presents to celebrate their return to Texas). Helen, Mark and Bryan were good company with Patricia and me later. Patricia concluded the day was 'bonkers fun'.  'In a good way,' as people say these days.

Next year is a BIG year. With a conference in JULY and an early Lounge. See here.

The Firminists are:

Helen Tookey (poet, critic, Liverpool John Moores University)
Bryan Biggs (writer, Artistic Director, Bluecoat)
Ailsa Cox (short story writer and critic, Edge Hill University)
Mark Goodall (situationist expert and University of Bradford)
Colin Dilnot (Merseyside-based artist, researcher, blogger and mine of information; and he's met Al Green!)

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Robert Sheppard: History or Sleep published a year ago

History or Sleep: Selected Poems was published a year ago today. There have been some good reviews, and you can read more about the book and can purchase it via the links here and here. It is the place to start to get to know my work if you don't already.There are links to the online reviews here.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Robert Sheppard: History or Sleep: a second review on Stride

There is a second review on Stride of History or Sleep here(Previous online reviews, including the first, can be accessed here). The first was positive; the second, by Anna Cathenka, is not, though that's not the problem. It is fixated upon the cover (which she finds repulsive) and the first poem in the book. There's a quote from a poem of 1988. (Which leaves approximately 30 years of work and change unaccounted for.)

Poem one, the recently recovered 'Round Midnight', is referred to a lot by Cathenka, and, by chance, I have posted it here, so it might be of use in reading her review. (She obviously doesn't like jazz, but 'pricking' is a musical term not a phallocentric neologism.)

Knowing that the author is a student of the subject I teach, it led me back to the 'FOOTNOTES' of these thoughts about the possibly premature professionalisation of our students, here. An effect, though I don't say so there, of what is unhumourously referred to as the 'employment agenda'. (The two words are always twinned as though they topple in their separate states.) 

Here's the link again, raw:!/2016/10/vaguely-repulsive-realism.html. The above one seems to only take one to Stride.

Vaguely Repulsive?

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Robert Sheppard: 3 Twittersonnets published in NOON

Three of my 'Microbius' twittersonnets have been published in Issue 12 of Noon: journal of the short poem, ‘hammerhead’, ‘lucretius’ and ‘micrographia’. They were written for the ‘Life is Short’ day at Bluecoat, Liverpool in November 2015. (See here).

The ‘twittersonnet’ is a form supposedly devised by Rene Van Valckenborch (actually, he devised the ‘twitterode’ first) and there are 100 of them in A Translated Man (see here and randomly here). These are all on display on Twitter. There is another in my forthcoming Pet 3. Here’s one that I may be dropping from that sequence (sorry Kylie):

 august kylie

peel off h
er slutty
hunch hand
 over face

smooth (ph
oto) legs
to red sit

ting tipto
es/milky s

red heels’
 toppled a

Issue 12 is now online: see 

It is also available as PDF here: 

‘This issue’s a bit longer than previous ones,’ notes editor Philip Rowland, ‘so I’ve arranged the contents in four parts, each of which comprises a sequence of poems within the issue as a whole.’

I noted poems by Laurie Duggan and Alistair Noon and Peter Robinson on my initial skipping through. There are poems by:

Dean Brink, Helen Buckingham, David Burleigh, Markeith Chavous, Bill Cooper, Joseph Cooper, Cherie Hunter Day, Susan Diridoni, Laurie Duggan, Carrie Etter, Robert Farrell,  Jane Frank, Bill Freind, Bob Heman, Kevin Heslop, Gary Hotham, Alan Ireland, Jim Kacian, Elmedin Kadric, John Levy, Marcus Liljedahl, Rebecca Lilly, Eve Luckring, Scott Metz, Michael Meyerhofer, Tristan Moss, Sheila E. Murphy, Peter Newton, Alistair Noon, Derek Owens, Christopher Patchel, John Phillips, Sophie Philips, Eric Rawson, Anna Reckin, Peter Robinson, Adam Rosenkranz, Agnes Eva Savich, Shloka Shankar, Robert Sheppard, Sandra Simpson, George Swede, Rick Tarquinio, Maurice Turcotte, Ian Willey, Mark Young, Peter Yovu.

NOON: journal of the short poem

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Storm and Golden Sky: 28th October: Yvonne Riddick and Andrea Brady

Storm and Golden Sky

Andrea Brady and Yvonne Riddick on 28th October
7.30 (entrance £5)

At The Caledonia

(in the Georgian Quarter on the edge of Catharine Street and Cadedonia Street: up the steep stairs at the back of the bar room)

Andrea Brady and Yvonne Riddick on 28th October

Andrea Brady was born in Philadelphia in 1974, and has lived in the UK since 1996. She is the director of the Archive of the Now (, and co-publisher of Barque Press. Her publications include Vacation of a Lifetime (Salt, 2001), Embrace (Object Permanence, 2005), and the hypertext verse essay Wildfire (, 2006). Recent work The Strong Room (London: Crater Press, 2016, 66pp) was preceded by Cut from The Rushes (Hastings: Reality Street, 2013, 134pp). Mutabililty: Scripts for Infancy (London, New York and Calcutta: Seagull Books) was published in 2012. She has performed throughout the UK, Europe and US. Widely published in small magazines, Andrea teaches Renaissance and contemporary literature at Queen Mary, where she is Professor of Poetry. She lives in London. 

Yvonne Reddick is a poet and academic researcher. She was a Wordsworth Trust mentee in 2014 and won a Northern Writer’s Award in 2016. She has published poetry pamphlets with Seapressed and with Knives, Forks and Spoons Press. Her collaborative art and poetry exhibition Deerhart has toured to galleries in Cambridge and Preston, and will travel to Edinburgh in late 2017.

coming soon

                ·  Linda Stupart and Allen Fisher 25th November

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Robert Sheppard: Poem in Face Down in the Book of Revelations: for Peter Hughes at 60

Peter Hughes at 60 is celebrated in this anthology edited by Lynn Hughes. I don't know when he found out about the book, but I hope it was as much a surprise as An Educated Desire was for me last year. (See here.). And here is an account of the last time I saw Peter and Lynn at Leicester (contributors Nancy Gaffield, Simon Perril, Andrew Taylor and Alan Baker were all there too).

I have read the poems in it (not the prose by Lou Rowan yet!) and I particularly enjoyed poems especially written to or for Peter, such as those by Alan Baker, Nancy Gaffield, Anthony Mellors, Kelvin Corcoran, Emily Critchley, Johns Hall and James, and the Simons Perril and Smith.

I'm pleased to say I have a poem to (not for) Peter in the book, one that tries in its fourteen lines (it's another of the poems from It's Nothing (see here)) to get to the essence of Peter's writing, not just the Petrarch translations (which I write about here and here), but all of his work:

Fortuity I endorse, the strong noun Peter Riley uses
of your patient projects and restless forms.
But my dictionary gives it a wide berth. It offers

‘fortuitism’ instead, another ism we don’t need. 

Of course, Peter Riley is represented here, as are many others I've not mentioned, ranging alphabetically from Tim Atkins at the beginning to Nigel Wheale at the end. It's great company to be in; the book features many of our best poets, dressed up for a birthday party. It's also the 100th book from Oystercatcher, Peter's enterprising press, though it is also credited as a 'Sea-pie Production' (which must be Lynn's moniker). See here. I suspect it'll be available soon.

Until then: Happy Birthday Peter! Well done Lynn! 

Friday, October 07, 2016

Robert Sheppard and Sandeep Parmar's Carte-Vitale appears in Card Alpha

Issue Two of Adam Hampton’s Card Alpha is now online. It may be found here or here.

It features work by

Patricia Farrell (visual work: see here)
Sandeep Parmar and Robert Sheppard
France, Carte-Vitale (born 1973: one of the EUOIA poets; see here and here)
Laura Tickle (see here)
Joanne Ashcroft (see here)
Tonya Eberhard
William Clunie
Joseph Victor Milford
Steven Waling

 See more about the EUOIA poets here and here. And on Adam Hampton here.

There are three winners of the Rhiannon Evans Poetry Prize published in this issue (if we count the editor).