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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

John James reading 'Baudelaire at Cebazan'

This is John reading the poem as part of our launch of Atlantic Drift in February 2018 at the London Review of Books shop. Possibly part of his last reading, it was recorded by the steady hand of Jennie Byrne, writer and intern with the Edge Hill University Press. She misses the first few lines, so here they are:

your text is traced in burnt sienna
across the span of ochre wall in the old Co-op at Cebazan
& tells me now as it did in my youth
of how the wine sings in the bottles...

It's on page 141 of our anthology. It's the gentlest call to revolution that I have ever heard.

I remember John more here (with photos and a poem I wrote for him in 2005).

Sunday, May 20, 2018

i.m. John James (and my poem 'As Yet Untitled Poem' for John James)

Sad to hear of the death of John James. We last saw him on this blog at the launch of Atlantic Drift in London in January, see here. He wasn't in the best of health then. Here's me watching him read.

But I also want to remember him at his reading at Edge Hill in 2005, as he is in this photograph, holding his Collected Poems aloft, and as he is addressed in this poem I wrote after he'd left the house with Patricia to talk to the students the morning after the reading. (It appears in Berlin Bursts.) He is an astonishing poet. I'm glad I taught his work to students, and I'm glad he's in Atlantic Drift. 

A certain kind of elegance has gone out of the world.  

As Yet Untitled Poem

for John James

I beg you to hear this boy. And hear him out.
His morning poem you’re in, now,
is neatly creased as a crisp new shirt, stiff-
backed and clipped on its cardboard torso, posed.

It trips you over the cat from the film you’ve never
seen, as you search for your spectacles.
I use my enormous brain to seek the signals
they emit. We are both The Prisoner

on this island, Crusoes of overlapping surveillance.
Sleep is where we’ve come from, captive, a misty place                            
of drizzled desire and mordant fear. The fog has
lifted, real enough, for the expedition that must

set off for the explanation. Your house-
guest, a sort of vapour that
an opening door dispels, coughs his soft pardons.
Serious poetry is back in town:

the Unfinished Alba of the Unknown
Troubadour, whose vida is word for word. The
beloved of this lyric is the hero of that epic, where
sometimes I did seek, I beg you now to flee this boy.


Watch him reading 'Baudelaire at Cebazan' at the LRB here.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

A Day of Collaborations/ors (Liverpool Light Night)

Yesterday, a day of collaborations, without fully realising it. Until reflecting this morning.

It began with writing through some of Trev Eales' photographs in preparation for our collaboration. See here:

Here's a random snippet:
he’s re-formed for
the music as
he reads the
hands on the
keys to find
where he is
or where he’s
being pushed

Later, I read more of EUOIA collaborator Alys Conran's brilliant first novel, Pigeon. It's grim, it's funny; it captures the nuances of bilingualism, and I haven't finished it. I seldom read a book where I don't want it to end. This is one. See here:

Alys reading our collaboration in Bangor

Then it was out to the Liverpool Light Night, and to Bluecoat to look at the many paintings Pete Clarke has produced using my poem about the Liverpool car park fire, 'Arena Area':

parked in the park forever

a darkness that darkens the lungs
concentrated pitch

That's one of them in the Bluecoat studio: 'blistered skin...' it says...

Pete has collaborated with me (I have collaborated with him) on making a number of prints and paintings over the past decade and I posted images from our Edge Hill exhibition here and here. A later work for the Print Bienniel in Krakow may be viewed here and Pete's own website is here. One was a runner-up for the Adrian Henri Prize, and this year his work has been selected for the John Moores Painting Prize! Fingers crossed.

Then, from the very windows you see in this photo, I spotted Jo Blowers, watching a dance piece, with whom I have worked over many years. She'd been ill so it was great to see her out and about! And to talk.

Here's Jo performing (appropriately) at Bluecoat, a piece with a text by me (published in Unfinish). Some links to her work, our works:


Then we (Patricia, Philip Jeck and I) walked to the Belvedere and I checked that they had put up the poems about the place by Chris McCabe and myself (a collaboration of sorts) - and they had. (More of that later, I think.) The whole day being spent in the company of Patricia, my most consistent collaborator (and currently an author of a piece on my collaborations with Pete!), as well the other half of Ship of Fools. (And so much more.)

Odd then that I should wake up to find a note I clearly made to myself the night before: 'Write a book about Frank Sinatra - and you.' I wonder what I meant.

I have a page on my website about my collaborations (outside of the EUOIA), here:

Read more about the collaborative project EUOIA here and here. All the collaborators are accessible via links here. More on Twitters here and here.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Twitters for a Lark reviewed by Billy Mills (links and notes)

Nice to have Michael Gove in the segue to Billy Mills’ review of Twitters for a Lark given Gove's role in my selection of new sonnets, which really IS my ‘poetry after Brexit’ book, possibly to be called Hap Hazard, with lines like 

... are they grey EU gunboats firing on our freighters,

our entrepreneurs smuggling inflammable cladding,

the dead and the dying dumped in the English Channel
as France dowses England’s chalk redoubt in cheap cheese? No.

Twitters is only accidentally about Brexit, by timing, as I've explained on this blog a number of times .

 Here is the whole review. Billy nicely states

And what it stands for, I think, is resistance to the nonsense idea that the UK is, or can be, anything other than European. The main theme that emerges is an interwoven history, from the classical world through the fall of the Berlin Wall to the Greek bailout, and it is fitting that the final country represented is the UK, the country that proposes to turn its back on that shared history, the ‘fictive cartography’ that is all too real, and that binds us all together.

I’m disappointed that Billy thinks ‘the contents of the book matter less than its being,’ but he’s pretty good on that being, as above. (He does like the collaboration with Alys Conran, though, and so do I!) And when he asks, ‘Nonetheless, I can’t but wonder if it’s getting near time for the EUIA (sic) to disband’, he clearly hasn’t taken in the acrimonious break up of the European Union Of Imaginary Authors, as described in the introduction! Even the five vowels are lost to the four winds! (However, I do have some post-EUOIA plans: here!)

The book is more about collaboration than Brexit, I feel, but Billy has his focus on other recent books as well.

Reviews have been slow, so it’s good to see this one. Thanks Billy!

Read more about the EUOIA here and here. All the collaborators are accessible via links here. More on Twitters here and here.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The problems of defining love in my Semantic Poetry Translation of Petrarch 3

One of the poems in Petrarch 3 derives from my writing the chapter ‘Stefan Themerson: Iconopoeia and Thought-Experiments in the Theatre of Semantic Poetry’, in The Meaning of Form, with its study of the literary form invented by the Polish-British writer Themerson in his 1944 novel, Bayamus: the Semantic Poetry Translation.[i] In (too) blunt summary, this proto-Oulipean procedure ‘translates’ a text word by word into its given dictionary definitions, and uses lineation to orchestrate the results. When Themerson, whom I knew a little, died in the 1980s, I attempted a Semantic Poetry Translation of one of my own poems, but it did not work (possibly because my original was asyntactic). The debt was finally paid by my deliberately prolix text that re-articulates, re-forms, Petrarch’s poem.

Buy Petrarch 3 here. Read more about The Meaning of Form here.  Or go straight here.

When it came to the word ‘love’ – not a marginal term in the Petrarchan lexicon! – I discovered that my normally trusty 1972 dictionary gave me the cis-definition:

the devoted attachment to one of the opposite sex

This was obviously an anachronism and I amended it thus, immediately, in the thick of creation:

the devoted attachment to one of the opposite (or same) sex

The gay version. It seems to me obvious now, of course, after waking up in the middle of the night, that this definition will no longer do either, expressing as it does heterosexist and gender norms in this age of gender fluidity and transfeminism (and transmasculinism, for that matter). (My essay on Themerson does point out that his dedication to the Semantic Poetry Translation (also see his poetic masterpiece, 'The Semantic Sonata') carries the political charge of exposing language to ideological analysis by using definitions, and usually this works; my experience creates the caveat: it depends, which, whose, dictionary.) After rejecting a formulation like

the devoted attachment to one of the opposite (or same or indefinite or transitional) sex,

(as too clumsy) I consulted another dictionary, and manufactured this definition:

the devoted (the given definition had 'deep', but I liked the chivalric note appropriate to Petrarch, in this context) affection or sexual love for someone (else)

So: the devoted affection or sexual love for someone (else).

I like the ‘else’, which, I have to confess, is also my confection. In subsequent editions to the wonderful Crater edition, which is still available here, the lines:

It didn’t seem the time for shields and armour
Against Love’s arrows, his batters and blows;
So, unsuspecting, I wept with the world,
But that day my heartbreaks began, my woes,

will be translated

It did not appear to be
the moment at which to entertain
broad plates carried to ward off weapons
and defensive dress
to protect me from straight pointed missiles
made to be shot from a bow
or beatings with successive blows
or strokes or knocks
belonging to or pertaining to or deriving from
the devoted affection or sexual love for someone
or the personification of
                                    the devoted affection
or sexual love for someone (else)
as the deity
of the devoted affection or sexual love for someone
                                    namely Cupid or Eros
having no inclination to believe without sufficient evidence
I lamented
by leaking
drops of liquid secreted by the lachrymal gland
in concordance with
the system of things which accommodates
the inhabitants of this universe
but at that moment of existence
the crushing sorrows or miseries
that belong to myself alone

Read the only review of Petrarch 3 by Alan Baker here. And a response from Martin Palmer here

[i] Stefan Themerson, Stefan, Bayamus and the Theatre of Semantic Poetry (London: Gaberbocchus Press, 1965).

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Celebrate EUROPE DAY with the European Union of Imaginary Authors! (And plans for future European fictional poets!)

Celebrate EUROPE DAY with the European Union of Imaginary Authors! Who else?

Read more about the EUOIA here and here. All the collaborators are accessible via links here.

I worked in collaboration, over a number of years, with a team of real writers, to create a lively and entertaining body of work of fictional European poets, nearly all of whom celebrate Europe Day.(Hermes is the unstable genius who doesn't.)

Accompanied by biographical notes, the poets grew in vividness until they seemed to possess lives of their own, as worked on them; they are collected now in Twitters for a Lark, published by Shearsman.   

More on Twitters here and here.

This collection marks a continuation of the work I ventriloquised through my solo creation, the fictional bilingual Belgian poet RenĂ© Van Valckenborch, in A Translated Man (read an early account here; the book is also available from Shearsman here ). But what of a third part? My sense of neatness summons a trilogy!

Following the dissolution of the EUOIA (European Union Of Imaginary Authors) in 2017, the four remaining poets, who feature in both A Translated Man and Twitters for a Lark (Sophie Poppmeier, Trine Krugeland, Jurgita Zujute and Jitka Prochova), the fifth being the deceased Lucia Cianglini (all five have pages on the EUOIA website (here )), decide to collaborate on a continuation of Cianglini’s work in progress at the time of her death by hanging. This poem & features in both books and is an anaphoric poem marked by the use of the ampersand in lines one and two of its three line stanza.

Their poem will be entitled & &.

Jurgita Zujute (having been the president of the dissolved EUOIA) calls them together and Trine Krugeland (being a conceptual writer) coordinates the effort. The other two participate with them. (Poppmeier is the fictional poet with the most worked-out ‘life’ (see here ), and was – and could still be – the sole focus of the third part of the trilogy, if this option doesn’t bear fruit, or is significantly altered.)

Their method (not mine, of course) is to take the first ‘book’ of &; (I have written, but not published, this poem) and to continue a new poem from it, in collaboration, one line each in turn (four poets and a three-line stanza makes for a particular kind of pattern, of course): here’s an example from Book 5, about the ampersand spotted in Cork that set her poem (and mine) off:

& an ampersand ghosted on the wall over from the coffee shop
is a hollow in a headlock with nothing to say to us
& there’s too much for the mind to do each second

Using these lines as an epigraph, a guide, the idea (Krugeland’s, obviously) is that the piece should be infinite: that they continue for as long as they can, replacing anyone who leaves their group (currently thought to be provisionally called EUGE (European Union of Generative Experimenters)) with another, and so on, forever, &, &.

The first 4 poets are women but they are not fixed in that as a permanent arrangement (but they are openly receptive to trans women, the influence of Poppmeier, no doubt); the only proviso is that four poets at any one time continue the work forever (and that the Estonian EUOIA wrecker Hermes be refused admission). Borrowing from OULIPO, they declare that the poem may only ever be deemed ‘complete’ rather than simply ‘suspended’ (they envisage such lacunae caused by the inevitable wars in Europe they see Brexit and Russian aggression prefiguring), by the simultaneous suicide of the four serving poets, by hanging, to reflect Cianglini’s death, and these lines in ‘Book One’ about not being able to fashion an ampersand:

& it looped around itself again

& again
                        as though it might accidentally hang itself (or me)

That, of course, would be part of an extensive (though by no means lengthy) plan for a publication (translated by the fictional ‘Robert Sheppard’, of course) that would also be extensive (though by no means lengthy), possibly only pamphlet length. Like Oulipo again, and like some of the work in the first two books, the fragment will stand for the whole, but in this case it will be potentially existing in the future, whereas fragmentation was used previously to suggest an unobtainable currently-existing plenitude (designed to reflect the real situation of reading a voluminous foreign-language oeuvre in limited excerpted translation). It would launch my creatures into futurity.

They might assemble their text online, like Eric Chevillard’s daily L’Autofictif , (see my blog roll, right) which I learnt about at the Edge Hill conference at which I also learnt about collaboration theory (which I need to re-read, pretty obviously).

But I'm also looking at more Elizabethan sonnet sequences to 'overdub', so I need to prioritise. That's another 'European project: see here. And, you never know, I might never get round to the above...

Monday, May 07, 2018

Robert Sheppard: Brexit sonnet sequence 'Breakout' published

I'm pleased to say that my 5 sonnet sequence 'Breakout', written soon after the Brexit Referendum, has been published. I aimed for a magazine first printing and an anthology re-print, but delays in the magazine meant that they were published rather closer than I'd anticipated. No matter, I don't think that the readerships will overlap much. 

The magazine is A Restricted View Form Under the Hedge (what a title! what badges!! what marvellous paper-quality!!!). You can access it here

The anthology is The Other Room 10, the last anthology celebrating the last year of the Manchester reading series of that name and for sale at its last event (see above). You can access it here.

See here about my not making that event and here for details about the reading I conducted during that final year (a celebration of the European Union of Imaginary Authors; I include a set list, details of my collaborators and fellow-performers, and links). See its own website on which most videos of the readings are housed, here.  

'Breakout' was also the first poem-sequence I read at the Sheppard Symposium reading. So here it is again:

It's here again if you have trouble. Robert Sheppard:

Thanks to the spiny little creature rolled into a little ball and the guys basking in alterity beyond the door of Otherness for publishing the poems!

There's other stuff about sonnets here and here. The latter is about the 100 sonnet book-length manuscript that 'Breakout' forms part.

I have, however, in the first poem, replaced the word 'autistic' with 'autarkic', a word whose presence I owe to the eloquence of our current foreign secretary. Nazanin is still in an Iranian jail (he'd say 'Persian gaol') but I got a word out of him (to use against him). And it's a good word too, whereas the word for a mode of neurological atypicality is the wrong one. 

It's been a day of finessing words: I sought a new definition of 'love' for my Semantic Translation of 'Petrarch 3'. (See my post on11th May, when it arrives.) And I realised Cavafy had lived in Liverpool as a child, so he is now 'playing' rather than 'working', as he'd been up till today, in my prose autrebiography 'Work (the 2017 text)'.