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Monday, September 15, 2014

Robert Sheppard: The Micropathology of the Sign Homage to Bob Cobbing (re Selected Poems History or Sleep)

Here's another poem that won't make it into my Selected Poems. It was originally the introduction to Bob Cobbing's splendid collection of pamphlets and texts in a box, Processual (1989), and then the first poem in my first collaboration with Bob, Codes and Diodes in 1991. Another of the homages will go in; like this one, it escaped the rapacious integrationism of Twentieth Century Blues. This is still an interesting reading of Bob's work.

The Micropathology of the Sign

homage to Bob Cobbing for his 67th birthday: Introduction to Processual

Spinning machines of eye-
Crystals imprecision tools of discovery
Re-arranged the fabric desires
Detailed spaces as objects sizzle
Grizzled light at the cliff edge
Somebody stirs under the draped moment
Becomes their own heat wood grain body fixed
Impression is being wingcapped
While no theoretical shift has
Shoals of dream fish in an ocean of
Satellite avalanche
They were significant signs
Orgiastic shadow play sperm trails
Dancing letter sex flesh
Printing on flesh looping
Language trails
Entitled Processual; he has
The microscopic birth
Turinshrouded in voiceprint drizzle
Tumbled black and space language dripped
Elevator ink clouds on multiple horizons
Claws of lightning fissure the black
Into sand-rippled sea-light
In decalomanic daybreak
Webbed message of a hangover
Pawprints the interference icicles
A narrow path to the narrow path
Twists of technology given eye
Microdot fished from the fluid music
For the whining of the nervous system
The dancing eye discovers a letter dancing
In a picture of perception
One person’s scrap paper is another’s poem
Reading you recognise: looking you look
Spatter eye showers jangled jungle tangles
You are invited to a shredding party
A larger structure is sensed at each point
Interference is the new message
A dialectic of exhaustion and expansion
It can’t be recognised when it re-appears
Sampler squinting focus out brain scans
Fingerprint charts V-mailed around the world
This is the largest – or the smallest –
By remaining sign inaudible frequencies
Desire flows into the matrix between
Biomorphic alphabets on stone desiring
Eye desires body constructs its music
Flaming hieroglyph in a burnt-out world
Each looking is a performance a reading
Of flash-cards spelling a new desire.  

Bob Cobbing (photo: the wondrous William Cobbing)

See more conventional readings of Cobbing here and here. And my account of first meeting Bob in 1973 here.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Robert Sheppard: The Blickling Hall Poem (re: History or Sleep Selected Poems)

Here's another candidate for first poem, 'The Blickling Hall Poem'. When I sat down to select poems for my Selected I knew Tombland wasn't going to make it but I thought this poem would. It didn't. (I did, however, become the first poem in a collaboration with Scott Thurston, called Turns, which was published in 2003.) It was written in 1980, I recall, as part of long text rattled off in snatched calm moments when my parents were visiting. The poem was influenced by Harry Guest's 'Elegies', then appearing. In the end I opted for the rediscovered 'Round Midnight', which I excluded from Returns (1985). You can read that here

The Blickling Hall Poem

Tranquillity is only a style, whose glyph
is struck at a moment’s rest,
phrasing the violence into pattern.
We found the secret garden, banked
in by trees, away from the order
of the parterre. We watched the wind
rocking the treetops, though the air
was still on our faces as we kissed
in the tiny summerhouse. You cannot stop
for long in this miniature world, closed
in by beech-hedges, as in the order
of a poem. A solitary sundial,
surrounded by lawn and brick-path,
centres it. It has no motto;
has only, perhaps, the slanting daylight
cut on a shadow’s fin, and moving
across its still surface.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Storm and Golden Sky September 26th: Tom Jenks and Sophie McKeand

Storm and Golden Sky

is back after its summer break!


Up the stairs (at the back of the barroom) at the Caledonia pub, Catharine Street, in the Georgian Quarter, Liverpool, £5, 7 pm spot-on start!


FRIDAY 26th September 2014


Sophie McKeand

Born in Prestatyn, north Wales, Sophie McKeand is a prolific writer and performance poet who resides in Yr Wyddgrug, (Mold). She is an Anarcho/Feminist/Romantic writer whose poetic work places great emphasis on creating heartfelt and electric performances. Inspired by the ancient Welsh tales of Taliesin and influenced by the great oral storytelling tradition of this region Sophie leads the audience through a rich tapestry of poetic musings. Sophie has work published in Adbusters, Dark Mountain and Poetry Wales (March 2014), with various pieces broadcast on BBC Radio Wales. She has performed extensively across the UK. Projects include
‘Metaforestry: storiau o’r Gogledd’ and DRKMTR, an experiment with poetry, visual art and sound.


Tom Jenks

Tom Jenks is a poet with three collections published by if p then q: A Priori, * and items. On Liberty, Repressed - an Oulipian treatment of On Liberty by John Stuart Mill, was recently published by The Knives Forks and Spoons Press. An Anatomy of Melancholy - a conceptual Twitter re-write of Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy was followed by An Anatomy of Melancholy Book II - a second Twitter re-write, compiled in real time. By contrast, streak artefacts - a sequence of 100 poems of 10 lines with visuals – was published by Department Press. Jenks co-organises, with James Davies and Scott Thurston, The Other Room experimental poetry reading series and website and administer the avant objects imprint zimzalla.


Born of a Liverpool taste for variety and drama, ‘Storm and Golden Sky’ offers literary high style from across the poetic landscape. Programmed by a collective of Liverpool-based poets, Michael Egan, Nathan Jones, Robert Sheppard and Eleanor Rees.



Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Robert Sheppard: Tombland (re: History or Sleep Selected Poems)

I am currently selecting poems for a volume of Selected Poems, but the process has proved to be as much about de-selecting as selecting. Here is the poem Tombland, written in 1979, and published in The Frightened Summer, my Pig Press booklet of 1981. I do think of it as my first poem, but then I also think of 'The Blickling Hall Poem' as that, and sometimes 'G - the Pataphyscial Sonnet', from my even earlier pamphlet Dedicated to you but you weren't listening, in different moods. I suppose there are other candidates too. But here it is, in one of its revised forms. Another of its forms (a recent one) is a sonnetised 'remode' of part one, in a series of sonnets called 'Miltonics'. (See end of post.) Like the first poem of 'Tombland', it was composed on his 24th birthday. 


Wet, golden-leaved
the Agency, the pub,
the coinshops, the new
community bookshop….

on his twenty-fourth birthday,
shelters in yards and doorways,
to write:

Talbot’s Cafe, where the men
play dominoes, set
before repeat afternoon television.

Passing the old man
headed there; his tartan hat
beacon of you-know-what;

as he says to all passers,
‘Are you now all right?’ spastic-
paralytic fingers twitching.
Answer yes to his eyes,
nothing to nothing.

                                    On; to the
watery Back-of-the-Inns, and round

past Tombland at early dusk,
late-autumn afternoon,

wet leaves stuck to cobbles
under homing feet.

Monday morning gathers
its tired programme
against a late-winter dawn,
church bells eased by crosswind and traffic.

You hear her
gathering the routine necessities for the day;
half choosing this role, it chooses her.

The great shell
of the house breaks open
as she leaves, door slamming.

Silence gathers in the hollow.
You wait as

grey forms,
not yet object and shade,
against a weatherless sky.

Night’s shadow.

Winds swell;

the cementless slabs
of the wall

The loose tatters
of plastic bag in the empty window frames

suck and blow….

The wind wants to force an entry,
picking at crevices,
                                    to prise
this shell open,

to declare this place derelict,

to fill it
with rushing absence.

But we, the people,
won’t let it,

huddled close to electric fires.

We won’t let it.

It draws them here,
drunks with cider bottles,

the old graveyard now an
open space, a double
tombland, where punks

rehearse their truant rituals
of belonging.

You settle into the seat,
by your snap decision
for the journey.

You speed from the city,
through breckland and

forest. It’s not escape.

It arrests you,
the difference between cities.

Only the transient
flickers, the distance
between cities, release
you. A parallax trick

between image
and mirror.

the image breaks
or the reflection shatters.

After the day, you plunge into darkness and fog, driving into the heart of the forgotten counties. Near Bury St. Edmund, you pull over onto the shoulder, out of petrol, where the unfinished motorway yields to the narrower road.
            You join the three o’clock society of the twenty-four hour transport cafe, witness the one-armed-bandit entertainments of the Norwich to London lorry drivers, over their sausages and chips and highway gossip.
            You count out the pennies: enough for one cup of tea and a bar of chocolate.

Five o’clock, after an hour of mist and straight, narrowing road, square miles of darkness packed in close, you enter the scattered outskirts of Norwich. Houses thicken, either side of the road. You find the others home, who set off on foot into the freezing dark, hours before.
            You go to bed. The first bird sings the ridge of dawn. 

They cannot be folded
onto their own history

these places haunted
by my ideas of them

voices rise inhabit dead
arches choirs of angels

above grunting crumhorns
angelus against dirge

1979-80 (revised often since; completed 2007)

This poem was published in its first version in my The Frightened Summer (Pig Press 1981). I would like to dedicate it to the memory of its publisher Richard Caddel, who it is often forgotten, had East Anglian origins. It was also broadcast as part of a BBC Radio 4 programme on cities in the 1980s, produced by Sue Limb.

Here's the 'Miltonics' remode:

Tombland: How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth

‘Wet, golden-leaved pathways. Past
the Agency, the pub, the coinshops, the new
community bookshop… Poet, on his twenty-
fourth birthday, shelters in yards and doorways

to write:
Past Talbot’s Cafe, where the men play dominoes,
set before repeat afternoon television. Passing
the old man headed there – his tartan hat beacon

of you-know-what – as he says to all passers,
paralytic fingers twitching, “Are you now all right?”
Answer yes to his eyes, nothing to nothing. On;

to the watery Back-of-the-Inns, and round past
Tombland at early dusk, late-autumn afternoon,
wet leaves stuck to cobbles under homing feet.’

Milton Sonnet VII: 1632/1979/2007/Remode 2014

Monday, September 01, 2014

Robert Sheppard: Poetics and the Manifesto: On Pierre Joris and Adrian Clarke

In the left corner, Pierre Joris; in the right corner Adrian Clarke

My ‘Poetics and the manifesto: On Pierre Joris and Adrian Clarke’ has just been published by Jacket 2. It begins with one of my pleas for writerly speculative poetics. ‘The writings writers write about writing have been curiously misread.’ I continue:Battling the impossibility of being their own readers, writers are drawn to fuzzy logic when it comes to thinking and externalizing their thinking about the purpose, activity, outcomes, and future of writing that results in text that can be unstable in a variety of ways, and is sometimes difficult to read. However, there is enough commonality among these writings to group them as members of a discourse, one called ‘poetics,’ and a prospective study of poetics is most revealingly conducted using examples that orient themselves in form, towards form, and that reveal themselves as hybrid and playful, fragmented or highly formal.’
Then I contrast the nomad poetics of Pierre Joris with its contestation by Adrian Clarke. It ends in an odd place: arguing that we cannot argue over poetics in this discursive way. I was tempted to adopt I.A. Richards’ term ‘pseudo-statement’ to describe the truth-claims of poetics, but opt for a loose hands-off version of Lyotard’s ‘differend’. And there’s lots of nomadic and anti-nomadic poetics on the way!

Read the piece here.   

Read 'Muzzle' by Adrian Clarke here. It seems currently to be getting a lot of hits.And his ascerbic take on the state of British poetry for Pages may be read here.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Robert Sheppard :Twentieth Century Blues out in paperback

That’s the good news. There’s no bad news (so far as I’m concerned), but there is attenuating news: the paperback is no cheaper than the paperback. It’s £19.99. It is, however, over 300 pages long and is a bit more portable and compact in this form – and looks good! So thanks for Salt for doing this edition to replace the out of print hardback; its POD technology means it is available again (with the same great cover).

So if you missed it the first time round you can buy it here. Or here.

If you want to read my poetics piece about the intratextual poetics of the work, you can, here. This is an early take on a poetics piece that became part of the Blues themselves. 

I read some of it here, at one of the early Other Room readings:

 Todd Thorpe’s online review from Jacket is here. And here is a brief excerpt from the ‘Index’ to demonstrate how many of the texts are linked to others.

Twentieth Century Blues is a network (or ‘net/(k)not- work(s)’ as I called it) of texts that are interrelated by multilinear ‘strands’. That the project would seem open to the technology of hyperlinks has not passed me by, and I would like to utilise this in future presentations, although I conceived of the network’s design before this possibility, or its now apposite metaphor, became available. [Although I imagined it as a hypertext, the time-based nature of the project – the year 2000 as its limit - imposed a forward trajectory on its links which, it strikes me now, is alien to the multi-directionality of the hyperlink, which is why I call the work a ‘pseudo-hypertext’ in my ‘Introductory Note’.]
                The strands are not sequences of poems in the usual sense and I doubt if they present interesting continua. (I’ve avoided constructing publications or poetry readings around such a scheme, except in the case of the ‘Killing Boxes’ strand, which was conceived and largely written as a performance work, in parts.) In any case, very few of the texts are only in a single strand, so to read through the strands would be as repetitive as reading the Blues in order. Strands are deliberately constructed or retrospectively discovered (dis)continuities between texts that I sensed as instructive. I hope a reader will consider them as part of the vast dialogic intratext of the project, but will not be over-directed by them. In fact, a few of the strands, as this full index shows, stretch back to texts written before Twentieth Century Blues. Their entanglements are part of the plot, as it were.

 And here’s a poem in prose to demonstrate some of that:

The Book of British Soil

Twentieth Century Blues 28
Duocatalysis 14
For Jo Blowers 2
Killing Boxes 5
Unwritings 5

A suburb an airport a park, named after him; a refusal to mean this world. Beautiful tracer fire, the bosses sweating. Shadows of unbroken factories, streets called Alma or Trafalgar

Two holes enface her disguise. He planted a kiss in the gulf between her shoulder blades. He initialled her corpse, a statue to the Iron Terrorist

The colony at the heart of the empire gets the news before the news: immobilised eyes stuck in skulls, ragged wounds to be filled; bathing in self-evidence, a sigh of immense national relief

Dad’s big fist flooring Mum; she could be gouged from his forearms, burnt blue

There are no live casualties, soft-cruising over disused units

Look sexy for your sexy obituary. All the slips make the enemies friends, smudges of boot polish on the pillow

Each breath searches for its feeling. A rhythm of blows and kisses, she licks his thinking wound. He watches her sternly, selecting her skins from the shiny rails. Make up, making it up, with pencil and mirror, sweat erupting skin

Nerve agents work in a second. She kneels like a juddering protest whipped by rainbows. A nebula of blood cells behind her cloudy skin. His eyes, inland seas on a map of nowhere

A delicate hand waves farewell in the pane beneath the Union Jack. Recording tape hanging from the branches, the pop stars are re-building our sneers. Explanations airlift the empty hand of hand-shakes

Legible fear. STAB HALF BREEDS faded on the kerbstone

Tell this to the crying pilots: there are hulks of desertedness. At the stroke of nine, you reach the phone and the humming begins: Petrol is censored: Whitehall sealed off, eerie with snow

(NOTE: Twentieth Century Blues 28 means it was the 28th (out of 75) of the parts of the poem. The other ‘titles’ are strands: Duocatalysis 14 means this was the 14th piece illustrated by Patricia Farrell, a limited silk print edition; For Jo Blowers 2 means this was the second piece for collaboration with the dancer (with whom I am hoping to work again soon); Killing Boxes 5; ‘Killing Boxes’ was a strand of texts relating the FIRST Gulf War (not to be confused with Warrant Error years later); Unwritings 5: ‘unwritings’ is loosely my term for texts made out of my own earlier writings, in this case notes left over from writing the original ‘Killing Boxes’ poems, e.g., this one:

Take off to William Tell’s
turkey shoot the script aims
and again the litany asserts
mundane miracles and monsters revving
into tomorrow wishful thinking in
inverted commas the roads are
impassable even here where the
apple spit hits my neck).

I'm still talking about the poem here. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Bad Plus live in Manchester

The Bad Plus were excellent. A whole new way of using the piano-bass-drums jazz trio format (in this sense, not unlike The Necks, with their very different sensibilities): the music is carefully composed, complex, but with the energies of jazz, combined with a little punk and quite a lot of ‘prog rock’. Friends since school, they have a proprioceptive sense of one another in performance. The expanses of the music may owe to the expanses of the mid-West, as the bass player Reid Anderson attempted to explain, I think, in one of his gnomic announcements. (He said something similar in The Wire.)

Patricia and I were in the front row at Manchester’s Northern College of Music last night; I’d bought the tickets Googling the band and must have hit pre-advertising for the Manchester Jazz Festival. That probably explains why I didn’t know Alexander Hawkins was playing (free) earlier in the day, which was galling.

See here for my earlier general thoughts on poetry and jazz.