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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

25 Edge Hill Poets: Janka Theisler


The link to my blog (which has some poetry on it amongst other things) is:   http://apieceofmyhead.wordpress.com/

My time at Edge Hill:

Everything I hoped it would be and way more. In Scientia Opportunitas.

My poetics:

My writing ranges on a wide scale from experimental sound poetry to image-based poems. Eclectic with heavily nostalgic elements at times. I like writing about places (mostly cities) and collaborating with artists. Also, I'm influenced by my fascination for linguistics and in particular, phonetics.

Glock 19 (9mm)
vs
Škorpion vz. 61 (7.65mm)
fully automatic
One Clip Duel
Tfft, Tfft, Tfft -
                    Duck
                            Aim
                                Fire -
Pshahh. Pshahpshahpshahpshah.
      
                                    Listen.
Duck again -
Tfft-Tfft-Tfft-Tfft-Tfft
Ready,
          Aim,
               Fire back
Pshahpshahpshah. Pshah. Pshah. Pshahpshah.
                         Get. Down.
                         Now.
Tfft-Tfft-Tfft-
                                -Tfft
                                                                  Return,
Pshahpshahpshah
Tfft
Pshahhhh
Tfft
Pshah Pshah Pshah Pshah
Empty.
Tff-t -
                                 Bleed.
Kalashnikov
(AK-47)
fully automatic
TaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDa
Click,
ClingClingCling
Vfoom, 
             Click.
TaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDa
ClickClingClingClingVfoomClick
TaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDa
ClickClingClingClingVfoomClickTaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDa


Immigrat-ed

Tea with milk, not lemon

The wrong side of the road

This is not my house.


My pillow is not continental

Neither is my breakfast

This is not my bed.


This is not my street,

These are not my things,

This is not my life


Tiny packs of crisps

Language barriers

It's okay, just sit there and do nothing.


Colloquialisms

This is just too strange

These are not my friends.


Uniformed

The tie, the shirt, the blazer, the shoes -

These are not my clothes.


Can I go home yet?

Just sit and say nothing.

This is not my time.


This is not my tongue,

This is not my home,

This is not my mind


No interaction

Just keep your mouth shut,

This is not my name.


Details of the MA in Creative Writing, of which Janka is now a student, at Edge Hill may be read here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Robert Sheppard: poem in International Times


I have a poem in International Times. Yes, that International Times. It’s online now - and there is an archive of the ancient editions (I scrolled randomly to find a song for the magazine itself by Kevin Ayres, bless him, circa 1968). How I would have loved to have been in it in 1970; but I’m happy enough now to be a belated visitor. The new issues look pretty good. Here. And the archive here.

The poem is ‘Workless Washday: Burnt Journal 1952’, a birthday poem for Frances Presley (‘Burnt Journals’ is a special series of those). Read it here. I noticed they have tagged it 'Surreal poetry'.

 
IT from 1970
1952

And thanks to Rupert Loydell, the poetry editor.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Ten Years of Pages: plans for the future


So, what are my blogging plans for the future? I'm not one to make grandiose plans (says the author of Twentieth Century Blues!). If anything, the posts I have assembled here and here and here and here and (yes) even here, on this page, about the past decade of this literary blog or blogzine Pages, teach me that it has found purpose as and when that has emerged.

1. I will finish posting the 25 Edge Hill Poets to celebrate the 25 years of Creative Writing at Edge Hill (and also it's 19 years since I was appointed there). 25 will probably number 28 or so by the end. Only one of them is fictional.

2. I will continue to post 'Set lists' of readings that I do. It's odd I haven't done this before (or maintained it consistently; I have found some earlier accounts). After all, I do make sure that every reading is different - and I put in as much energy for a small, amateur or a non-paying audience as I do for a large, knowing or paying one.

3. I will continue my practice of deleting out of date announcements of readings etc. Some are converted into set lists and re-blogged. (If you can have 're-tweet', and we know the person who first used that word, why can't you have 're-blogged'?)

4. I will post any more de-selected pieces from my selected poems History or Sleep. Or other works for that matter. There might not be any, of course. Here you can access one that carries links to all the others (to date).

5. I will post any more rough materials that emerge out of The Meaning of Form project. The book is now called The Meaning of Form in Contemporary Innovative Poetry. And scheduled for delivery in October 2015. Again, there might not be many (though one deleted passage is scheduled for early April, and another fascinating but clumsy account of how Allen Fisher used a crumpled collage of a book about Crewe as the commentary to the first Proposal is smuggled into the already existing, and much read, post on that book. That's here). I will of course announce the publication of the book, if I or it, gets there (I never count those chickens.)

6. I will do a lot of internal linking of posts (old and new), and not be afraid to update a past post, which is why you will find a post from 2006 offering a link to a later post in 2015. This practice of internal linkage was the only thing I learnt from a student's essay on 'how to keep a literary blog' (oh, that - and the suggestion that readers of blogs like lists like this list!). But then possibly it was also the working method of the network of Twentieth Century Blues, with its strands, lists and linkages.

7. I will announce all my publications, of course. 2015 looks like being a bumper year for book or pamphlet publication, as it happens. Liverpool Hugs and Kisses, Fandango Loops - both already out and announced here and here, Words Out of Time from KFS, The Drop from Oystercatcher, Unfinish from Veer, History or Sleep: Selected Poems from Shearsman....

8. I will possibly post some more critical materials that have slipped out of view.

9. I will start to track the progress of my ongoing collaborative project the European Union of Imaginary Authors, and the coming into being of my solo fictional poet Sophie Poppmeier. (Volumes two and three of the Fictional Poems Project, it occurs to me now, with A Translated Man as the first. See here too.) The Poppmeier posts are coming soon, and already written and scheduled for 13th/20th/27th March 2015.

10. I will try not to schedule posts months in advance (like that last one) although it has been useful for the form work as I churned it out, for the 25 Poets who needed to be one a week, and for the EUOIA posts (upcoming but written a while back). Indeed, these 'Ten Years of Pages' posts were started months ago, but - then - that's also why they are so detailed, as I've added to them over time. (So there is a place for scheduling, but it detracts from pure blogness - I want that word too.) I'm going to break this one. I'm wondering about celebrating a particular birthday with x important poems drawn from a list, leading up to or trailing away from that date. I don't know whether I will actually do that.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Ten Years of Pages: Ten Posts Nothing - Or Little - to do with Poetry

There actually is very little that has nothing to do at all with poetry on Pages. It is a poet's blog, after all, so even the less obvious posts might be tangentally linked to poetry. But here, in order of posting, are the least relevant to the stated themes.

1. Django Reinhardt's Guitar: talismanic object.


 2. Tony Parsons: a friend celebrated

3. The Blind Lemons: Tony Parsons' band celebrated (there is another post which has a photo of me reading 'Smokestack Lightning' along to the band. They had used the text in performance, but this is the only time I read it myself, the band softening to allow my voice to be heard). Tony and I used to play the blues together as Little Albert Fly.


4. This is probably the first post where the blog is talking about itself, in this case its archiving by the British Library. I have put in a recent link to that. (Something I am doing a lot is augmenting earlier posts with new images and fresh links.)


 5. Frank Sinatra, a great clip of Frankie and Jobim. Or it was. The Estate snatches video off of YouTube quicker than you can say ‘FBI Tribunal!’ so it isn't there now. Go onto YouTube, type in Frank Sinatra and see what's up there for the next few days. Any way for now, try one of these. They seem to be identical adverts so may survive the purging for a while.



This post has little to do with poetry, but that 'little' is that the lyrics of the song were written by a poet, AND it's a curious fact that one of the de Campos brothers wrote a book on bossa nova and its opposition to the bel canto tradition. Which is why Sinatra is having difficulty holding back in a way the early, saintly Astrud Gilberto had no trouble achieving. Sinatra said: 'The last time I sang this quiet I had laryngitis'; the trombonist on the Jobim-Sinatra album said: 'If I play any quieter, I'll be playing out the back of my head'. It's hard (I've tried, a legend in my own bath time.) Here's the original post:




'What the hell's that hanging round the back of my microphone?'

6. An act of simple solidarity with Pussy Riot.



7. Another reminder of my Malcolm Lowry activities as a Firminist. David Markson is a good read in anything but the conventional sense. His novels made me never to want to read another novel, a great achievement and one I might manage to live by one day. Until then, plough on through the procedural tedium of so mcuh contemporary fiction.

 8. It's a shame that the only video of me singing (other than the 'Smokestack Lightning performance at the Bluecoat which involves a little vocalising ) is one of my inebriated New Year's Eve sessions with Steve on piano. At least this wasn't the new year some of the party spent the night in A+E! (That's another story, as they say.)


9. My funeral eulogy for my father. 


10. Memories of a good gig (even if the jerking bass player on this Later gig is not actually the one from the band). I have been subscribing to The Wire for a couple of years now and it is responsible for me finding all kinds of interesting bands and artists, mostly new: The Necks, Nicole Mitchell, Josephine Foster, The Glasgow Improvisors' Orchestra, the Fire Orchestra, Alasdair Roberts, Matana Roberts, John Butcher, The Thing, The Cherry Thing, Matsuo Butoh, Peter Brotzmann, Mary Halvorsson, Thumbscrew, Tyshawn Sorey, Steve Lehman and this group, The Bad Plus.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ten Years of Pages: One Post a Year

This is the Museum of Musical Instruments in Brussels where Veryon Weston performed on the Lutheal piano with Jennifer Cobbing and where Van Valckenborch claims, despite not having existed, to have witnessed the same (see 2014 choice number two below).

Here are posts (one a year) to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Pages. Each is a little something I've missed so far in my last two retrospective posts:

2015 so far: It was great to 'rediscover' the two Looking North poems from 1987, which Patricia and I published as a Ship of Fools booklet at the time, with her paintings. (The text was written using the same photographs of Hackney, where we lived, that Patricia used to make the images). It was a shame that one of the two had to go from History or Sleep, my selected poems. Here's the de-selected poem:

http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/robert-sheppard-looking-north-1-re.html

2014: This year I virtually lived (ho, ho) on my blog, thinking through the implications of poetic form for a critical work, but I particularly like this post about writing about poetry and jazz (there's a lot here about an abandoned critical work on the strange and manifold relationships between poetry and jazz):


Since it was a bumper year I'm going to pick a second, related post, on Veryan Weston, Patricia Farrell and Jennifer (Pike) Cobbing: oh, and the Weston-Cobbing show that the fictional poet Rene Van Valckenborch witnessed and wrote about! See image above.

http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/veryan-weston-patricia-farrell-jennifer.html


2013: It was good to exhibit (or re-exhibit) some of the prints Pete Clarke made using some poems and (increasingly) in collaboration with myself. Here's some from the Edge Hill exhibition:

http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/manifest-pete-clarke-and-robert-sheppard.html

2012: Pages from 'Poet' presents an abandoned conceptual piece (or was it a satire on such?), then called 'Poet' and later called 'Plunderhead', after a character I have now moved to another work (where he becomes a very naughty boy), 'Wiped Weblogs', my 'Empty Diaries 2001-14' sequence. I like the photos. I've no idea why they are so huge but I like the fact you can read all the titles of the books (some named in the text itself) and also the array of images above my desk (at the time of the photographs, a January evidenced by the Kylie Calendar). I must alos have been assembling the books to write my critical book on form. The books are still there.

http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/from-poet-work-in-regress.html

2011: A year dominated by my innovative sonnet posts, but this one about my trip to, and reading at, Amsterdam is a favourite, for its photos (memories) of reading with Richard Parker, Louis Armand, Jeff Hilson and Jane Lewty.

http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/amsterdam.html

2010: Another lean year, with a squeezing in of the Rene Van Valckenborch 'twitterodes' at the end of the year one a day (I don't think I knew how to 'schedule' them then, so I must have literally posted one a day.) Here's one of my favourite photographs of Brussels (which I couldn't find for my other re-posts of these) with its twitterode. I'm picking it because only one person has ever looked at it, according to the useful 'stats' that the blog acquired at some point around 2010, in fact.

http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/twitterode-16.html


2009: These selected posts haven't acknowledged my role as a Firminist, that is: as a member of the dedicated band of mostly Merseyside-based enthusiasts for the works of Malcolm Lowry. This acknowledges the first of our now annual meetings (with photos and links) which we hold around the Day of the Dead, although we have plans for 2015, bigger plans for 2016, but our biggest plans yet are for 2017, the anniversary of both Lowry's death in 1957 and the publication of Under the Volcano a decade before. My piece 'Malcolm Lowry's land', appears in the book published in 2009 (and it is now a footnote to Words Out of Time, whose proofs I am currently reading for publication by Knives, Forks and Spoons).

http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2009/09/malcolm-lowry-from-mersey-to-world.html

2008: This year was (for the sake of a focussed set of guest posts) a lean one so there are only a few to choose from. However, the one by Tom Jenks is a good read. I didn't really know Tom then. Certainly I couldn't have foreseen I would be lucky enough to be co-supervising his PhD, nor that we would together be building the Luxembourgish poet Georg Bleinstein together and exchanging sausage gags. (Remember Tom: it's never too early in the day for a sausage!). Here it is.

http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2008/06/tom-jenks.html

2007: Not a bumper year, but this forgotten post surprised me. I called it a 'response to the Partly Writing 2006,' but added: 'I don't think, [ it] ever saw the light of day. I had wanted to include it as part of my inaugural, but cut it, and then recently I sent it to Susan Schultz for her collection of Rumsfeldisms. So here it is, crossing with a poetics of September 12.' It worries away at questions of 'borrowing' and 'transformation', issues that resurface in a more advanced way when I consider conceptual writing. I'd forgotten all about this post until now. So's everybody else.

http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2007/01/robert-sheppard-partly-writing-2006.html

2006: The launch of Hymns to the God in which My Typewriter Believes

Scott Thurston and I read above the Fly in the Loaf. Peter Griffiths took wonderful photographs (and he still does) and I offer an account of this Liverpool event. It's an early 'set list' post, in effect.

http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2006/04/robert-sheppard-hymns-to-god-in-which.html

2005: Jeff Hilson's Bird Bird http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2005/09/jeff-hilson-from-bird-bird.html

One of our best poets here with a substantial showing and a photo from the Poetry Buzz (Lawrence Upton and Rob Holloway are also visible in the photo.)

Other posts celebrating a decade of blogging are:


http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/ten-years-of-pages.html
http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/ten-years-of-pages-best-bits.html
http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/ten-years-of-pages-ten-posts-nothing-or.html

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ten Years of Pages: The Best Bits

Ten Years After

1. favourite images

My favourite image on the blog must be Django Reinhardt's guitar, which I saw in the Musical Instrument Museum in Paris. It is completely inconsequential as regards the point and purpose of the blog, but seems talismanic in some way. Here it is again:


I liked the photographs that accompany some of Rene Van Valckenborch's 'twitterodes'. These 'twitterodes' did appear on Twitter but I posted some on Pages - one a day - in order to show the photographs of Belgium that I'd used to write the poems (as here and here and here), though here is an interloper from a different source. This image of an open window (or vacant window, should I say) came to symbolise the very absence I'd invented in A Translated Man.

Images of a different kind, in the form of Patricia Farrell's A Space Completely Filled with Matter formed an underviewed series of images. Here's one. And another. But the whole will be available from Veer Books soon.

Of course, the collaborations with Pete Clarke are important, see here, about our 2013 exhibition.

I made plentiful use of photos I took in 2005 when the Poetry Buzz to celebrate Allen Fisher's 60th birthday toured London sites, both of the 'buzz' itself and of poets on it, not just Allen, but the rest of us too, from Ken Edwards and Lawrence Upton, through to John Seed and Patricia Farrell. Here are some that I didn't post at the time.


Waiting to board the bus. Allen at the centre. Jeremy Hilton in the foregound.


Mostly younger bards upstiars.


Harry Gilonis in his bus conductor's uniform!

2. favourite critical pieces

This has to be not one post, but the cluster, around the Meaning of Form project, partly because I was thinking online, wrote early drafts of the book project online, whereas some earlier pieces were re-writes and updates (though some of these, on Lee Harwood and Iain Sinclair, receive many hits). The whole cluster of 'Form' posts can be accessed here.

Since I am King Blog in this domain (and I can break my own rules) I'll pick another favourite: this long one on the British Poetry Revival seems pretty neat, particularly with the images of Cobbing and embedded movie by Jeff Keen.

3. creative pieces

Talking of embedded vids, here's one of me doing 'Smokestack Lightning' with obsolete technology like cassette tapes. Of course, it wasn't obsolete when I first performed it at Subvoicive in the 1990s, but I dug out the tapes and harps in 2008 for the launch of Twentieth Century Blues.

I am aware that I post offcuts and outtakes or reprise already published or never to be (re)published pieces on this blog, such as poems that won't make it into my Selected Poems, here and here. Here's another link here, a de-selected poem, with a link to all the others. (There are various reasons why they are de-slected, and not because I don't like them any more!) I offer tasters of my own work. It's not really publishing. If I have one favourite it's probably the garish colour version of Rene Van Valckenborch's 'Revolutionary Song', which could only be published online (without considerable expense). When Thatcher died I rolled out a few old barrels, and rolled them over her corpse.

4. favourite guest writings

I am glad to have hosted other writers on this blog, and for them it is publishing. Of particular interest are Allen Fisher's 'Mezz Merround', the last (and long) piece in Gravity as a Consequence of Shape; and Iain Sinclair's contribution, 'Patrick Hamilton', but it was also good to have 'captured' emerging writers such as Marianne Morris and Mark Mendoza. (MM and MM).

These are all good, but top prize has to go to the Bill Griffiths' Ghost Stories I posted, links here. They remain uncollected though, the stats tell me, happily not unread.

This transcription of a 1973 interview with George Oppen went unnoticed (for a while, it's properly transcribed and published now, and the editor did track me down to question me about the provenance of this text). These were from a talismaic set of notes I made about seeing this videoed at UEA sometime in the early 1980s. Here.

I am pleased too to have meshed the blog with my professional life, once in introducing the Edge Hill Poetry and Poetics Research Group to a wider audience (it was celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2009) here, and, as currently, with my posting of 25 Edge Hill Poets, which is explained here, and carries links in it to all the poets.



5. two favourite neglected strands of posts

1. Chris Hamilton Emery of Salt wrote an account of what he thought was happening in 2007 in British poetry. It was on a discussion list and I asked him to prepare a version for my blog. It's here:


He was answered by 5 posts that can be read together by clicking onto the ‘2008’ button to the right of this post. (The paucity of posts that year reflected my concern that the responses should be read together as contiguous posts, which I suspect was the way blogs were perused even those few years ago. Now readers and viewers zoom in on links to particular posts, one reason for the amount of internal linking that I do.) A sixth poet, Aidan Semmens, responded to the whole strand, the so-called ‘fourth series of Pages’. It's here:


After this time I abandoned the numbering as I learnt how blogging worked (though I’ve never quite abandoned the blogzine aspect of Pages).

2. I also want to highlight my own neglected strand of posts, on the history of poetics (as a writerly speculative discourse). They were parts of an abandoned book on poetics (or rather, a re-distributed book; parts of it became When Bad Times Made for Good Poetry, and others await their day, such as this one.). They are accounts of hundreds of works of poetics (cumulative evidence to be used against anyone who thinks that such a discourse, with its own flexible disciplines, doesn't exist). Here they are as raw links:

Part One: Poetics and Proto-Poetics
http://www.robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2009/06/robert-sheppard-poetics-1-poetics-and.html

 Part Two: Through and after Modernism
http://www.robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2009/07/robert-sheppard-poetics-2.html

Part Three: North American Poetics
http://www.robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2009/08/robert-sheppard-north-american-poetics.html

Part Four: Some British Poetics
http://www.robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2009/08/robert-sheppard-poetics-4-some-british.html

6. the worst bit

The worst bit was announcing the death of Dinesh Allirajah, poet and colleague, in December 2014. It is one of the most viewed pages. I added a Martha Reeves videoto it ('Heat Wave', as on the disc below) to capture something of the atmosphere of the funeral itself, well, the end of it, anyway. Dinesh is much missed. By sheer coincidence this month there is an obituary in The Guardian here.

Other posts celebrating a decade of blogging are:
http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/ten-years-of-pages.html
http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/ten-years-of-pages-one-post-year.html
http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/ten-years-of-pages-ten-posts-nothing-or.html

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Ten Years of Pages


This blog has now been running for ten years! In that time there have been at least 100,000 hits. (It hit that target over Winterval 2014-15). A decade ago today I posted my first comments here. (But I find that my now abandoned blog Network of Experimental Writing Tutors (NEWT) was begun a few days earler on 8 February 2008: here in particular and here in general.)

This blog, though, began by positing itself as the editorial of a revised online version of my 1980s magazine PAGES:

This third series picks up on a long-standing small press tradition, that of utilising available technology and subverting it – if that isn’t putting it too dramatically -­­- to the needs to [sic] editing, and to work with its disadvantages and limitations: in this case, the blog format. Perhaps the fourth series might be a proper website, with graphics and audio links, and whatever the technology affords, but Pages has always been fairly spartan in its presentation, and I see this as a tradition. I will also continue the tradition of numbering each posting as though it were a page, as I did with Pages. The technology has outstripped my nomenclature, even the metaphorical use of‘pages’ on the net...

Read the rest here.

It appears not to be the earliest post when you look at this blog now because I moved it to the top of the then currently viewable page after a week or so. But it was. (How technology changes and our relations to it.) Ron Sillman got it right when he commented on his first blog post:

Blogs have been around for awhile now, but to date I haven't seen a genuinely good one devoted to contemporary poetry, so it may prove that there is no audience for such an endeavor. But this project isn't about audience. The fact that the blog has the potential to carry forward the best elements of a journal and seems inherently prone to digressive, if not absolutely plotless, prose gives me hope that this form might prove amenable to critical thinking. August 29th 2002.

In 2008 I was interviewed about my blog, slightly bemused to find myself mooted as a 'literary blogger', when I thought of myself as no such thing. A short version of this appeared in print (ironically), but here's a longer version of it (with links added). It's quite instructive.

Creative Environments: an interview between Graeme Harper and Robert Sheppard

GH: Can we start talking about your Blog (which you set up in February 2005). I notice some interesting discussions with Chris Hamilton-Emery of Salt Publishing, for example; and quite a deal of discussions about contemporary British poetry. These seem interesting discussions to have ‘out there’ in the ‘virtual’ world.

RS: It’s interesting you call it a blog; I coined the term ‘blogzine’ – only to find Martin Stannard had used it before me as ‘blog-zine’ - to imply that I was appropriating a modern technology to use as a little magazine (much as previous generations had borrowed office technologies such as the duplicator and photocopier for such purposes). It was all quite modest and I carried on the title (and pagination, with some difficulty) of my print magazine Pages, begun in 1987, at www.robertsheppard.blogspot.com and proceeded to post its third and (recently) fourth series.

GH: You are interested in exchange and discussion and, oddly, there’s little of that on Pages.

RS: I discovered very early on that the ‘send a comment’ facility was immediately filled with spam so I was forced to block that, unfortunately. The magazine had, in its first two print series, been quietly influential, not least of all in promoting the ugly little term ‘linguistically innovative poetry’, by providing, in series one, the first use of the words (by Gilbert Adair) and in the second series by presenting poetry, essays and poets’ statements under a ‘resources for the linguistically innovative poetries’ strapline. That last resources aspect was very important to me, and at first the zine half dominated, but Mr Hyde’s blog-like influence took over, as I began to present not just bits and pieces of critical books I was working on (for example, the historical chapters from The Poetry of Saying appear there as a serial ‘History of the Other’, although I also found room for some excluded material), but entries about my being 50, reading ‘Smokestack Lightning’ to my friend’s blues band, and links to various web published works of mine. The realisation that I could post photos only made it worse (or fun): there’s even a photograph of Django Reinhardt’s guitar! So it all become less of a virtual discussion – my critical offcuts juxtaposed with the poetry and prose of others – from Iain Sinclair and Bill Griffiths through to newcomers like Dee McMahon and Alice Lenkiewicz, more of a blog, so I stopped it (temporarily, but for longer than I’d intended). I also realised the process of editing and posting could go on forever; the entries get less frequent. I wish I could keep it up like Ron Silliman does on his excellent blog, but I don’t have the time. 
            The current fourth series is strictly going to be answers to a simple question: what’s been going on in alternative forms of British poetry since 2000. My first ‘reply’ is not a reply at all: it’s an edited version of Chris Hamilton-Emery’s contribution to an email discussion list. That’s where virtual discussion is meant to happen, isn’t it? But it seldom does. In the early days (1997) of the British Poets’ list, for example, I remember printing off some of the splendid answers critics like Marjorie Perloff and poets like John Wilkinson posted, little mini-essays. But at some point they left off, perhaps disenchanted with the medium or its processes. Disenchantment set in for me when I realised that the same argument had started up for a second time; the list’s open-endedness offered no conclusion, its supposedly linear ‘strands’ caught in some cyber-eternal return – a little like blogs themselves. Coming back to Pages, I decided to post answers to that one crucial question, one I don’t know the answer to, but whose answers will prove to be a resource for the future. Already Adrian Clarke’s characteristic abrasive response to Hamilton-Emery has injected some fire into the exchange. But it’s been going very slowly; I’ve lost the verve for it, particularly as blogging has become so everyday.

GH: If we broaden out from that question: how do you view, and indeed use, the creative space of the blog – you being both poet and critic?

RS: One of the private functions of Pages was to teach myself to read poetry on screen. I failed: I still can’t do it. I believe my students can. One of the reasons I decided – against earlier prejudice – to publish (now quite widely) on the web was seeing how readily my students used it to access poems and poetry information, and I wanted a part of the action. The production of links I found very liberating on Pages, particularly where I was drawing together a virtual collection of my work by merely pointing to its locations. (Linkage is, of course, part of my poetics, and it’s part of the very structure of my project Twentieth Century Blues, which is a pseudo-hyperlink of 75 titles and dozens of interrelated strands of sub-titles!) I enjoyed posting disguised parts of critical books too: I am aware that my literary criticism often exists – for economic reasons – outside of the creative environment of the poetry world – and I wanted to make it cheaply and immediately available to my creative peers. But currently I want it to exist as a critical space within that poetry world, in order to affect it, not just to reflect it. Again I feel a responsibility to diminish the blog aspect: the nonsensical furnishing of instant opinion or even trivia that dominates the medium (or is it now a genre?).
            I haven’t theorised the use of webspace, like Hazel Smith, John Cayley and cris cheek have done (the latter in a great PhD he did with me on writing technologies). I don’t see a democratised informational utopia, but a simple tool, sometimes creative, sometimes merely instrumental. But maybe in some ways my fumblings with the technology are more interesting, precisely because I’m not an expert. Indeed, I have a small but unjustified reputation as a technophobe: can’t drive, don’t have a mobile phone, don’t use Powerpoint – but I do have a blogzine and other web presences as part of my creative environment.

GH: And from the broad to the very narrow – there’s an interesting comment you make online about not being a ‘binary opposition of the avant-garde’. What’s that about, I wonder?

RS: To me that’s not narrow at all, but central to my role as a poet-critic, while my blog – though more extensive than I remembered it when I scrolled through yesterday – is only a narrow, or marginal concern. This doesn’t mean I think it’s unimportant or that I have edited it haphazardly. I haven’t. I’m proud of publishing the many poets and artists I have and of most of my own contributions.
One element of our new cybernetic creative environment is that I could Google that now-forgotten quote of mine you’ve used and find its location in a way we couldn’t ten years ago; the very words ‘blog’ and ‘Google’ would be meaningless (or carry other meanings, and they are not recognised by my laptop, which still puts red wavy lines under them).
            Perhaps I’m a cybernetic structure myself, because I have fallen into the binaries of ‘mainstream’ and ‘avant-garde’ (or ‘linguistically innovative’) myself, but I do seek to avoid them. My critical book at one level accepts this division between the Movement Orthodoxy and its opposite(s) in a historical sense, but it also theoretically poses the Levinasian distinction between a poetry of the said and that of saying, one of ontological violence and closure, the other of ineffable openness and evanescent eternality. They can’t operate as a binary, since the openendness of the saying can only be embodied in the fixity of the said. I am suspicious of my own critical concepts, though I am forced to use them (on the blog and elsewhere). My unease with the blog and the nature of discussion lists can be seen through those Levinasian lenses: the unending saying of the cyber-discussion needs the fixity (even violence) of the said of conclusiveness and closure, perhaps, but technologically and experientially the media lack that. Imagine the horror of a poem that would speak itself forever. Or a blog that would last a thousand years, with teams of dynastic neophytes trained up for the job.
GH: Based on your critical and creative work, and using your blog as a ‘sounding board’ perhaps: what would you consider some of the most significant or, indeed, most interesting developments in contemporary British and Irish poetry?

RS: Of course, this is the very question I am posing my Pages contributors – I’m aiming to get a range. The reason I am asking it is that I don’t know the answer! I’ve reached an age where I’m not sure what younger (and sometimes older) writers are up to, and I want to find out what others think. I suspect that within ‘linguistically innovative poetry’, or whatever you want to call it, the influence of the Performance Writing course that John Hall and Caroline Bergvall set up at Dartington College of the Arts is widespread, particularly through a dispersal of its staff and graduates nationwide: Mark Leahy, Dell Olsen and others. Their expanded sense of the performative and visual aspects of language has revived an interest in (old) concrete poetry but also in (new) cyber- and web-based works: the two strands that meet utterly in the work of Maggie O’Sullivan, for example. There is a visually oriented audience out there, and the ease of the web as part of the (not just creative) environment has had something to do with that. It’s not the direction I’m going creatively, so I’m interested in other trends too. At the same time, print-on-demand technologies and selling books over the web – the Salt and Shearsman approach that I have benefited from – has made publication easier, and has particularly led to the production of major collected poems – John James, Lee Harwood, David Chaloner – that allows us to reinvestigate whole the oeuvres of major veteran figures in this scene, and re-write our histories.
GH: You archive your blog? I’ve recently spoken to Jamie Andrews of the British Library about archiving of writers’ works generally. But a relative personal blog – what’s the archiving purpose, in your mind? Personal? Personal reference? Community based?
RS: A blog archives itself, doesn’t it, which, of course, is deceptive. I was talking to Los Glazier about the marvellous Electronic Poetry Center at Buffalo, and he said that the University which hosts it could pull the plug at any moment. The same could happen with any blog, but we behave as if it won’t. Look at all the links on Pages that no longer work: dead-ends. I don’t think that will make me save it, even now. However, when the great poet Bill Griffiths died I saved a lot of the images from his web-site because I knew they would go, and perhaps are not part of his archive held at Brunel University. I think the poetry audio archive begun by Andrea Brady is not only a superb resource for the future; it has a suggestive and relevant name: The Archive of the Now. We’ve got to save that ‘now’ before it becomes a vanished ‘then’.
GH: And, of course, you discuss your own poetry on your blog and link to pieces of it that happen to be online?
RS: I do. As I’ve said, I like linking. Again, I want the zine to win out over the blog. Maybe I need to separate these functions, but some readers might find this combination charming, like the title of Jeff Nuttall’s magazine of the 1960s: My Own Mag! I miss not being able to point readers to my latest books, but I also distrust the self-publicising aspect of this. Again, the reason I stopped.

GH: Let me be provocative: your blog identity is out of date? So it’s the blog that’s taken over and the writer’s real presence has disappeared? Or am I off base?

RS: Cyber-ageing is an accelerated process, isn’t it? Cyberspacejunk litters the blogosphere, of course. What will it look like in ten years time?
Identity is only the shadow of existence, in any case. But too much of me was appearing on my blog! But the me that is left is probably the me of 2005-6, when I was most furiously posting the blog. (I did post the news that I’d been made a professor, by the way, which is what you are thinking of. Incidentally, the fact that a lot of people emailed me immediately to congratulate me taught me that there was an audience for the blog!) Series four will not involve me at all. I was tempted to post a single link to Twentieth Century Blues, my most recent and biggest book, but I won’t. My blog has always been less personal than Tom Raworth’s, for example, where he more or less photographs his breakfast and posts it by lunchtime. It’s fascinating.
GH: The blog is not all you do. In fact, it is perhaps a minor part of your own creative and critical writing. But do you think it has had any particular effect on your practice?

RS: Very minor. And a tool, not really a writing technology. I thought maybe I could use the colour facility to write specifically for the blog – I was looking at Jacques Roubaud’s multi-coloured and multi-voiced Kyrielle – but I never did. I didn’t find it very creative, actually, since it was difficult to format and indent etc., and I had doubts about people not being able to read poetry online anyway. That’s one reason for the fourth series being prose. Web-work can be liberating, but you also have a web magazine like Jacket, whose editor, John Tranter, says: don’t send me stuff with indents and crazy typefaces, I can’t handle it, and I don’t like it anyway, which is an interesting counter-example to the technologico-utopianists, from one of the technology’s earliest and consistent users.
            Critically, I was parcelling out bits and pieces of other work (my book on Iain Sinclair, for example). Whereas the way I am using it is now: this question on what’s happening in British poetry is as much a resource for me as for other people. It’s going to be fascinating. I’m glad that your questions are prompting me to get on with it! The fact that the blog was cited in Edge Hill University’s RAE entry, much to my horror and against my will, also motivates me, although Pages blogzine was meant to be a relief from the academic world and a re-connection with my primary creative environment. I’m driven also by the fact that I am setting up and co-editing a print academic journal on this poetry and realise that this will mainly operate outside the poetry world again, reflecting it but not influencing it, whereas Pages is within the creative environment.

GH: Your final thoughts: the creative environment of contemporary British poetry? A community of difference? A conglomeration of similarities?

RS: I do think some of the old binaries have broken down. But I am as suspicious of my distrust of the binaries as I am of the binaries themselves. At the end of the last century there was a spate of critical works and anthologies that I looked at for my historical chapters of The Poetry of Saying, but which largely were left out on space grounds, but which found their way onto the blogzine (to give a further example of its usefulness to my critical project). These anthologies announced a true democracy in British verse, kow-towing to various correctnesses, the end of the poetry wars, that sort of thing. However, despite the consensual rhetoric, these anthologies completely left out most of the writers in whom I am interested – the ones I’ve named here so far, for example - and the various creative environments that have sustained them, their reading series, their publishers, etc. I admire figures like David Kennedy who can bestride a much larger compass of poetry, but I say (to myself as much as anyone): beware the commentators who declare their catholicity while secretly operating according to proscriptions which they hide (not necessarily deliberately). Better the oppositional openness of somebody like Don Paterson. 

GH: Finally, when confronted with the term ‘creative environment’ (as you have been, with apologies!), what springs to mind?

RS: I see concentric circles outside (and inside) the writer, of activities and support systems. What Bourdieu calls the field of cultural production, I suppose. Some parts are obvious: publishing, reviews, time, peers, creative writing workshops even. Others are less obvious: poetry readings, one’s Mum, bars of chocolate, or the coffee that fuelled my latest non-sonnet sequence day after day. I see sustaining networks of communication too, and blogs (zines or not), one’s own or others, are parts of that. Thinking of Pages I remember the Poetry Buzz event for Allen Fisher’s 60thbirthday; I posted photos of the day and used them also as illustrations for postings of work by performers from that day: readings for Allen at three locations in London, and on board the poetry bus that transported us. All very communal and under the shadow of the July 2005 bombings in London too. 
There may be negative circles too: time (again, appearing as a lack of it), a lack of appreciation of the work by critics, peers, and – just as important – one’s employer, one’s family, the cat. One’s reticence, one’s bad habits. At the moment, I am writing a critical book on the speculative discourse of writerly poetics. In it, I examine John Hall’s essay ‘Writing and Not Writing’ (it’s in Denise Riley’s 1992 edited volume: Poets on Writing) which is partly about the loss of his creative environment: extrinsic economic necessity and intrinsic absorption in teaching squeezed out modalities of writing, which turned into dull reportage or professional writing. It’s a limit case of poetics, a gentle horror story. It has a happy and instructive ending because Hall later returned to writing a very different poetry precisely by being involved in the deliberate development of a new creative environment at Dartington College of the Arts (of which he was principal): the very performance writing that I mentioned earlier.

 An earlier interview with me on Pages may be read here. In reference to the archiving of the blog it is archived by the British Library here.

My other posts celebrating the decade of blogging are



http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/ten-years-of-pages-best-bits.html
http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/ten-years-of-pages-one-post-year.html
http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/ten-years-of-pages-ten-posts-nothing-or.html


I've realised today is another anniversary: it's 19 years since I was successful at interview for the post of Senior Lecturer at Edge Hill College of Higher Education (as was: see Wikipedia link where I am not listed as a notable academic, although my own page - I've no idea who posts and updates it - mentions Edge Hill.)