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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Robert Sheppard: Partly Writing 2006

This response to the Partly Writing 2006, I don't think, 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.


The session that spoke most to what I am currently writing was the one on textual borrowing, partly because one of the ‘borrowings’ referred to by Jena Osman is ‘in’ one of my poems. While I have no problem about works of mine called ‘texts and commentaries’ which write through back to against in between certain named texts, the discussion about the use of citation, particularly in works which use/appropriate/subvert a dominant political discourse was pertinent. The crux of the issue for me lies in the transformation of such materials. A gallery full of framed sentences of Donald Rumsfeld would not be enough. Nor is it enough to simply quote it (as QD Leavis reportedly said of a supposedly weak opponent: ‘Don’t criticise him; just quote him!’). Going back to the poem, the last in a sequence of 24 ‘sonnets’ called September 12 I find actually that I ‘quote’ the verbal collocation that Rumsfeld didn’t say (i.e. ‘unknown unknowns’ was one of the combinations that he didn’t make in his improvised permutational text), but I also find a quotation from Tony Blair.

Through slatted blinds you spy another
writing a stuttery scrawl of spidery infringement.
You chisel each other into pedestal fear,
nailed to combat mottoes, slashed
and slotted in your mirror-script encryption

You’re unknown unknowns, improper nouns
once announced in a Cold War Nuke Ode.
Same-selved you live: dead meat on the other’s
plate garnished with knowns, lashed to the past

Sirens sing at the fringes of your passage.
Sleep plunders the sickly green of paramedics
under shutters. History was yesterday

In the live moment splintering between two deaths
invade this single body and unblade the truth

What concerns me is: what is this usage? Is this irony? Is this framing? If transformation is the key, as I believe, what is a quality transformation? Hopefully something to do with the interinanimation of these ‘quotations’ with the surrounding text, some of which puns on/rhymes with them. The word ‘critique’ was used a number of times. This strikes me as too ‘comforting’, another term that was used. How complicit are we in the linguistic structures that we borrow? I’ve got enough Adorno still left in me to think that I am making a fiercely impacted object of resistance, but critique must be left to the agency of the reader. A beautiful object, perhaps, containing these ugly words (but not, of course, only these ugly words).

(And I still believe that you can’t have exchange, the weekend’s key word, unless the other party, as it were, has volition. I don’t believe you can have intertextual exchange with a text.).

Robert Sheppard June 6th 2006

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