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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 hardback. 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.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry new issue

The latest issue of the Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry is now out, featuring articles on Tambimuttu (Matt Chambers), J.H. Prynne and The English Intelligencer (Ryan Dobran), Ian Hamilton Finlay and Thomas A. Clark (Ross Hair) and Denise Riley (Samuel Solomon). The issue also features conference reports on the Allen Fisher symposium @ Northumbria (SL Mendoza), Literary Collaboration @ Edge Hill (Tom Jenks) and Nomadic Poetics @ Bangor (Steven Hitchens). The reviews section covers The Salt Companion to Maggie O'Sullivan (Joanne Ashcroft), An Andrew Crozier Reader (Alex Latter) and The Ground Aslant (James Wilkes).

Bill Griffiths issue on the horizon!

You can subscribe to the print version of the journal for £18 per year. Please feel free to circulate this information widely. The website can be found here:

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Robert Sheppard: Joan Retallack, Krzysztof Ziarek and Form

Here’s a part of the manuscript of The Meaning of Form that I am pulling from the text and relegating to a summarised footnote. This makes the introduction from which it comes less vulnerably digressive, but it’s a shame, since I think what it says is interesting in its own right.

The American poet and theorist, Joan Retallack, articulates a formal analysis of avant-garde works by Cage, Stein, Waldrop, Hejinian and others. The Poethical Wager (2003) argues, for, if not a reversal, then a revision, of Henri Focillon’s terms, and states that ‘literature is an engagement with possible forms of life’. (Retallack 2004: 146) Retallack here revives the term ‘form of life’ from Wittgenstein’s vague usage which distinguishes between the various regimes of his ‘language games’ rather than from Schiller’s aesthetics. (Retallack 2004: 23) In Leighton’s terms, life is at the heart of form. For Retallack, as a poet, ‘This is not a question of the daily habits and routines necessary to the sane ordering of any life but of the forms one chooses in one’s poesis, the making of forms of life out of words.’ (Retallack 2004: 147) She continues and introduces her central neologism: ‘If those forms are made in the course of thinking through one’s values, then it’s a matter of poethics.’ (Retallack 2004: 147) The texture of daily life, the necessity of being aware, after Gertrude Stein, ‘that it is the business of the writer to live one’s contemporariness in the composition of one’s writing’ amounts to a poetic-ethics. (Retallack 2004: 15) As Stein says: ‘Everybody is contemporary with his [sic] period… and the whole business of writing is the question of living in that contemporariness…. The thing that is important is that nobody knows what the comtemporariness is. In other words, they don’t know where they are going, but they are on their way.’ (quoted in Retallack 2004: 156) This formally investigative stance toward reality and the concomitant need to find forms to ‘accommodate the mess’ (as Beckett puts it (quoted in Retallack 2004: 147)), are interrelated in Retallack’s closely-argued essays, which amount to ‘a complex-realist aesthetic and a poethics of everyday life’ (Retallack 2004: 206), where ‘complex’ implies the Mandelbrottian fractalism of contemporary experience, and where poetics is aligned to ethics in the very act of making forms consonant to one’s values: ‘Every poetics,’ she says, ‘is a consequential form of life. Any making of forms out of language (poesis) is a practice with a discernable character (ethos).’ (Retallack 2004: 11)
Some avant-gardes – like Retallack’s – develop coterminously with theoretical developments; some theories develop in direct relation to avant-garde practice and poetics, like Krzysztof Ziarek’s. His study The Force of Art (2004) is an immersive book, not unlike the conflicting aesthetics of Ziarek’s twin heroes, Heidegger, in ‘The Origin of the Work of Art’ essay and Adorno, in Aesthetic Theory and he compares the two in terms of their theories of power. Central to Ziarek’s thesis is his conception of the work of art as a force field, a metaphor Leighton traces back to at least Schiller. It is not an object but an event, and this eventness makes the artwork a ‘forcework’, in his neologism (and in a similar way to its acknowledgement by Attridge). Inhering in neither form or content, the forcework is beyond aesthetics, and presumably beyond poetics as well; the avant-garde artwork is beyond traditional aesthetic categories. No longer being an object, the work of art evades both culture and capital, though it is inscribed by both. Forcework is a non-violent power-free thrusting; it re-orients ‘aesthetic commodity’ in ‘aphesis’, a concept derived from Heidegger which is defined as ‘a letting be or a letting go’, a benign process of enhancement rather than a seizure of power. (Ziarek: 22) Enhancement is non-power, defining the forcework of art as free or ‘de-powered’, not as technocratic participant in increase and production. ‘In art … forces are “empowered” to be “otherwise” than powerful’. (Ziarek: 51.)
In the work of art, forces are no longer tethered by the social, and in a redefinition of the autonomy of the artwork, as that is theorised by Adorno, and in order to address the staticness and sense of separateness implied by Adorno’s lofty critique, Ziarek insists not only that artworks transform and re-work their forces (as Adorno would have agreed), but that they transform the ordinary relations of social power, and the receivers of the artwork can carry this non-violent, power-free relationality into social praxis (which Adorno would have found too direct a relationship under existing social conditions, although he inisisted, like Ziarek, that form was a matter of ‘noncoercion’ (AT: 7)). The event of this transformation is an interruption of the real, a rupture as the artwork works (a term Ziarek valorises over form) by its ‘modalities of relation’, not in terms of its content. (Ziarek: 28) Artworks’ ‘importance for praxis is not in the thematic critique or even in formal subversiveness’, but essentially in the forcework. (Ziarek: 60) An example of these processes is Gertrude Stein’s transformative ‘release of things from the closure of their naming’ in Tender Buttons. (Ziarek: 47) As in the strictly formalist accounts of form above, the particular moment of the reception of the event of forcework will transform our sense of judgement, will involve a qualitative enhancement, a letting be. Ziarek’s denial of aesthetics has led him to be excluded from this chapter’s argument, although his sense of art as a non-violent force is gently absorbed into it, though Susan Wolfson’s account (in Formal Charges) speaks louder.

See my critical poetics-poetry-essay ‘A Carafe, a Blue Guitar, Beyonding Art: Krzysztof Ziarek and the Avant-Garde’ in Armand, Louis, ed. Avant-Post. Prague: Litteraria Pragensia, 2006: 264-280 for a longer response to Ziarek’s book. Avant-Post  may be read free here:

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Claude Herbert Sheppard 1924-2013: Standing by

Standing by

                                                for my father, 2nd July 1924-12th July 2013

                                                There was a time for tears,
                        When Death stood by us, and we dared not weep.

                                                                                    David Raikes

’Chuting through darkness the drop mourns itself
Morphine thickens the glassy eye farther into
Its own refractive density in this world which

Is not the case the dream-chatter of the dead
Meaningless encased in his own deafening dome
Poetry does nothing here the earpiece vibrates

Breathe shallow like aircrew watching gulls
Wheeling above long lines laid out as overhead wires
Inhaling hollow crackling rattling nothing left to say

Nobody to address mouthpiece dry and formal
The soft ‘Oh!’ coughs from the last breath a message
Elegy lost in action on the outskirts of an event

This poem forms part of the Oystercatcher Press pamphlet The Drop. Buy it here, but see also here and here and here.