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Sunday, October 04, 2015

Robert Sheppard: Selected Poems (History or Sleep) - the de-selected poems



One thing not de-selected is this image for the cover, Patricia's 1993 portrait of me.


In an attempt to pack in as many of my ‘good’ poems (who am I to judge? I mean that: my whole notion of poetics is based upon the ‘fact’ that writers can’t ‘read’ their own work!) In an attempt to pack them in, I over-provided and then we (Tony Frazer as editor of Shearsman and as the designer of the book, and I) counted the number of pages we’d need to remove. Then I de-selected the appropriate number of poems and I’ve been posting them on these Pages over the last few months. The process is now over; the book nearly ready for publication (here). But I thought I’d say a little about de-selection. The poems (and even more prose works) were often cut on space grounds, a shorter poem replacing a long one, for example.

Some I particularly regretted: it was either ‘Mesopotamia’ or ‘Schrage Musik’ from The Flashlight Sonata (and later Complete Twentieth Century Blues). ‘Mesopotamia’ won. The 12 line ‘Standing By (for my father)’, from The Drop (soon to be published by Oystercatcher’) stood in for the earlier poem, both of them dedicated to my father.

‘The Micropathology of the Sign’, one of my birthday ‘homages’ to Bob Cobbing was replaced by a shorter ‘homage’, one that missed out appearing in ‘Twentieth Century Blues’ due to its time-based parameters, but which I like. Oddly, ‘The Micropathology…’ has received a lot of hits on Pages. Perhaps the mockingly-academic title attracts latter-day structuralists. (They are probably disappointed by the poem, but maybe not. It does attempt to offer what it says on the tin, though with relation to Bob’s work, particularly Processual, to which it originally provided an introduction.)

Similarly, of another poem rescued from a 1987 Ship of Fools pamphlet collaboration with Patricia Farrell, Looking North, it had to be either the first or second poem. I went with the second, which I thought a gnat’s wing’s breadth ‘better’ than the first. But I can still let others judge.

‘Hymns to the God my Typewriter Believes In’ is one of my ‘text and commentary’ poems. There were quite a few already in the Selected. (I have a sense that Hymns to the God in Which My Typewriter Believes didn’t get around a lot, even with its Alan Halsey cover.) This one, long, even in its selected version, seemed incomplete and weakened by excerption, so it was a no-brainer. Similarly, ‘The Sacred Tanks of Dagenham’ was a follow-up to ‘The Materialisation of Soap 1947’, which as a coda to, and partial substitute for, ‘Schrage Musik’, was necessary. ‘Dagenham’ is sprawling and funny and I like reading it, but it was marked by its affiliation to the ‘1947’ poem, and by the fact that I decided not to select too much from texts in the Salt Tin Pan Arcadia and Complete Twentieth Century Blues (though when I selected I didn’t know Salt was about to savage its list, though Twentieth Century is still available from them in paperback).  

‘History or Sleep’ is a long poem I enjoyed writing after the grimness of The Lores, and I wanted to call the selected poems by this title, and I was determined to include the whole of it. Another simple reason for the squeeze. (It also put a squeeze on The Lores itself and ‘Book Two’ had to go!) The de-selected poems are near misses for all sorts of reasons, some of which I suspect I’ve forgotten.

So: the book itself is available here soon. I will write another post when it is out, to talk about the selection rather than the de-selection process.

The de-selected poems, a kind of annex or sampler for History or Sleep, may be read here. They are (in order of composition):


‘Tombland’ (from 1979). Here. (But note it has been ‘remoded’ for a new work as a 'Miltonic', post-Selected Poems, ironically, and you can read that as well.)


‘The Blickling Hall Poem’, 1980. Here


‘Schrage Musik’ (posted in memory of my father, but with a loss of italics). Here. And here.


‘Looking North 1’. Here.


‘The Micropatholgy of the Sign’. Here.


from ‘The Lores: Book Two’. Here.  


‘The Sacred Tanks of Dagenham’. Here.


‘A Voice Within’ from The Anti-Orpheus. Here.


Part One of ‘Putting Claws on the Glove’, a homage to the great Catalan poet Joan Brossa. Here.


from ‘Hymns to the God my Typewriter Believes In’. Here.

form Warrant Error, 'Byron James is Okay'. Here.

If you want to now read how I did select them, read this post here!

And there are general introductions to my work here. And here.