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Friday, October 23, 2020

Robert Sheppard: The last two Empty Diary poems are published on Stride

 I have two ‘Empty Diaries’ published in Stride:

Empty Diary 2019, HERE  

and ‘Empty Diary 2020’, HERE!

They are quite special to me, since I see them as the last ‘Empty Diary’ poems. And it is nice that the project (if that’s what it was) should appear on Stride since Rupert Loydell was the publisher who first collected the poems in print, for which I am eternally grateful, as I am for these two. 

The original publication of Empty Diaries contained ‘Empty Diaries’ 1901-1990. (Exeter: Stride, 1998). Revised, they reappeared, reprinted in Complete Twentieth Century Blues, Cambridge: Salt Publishing, 2008, with additional poems, the ‘Empty Diaries’ 1991-2000, scattered throughout the text, not as a sequence (but as a ‘strand’): see here:

 There was also a Cyberpunk ‘Empty Diary 2055’ inserted into the batch and an ‘Empty Diary 1327’ in Petrarch 3, but they are special cases (clearly!).  Read about 'Empty Diary 2055' and see images by Patricia Farrell from its Ship of Fools publication  here

The whole sequence (written between about 1991 and 2020, with gaps) is now expired, along with my desire/need to write sonnets. (The English Strain has also demonstrated this ‘turn’).

Below you will find links to certain poems from the sequence (if that’s what it is) which have appeared online, but I will say a little about the project (if that’s what it is) first.

I remember the early stretch, 1901-90, conceived as writings out of photographs featuring women, as sheets of paper with the date at the top, which I would fill in a non-linear way. If I found a photograph with a woman in it for 1963 I would make notes on the ‘1963’ page and forget about them. Once I’d filled the sheets, I would work sequentially through the notes making poems from them, sometimes one a day throughout holidays from the FE college I worked at. That was the theory, and often the practice, but I inserted extras (quotations, other interfering materials) into the mix, and this account simplifies the process, as does memory!

From 1992 onwards, the poems were written in the years denoted, and subject to various processes. Though the focus on women and representations of women was important. I think you can see gender relations performed in the photographic representations of any time (particularly where men take the photos, but also – differently, crucially – where women do too). I think I was trying to write what I thought feminist poets with an innovative leaning should be writing. Remember, they were few and far between, when I began, though there were plenty of feminist poets writing in mainstream or popular modes. But any decisions about the sequence (like ‘the woman narrator is always a woman of 35’) were countermanded by some other part of it. It wasn’t theoretical, and little affected by feminist theory itself. I thought of it as the backbone of my long poem Twentieth Century Blues – and that it was finished with ‘Empty Diary 2000’, the final poem of the blues (dedicated to Barry MacSweeney). 

There is also a selection of them in my Selected Poems, the best ones I hope: History or Sleep from Shearsman. See here

In about 2014, I broke my rule that all the ‘strands’ of 
Twentieth Century Blues should end with that book, I decided to extend this one sequence into the current century: ‘Empty Diaries 2001-14’. A corona, note, 14 sonnets. (Again!) They are egregiously rude, using Google sculpting for the new century, rather than photographic ekphrasis.

Since 2015 I have been writing one a year (as were those written 1991-2000, by the way).  

‘Empty Diary 2019’ was ‘twittersculpted’, a tight bundle of what we find on a certain type of twitterfeed. I read it here. 


‘Empty Diary 2020’ had to deal with sex in the time of Corona (as ‘Empty Diary 1920’ touched on the Spanish Flu, see below), and did. In South Korea, they re-introduced stadium sports (empty terraces rather than empty diaries) by packing the seats with sex dolls. Imagine the groundman having to blow them all up! (An image I couldn’t get into the poem, by the way, as I similarly failed to use the line ‘Until then, sweetheart, enjoy his vanilla sundae,’ in ‘Empty Diary 2019’!). It is not google or twitter-sculpted, but written, consciously, as a sonnet (and it fits well with the sonnets of British Standards which were written around it.) I read it here. 

In addition to these two published this week, a group of earlier 'diaries' are online, and you can access them from the links below.

‘Empty Diary 1920’ may be read here:

The ‘Empty Diaries’ for 1905, 1936, 1954, 1968 may be read here:

(These I read for the Archive of the Now. A link is provided to the sound recordings of them.)

See 'Empty Diary 1956' 

'Empty Diary 1990' may be read here:

And here:

Empty Diary 1993 may be read here:

‘Empty Diary 2000’, the final poem in Twentieth Century Blues, may be read here (at
 the bottom of the page:

The first eight twenty-first century ‘Empty Diaries’ appeared online in The Literateur, now a dead site, unfortunately. But good news: the second six appeared, and still appear, in a wonderful edition of 
Blackbox ManifoldSee here.

This 2015 one has a touch of the bossa nova about it: 
Empty Diary 2015

The 2016 Empty Diary was published in the special 50th issue of Erbacce. See 

On BlazeVOX you may read ‘Empty Diary 2017’ and ‘Empty Diary 2018’ (scroll past the excerpts from ‘Elegiac Sonnets’):

 Burnt Journals is a completely different series.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

The first of my Curtal Song Nets from Junkets (more versions from John Keats) A non-sonnet about the sonnet!

I began work on what I’ve entitled British Standards in pre-Covid 2020, but post-Brexit Independence Day. Both of those ‘issues’ are important. The first section was finished late March, just after the (first) lockdown was belatedly announced. For this, I transposed poems from Wordsworth’s ‘Poems Dedicated to National Independence and Liberty’, and retitled them ‘Poems of National Independence’, and even more cheekily subtitled them, ‘liberties with Wordsworth’. I write about that sequence here:

Then followed ‘14 Standards’, the lockdown poems, and in turn, two additional ‘Double Standards’ about the Cum’s disgraceful lockdown infringements – I transposed a couple of Shelley’s sonnets – and his elitist refusal of apology and regret. See here for all 16 ‘standards’: . There are links to online publication of some of the poems too (as there are in many of these links). 

‘Tabitha and Thunderer’, interventions in the sonnet sequence ‘Sappho and Phaon’ by Mary Robinson, followed, and they may be read about (with video) here:

Now I have turned to Keats. I had some trouble getting going; you can read about that struggle here:

I’m thinking of calling these poems ‘Weird Syrup’. The subtitle ‘contrafacts and counterfactuals from Keats’ is the title of the first seven, now complete. These were written using couplets, 14 of them. Now I am at work on a very different grouping called ‘Curtal Song-Nets from Junkets’, and they are curtal sonnets (a weird but unsyrupy combination of the stanza developed from the sonnet by Keats for his Odes and from the curtal-sonnet invented by Hopkins). 

Here’s the first, one of those sonnets about sonnets. In fact, very little of my plans for this poem got in: so there’s no Michael Fabricant with his Andy Warhol-Boris Johnson hair rising up to challenge the deep state, that illuminati conspiracy about breeding babies underground to suck their blood for everlasting life. (People do believe this shit!) But really the English don’t need that: we had Jimmy Savile (I dealt with that in ‘Petrarch 3’ at the beginning of this lengthening project). Lengthening, maybe, but today’s poem is brief, to establish the curtal frame: alternating syllabic lines of 11/9, with a very stubby tail. The tails may take on Lewis Carroll sinuousness in later poems (I hope). This one is quite constrained (as is appropriate to its themes).   


                                                  The Definition of Rhyme in Visual Form 

If by dull rhymes our English must be chained


If rhyme’s a crime, it fetters Bo to Go, leaves

            the musty song-net a dungeon with

Whips and gags (and Covid-Secure handwash). So

            I’ve taken insoles from my slippers,

Put in my own, Oulipean constraints to

            curtail this slipping on dead leaves. Let’s

Inspect the liar and his new Tier 3 rules.

             I leave the house in my homemade mask

                        for contactless commerce with my boundless Muse.

            If Bo may not set the English free


                                    (they’ll tie themselves in nots


22nd October 2020

I have been helped by Zuccato, Edoardo. Petrarch in Romantic England. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, a book I have read very quickly, having come across it reading (even more quickly) Translating Petrarch’s Poetry (which I am in and you can read about that here: ) (I talk about the Jimmy Savile sonnet there, too.)

I’ve made counterfactual use, as it were, of Keats before, in my volume of three short stories, The Only Life (Knives Forks and Spoons, 2011), in which I briefly describe Keats’ thoughts and actions on his eightieth birthday. Read about that here: . Buy it here:

British Standards is book three of my ‘English Strain’ Project. My ghostly production of Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’ turned the project (that will appear in the next Tears in the Fence), so that it could not turn back to the 14 line sonnet frame (see ).  I’d been looking at some poems of Robert Duncan, ‘derivative’ (his word) of Dante’s sonnets, which weren’t formally sonnets at all. (I mean they possessed none of the determinants of sonnethood; not even 14 lines.) That seemed like a necessary formal ‘volta’, or ‘turn’, as the sequence begins the long descent towards the runway. I have a determination (though not religiously so) to never write a 14 line poem, or a sonnet-approximate poem, again. I might use the half-pint sonnet, though. (More on that if I do; if I don’t, less.)

On this blog, as I’m guessing most visitors know, I’ve documented ‘The English Strain’ as work has progressed through to its third book. Here are two comprehensive posts to check out, one that looks at Book One, The English Strain here and another at Book Two, Bad Idea here . (The final part of Bad Idea is slightly different; called ‘Idea’s Mirror’, it’s described here: ).

 I am delighted to say that Book One and Book Two are due for publication soon, The English Strain from Shearsman, and Bad Idea from Knives Forks and Spoons. I have read the proofs of both books now. It looks as though book two might appear first.

There are also two sonnets of mine up on Stride today (and tomorrow). You can link to Stride from the blogroll. A later post will be about the sequence these two sonnets come from, Empty Diaries. Too much information? Just scroll through recent posts! 

Parts of Book One are still available in booklet form; look here for Petrarch 3 in its fold-out map format, and here for Hap:

There are a number of reviews of Hap, but here’s a new one: Prince, D.A. ‘Hap by Robert Sheppard’, on Sphinx: Poetry Pamphlet Reviews and Features: (2020)

I have written in detail about the writing of Petrarch 3 (see )

 As might be gathered from what I have said the third book, British Standards as a whole (not just the corona of ‘14 Standards’), aims to present transpositions of admired sonnets of the Romantic period, from William Bowles to Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Chronologically, they lie between those of Charlotte Smith, which I’ve already worked on here,

and those of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, that I’ve also worked on, both of them in the final parts of Book One:

I read this the other day, and it struck me as important to the misgivings I have now again about the socially referential aspects of this project, but then satire thrives on those: ‘There’s something about satire which means that it oozes outwards quicker than other modes, it forces the reader to draw the text into relation with the social totality quicker, it is ecological insofar as it is always profoundly embedded in a wide contextual web and twangs those threads repeatedly.’ Robert Kiely (I notice, that as a poet, he is published by Crater too) at

I’m posting these poems temporarily, so there is only ever one (or two) at a time on this blog, once a week at the moment. Jamie Toy wrote about this periodicity in relation to Brexit  here, in Versopolis :