Thursday, September 22, 2022

POEMS IN PROGRESS : a new book of poets' drafts from the British Library (featuring Lee Harwood and Bob Cobbing)

Published today! Alexandra Ault and Larua Walker: Poems in Progress: Drafts from Master Poets, London: British Library, 2002: Bookshop - British Library Online Shop ( 

See here:


This is an interesting book, which I have received as the literary executor of Lee Harwood’s estate (he’s in it; more of that later). The British Library (for text, sound and video) are undergoing exciting developments, which will involve all kinds of archives going online. They have a copy of my tape cassette magazine 1983 (from the mid-1970s), and have digitalised some of the contents of number two, a whole side of Lee Harwood and even an early multi-tracked studio piece by me, ‘The Lover’. (Yes, I did know how to edit tape back then.) This is good, but it is a shame that nobody can locate the Master Tapes for 1983 which I donated to the National Sound Archive years ago, but are not in the collection now. (They also have a recording of the Allen Fisher Poetry Buzz, which I write about here, and Patricia and I are both on that: ) And loads of other stuff!

For now, we have this book. It is fascinating, although not all of the texts are drafts, and are in fact manuscript copies or special editions. Of course, there have been excellent draft-editions before now, notably of Eliot’s The Waste Land. There are ancient texts as well as a few contemporary poets, from Hafiz to Rebecca Goss. The contemporaries (while not always to my taste) show their workings-out in public, which is generous. Manuscript copies of already published poems don’t excite much, but two glimpses of Coleridge’s notebooks, Blake’s scribbles, war poets’ drafts, Eliot’s letters, Sappho’s papyrus, EBB’s sonnets, Lewis Carroll’s original ‘Alice’ book with images, Gascoyne’s translation of Jean Follain, Andrew Salkey’s typescript for a printer, etc, etc, are fascinating enough to make this an entertaining book.

 The two interesting grabs (from my point of view) from the British Library itself concerns Lee Harwood and Bob Cobbing.

 Lee’s collaboration with John Ashbery is going to appear in the New Collected Poems that Kelvin Corcoran and I are currently editing for Shearsman. (See here:

This is it, as it will appear in our book. A taster:


Train poem – A collaboration


dog daisies poppies metal knitting

needles snail eyes backward

and then discord the records-file

prehensile tankers and block

which way the stage perimeter OK

block again greenhill rears upward mutinous

‘back!’ So until January

telegraphs twitching north to so and so

and a handkerchief slowly chopping heaves

‘ne nous fachons pas’ so that the houses

laughing in your eyes nearer the bang

let a forest caress unlace the instant

lovecog – did you really understand what I meant by that?

the farmyard in an uproar of freed peasants’ cough

            drops ah the old dogs at the window

but my love for you outgrew the shed

tools in disorderly heaps and wasps

a beam sagging into twisted visions of nowhere

and at this the small engine appeared from the siding

to inspect the phantoms and slowly disappear. 



What is different about the draft manuscript version is that we can see who wrote what. (Maybe that wasn’t the intention, because Lee doesn’t even tell us who the collaborator is! Perhaps as in some of my collaborations (about which I write here: ), Harwood and Ashbery wanted to become the third author without differentiation, or perhaps they didn’t. Indeed, also printed here is a typescript of the poem, with Ashbery's contributions underlined. But to see the manuscript you will have to obtain the book, I’m afraid. The spacing is quite different from the published version. Neither Mr Corcoran nor myself can tell you what a ’lovecog’ is, but I can reveal that that phrase is in Lee’s handwriting!

The Bob Cobbing contribution is his 1951 notebook ‘Two Experiments’, and one is a word list for the now familiar (and oft performed) ‘WORM’, the other a contemporary word-list poem-draft, ‘Snow’. You can hear the eventual sound poem ‘Worm’ from about ten years later on the video below. There follows a fair description of Cobbing’s procedures, and we read the exciting information that the BL has over 300 reel-to-reel recordings of his work (as well as other recordings, such as my edition of 1983 number two which I speak of above). There is a later visual text printed too, which is odd because 'WORM' also exists as a visual poem (again, Cobbing waited for 10 years until duplicator technology enabled overprinting).    

My collaborations with Cobbing are now published by Veer. See here: Pages: COLLABORATIONS (Bob Cobbing - Robert Sheppard) published in a box by Veer - out now.

Thinking of recordings, I have a cassette recording of Verse and Perverse and Bob and I did record a video together of Blatant Blather/ Virulent Whoops, the two texts in Collaborations. That might be in the collection. The cassette tape is destined for my archive, I suppose, unless it gets lost.

 All of the catalogues of the BL collections may be consulted online.

The BL also archives this blog. 

Monday, September 19, 2022

Robert Sheppard: A final final poem for British Standards!

I know I keep saying goodbye to Bo(ris Johnson), last time through the Medium of Jake Thackray’s masterpiece. That’s here: Pages: Goodbye to Bo through the Medium of Jake Thackray’s masterpiece (not a book review) (

Before that I said goodbye to Bo here, with a poem:

I also keep saying goodbye by writing the next ‘final’ poem of my ‘English Strain’ project, which consists of between 250-300 transpositions of canonical sonnets, about half of which (I guesstimate) mention Bo in one way or another. Three hundred! That’s more than enough. ‘Enough is enough’ as the contemporary campaign against the ‘cost of living crisis’ has it (but which is really the continuation of austerity, The Age of Immiseration as I call it). As you will see, I’ve squeezed one more in, or out, depending on how you think of poetry ‘production’.

The beginning of ‘the English Strain’ is best described here ( ) : that’s the first hundred, in the book The English Strain. Then here: - that’s Bad Idea, another 80+ sonnets (and another book). You can buy both books together here: British Standards, not yet a book, but finished (or so I thought, until today): see here: They are all versions of Romantic Era sonnets, Wordsworth to Coleridge.

And then we had the Queen’s Funeral, and the weird cargo cult reactions to it, and the overreaching reactions by our police. So, I had to write another last poem. I couldn’t sleep last night, and it came to me. Why not do another version of Shelley’s ‘England in 1819’? I begin ‘British Standards’ with one, so why not do another version to finish, this time also versioning my previous ‘version’, but trying to avoid it sounding like a refrain to either of those.

 Here's Shelley’s great sonnet: England in 1819


An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying King;

Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow

Through public scorn,—mud from a muddy spring;

Rulers who neither see nor feel nor know,

But leechlike to their fainting country cling

Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow.

A people starved and stabbed in th’untilled field;

An army, whom liberticide and prey

Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield;

Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay;

Religion Christless, Godless—a book sealed;

A senate, Time’s worst statute, unrepealed—

Are graves from which a glorious Phantom may

Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.


My first version of this famous sonnet has not been published yet, out at a mag I’ve not had a reply from. 

[Update 29/09/2022: The second poem, or a draft of it, After SheppĂ rd After Shelley: England in 2022, was, like many others, posted temporarily on this blog, in this case for what I ironically call 'the Festival of Mourning for our late Empress of Bressex, "of happy memory"', as I shall date the poem (all of these poems are dated, because they trail (if not troll) public events). The poem is removed from here (not for further study, as in the Tom Raworth poem) but for publication. So here are some of its traces, also slightly updated.  

19th September 2022: the poem was written during the funeral itself. Revised a little the day after (and updated here.) A video of me reading it, I discovered, is too big to load up. I don't think it would do to just read it fast! Elegaic toilets and laureate eulogies notwithstanding.

If anyone thinks that the poem is too weird, here are some of the contributory images, (I mean contributory to the writing of the poem, I often use photographic images, as I discuss here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: Talk for the Open Eye Gallery on Poetry and Photography December 2016)), in this case, from the ‘Grieve Watch’ Twitter feed. Elsewhere you will find videos of the hapless rollerblader who dashed into the royal car, and you can still read about people being arrested for hoisting up blank sheets of paper, as I imagine myself doing! There are a few quotes from the draft of the poem between these immensely enjoyable photographs. An anthropologist might find them illuminating about contemporary Britain, although as I write, 29th September 2022, the Royal Fun-for-all seems aeons ago, as the free-market zelaots who have taken over from fun-loving, libertarian-laugh-a-minute-gift that-kept-on-giving-to-my-project Bo, are crashing the economy as their free-market ideology collides with the actual free market, which doesn't like what it sees. Come on British people, stop celebrating Bressex and Boot Them Out, Enough is (more than) Enough!.]

This image goes directly into the line 'Flowers are sprinkled on Holocaust/memorials...' , superbly unthinking bad taste simply described. 

Above and below: 'any bat-faced/effigy propped up on cartoon limbs/beside closed elegiac public loos, shut hospitals...'  I wrote, looking at these and similar representations of Her Majesty. In even Georgian or Regency times, you could have been arrested and transported (or at least jailed, like Leigh Hunt) for sticking this on your fence.  

(That one above is my favourite image of this period of mourning: hard core mourn! as some have called it. Look at those flowers.)

above: 'Thames mud sculpture...' How very odd (and ugly). Weirder for the sheer earnestness of such cargo cultism!

And finally, the inevitable: 'Mannequins in black mourning peer facelessly/ from over-lit sex shop windows...'  (In this last poem I didn't even get round to dogging sites, which appear throughout my poetic representations of post-Brexit Britain (Bressex: who put the sex in Bressex? Michael Go with his National Dogging Sites in Kent.) This is SOOOOO tasteful, isn't it?

As I said on Twitter at the time: 'Why is it that these acts of respect seem so ... well... disrespectful?

Monday, September 05, 2022

Goodbye to Bo through the Medium of Jake Thackray’s masterpiece (not a book review)

 I keep saying goodbye to Bo(ris Johnson), most recently here:

I said goodbye using the final poem of my ‘English Strain’ project, which consists of between 250-300 transpositions of canonical sonnets, about half of which (I guesstimate) mention Bo in one way or another. (Or maybe it’s only in one way, the satirical, except when he was in hospital and I prayed he wouldn’t die and ruin my book.) Three hundred! That’s more than enough. ‘Enough is enough’ as the contemporary campaign against the ‘cost of living crisis’ has it (but which is really the continuation of austerity, The Age of Immiseration as I call it).

The beginning of ‘the English Strain’ is best described here ( ) : that’s the first hundred, in the book The English Strain. Then here: - that’s Bad Idea, another 80+ sonnets (and another book). You can buy both books together here:


That leaves God knows how many poems in part three, British Standards, not yet a book, but finished (almost exactly 6 months ago today, as can be seen in the first link above). But also see here: They are all versions of Romantic Era sonnets, Wordsworth to Coleridge (Hartley, that is). Hardly, that is.

So how to say goodbye to Bo (if not to Boris Johnson, they are not the same)? It’s tempting to write about his final weeks (telling us to buy a kettle, turning up at police raids, throwing grenades ineptly, not flying an RAF fighter) or about the The Daily Telegraph rumours that, once he’s made some money, he’ll be back at the helm, like Trump). If not that, then I thought that I might just present links (Lord knows, I overdo that already!) to all the online poems that feature Bo, but I think the links I’ve offered above do that pretty well, and I’ll let those of you who are interested follow the clues. In any case, buy the books! But here’s just one link, to stand for all the others, to three poems which are versions of sonnets by John Keats, with videos of me reading the text that is also published there. It’s not from this blog, but from (on) the wonderful online magazine Parmenar: here: It’s a trailer for British Standards.

Enough is enough about me. I have been reading Beware of the Bull: The Enigmatic Genius of Jake Thackray by Paul Thompson and John Watterson, a new biography of its subject, a long time interest of mine (though I only have one CD, with another in the post). In this brilliant book (which I don’t have time to review, unless somebody pays me, like they used to at New Statesman or the TLS) they refer, in their very title, and in the text, to Thackray’s masterpiece Beware of the Bull. Patricia and I watched this video on Friday night, into the night, and I declared, ‘This is how I’m going to say goodbye to Johnson!’ I have no need, no desire, to say “Hello” to his shoddy successor, who is just another bull, even if it is nominally a lady bull. WATCH IT:


See what I mean? It also tells us to beware the next bull. 'Meet the new bull: same as the old bull,' as The Who didn't sing.

You may buy the book direct (forget Amazon, Jake would have hated it!): here:

This isn’t (as I’ve said already) a review of the book, but I want to record a number of things that occurred to me as I read it. I realised, indeed, how literary a character JT was, from English degree through to losing all his precious books to the taxman, from translating George Brassens (in not a dissimilar way to my ‘transpositions’, it strikes me now), from his own early poems to his late Yorkshire Post columns (worth collecting in book form I would have thought, hint hint). From references to Coleridge in his letters and references to Paul Valery in his unpublished essay on the very literary Brassens. I was left wanting to know more about what he read (other than Adrian Henri, mentioned once) or where a few of his early poems were published in small magazines, but I realise that’s only me. I’m grateful to read three of his poems here.

The book is otherwise rich on the cultural contexts in which JT … I was going to say ‘operated’, but that’s the wrong word; his career was almost accidental. He makes Scott Walker (whose use of Brel is directly parallel to JT’s use of Brassens) look like a socialite, particularly thinking about JT’s later semi-reclusive years. Both fought a battle with drink, of course, and I like the fact these authors call that an ‘illness’. It is. However upbeat they are, and they are, they cannot disguise the decline and demise of their hero. I read the book slowly, staving off that final sheepcounted chapter. But, he was a good, funny, fucked-up, cleareyed, hopeless, brilliant, shy, public, private, Catholic, Socialist, Yorkshire, European, loving, man.

Reading Beware of the Bull simultaneously with the poems of Mary Robinson was an interesting experience. I am editing an edition of her Selected Poems and I found myself more able to take on board her lighter poems in ‘Lyrical Tales’ if I thought of them (and their verse forms) as analogous to JT's narrative songs of lovers, liars, fantasists, diabolists, bus passengers, nuns in disguise, great apes, doggies, cats, and a mythical Jake Thackray and his ‘family’.

See my first encounter with Mary Robinson (part of British Standards) here: Pages: My Transpositions of Mary Robinson's sonnets 'Tabitha and Thunderer' are now complete (hub post) (

A fascinating thing that isn’t explained in the book is how quickly he learnt to play the guitar, in just two years (from bedroom to BBC). In subtlety, he’s on a par with Joao Gilberto (that’s a weird analogy, but it’s one my fellow Lowry enthusiast and Thackray scholar, acknowledged in the book, Mark Goodall would get, I think).

There, that’s not a review, is it? It’s a farewell and good riddance to Bo (and no wishes for his return, when he’s earnt some money, writing his shit book on Shakespeare).

Thanks to Paul and John and Scratching Shed Publishing for this great book on Thackray and the odd things it’s taught me (above the obvious).  

Monday, August 15, 2022

FINAL EXTRA: The last poem of The English Strain project is published on INTERNATIONAL TIMES


The comedy that was Bo (as opposed to the reality of Boris Johnson) is now over. Johnson, while he could be transformed into Bo, as indeed I was transforming sonnets into other forms and frames, was the gift that just kept on giving. I do not doubt, in the future, he will clumsily or carelessly and deliberately cause damage to our democracy and nation, as well as to individuals he will dispose of as he plunges through the undergrowth like a rogue elephant, but I won’t be pursuing him with my poetic blunderbuss. Perhaps he will return to writing: his memoirs, the crappy book on Shakespeare he has spent the advance of, or even his book about home furnishings. I’ve just heard a Tory MP on the radio refer to his ‘behavioral issues’, as though he was still the 'frozen child' of many years ago, though an ex-Tory MP called him a ‘wrong ‘un!’. He’s a rogue. Unfortunately, in Ukraine, he's a hero! (Though on the dancefloor, he's shit!)   

Of course, it had to end. Having to go out to support and defend his tricksterish ducking and diving, and face a volte face each day or even a U-turn immediately after their defence from his staunch officers (when they weren’t pissed out of their brains) was finally too much for some ministers, with some standards.

Talking of ‘standards’, British Standards, why did I not, why do I not still, write a sonnet (or a sequence!) to finish him off? A great Gillray balloon with a pin in it! Or the verbal equivalent of that video of him dancing at his wedding? Surely, even though the Decadents proved not to be ‘fruit-fly’ material, in Queneau’s sense, there would be some sonnet I could find to transfigure, torque, into a new shape to fit The Last of Bo into? 

You can read, if you want to, my provisional thinking on how to end the ‘English Strain’ project, or even whether to continue it into a FOURTH book! (Spoiler: the answer was No!) Here:

These sonnets, nearly all posted temporarily on this blog, have been conducted in public, if you like, because of their contemporaneous nature. Other projects are less visible until they are published. I talk about them here: It is clear to me that a more combative approach will need to be taken to world politics generally, the 'Enough is Enough' movement, though this project was fun, and it was new for me, to take an entirely comic and satiric approach, though of course it was combined with the technique of 'transposition', which has sustained me through three books. I don't think I could have been so direct unless I was also being so indirect, if you see what I mean, if you can appreciate the generative tone between comic feeling and borrowed form.

I even thought an earlier poem, a transposition of a Gerard Manley Hopkins sonnet, would be the final poem and it was published in International Times earlier this year as just that. See Here:

Actually, I then made this more recent poem the final poem.

BUT NOW it too has been published in International Times, an appropriate venue for a finale of these political poems: ‘The final poem of British Standards, the third and final book of the ‘English Strain’ Project’, I announce before its subtitle: ‘Monitoring Adam Mickiewicz’ first Crimean Sonnet: The Ackerman Steppe’. Its actual title is ‘After-Shock’, the last of four ‘After’ poems at the end of the book.

Read it here:

I wrote about the poem here at the time I wrote it. See here:

 where you find a video of me reading it in draft!  So here's a video of the final version, as published:

Thank you IT! And poetry editor Rupert Loydell. But of course that WASN'T the end at all. It nearly was, but one more poem revealed itself with the death of the Queen (did Bo kill her?) and the strange cargo cult reactions of the Great British Public. See here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: A final final poem for British Standards!


‘British Standards is still best described here: where you will find links to other on and off line appearances of parts of the book (and some other videos). I transpose sonnets by Wordsworth, Mary Robinson (more on her soon!), Shelley, both male Coleridges, John Clare, Hopkins, Arthur Symons, and others, as well as Keats. )

 ‘British Standards’ is also book three of a larger project of refunctioning traditional English sonnets, called ‘The English Strain’.

 Read about Book One of ‘The English Strain’, The English Strain:


Book Two, Bad Idea, is described here


You can buy both of these published books together here: Pages: How to buy The English Strain books one and two together (

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Part of 'The Necessity of Poetics' republished with a new introduction on the CREATIVE CRITICAL website

My poetics piece ‘The Necessity of Poetics’ has been through a number of publication channels, including this blog, and a part of it (in some ways, the central part, the even slightly-famous, ‘definitions’) is now available on the new Creative Critical website, with a fresh introduction, as requested by the editor of this ‘blog’ part of the website, Robert Hampson. You may read these two conjoined discourses here:

Creative Critical is edited by Gabriel Flynn and Dr Thomas Karshan (UEA): see

‘The twenty first century’, they say, ‘has seen the erosion of any sharp distinction between the “creative” and the “critical”. Can criticism itself aspire to be creative? Does creative writing have a critical force? Or should we dispense with these terms altogether?

I’m quite happy to regard criticism as criticism (and with its inherent creative elements, as I know from writing it straight), creative writing as creative writing (which has critical elements and even a critical function, as I know and argue elsewhere), and see poetics as the third term between them, as I argued in, my inaugural lecture (which is on this blog, here: ). Just to recap: I have (repeatedly) defined poetics as the ‘product of the process of reflection upon writings, and upon the act of writing, gathering from the past and from others, speculatively casting into the future’. It is a writerly discourse.

Just for the record: ‘The Necessity of Poetics’ first appeared as ‘The Poetics of Writing; The Writing of Poetics’, in Creative Writing Conference 1999, Proceedings, Sheffield Hallam University, 1999. A shorter version, emphasising practical uses for students, was published by Ship of Fools in 1999 solely for distribution amongst Writing Studies MA students at Edge Hill College of Higher Education (later University), Ormskirk, Lancashire, UK. Another – emphasising poetry – was published in Pores (2001). Updated versions were amended, expanded and abridged in various ways – a Ship of Fools booklet was published in 2002 and was re-printed a number of times until 2016 – but the chief addition is the section ‘Poetics as Discourse’ which was written in 2009.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Robert Sheppard: a guide to the updated websites

Every summer I update my website, adding some details and cleaning up the manifold links to internet sites. I have just done so, and I will leave this post to stand during my annual summer break from blogging (and Tweeting, mostly). The website consists of – obviously – a home page

where I welcome all to the site, and put links to my other website (see below) and Twitter, and so on. The ‘Publications’ page is a succinct list with images of book covers:

It deliberately carries no links. It is not a definitive bibliography. In fact, there is a full bibliography at the end of my site, here

This is full indeed, and derives from the one assembled for The Robert Sheppard Companion by Christopher Madden, co-editor of that volume.


Back to the earlier pages (I think of the site as being more accessed at the beginning, as getting more specialized as the pages go on, but I’m not quite sure of that). You can skip the ‘Pages’ page

because you are already on Pages! This page links to this blog.

Every year I update my ‘Biography’, and not just by adding to its latest parts. Last year I had to deal with Coronavirus and this year with medical matters, but it is largely an account of my writing, and I often prune earlier passages which seem to me to be no longer central (you can also see that this writing is a deliberate construct):

The page on Rene Van Valackenborch, the fictional Belgian poet, has blossomed into a website of its own, and this page links you to that:

I think at some point I will delete this page, and simply make do with the European Union of Imaginary Authors website, which I have also updated, and which you may find here:

(There are separate pages on fictional poets, and links to some recent updates, concerning this project that is clearly not exhausted yet.)

Back to ‘my’ website! The ‘Criticism’ page – its title is slightly ambiguous, given my own work as a critic – contains quotes from, and links to, some accounts of my work, and begins with an account of The Robert Sheppard Companion. I’ve checked over all the links:

 Talking of links, the page ‘Online Works’ is probably the most extraordinary (and I know others would simplify this layout). It is a very large page of links to my online poetry, poetics and criticism, video, audio and textual. In effect, it’s a ‘Selected Writings’, only it’s not been ‘selected’. ‘Assembled Writings’ might be a better way of putting it. It’s worth a long dwelling over:

(I’m tempted to include this list somewhere on this blog too!) 

Collaboration has been something I have undertaken with a variety of artists and writers, and I outline that here, while also pointing to where I have written about collaboration as a critic:

Sunday, July 10, 2022

My reading at the English Futures Saturday 9th July 2022 (set list)


 Last night I took part in 

Dali Muru and the Polyphonic Swarm (formerly FITH) + Poetry Special Bill (ie. 3 Poets)

at The Grosvenor Auditorium (G.17), in the Grosvenor East building of Manchester Metropolitan University, on the Oxford Road, at :, part of the English Futures conference. 

This event was open to the general public, not just to delegates of the conference, so there was a mix between some local Manchester poetry people, delegates to what sounded like a positive conference (at a time when English is under attack, as one of the 'low-yielding arts degrees' that one of my poems spoke of), and friends of Grace Atkinson!

Here's what I wrote about my reading last week. Of course, having written 2 and half volumes of sonnets that have tracked political events (as well as transposed our strong sonnet tradition in English) , I know that a week is a long time in writing political poetry, but, boy, I didn't expect to lose Bo quite so quickly. I have been wondering whether there isn't one more poem to write, but the poem I ended the reading with still suffices. This is news that stays history. Still, as long as there is hubris, there's hope! I wrote:

 I shall be reading as part of this Poetry Special Bill: Three poets join forces showcasing what the organisers call the best innovative and experimental poetry, introduced by Nikolai Duffy, poet, critic and lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University.

I shall be reading briefly from my books published during the Pandemic, and at more length from poems written during that period, in what will be my first solo reading for quite some time. (I am still reading my diaries through and before the Pandemic I was reading somewhere every so often, usually every few weeks. That feels like another world, but one I should like to revisit.) The last reading I did is recorded here, with set list and links, just before it all blew off: Pages: Robert Sheppard: The Broken Spine reading, Southport (set list). 

It was satisfying to find I could still do it! Even with a cough for unwanted punctuation!

Of course, Coronavirus also took over as the main subject of my sequential re-writing of the English Sonnet Tradition, though Boris Johnson (Bo) remains the focus that he gradually became in Book One, The English Strain, and Brexit grew into a theme (it is but mentioned in passing in one of the earlier poems). Bo (and these two twins) has steadily been the poetic focus (the genius, even) throughout Books Two and Three (Bad Idea and the unpublished British Standards). There's loads on this blog about this project. Best starting point is: Pages: Transpositions of Hartley Coleridge: the end of British Standards (and of The English Strain project) (


Selecting what I’m going to read has taught me that Bo is the gift that just keeps on giving! I also wrote last week. 

As I jokily explained before I started reading I'd half lost my voice (a cough, not Covid) and my subject matter. In the time between selecting what to read and the gig, Bo had 'resigned'. How differently the poems sounded. But they still sounded OK to me (despite the croaky voice). These are the notes I spoke from:

For some time I have been obsessed with the innovative sonnet, and more recently making versions, overdubs, unthreadings, or transpositions of traditional English Petrarchan sonnets, and I have found myself working through Petrarch, Milton, Wyatt, Surrey, Charlotte Smith, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and also Michael Drayton. The first group are published in The English Strain, the Drayton versions in Bad Idea. Both books are on sale tonight.

Here’s one from The English Strain. You’ll see that it picked up a theme: Brexit! This is Elizabeth Barrett Browning recast into the voice of a certain politician’s fictional put-upon and unforgiving mistress in 2018: and then I read one of them. (See here for a different one: from Non- Disclosure Agreement: Brazilian Sonnets | Stride magazine)

In Bad Idea I decided to (largely) continue the Brexit theme and the whole book transfigures Drayton’s 1614 sonnet sequence Idea. That’s the name of his dark-lady muse. Bo is my name for you know who. Here’s a 2019 version of the famous anthology piece: ‘Since there’s no help…’ (See here for different ones: Sonnets from Bad Idea | IT (

I want to read from book three, British Standards, where I turn my transformational attentions to the Romantics. There are versions of Mary Robinson, John Keats, John Clare and Shelley in clusters as well as some individual texts by Langdon and Coleridge, Mary Tighe and Horace Smith, and more. BUT I am going to read most of one section, 13 of the 14, my Wordsworth variations, which trace the hubris of Brexit ‘getting done’ colliding with the ill-preparedness for Covid 19. They were written February and March 2020. Wordsworth’s were mainly written 1802-3, and concerned his return to France, which was, and is, it is worth pointing out, in Europe!

(I write about the 'Liberties from Wordsworth' sequence here: Pages: The last of my Wordsworth versions in 'British Standards' (Book Three of 'The English Strain') ( and here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: Wordsworth’s Sonnets Transposed for the 21st Century appears on Zwiebelfish! And here's a sample video, of a poem from the sequence.)

‘Poems of National Independence – Liberties with Wordsworth’ | IT ( takes you to the texts of a couple more, published by International Times. 

Fast forward to March this year, I told my audience. I almost ran out of sonnets, but events permitted me to venture into European Romanticism, and I completed the book by remoding a non-English sonnet that refers to the area of Europe we now call Ukraine. This is the last poem of the book. My last poem tonight. Thanks for listening… 

And I added: 'Thanks for laughing!' because it was a knowing, attentive, and responsive audience (which I couldn't see from the stage). And I very much enjoyed reading, had no nerves, in fact. Bravo! Back on form, back on stage! I write about that final poem (as I said, despite the political upheavals going on at the moment, it's still the final poem of the book(s)) HERE: 

The rest of the bill (I read first) was:

Grace Atkinsonan award-winning poet from East London. She has had poems most recently published in Stand, Dazed, The North, Poetry Salzburg Review, amongst others. She energetically launched her new Like This Press pamphlet, and demonstrated a variety of modes from lyric to found text.  

Sarah Cave, a writer, academic and editor at Guillemot Press and has published two full-length collections and several pamphlets, artists’ books and collaborations. Sarah performed a fascinating ritual-poem about Jesus' sister (who seemed at certain points to transform into a cat). Fascinating work. I have here Like Fragile Clay still to read. 

Dali Muru and the Polyphonic Swarm sit in the middle of a Venn diagram consisting of medieval inspired troubadour poetry, cinema soundtrack and primordial electronics. Initially known as FITH formed in Berlin by the duo writer/filmmaker/vocalist Dalia Neis, and the composer/producer Enir Da, their project expanded to become a revolving collective of musicians and poets spread out across a Paris/Manchester/Berlin axis. 

The trains back to Liverpool (the one bringing us caught fire on the way and turfed us at at Newton-le-Willows) were erratic, so we managed to catch a very slow train,  and had to miss this last part of the evening. Thanks everyone, particularly Nikolai Duffy for compering (AND for reading his illustrative prose poems between each act!).

This was a fringe event for English: Shared Futures 20022, which aims to celebrate and explore the discipline’s intellectual strength, diversity and creativity and explore its futures in the nations of the UK and across the world.