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Saturday, February 27, 2021

Two new poems from British Standards published in Tears in the Fence 73

 My copy of Tears in the Fence 73 has arrived. 

Copies are now available at . I have a couple of related poems published here. Thanks to David Caddy for selecting and thereby juxtaposing them for this outing. 

They are both from (different parts) of British Standards, the third book of ‘The English Strain project. One is my re-writing of Shelley’s canonical ‘Ozymandias’. You may read about my lengthy encounters with this text here: Pages: My occasional transposition of Shelley' s 'Ozymandias' appears and disappears (hub post) ( Such encounters pre-date our contemporary engagements with public statuary and their unsavoury pasts, but my transposition of one of Southey’s poems about slavery brings us closer to home, not to Southey’s slavery-rich Bristol, but to contemporary (or lockdown one) Liverpool. Just so you know, Bold was a slaver, as was Tarleton. One Tarleton family member appears in ‘Tabitha and Thunderer’: see here Pages: My Transpositions of Mary Robinson's sonnets 'Tabitha and Thunderer' are now complete (hub post) ( though this poem comes from the stylistically various set ’14 Standards’, which I write about here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: 14 Standards from British Strandards is complete as one sonnet appears at the virtual WOW Festival 2020 (hub post).  


Me reading 'Poem on the Slave Trade' the day it was written. Around that time I posted this: Pages: My latest Liverpool-Brexit-Virus-Slavery British Standard transposition (of Robert Southey) (

You can connect to all the news about the project as a whole, here: Pages: My THE ENGLISH STRAIN is published today by Shearsman (


Tears in the Fence 73 (73! imagine!) features poetry, prose poetry, multlilingual poetry, translations, flash fiction and fiction from: Mark Russell, Neha Maqsood, Penny Hope, Mandy Pannett, John Freeman, Sandra Galton, Wioletta Greg translated by Maria Jastrzębska and Anna Blasiak, Peter Dent, Alison Lock, Caitlin Stobie, Jeffrey Graessley, Jasmina Bolfek-Radovani, L. Kiew, Mohammad Razai, Alex Barr, Michael Farrell, Olivia Tuck, Paul Rossiter, John Goodby, Maurice Scully, Tim Allen, Lucy Maxwell Scott, Anna-May Laugher, Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana, Mélisande Fitzsimons, Marcia Hindson, Oliver Dixon, Gwen Sayers, Beth Davyson, Steve Spence, Valerie Bridge, S.J. Litherland, Karen Downs-Barton, Frances Presley, Mark Dickinson, Alison Brackenbury, Phil Williams, Rhea Seren Phillips, Oliver Southall, Sarah Salway and Sarah Watkinson.


The critical section consists of Louise Buchler’s Editorial, Jeremy Hilton on Hart Crane, Jeremy Reed on Denise Riley, Mandy Pannett on Sascha A. Akhtar, Geraldine Clarkson, Robert Hampson on Jeanne Heuving, Andrew Duncan on Molly Vogel, Clark Allison on Robin Fulton Macpherson, Walter Perrie, A.L. Kennedy, Guy Russell on Lesley Harrison, Alejandra Pizarnik, Mark Prendergast on Mercè Rodoreda, Siân Thomas on Susie Campbell, Steve Spence on the Plymouth Poetry Scene, David Caddy on Stephanie Burt’s Callimachus, Richard Scholar’s Émigrés, Ric Hool on Mélisande Fitzsimons, and Morag Kiziewicz’s Electric Blue 8.

 Tears in the Fence | an independent, international literary magazine

I've appeared in Tears in the Fence a lot over the last 25 (?) years, and here are some of my other appearances and/or responses to the issues: 

Pages: Robert Sheppard: 'Between' a poem for Roy Fisher published in Tears in the Fence

 Pages: Robert Sheppard and Anamaria Crowe Serrano (Jaroslav Bialy and update on my EUOIA collaborative project) Tears in the Fence

Pages: Robert Sheppard sonnets from Bad Idea published in Tears in the Fence 70

Pages: Robet Sheppard: 3 poems to the memory of Lee Harwood in Tears in the Fence (

Thursday, February 25, 2021

The final sonnet transposition from John Clare

On this blog I’ve documented ‘The English Strain’ as work has progressed, through to its current third book, British Standards, with which this hub post will be mostly concerned: the final transposition of one of the brilliant sonnets of John Clare, making up a sequence I shall entitle ‘Unthreading Clare’ or ‘Unth(reading) Clare’. I will also record here where poems from the ‘corona’ are published. 

Hub Post

The poem ‘What a night’ appears as a film-poem (really one of my short weekly videos) on the Writers Kingston Online project: Pages: A lo-fi lockdown videopoem: An overdub of John Clare's sonnet 'What a night!' posted as part of Writers Kingston Online (

For your guide, the ‘books’ of ‘The English Strain’ are:

1. The English Strain (Shearsman, now published. See below.)

2. Bad Idea (Knives, Forks and Spoons, officially out April, but available now; also see below).

3. British Standards (work in progress, as of this posting)

There are two ways of looking at the project: as an account of the capering of Bo and Go and other clowns across the post-Brexit dogging site that newly independent ‘Bressex’ has become, or the subtler story of the English strain of the sonnet form. I hope I will send readers back or away to the ‘originals’. Part of my poems’ meaning has to lie in intersectional reading between one of Clare’s sonnets, say, and mine. That’s one role of the reader here, although general knowledge of transposition will be enough to see what’s going on. I’m not dismissing tradition; I’m invoking it. Book one is called The English Strain: the project begins with Petrarch, picking up the ‘Brexit’ theme in a number of sonnets of my own, until Milton, Wyatt, Surrey, Charlotte Smith and Elizabeth Barratt Browning, provide the frames for me to hang my boots on. This continues in book two, Bad Idea, though there I stick to Shakespeare’s contemporary Michael Drayton, a fine sonneteer. I’ve spent almost as long on this project as on Twentieth Century Blues.          

Here are two comprehensive posts to check out, the first that looks at Book One, The English Strain here (written before it gained its title!).

There’s another post on Book Two, Bad Idea here . (The final part of Bad Idea is slightly different; called ‘Idea’s Mirror’; that’s described here: ).

I am delighted to say that Book One, The English Strain is available from Shearsman; see here:


I am also delighted to say that Book Two, Bad Idea is available from Knives Forks and Spoons, so you may buy it HERE and NOW:


Back to (or onto) Book Three and John Clare. (More about the other books below).

Here’s ‘Unth(reading) Clare’ poem 14. The final one. I have written another mad one, where Clare is an anti-vaxxer (through insanity), and it is faithful to Clare’s tenderly-observed poem about the gypsy camp in Epping forest near the asylum. Here’s Clare’s poem, and a link to Carol Rumens account of the poem.

Poem of the week: The Gipsy Camp | John Clare | The Guardian

The Gipsy Camp 

The snow falls deep; the Forest lies alone:
The boy goes hasty for his load of brakes,
Then thinks upon the fire and hurries back;
The Gipsy knocks his hands and tucks them up,
And seeks his squalid camp, half hid in snow,
Beneath the oak, which breaks away the wind,
And bushes close, with snow like hovel warm:
There stinking mutton roasts upon the coals,
And the half roasted dog squats close and rubs,
Then feels the heat too strong and goes aloof;
He watches well, but none a bit can spare,
And vainly waits the morsel thrown away:
’Tis thus they live – a picture to the place;
A quiet, pilfering, unprotected race.

Here’s mine:

The snow falls deep, the forest lies alone

Deep snow buries forest deeper into
itself. I think of bracken crackling on
the campfire, for I am great Lord Byron,
laureate tinker of the tinkling jingle!
This gypsy claps his gloves and promises
escape: he leaves me his old hat for luck.
Hastening for hope but hoping for haste,
I feel the heat at my temples singeing
my hair; they’ve invented electricity
to fry my wits. By wind-break oak the dog
breaks wind, prowls and scowls around the fire.
Mutton drips and hisses. Protected race?
Plague pits re-open; the madhouse locks down.
Bill Gates pilfers profit from my Don Juan!

25th February 2021

This isn’t bad for someone who, two days before, experienced a transient global amnesia event. I couldn’t remember anything that had recently happened for about an hour. I looked at recent or temporary arrangements of the house askance. I spent many hours in the company of our wonderful NHS! For the record, I didn’t think I was Lord Byron or that Bill Gates was stealing my poem! It wasn’t frightening (for me) because … I don’t remember it. Patricia has a different story.

 In these last few poems, I make reference here to Clare’s famous walk from Epping Forest to his home in Northborough, of which he wrote a remarkable memoir. This features in many accounts of Clare (or mythologies of him, perhaps I should say), including Sinclair’s Edge of Orison (about which I was a bit sniffy in my critical book on Sinclair, unnecessarily it strikes me now), and Andrew Kötting’s film.

You can watch Kötting’s film about John Clare here: BY OUR SELVES MASTER STEREO on Vimeo

I’m interested in Clare’s music collecting, and that enters one poem, though minimally: Clare played the fiddle and could notate anything that he could play on the instrument – and often did. (Critics seem more interested in settings of his poems to his own music, not the same thing.) But here’s a beautiful and not much perused video rendition from ‘Hertfordbristolman’:

Two John Clare hornpipes - YouTube

I began work on the book British Standards in pre-Covid 2020, but post-Brexit Independence Day. Both of those ‘issues’ are important to it. And the first remains so, even with the fact that several vaccines are on their way, and have been delivered into your author’s aching arm, though they now have to fight against a stronger strain of the virus, the ‘English Strain’ one might even call it, though I take no pleasure in that pun (and less in ‘the Liverpool Strain’ that appeared briefly in the news. That caused my one lockdown breakdown).

The first section was finished late March 2020, just after the (first) lockdown was belatedly, fatally for some, 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: . There are links to online publication of some of the poems too (as there are in many of these links).


Then followed ‘14 Standards’, the lockdown poems (quite a few online now, some of those coming out in the States soon, and one in Tears in the Fence now), and in turn, two additional ‘Double Standards’ about the now-departed 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’ (and links to online publication): . Shelley’s poems are threaded singly through British Standards. Between sections. Another Shelley transposition, on ‘Ozymandias’ this time, may be read about here (this post is the hub post, as I call it, for these dispersed versions of Shelley, one out now, also in Tears in the Fence, to form a pair of poems about the legacy of slavery):

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

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

The Keats poems are called ‘Weird Syrup’. The first 7 are entitled ‘Contrafacts and Counterfactuals from Keats’, the last 7, ‘Curtal Song-Nets from Junkets’.

This post operates as a hub post about the Keats transpositions: 

As might be gathered from what I have said in this post, British Standards, as a whole, presents transpositions of admired sonnets of the Romantic period, from William Bowles to Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Chronologically, they broadly 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, The English Strain, out tomorrow, but available now:


John Clare’s poems haven’t proved as easy to transpose as I first imagined, since they are so unmetaphorically direct and sensually replete. Here is what I wrote in my journal (adapted a little) on 9th December 2020, to get me going:

Clare has posed problems. I have selected 15 possible sonnets (there are dozens of other possible sonnets, but needs must be) and they form a nice corona. But I can’t think of how I might utilise them, which is why I thought, again, last night, to return to Wordsworth (later political poems, even his dreadful ones on capital punishment, one of Brexit’s hidden prizes, I am sure). But it seems retrograde, an evasion of Clare, even though the Wordsworth poems are well-suited to the sudden last-ditch Brexit madness that has re-emerged with all the 2016 arguments intact… 

Clare, in the asylum, wrote ‘as’ Byron, in a text called ‘Don Juan’; at the same time, he also claimed not to be Byron, since the poem says: ‘I think myself as great a bard as Byron’. (He’s right.) He was the author of ‘Don Juan’, if we take the text he called ‘Don Juan’ to be ‘Don Juan’. Could I transpose the chosen sonnets into a mode that derives, not from Byron himself, but from Clare’s satirical mode in ‘Don Juan’, which is certainly consonant with my variations of EBB in Book One?

I feel protective about Clare, even more so than in the case of Mary Robinson, (see here:

) because Clare’s achievements are not yet recognised fully, and there is no consensus over the oeuvre, a corpus, a mini-canon, bar a few well-known poems. Hence very few of the sonnets I’ve selected from Bate’s anthology appear in the Major Works!...

Kövesi quotes Gadamer on the fusing of horizons in writers who ‘transpose’ (my term for what I’m up to) Clare into their own times and terms. This he thinks is fair game for the ‘creative’ writer, but he seems dead against it in the practice of critics who impose a method. (I remember teaching new historicism, which I thought was useful to understand Iain Sinclair’s work (see here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: Everything Connects: The Social Poetics of Iain Sinclair )  but not so good to follow in its own right.)

I’ve not pursued the ‘Don Juan’ front in any of the poems, until the final three, and may well separate the final few into a ‘part two’ in a way I thought I might avoid; sane poems/mad poems.

Poetics often works like this for me, perversely: I propose something, and immediately do something different. Even: the opposite. I knew I might have to return to ‘Don Juan’, but not namecheck this in the final two words of the sequence. The follies of Brexit and Bo’s abandoned ‘Gerontocidal Yuletide rules’ demand a satirical voice, rather than the poetics of dispersed subjectivities among people and animals, though I’ve enjoyed that in Clare, and in my versions (taking my ‘own’ work down uncharacteristic channels). ‘Don Juan’ probably damages the ‘beauties’, as they would have said in the 1820s, of the originals. So far from ‘Clare’ taking the project’s final poems from Book Three into a post-Brexit (even post-virus?) world with a new tone, I adopted his borrowed ‘Don Juan’ voice to deal with Bo and Go and their deals and dealings, and to bring the sequence to a conclusion.

OR [I find myself characteristically flim-flamming in poetics dialectics] I imagined the first x poems might be mainly one thing; the last x could be, for example, Sheppardian quennets (as I’d long planned for the end of this Project); but that didn’t happen! Everything was fluid, but it became a little late in the sequence for Oulipean forms to re-assert themselves.


After I had completed seven of these projected 14, I wrote the following in my poetics journal:           

18th January 2021: Writing yesterday’s diary I reflected upon ‘plagues’ (Shakespeare’s and our own) and how they are negotiated by writing (and whether, as I’d assumed, wrongly in the case of plague-response, but probably right in the case of the Spanish ’Flu …, that art did not reflect previous plagues). The thought that such a production might be shunned. Will we want novels set in lockdown (X threatens one)? Or, when will we want one? Not immediately.

And so, as I reflect upon the final 7 ‘John Clare’ sonnets, it is worth bearing this fact in mind… The other thought that strikes me is that the ‘final 7’ need not be sectioned off from the first. That is a pattern of The English Strain (the book) that is repeated in Keats’, but – hey! – it doesn’t have to be repeated for this set. The 14 poems I’ve selected don’t separate in any way (and I want no phony division such as ‘sane’ poems and ‘mad’ ones. Or even punctuated and unpunctuated (since that is responsive, or would seem to be, to literary politics regarding Clare’s ‘revisions’)). How do I feel about 1-7?

(Read them. [Snuffling noises for several minutes.])

Fine as they are, they neither feel like a ‘grouping’, nor do they not. It think it best to simply continue with them.

Brexit bequeathed Bressex [the post-Brexit nation state: possibly an Anglo Saxon kingdom with no Celtic colonies…]. They are not going to start re-writing all our laws or bring back hanging yet (not within the writing-span of the English Strain project). Yet neither will The Virus be ‘over’. In fact, it might never be ‘over’ in the sense of the WHO declaring the disease eradicated (like polio was, last year). So, it looks like neither will ‘end’, not with bang or whimper, at all. Any British glory (the vaccine) is declared the ‘result’ of Brexit. And yet the phenomenal (highest in the world some weeks) death rate (even as infection rates are falling, even on Merseyside) will slowly abate. There’s no end to Bo and Go either. These poems need to leave that world without concluding it. Not all war novels end with the Armistice. [It strikes me now, none do.] What I’ve been wanting all along is a way to hint at (rather than expound) some positive projections for the future. [I’m typing this up on the day Trump leaves office, so that’s not unduly utopian.] And utopianism (vaguely riffing on Bloch), ‘prefigured the never-/believed in the un-(yet)- /known’, miming the Not Yet of Bloch and the difference between often empty belief and necessarily incomplete knowledge ([see] the quote from Dirty Bertie [Russell] in [one of the]‘Curtail… [Song Nets from Junkets]’).

Maybe it might be good to roll out of Bressex and Coronavirus as themes, in the arms of a loosely-defined ecologically-minded awareness of ‘Ecocide’, as in Dave [Whyte]’s book – but muted, muted, muted… As with all the poems anyway, there’s the leading reading of Clare’s poems (though that ‘leading’ is heavily willed. It’s a choice to have streets of ‘peeling/NHS rainbows from last spring’ rather than Clare’s blankets of snow transforming the fields the shepherds think they know so well).

Let it go, let it roll – with the same periodicity… 

I was tempted to write some ‘euro-sonnets’, Baudelaire – Mallarme – Rimbaud – Verlaine – but I know I must adhere to the ‘End your solo before you’re done’ principle of Miles Davis. Though I’ve gone on so long, it’s more likely to require Miles’ exasperated plea to Coltrane after one 45 minute solo: ‘Take the saxophone out of your mouth!’

What I did do is to make a list of all the possible plans for the continuation of the sequences, to see what felt good. Back to the journal, an entry for 25th January 2021:

I have investigated various ‘endings’ of ‘The English Strain’ project. Stop at Clare. Or add one Shelley. Find another 14 ‘standards’ (possibly in clumps: 4433: 4 by Hartley Coleridge, 4 by Rossetti, 3 by Tennyson Turner, etc). Or ‘Laura to Petrarch’. Or Rossetti’s early Ur text of ‘The House of Love’, 16 poems. Or 2 Byrons. Or any other, listed above.

            Maybe that’s all I need: the knowledge of the existence of ‘other’ plans to bring the thing to rest (because Covid won’t be ‘over’ by March, when Clare runs out), a variety of exit plans to neither fret over nor add to… 

Clare ran out in February, actually! I have recently decided to write a Shelley interlude as I have between each sequence and add another 14 poems to end British Standards and to turn to the very accomplished sonnets of Hartley Coleridge. The more one looks, the more accomplished he seems. I have selected the poems from his 1833 collection. I have a collection of his letters, which I am reading. This allows the project to extend into summer, at least. But I am not sure how I shall ‘place’ him, or whether I shall invent some scenarios for him. I’m currently toying with the title ‘Partly Coleridge’. The Labour Party seems to have escaped this work since Jeremy was buried, and Kier Starmer doesn’t appear at all. Maybe he’ll say something worth satirizing! I don’t think he will, though: he reminds me of a Madame Tussards of himself. I might make my narrator a Red Wall Tory (since HC himself was a Tory and an acclaimed anti-Democrat).

So it’s onwards, but near I’m the end. You have two volumes to be getting on with, while I finish these. I might not hurry, but I shall continue the posting of the poems here (that’s all become a part of the ritual of producing these poems, as well as a way of dealing with their contemporary content). It is, I can tell you, quite invigorating to write poems that I don’t engender in this way.  

Friday, February 19, 2021

My THE ENGLISH STRAIN is published today by Shearsman

Hurrah! The English Strain is published today by Shearsman, available here:

‘Enraptured by the versioning bug,’ I confess, of my 14 variations of Petrarch’s third sonnet, ‘Petrarch 3’, which kick the book off, ‘I was off on one.’ With some comic verve, I hope, I refunction some of the finest sonneteers, Petrarch himself, and those of ‘The English Strain’ project which gives this book (and wider project) its title: Wyatt and Surrey, ‘the first reformers’ of English poetry, and John Milton, exemplary political poet. None is safe from my comedic appropriations of their works and days. 

It’s quite a new tone for me. Lock up your sonnets! My Wyatt spies for a British foreign office that fluxes between the Henrician court and Tory high command, post-Referendum. Surrey is a chinless wonder of aristocratic chivalry, the marvel of the French killing fields (and contemporary Norfolk dogging sites). Mordant humour and irony continue in my ‘trans translations’ of the two major women sonneteers: of Charlotte Smith, the Petrarch of Petworth, witnessing strange happenings on the Downs, and Barrett Browning, Mistress Elizabeth of her Wimpole Street penthouse and the clued-up ‘mistress’ of a clownish politician. 

The dominant satirical theme, the national strain surrounding that once novel word ‘Brexit’, is almost picked up casually in the sequence ‘It’s Nothing’, where I deliberately fail in the attempt to speak in my own voice. I’m more at home in my homemade 100-word sonnets, as I nail Brexit in a neat couplet: ‘they’ve got our country back for us/ and now they want it for themselves’. (Isn’t that more and more true?) As you read this book, be warned: between poetic worlds, between sonnet and transposition, big laughs and little truths are lying in wait for you. There’s 100 of them. 

To be clear, the parts of ‘The English Strain’ project are:

1. this book, The English Strain (out today);

2. Bad Idea (Knives, Forks and Spoons, officially out April, but also available now; see below)

3. British Standards (work in progress).

A useful review, by Alan Baker, of Petrarch 3, which set the whole project off, may be read on Litterbug, here. I write about 'Petrarch 3' here:  Pages: Practice-Led piece on 'Petrarch 3' from The English Strain published in Translating Petrarch's Poetry (Legenda) (

Tom Jenks wrote of one of the sequences published today: ‘Sheppard uses Wyatt in the way Wyatt used Petrarch: as a means of producing a new work of literature that is linked to, but not bound by, the original… Sheppard here expands further the boundaries of translation, the transposition of historical events to contemporary circumstances being not just incidental to the translation process, but an act of translation itself… Sheppard’s poetics of translation can be aligned with those of Borges, Benjamin, and Bernstein, who all regard translation as something more than a functional service to the reader. This view of translation admits a constellation of methods, strategies, tactics, and techniques disallowed by more conventional approaches. Sheppard posits, both in theory and in practice, a translational mode that is open, fluid, permissive, voracious and, above all, creative.’

This post describes The English Strain here (before it gained its title!).

The Journal concludes: ‘I have yet to read a better, more succinct, more ribald analysis of the mishap of Brexit.’             

Geraldine Monk in The Robert Sheppard Companion informs us: ‘Sheppard’s writing is rough, rude, quirky, serious, learned, and never afraid to be humorous. In short it is as irreverent as it is relevant.’

Here are three representative poems from the book, read by me. The first is 'The Lion Returns', from 'It's Nothing', the section where I speak in 'my own' voice. (Twigger warning: This may make you nostalgic for the pub.)


The second is a transposition of a sonnet by Charlotte Smith, '

Number three comes for near the end of the book, where I transpose a sonnet from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's 'Sonnets from the Portuguese'. 

I write about the ‘transpositions’ of Charlotte Smith, ‘Elegiac Sonnets’, here: 

A few of the ‘Elegiac Sonnets’ may be read here: Robert Sheppard - Spring19 (

I write about my ‘transpositions’ of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ‘Non-Disclosure Agreement’, here:

A few of the poems may be read here: Robert Sheppard (

I am delighted to say that Book Two, Bad Idea is also available from Knives Forks and Spoons NOW:

Read about it here  and here: Pages: BAD IDEA (versions of Michael Drayton's Idea) available now from KFS (

British Standards is still being written. Here’s a post about getting it going: Pages: Real beginning of new series of 'liberties' taken with Wordsworth's sonnets (temporary post of The English Strain' series) (

Covers of the book are by Patricia Farrell. The cover of The English Strain features the features of Petrarch, Milton, Wyatt, Surrey, Smith and Browning (it has her eyes). We attempted a further image, with me added, which we didn’t use. Here it is!


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Robert Sheppard: A new poem 'Flight Risk' published today on MIRAonline

 I’m very pleased that a new long poem, ‘Flight Risk’ is now published on MIRAonline, that is, the online version of The Mechanics’ Institute Review.

You may read it here, and watch me read the first twenty lines on video, here: FLIGHT RISK by Robert Sheppard – MIR Online


‘Fight Risk’ is part of a longer manuscript of similar poems – oblique, teasing, transactional – that I have been writing over the last few years. 

Companion poems (I mean, poems from the same cluster) include a long six part poem (or is it a long poem?) ‘The Accordion Book’ that appears in the second issue of that vital online magazine edited by Colin Herd, Adjacent Pineapple. My poem, here;

‘The Accordion Book’ is a long and deliberately involuted poem, dealing with perception, art and (in places) cognitive extension…. 

 The first four also appear in The Robert Sheppard Companion. See here.


The 23rd issue of Blackbox Manifold carries two more, ‘Hammer Glow’ and ‘The Listening Table’, and you can go straight to them here. Check the magazine out here: 

These poems were composed by a slow method quite different from the ‘transpositions’ of ‘The English Strain’ project, which is filling Pages at the moment, since one book is now out, another is out later this week, and I’m temporarily posting poems from its third part here; see here: Pages: BAD IDEA (versions of Michael Drayton's Idea) available now from KFS ( ).


Monday, February 15, 2021

Sixteen Years of Blogging! (links to the best of the blog)

I’ve been blogging for 16 years! Today!

15 is undoubtedly a more significant number than 16 and, indeed, last year I selected some of the best posts of the previous 15 years, incorporating (via links, in what I call a ‘hub-post’) the extensive retrospective trawl I conducted on the 10th anniversary of this ill-named activity. That hoard may be easily exhumed from last year’s ‘big 15’ post here:

Pages: Fifteen Years of Blogging (A hubpost to all the hubposts and other goodies) (

I should like to select a few highlights from the last year, and a dreadful year it's been. Ten seems the right number. My practice of temporarily posting the latest poem from ‘The English Strain’ project (from the third book, British Standards, that I’ve been working on lately, and still am) makes the last year look quite sparse now, although the accumulating temporary posts do result in a few permanent posts pertaining to the section that has been completed, so it might be best to start with a couple of those. British Standards consists of ‘transpositions’ of Romantic sonnets, and in the last year this has resulted in:

 One: a detailed account of ‘Tabitha and Thunderer’, interventions in the sonnet sequence ‘Sappho and Phaon’ by Mary Robinson, followed, and they may be read about (with a video; more about those later) here:


Two: Overdubs of Keats! I had some trouble getting going; you can read about that struggle over the first poem of the sequence, here:


Three: Bad Idea, book two of the ‘English Strain’ project, is now available and there is a post about this (along with many links to postings of poems from the book on internet sources, and videos, here: Pages: BAD IDEA (versions of Michael Drayton's Idea) available now from KFS (

 Of course, the pandemic should be recorded here (it’s recorded or traced in the poems of British Standards, the third book of the ‘English Strain’ project, more fully). Four: I discovered, on buying a new laptop in December 2019, that I could make videos and, if short enough, they could be posted on this blog. This has become a regular part of my weekly ritual of writing a new ‘transposition’, BUT also when I look back at older poems, and write about them, I tend to read them quickly on video and post (often unseen). With no poetry readings at the moment, this seems apposite (though the practice started before the pandemic). So you may contrast my reading of virus (Spanish Flu) poem, ‘Empty Diary 1920’, written in 1993 or 4, with ‘Empty Diary 2020’, written in the year it relates to, about the contemporary virus:

Here  Pages: Robert Sheppard: Yes, like all the other poets, I have an old poem about a virus: Grippe Espagnole (from Empty Diaries)

and Five, here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: The last two Empty Diary poems are published on Stride


(that post gives you links to all the other ‘Empty Diary’ poems currently available online. Another sequence finished, incidentally.)

 Six: Although this ‘strand’ stretches past the temporal span of this selection, my multiple postings on the subject of ‘Collaboration’, which consisted of both explorations of my own efforts and drafts of a critical article on the subject, finished within this compass. The final post contains links to all 14 parts! See here: Pages: On Literary Collaboration part 14: some final thoughts and LINKS to all previous parts (hub post) (


I’ve had a fair amount of critical writings published during this year and I’ve posted about these. Theyt include:

Seven: An essay on Allen Fisher in his ‘Companion’ from Shearsman: here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: Essay included in the NEW Allen Fisher Companion

Eight: My chapters ‘The British Poetry Revival’ and ‘Lee Harwood’ appear in the massive Contemporary British and Irish Poetry, read about it here: Pages: My two pieces (British Poetry Revival & Harwood) & editorial exhibit in CONTEMPORARY BRITISH AND IRISH POETRY, 1960 – 2015 Edited by Görtschacher and Malcolm (


Nine: Part criticism, part poetics, and in part featuring the poems themselves, I write about my opening sequence of ‘The English Strain’, ‘Petrarch 3’ (published as a Crater Press publication) in Translating Petrarch, here: Pages: Practice-Led piece on 'Petrarch 3' from The English Strain published in Translating Petrarch's Poetry (Legenda) (


Ten: My (yes, my) poems appeared in Philip Terry’s Penguin Book of Oulipo (a great thing to happen, even if I had to let my Belgian alter ego, if that’s what he is, Rene Van Valckenborch, take the strain!). Read about that here. (And tell me what you think Hannah Maes is showing her detectives on that blackboard! Answers not on a postcard: Pages: 'My' Quennets from A TRANSLATED MAN published in The Penguin Book of Oulipo (


That’s enough to be inspecting! Thanks for reading everybody. Stay reading and watching. I shall be continuing to document the last parts of the third book of ‘The English Strain’ project, British Standards. Click onto the HOME button on the right and see what’s new.  

Friday, January 29, 2021

A lo-fi lockdown videopoem: An overdub of John Clare's sonnet 'What a night!' posted as part of Writers Kingston Online

Since January 2020 I have been able to upload short videos ‘taken’, as they used to say, on my laptop. For example, I read a poem from the book Bad Idea to celebrate its launch (particularly poignant given the zero chance of a live launch) Here:  Pages: BAD IDEA (versions of Michael Drayton's Idea) available now from KFS ( You can see it’s a straight reading, though I flap the book in front of the camera to show the book’s existence (and its cover, by Patricia Farrell). Similarly, I read the final two ‘Empty Diary’ poems, experimenting a little by standing up and using my collaged walls as a part of the backdrop (it includes the cover of the Stride Empty Diaries). See here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: The last two Empty Diary poems are published on Stride . 

Mostly, I have been using this facility to accompany my temporary posting of my poems from British Standards (the book that follows Bad Idea), as I write them. It is part of the periodicity and writing of the poems (or their drafts). They are usually speedily-done head and shoulder Zoom poses, although, during the writing of my versions of Keats, I made a point of using Keats’ life mask as a Greek mask. One of those videos survives online. Again, it is the draft of the final (or still to be developed) poem. Here:  Pages: an overdub, an understudy, a version, of Keat’s most famous sonnet (and then a further version) (

When Steven Fowler of Kingston University and the Enemies project asked for video-poems (but emphasising that they could be as rudimentary as they needed to be) I sent him my copy of one of my recent unthreadings of John Clare, ‘What a night’, where I experimented (or accidentalised, is probably more truthful) with the window and its glare, and put myself on the edge of the frame.

‘A lockdown poem: An overdub of John Clare's sonnet 'What a night!' A brilliant new film poem’ – the site says – ‘published as part of Writers Kingston Online - a program of new films and video performances commissioned to stand in lieu of a live events program negated by the global lockdown of early 2021.’

Visit and re-visit here as the collection grows:

 Thanks Steve!

Or view it here:


I write about Steven and collaboration and short videos in these excerpts from a long strand on collaboration: Part five is about his 'Enemies' collaborative project, in general, and my small part in some of them (again with videos). It may be accessed here. Part nine contains some thoughts on SJ Fowler’s Nemeses: Selected Collaborations of SJ Fowler, 2014-2019. HTVN Press, 2019 : here:
Part 10 is an account of Fowler’s poetics of collaboration. Here:
Part 11 is an account of Fowler's collaboration with Camilla Nelson (as it reads on the page), here. And Part 12 continues to analyse this, but it takes account of the extraordinary dynamics of its 'Enemies' performance (which was filmed; all these events are filmed; hence Steven’s lockdown itchy fingers), here.

 The video is here too: 


Wednesday, January 27, 2021

My two pieces (British Poetry Revival & Harwood) & editorial exhibit in CONTEMPORARY BRITISH AND IRISH POETRY, 1960 – 2015 Edited by Görtschacher and Malcolm

CONTEMPORARY BRITISH AND IRISH POETRY, 1960 – 2015 Edited by Wolfgang Görtschacher and David Malcolm. Wiley Humanities, is out now. 

A Companion to Contemporary British and Irish Poetry, 1960 - 2015 | Wiley

978-1-118-84320-8 | Hardcover, 635 pages! | $195 £150 €135.60


I have a couple of essays in this massive compendium of British and Irish poetry, which has arrived today. It has taken some years for the two editors to put it together, and while I obviously haven’t read it (though I know Scott Thurston’s piece on ‘Linguistically Innovative Poetry’), just turning the pages over, I can tell this is a splendid book. Having written for both of the editors before, I vouch for their editorial thoroughness. Of course, it’s pricy, but it’s huge; ask your library to get it.  

It is a comprehensive and scholarly review of contemporary British and Irish Poetry with contributions from noted scholars in the field. A Companion to Contemporary British and Irish Poetry, 1960-2015 offers a collection of writings from a diverse group of experts. They explore the richness of the work of individual poets, genres, forms, techniques, traditions, concerns, and institutions that comprise these two distinct but interrelated national poetries. The best I can do at this early stage to ‘review’ it – it has literally arrived in the last hour – is to list its contents at the end of this post. I plan to read it all, in order. What I can say is that I’m pleased there is acknowledgment of the alternative poetries alongside the mainstream offerings. I know library copies of such books demonstrate the prevalent use, through wear and tear, of pages relating to canonical figures, but the rest is obdurately present. The limit of 2015 is judicious, I think, since these books take a long while to assemble. And quite a lot has happened since 2015 which cannot be its concern.  

The editors are Wolfgang Görtschacher, PhD, Senior Assistant Professor at the University of Salzburg, where he has taught literary criticism and translation studies since the early 1990s. He has published widely on British poetry magazines, contemporary British and Irish literature, and translation studies. And David Malcolm, a professor of English at SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Warsaw. He previously taught for twenty-eight years at the University of Gdańsk and has published extensively on British and Irish fiction and poetry. Both have appeared at Edge Hill for conferences or papers.

In their introduction, the editors discuss a number of poems, and I’m pleased (and surprised) to announce that my own sequence ‘Fucking Time: Six Songs for the Earl of Rochester’ is discussed there. They signal that the poem appears in my Tin Pan Arcadia which is the only 21st century volume of mine out of print: it appears in the still-available Complete Twentieth Century Blues (see here: Complete Twentieth Century Blues, Robert Sheppard - Salt ( and re-appears in History or Sleep, my selected poems (see here: Shearsman Books buy Robert Sheppard - History or Sleep - Selected Poems

See here: Pages: Twentieth Century Blues published ten years ago! ( Oh, and here, too, for the original Fucking Time booklet with images: Pages: Ship of Fools press exhibition: Fucking Time by Sheppard and Farrell ( I particularly like the parenthetical observation: ‘it is lewd throughout’! 

A part of the introduction aligns itself with formalist readings of poetry, and quotes Derek Attridge, as do I in my The Meaning of Form. See here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: The Meaning of Form in Contemporary Innovative Poetry PUBLISHED

I have two essays in A Companion to Contemporary British and Irish Poetry, 1960-2015 . As you can see from the list of contents, first I write about ‘The British Poetry Revival’, a subject I have revisited on this blog as well:

Pages: Robert Sheppard: Return to the British Poetry Revival 1960-78

There’s also much about the Brsitish Poetry Revival in a later take than the piece in this book, part of a partial review of Juha Virtanen's excellent book on performance in poetry, Pages: Thoughts on Collaboration 13 or: review of Juha Virtanen, Poetry and Performance During the British Poetry Revival 1960-1980: Event and Effect. ( (He also has a piece in the book, which I am looking forward to reading.) Here's Better Books:

Secondly, I present here what I thought of as my definitive piece on the work of Lee Harwood, when I wrote it.

My review of Harwood’s Collected Poems 2004 appears in two parts here and here. I review the reprint of HMS Little Fox here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: HMS Little Fox by Lee Harwood republished (My reading of 'The Long Black Veil') 


Lee and me in Ormskirk, after a reading

Details of this new book, published by WileyHumanities ,  may be found here:

A Companion to Contemporary British and Irish Poetry, 1960 - 2015 | Wiley

Its contents are: 

Section 1 Introduction – 1960-2015: A Brief Overview of the Verse

Wolfgang Görtschacher and David Malcolm

Section 2 Contexts, Forms, Topics, and Movements

a. Institutions, Histories, Receptions


1. Some Institutions of the British and Irish (Sub)Fields of Poetry: Little Magazines, Publishers, Prizes, and Poetry in Translation

Wolfgang Görtschacher

2. Anthologies: Distortions and Corrections, Poetries, and Voices

David Kennedy

3. Minding the Trench: The Reception of British and Irish Poetry in America, 1960-2015

Daniel Bourne

4. Readers: Who Reads Modern Poetry?

Juha Virtanen


b. Genre, Kind, Technique

1. Manifestos and Poetics/Poets on Writing

Daniel Weston

2. The Genres of Contemporary British and Irish Poetry

Gareth Farmer

3. The Elegy

Stephen Regan

4. The Sonnet

David Fuller

5. Free Verse and Open Form

Lacy Rumsey

6. Satire

David Wheatley

7. The Traditional Short Lyric Poem in Britain and Ireland, 1960-2010

Tim Liardet and Jennifer Militello

8. (Post)Modern Lyric Poetry

Alex Perstell

9. The Long Poem after Pound

Will May


c. Groupings, Themes

1. Generations

Robert Hampson

2. The Movement

David Malcolm

3. The Liverpool Poets

Ludmiła Gruszewska Blaim

4. The British Poetry Revival

Robert Sheppard

5. Poets of Ulster

Martin Ryle

6. Martians: Towards a Poetics of Wonder

Małgorzata Grzegorzewska

7. Linguistically Innovative Poetry in the 1980s and 1990s

Scott Thurston

8. Concrete and Performance Poetry

Jerzy Jarniewicz

9. Performances of Technology as Compositional Practice in British and Irish Contemporary Poetry

John Sparrow

10. “Here to Stay”: Black British Poetry and the post–WWII United Kingdom

Bartosz Wójcik

11. Anglo-Jewish Poetry

David Malcolm

12. Gay and Lesbian Poetry

Prudence Chamberlain

13. Women Poets in the British Isles

Marc Porée

14. Irish Women Poets

Monika Szuba

15. Religious Poetry, 1960-2015

Hugh Dunkerley

16. Love Poetry

Eleanor Spencer

17. Political Poetry

Ian Davidson and Jo Lindsay Walton

18. Radical Landscape Poetry in Scotland

Alan Riach

19. Coincidentia Oppositorum: Myth in Contemporary Poetry

Erik Martiny


d. The Past and Other Countries

1. History and Poetry

Jerzy Jarniewicz

2. British and Irish Poets Abroad/in Exile

Glyn Pursglove


Section 3 Poets and Poems: Canon, Off-Canon, Non-Canon


3.1 John Agard - Ralf Hertel

3.2 Eavan Boland - Peter Hühn

3.3 Paul Durcan - Jessika Köhler

3.4 James Fenton - David Malcolm

3.5 Bill Griffiths - Ian Davidson

3.6 Excluding Visions of Life in Poems by Thom Gunn - Tomasz Wisniewski

3. 7 “Now Put It Together”: Lee Harwood and the Gentle Art of Collage - Robert Sheppard

3.8 Listening to Words and Silence: The Poetry of Elizabeth Jennings - Jean Ward

3.9 “Forever in excess”: Barry MacSweeney, Consumerism, and Popular Culture - Paul Batchelor

3.10 When Understanding Breaks in Waves: Voices and Messages in Edwin Morgan’s Poetry - Monika Kocot

3.11 Grace Nichols - Pilar Sánchez Calle

3.12 F. T. Prince - Will May

3.13 Kathleen Raine - Glyn Pursglove

3.14 “Everything except justice is an impertinence”: The Poetry of Peter Riley - Peter Hughes

3.15 Anne Stevenson - Eleanor Spencer

3.16 Paula Meehan – Vocal Cartographies: Public and Private