Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Robert Sheppard: Love Life - a short story

I have been writing fiction lately, and this piece, Love Life, was written at the invitation of Manchester band Performance, particuarly Joe Stretch, using one of their song titles as a starting point. It is now posted on their website, along with stories by Nicholas Royle and others.

Unfortunately, they seem to have mistyped the title ‘Love Live’. An eagle eye is needed to detect the division of the story into its four sections.
It begins:

Love Life
When Sam was a history student the married couple in the larger room next door borrowed his chair for three months.

Imitation black leather with a high metal frame. An uncomfortable compromise between easy chair and desk chair. For the whole term he could stand or even hop a couple of paces, and he could sprawl on the hard bed with his books and Michael Jackson’s Bad, but he couldn’t sit to relax or write his essays and poems. And he couldn’t invite round June, the girl he was starting to see.

He passed his neighbours every day in the narrow corridor leading to the residence’s single kitchen where he boiled an egg or two. She was wiry with a tangle of limp hair, but she smiled, books under her arm. Sam strained to catch their titles. The husband ignored him, stomping by in his blue overalls. He wasn’t a student but, Sam guessed, worked out at Doncaster or somewhere. He always carried a batch of red top newspapers to sell.

They needed the chair for their weekly meetings. Muffled debate pulsed against the hollow partition walls. He would hear the man say, on more than one occasion, and louder than the rest of their talk: ‘When Lenin started out he had only as many as we are today!’….

Now read the whole story (there’s onanism, novelty condoms, and suicide bombers to look forward to)  not by clicking here, as this post used to say,

for the Performance website has long gone but the story remains.

It is available in my three short stories collection The Only Life, which is published by Knives, Forks and Spoons at

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Robert Sheppard: Partly Writing 2006

This response to the Partly Writing 2006, I don't think, ever saw the light of day. I had wanted to include it as part of my inaugural, but cut it, and then recently I sent it to Susan Schultz for her collection of Rumsfeldisms. So here it is, crossing with a poetics of September 12.


The session that spoke most to what I am currently writing was the one on textual borrowing, partly because one of the ‘borrowings’ referred to by Jena Osman is ‘in’ one of my poems. While I have no problem about works of mine called ‘texts and commentaries’ which write through back to against in between certain named texts, the discussion about the use of citation, particularly in works which use/appropriate/subvert a dominant political discourse was pertinent. The crux of the issue for me lies in the transformation of such materials. A gallery full of framed sentences of Donald Rumsfeld would not be enough. Nor is it enough to simply quote it (as QD Leavis reportedly said of a supposedly weak opponent: ‘Don’t criticise him; just quote him!’). Going back to the poem, the last in a sequence of 24 ‘sonnets’ called September 12 I find actually that I ‘quote’ the verbal collocation that Rumsfeld didn’t say (i.e. ‘unknown unknowns’ was one of the combinations that he didn’t make in his improvised permutational text), but I also find a quotation from Tony Blair.

Through slatted blinds you spy another
writing a stuttery scrawl of spidery infringement.
You chisel each other into pedestal fear,
nailed to combat mottoes, slashed
and slotted in your mirror-script encryption

You’re unknown unknowns, improper nouns
once announced in a Cold War Nuke Ode.
Same-selved you live: dead meat on the other’s
plate garnished with knowns, lashed to the past

Sirens sing at the fringes of your passage.
Sleep plunders the sickly green of paramedics
under shutters. History was yesterday

In the live moment splintering between two deaths
invade this single body and unblade the truth

What concerns me is: what is this usage? Is this irony? Is this framing? If transformation is the key, as I believe, what is a quality transformation? Hopefully something to do with the interinanimation of these ‘quotations’ with the surrounding text, some of which puns on/rhymes with them. The word ‘critique’ was used a number of times. This strikes me as too ‘comforting’, another term that was used. How complicit are we in the linguistic structures that we borrow? I’ve got enough Adorno still left in me to think that I am making a fiercely impacted object of resistance, but critique must be left to the agency of the reader. A beautiful object, perhaps, containing these ugly words (but not, of course, only these ugly words).

(And I still believe that you can’t have exchange, the weekend’s key word, unless the other party, as it were, has volition. I don’t believe you can have intertextual exchange with a text.).

Robert Sheppard June 6th 2006

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Simon DeDeo's response to September 12

Simon DeDeo, whose blog ‘Rhubarb is Susan’ I had heard of, has a response to the poems from September 12 he has seen:

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Robert Sheppard: New Links for the New Year

I have a new professional web page at Edge Hill University, complete with air-brushed photo so I look like a wax dummy of myself (appropriate for the self-repression in the service of the performance principle of paid employment, even of a professor;

The page I originally wanted was deemed too long by the techie-police and is detailed and linked, but you can get it as a pdf through the page or here.

Parts of Risk Assessment a collaboration with Rupert Loydell, published by Damaged Goods, 2006, may be read at:

Finally, read Edmund Hardy’s interview with me may be found on Intercapillary Space at In it I talk about both the poetry and the criticism. Edmund’s review of The Lores may be read at Terrible Work:

and his review of my critical book, The Poetry of Saying may be read at Terrible Work too.

My review of Peter Barry’s Poetry Wars may be read on Jacket, complete with another strange photograph of me (in Riga) and its decidedly non-academic conclusion about the goings on at Earl’s Court in the 1970s and ‘those radical poets of the 1970s who – yes, I’ve got to say it – fucked it up for the rest of us.’:

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Robert Sheppard: The Archive of the Now (texts for the sounds)

You can now hear me read my work at the Archive of the Now, curated by Andrea Brady at Brunel University, and follow some links there too, here:, and click on Authors and click on Robert Sheppard.

But check the site out for other Pages poets, from Adrian Clarke to Scott Thurston, from Lawrence Upton to Kai Ferle-Hedrick.

Here are the full texts (or links) for the poems I read.

from Internal Exile
Writing is impossible without some kind of exile

Julia Kristeva

from Twentieth Century Blues 6

Internal Exile 1
Out from germ-warm subterranean wind into
Business having just been, or about to be.
Hyphens, dashes, asterisks, strokes:
The silver number has been screwed. Red
Flag: blue light. One moment the man stands
With his arms tied behind his back; the next he falls
Head first from our chronicle. Pictures have pictures.
You are the real hero. The image –
That was like walking into somebody else’s poem.
A public zipper porched shadow action. Heroes
Standing under cardboard captions. Masculinity sells
History: four guards on this side, four
On the other, changing according to
House demands. All the victims’ outfits were
Manufactured by the Enemy. It was a fantastic
Feeling, going up stage and turning around for all
The judges. Her writing is content. Watches sold
Doubt as her underhand life expressed the
Heresies. Her clothes burn, turning stories,
Can add fur sovereign meaning
To line-sewn memory dust. Don’t open the door; shut
Your eyes. To slam these columns you took this out.
The shimmering architectural fantasy
Of a slum, purpose built. Entry to that soft-furnished
Dream, riots hanging like petrol vapour
Over the black plastic rubbish bags,
Electric train-flashes crossing the page, from one of the
Languages which blows across Europe like ill-wind.
Bombs implode as a warning underscoring
The essential sentence. He says my
Mind is always somewhere else when I
Kiss her. This sentence is a variation. She’s
Out on the porch, testing the day, transforming
Not only her, but the text, from which she
Could never be exiled. As soon as I write ‘the world’,
It doesn’t invert. Poverty less plentiful
But obscured by wealth and well-being.
The systems began to fail, in domestic adjustment.
The Chinese trains were nicer than the Russian ones.
This sentence is a variation of the next. The flow
Freed from compulsion. Trying to gauge it
All; the woman is not at her mirror. (Skip
A few pages; I will too.) Black girl in a tight leather
Skirt jumps into a waiting passenger-seat:
Pink folds of flesh for his mental
Speculum. I froze and sweated, wanted to burn
The insignia – but who would deck
Themselves in the cloth pages
Of a tattered history? Pretend that some of
The sentences have been removed
Though your meaning heaps. Women desire a war;
Virus men built appearance. Wouldn’t you prefer it
As a straight-out? The bike boys zooming in of each
Other’s rolling captions? What was once
Familiar is now merely strange. Moving clouds behind
The birds rewind their film of homecoming. Swoop
Loop wires in light. A magpie flicker in dirty
Scruff eye. This has to be learned,
Holding language in suspicion. Posturing
About disaster, style demeans. A cold sore
On a child’s mouth predicates a market
Full of bargains. What could she begin to say? How
Will she survive the questioning? Perhaps
It is only the uncurtained window-pane that
Throws the room back at us? Reader:
Worker. Walkman overspill rhythmed by the engine-
Driver’s wiper-lashes. Another realism. She
Remarked the dome of her clichéd perception –
An image for later snuff-movie simulations: murder
Leads door to door. The crystal eye set in the wall.
They did not even notice that the effigies were of them.
Replace the object. She makes the unknown turn –
Feels at one moment a gobbet of raw meat in a
Porno film. She goes to the window to cry.

March-April 1987/March-April 1991

Internal Exile 3
She’s living in the rough
Basement of a condemned house. Street
Level defines a world, its variations
In autonomy. She’s a genuine
Answer, designed to put you off. She’s
In another time; he is in another gender,
The man with the briefcase, practising
Dance-steps on the platform.
Dry water-colours dust off the stiff washing,
Disrupting any finer feelings he may have had.
You cannot see through the whole. What
Began as art was repeated years later
As a political act. She always wore
Black lipstick, tears in her eyes. Men danced
In fire, did press-ups with guns. Others
Flew to posterity. She burnt her other self,
Teasing out the voyeur’s disappointment, the
Beauties of her unbridled
Allegories. The writing returns
To block desire. It’s
A world of spies and disclosures; she
Feels his presence in the room with her, scraped
Again across the grain of history. Territory
(Or no territory) on the shit-
Stained canvas of her language:
Her heavy green front door, and its
Dried spattering of blood. Fulfil desire;
KILL IT. It was her statement, her
Trigger on silence. Now
The writing’s nearly over the work
Withdraws. Is this a model
Of the world that does not exist, straining
For a new referent? Her prejudices
Owe the world no apology.

May 1987

Four Empty Diaries
Twentieth Century Blues 24

Empty Diary 1905
She falls for him, conventional longing well
tutored, no pose held, broken but breathing,
yet she keeps a finger in a
page of last year’s tightly scribbled diary:
the ranked delights of the Paris corsetière,
the dummies’ impersonal whorish display of lace
and china flesh, a flat-buttoned pressing
of chambermaids’ etiquette; I can’t bear his
‘I sleep, I wake, I never dream’
; want to slit his throat, to hoist
him, dripping from his penis; her story
stalled, veins in her bare neck pleading.

Empty Diary 1936

The Proletarian News

For Charles Madge 1

vauxhall was grey she needed blocks of
flats not jewel panopticans she threw back
her hem and did a tight city
fling tyrannical wireless valves on tulip faces

echoes of men patronising answers on folded
blankets heads bubbling with pints of stout
rotten teeth of her voices skin always
gleaming an unblemished marching announcing sore lips

surrealist commodes adorn the scattered floors of
chaotic meal times in houses of the
poor dash of belisha peril in jitters
waiting for the paraffin fire to blow

Empty Diary 1954
We are statues of ourselves, stiffened eulogies
in the arthritic history of imperial endeavour
(the world of his syllabics: the words
we silently mouth: our faces networks of

electric lies: our lips would seal: our
eyes close on a world which will
drill its electrodes into our mermaid flesh
sketched in by the boss) Say it:

We lick the pellicle of your absence,
Nazi leather stitching your bulging zip (stilyagiskinny kids shivering outside the wimbledon palais
filter sin through newsprint skin us alive

Empty Diary 1968
‘For the man who
has me…’
her eloquent slips black
my discourse,
this second skin, or
so she’s
been told by her
second mind.
My tattoo sweats her
name. She
enters me on a
useless giggle,
then squats at the
master controls,
punching slogans into consciousnesses
sweetened for
rotting the fangs of
. I
wrote her onto the
pillow, a
hot boy pressing for
a kiss,
his Anti-Universe, sunrise from
her bathrobe;
Or: truncheoned jeers, diesel
coughs, she’s
manhandled into the gaping
Black Maria.


from History or Sleep

Human Dust 3
Lores and Bye-Lores 2
Melting Borders 4
Twentieth Century Blues 31

And we are allowed to be happy
sometimes. Indeed it is our duty.

Anthony Rudolf

Less real than a dream
logged in
archaeologists’ ledgers
propels awareness
along another axis
hangs a veiled
filter for your presence
a gauze a
gaze figures inward
dirtying cuffs on the world
wraps the teeming air
in chalk upon a wall
a voice-activated
future on the blink
surrounded by threats
a new point of view
refugee witness’s
shallow relief
slapping into the silent hallway
on her television
at the fingertips
bigger suits work out
the countryside
its collapse ratios
the people
real news from virtual
through force; cold defence
in these narratives as
obliterated landscapes

He wants to be watched the
events the camera
misses notate
the little utopias to
turn them to song (almost)
impassive but knowing
drink the swimming
passion, pleasure’s
beating sunsets each
wall a collision
a vaporous gleam
a sinking body he examines
herself rolls across the floor
at a pinch a pluck a
spoor knuckling
happy sometimes, hardly seems
our duty to brush
with the palm
in such a way
sets this in motion so
he enacts
the bye-lores
she pulls him into
the pool of her
pushing aside
each scheduled routine

One raped
can another relax
orgasmic dead fur
from this catalogue of
terror, frog-eyed navigators
chart us
while enemies invade
(liberate) equivocal
tells us we cannot afford
to open the window
you cannot see
another’s sorrow without
on the breeze, a counter
to think and feel
pleasure empty
as a mouth willing cool
scarecrows itself
all with its fevered dreams
of possible tomorrows
barkyou wake (your victim
pours from you
virtual memories conflate
salt sweat stains
to find - who? - dead)
the recognition that
another human being has responded


Small Voice
Hundred 3.7
Twentieth Century Blues 36

darkness drags

a headlight’s irradiated cone fading to an
English print of shredded lane rheumy vapours
tickling in time the throat catches on
slices of transitory purpose lost in decline

watch a row of identical open trucks
head somewhere archaic like a Midland colliery
not singing praises it’s not even singing
the sharp rasp rustles in the ear

a redundant germ that drifts this Age
of Irony now happening to be forged
it barely sustains its volume of displacement
the vandals have fled the gate bangs

scoop phlegmy lyric from the clogging drone
from the rusted hinges’ lament

bitter croak

January 1997

Only the Eyes are Left
for Mina Loy

What coils under this raw
Sky is pain

Her blind stone eye possessed
By the filth

To which it holds

In her grandmother’s stays

Felicity if only looks
Could cure virginity

Only the eyes the dust of
Stars clogging

The celestial chamber the
Bowery the café du néant

She grips the sides of the
Capsizing real in a

Apartment made of

Refuse in a grand refusal she
Makes him reel

Colossal pussyfooter
With lunar junk

from September 12
Note: poems 1-6 are available online at

Here’s the final poem I read on this recording, the 7th:

Honour killing that slaps a legal face on, when
the evidence takes a life of its own. A breach of
police cooks the entrails warm, holocaust rap

Clawed whip behind a uniformed back:
Switch off your mobile during prayers.Jihad handcuffs locked into media ecology;
all chatter intercepted @bobmarley123
declares White Meat unprepared for barbeque

They remember women as sperm-capped
mountain ranges, out of range, bespoke

bombers in tailored suicide vests, who cannot
drive their delivery van straight - while MI5 bugs
old lectures on Poussin, trying to break the code!
The fourth world war forgives itself forever

A Note on the Texts Recorded
‘Internal Exile 1’ and ‘3’ may be found in Complete Twentieth Century Blues, which is due for publication by Salt, later this year, but 1 is anthologised in Anthology of Twentieth-Century British and Irish Poetry, and 3 in Floating Capital: New Poets from London. They date from 1987, and are the first and last parts of a sequence.

‘Empty Diaries’ (1901-2000) may be found in Complete Twentieth Century Blues, but the 4 here are also anthologised in Other: British and Irish Poetry Since 1970. They date from 1991-3.

‘History or Sleep’ presents the opening sections of the poem of that title, which may be found in Complete Twentieth Century Blues and in The Lores. It was written between August-November 1995.

‘Small Voice’ may be found in Complete Twentieth Century Blues, and in Tin Pan Arcadia. It dates from January 1997.

The remaining selections are not from Complete Twentieth Century Blues:

‘Only the Eyes are Left’, a poem in homage to Mina Loy, and ‘National Security, Huyton 1940’ (which is available on the Archive of the Now site, and are both from Hymns to the God in Which My Typewriter Believes, and written in the early 2000s.

‘September 12’ presents the first seven ‘sonnets’ from the first (of four) series of 24 poems, probably to be collected under that title, written in 2003-4. (See later posts for moe on this.)

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