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Saturday, January 13, 2007

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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