Monday, December 22, 2014

Robert Sheppard: On Three Sequences by Lee Harwood

I have always wanted to write at some length about the three extraordinary sequences that Lee Harwood published in his book Morning Light 1998, and, of course, collected again in Collected Poems (from which book, as I opened it to check details, a postcard from Lee, featuring an Atget photograph of a Corsetiere, fell; what can he have been trying to tell me?). So here goes. It builds on the briefer descriptions of this trio posted here. It follows on from my review of the 2014 book The Orchid Boat here, itself part of prefatory work for an article provisionally entitled '"Now Put it Together": Lee Harwood and the Gentle Art of Collage'.

Lee Harwood dreaming of Armenia

‘Dreams of Armenia’ presents the history of a near-forgotten genocide. Lyric interludes are truncated by ‘information(s)’. For me, the most resonant lines in the whole of Harwood’s oeuvre are the tender but chilling: ‘They would do this to you, my love,/ and to our son,’ (Harwood 2004, 444), compounding horror across the line-break; the lines rest alongside grim enumerations of ‘Massacres, shootings, bayoneting, hacking….’ (Harwood 2004, 444) Harwood has commented on the poem: ‘that poem is more a praise of Armenia and the Armenia I imagine,’ but – as ever – history keeps breaking in, literally, with more dates and bald grim facts than you find in a Reznikoff or John Seed poem. (Harwood and Corcoran 2008, 94) And the ‘Armenian song that tears your heart’ (441) or the lovemaking ‘in the hot night lying together’ cannot altogether obviate the terror, but then that is the point of the juxtapositions. (443) The changing ‘frames’ are like the mythical (and not so mythical) knock on the door in the middle of the night: ‘a silence. a door bangs in the wind./ not a dream.’ (444) These lines are ambiguous (given that the poem promises ‘dreams’ of Armenia as a positive); the poem’s delights are poised on the edge of terror. ‘“Who remembers the Armenians?” said Hitler years later as he set on the Jews.’ (444) He didn’t ‘say’; he asked. And one unscheduled answer to his rhetorical question is: Lee Harwood, and through Harwood, you (and me). Us. We remember. The poem is, in fact, a love poem, as contextualized by fact and ‘information’ in its way as the magnificent as ‘The Long Black Veil’ of the 1970s. These lovers are no longer young; they, too, have ‘history’: ‘Your long black hair, an occasional grey hair,/ your deep brown eyes that churn my heart.’ (442)

‘The Songs for Those Who Are On The Sea of Glass’ features fragmented accounts of a very literal assault upon the heart, a heart attack, which ends with the startling sonic patterning of: ‘sat up in bed in bizarre pyjamas’, (Harwood 2004: 449) which signals the narrator’s sudden release from the glass sea ‘of being dead and being brought back into what suddenly seemed like an amazing world’, in Harwood’s later commentary (he admits to being ‘happy’ with that marvellous last line too). (Harwood and Corcoran 2008, 94) Between sections which register the quality of light in the ward and the ‘The ice window’ of death – ‘(that’s a metaphor)’ (447) a typical parenthesis reminds us, Harwood remains ever-suspicious of language, even as in another mood (which corresponds to another section) he quotes Mandelstam’s depiction of the human universe as ‘the happy heaven’. (446) But the intrusions of involuntary memory whether of ‘Jamaican cigars long ago’ (446) or of a trip across the literal ice of Esbjerg erupt with hopeful imaginings: ‘Inland a fox trotted nervously/ across snow-covered fields and streams’, we read, a scenario that, with titles like Crossing the Frozen River and HMS Little Fox in Harwood’s back catalogue, let alone all the positive references to the solitary migratory habits of the fox (contrast that with the wolves we find in Barry MacSweeney!), suggests a validation of transitory movement from one ‘frame’ to another (to use William Rowe’s phrase for Harwood’s shiftology). (I stole that word from a book Patricia is reading; it seems apposite.) ‘“The monster! The monster!” fleeing villagers yell/ in black and white Transylvania’ is Harwood’s comic way of mediating ‘a body stitched and wired together’, (448) a reference to the early (and now unconvincing) Frankenstein films, and as ever the deflationary kitsch deflection unsettles the tone, as does his ‘To walk at ease with the ghosts/ (not a club member yet)’, (449) a late instance of what Geoffrey Ward recognised in early Harwood as ‘an importation into experience of a tonal innocence which is recognized as true to life, but which in the new setting of the page must henceforth wear invisible quotation marks’, though in this poem we are guided by the parentheses. (Ward 2007: 37) As Harwood remarks somewhere, the cliché is only too true. Too true. One section reads simply: ‘Talking in code?’ the question mark deflecting again absolute judgement. Clichés and metaphors, sections and poems, even fragmented and multifaceted ones, may be yet speaking in a cipher, and this is a characteristic poetic questioning of the medium of poetry, on Harwood’s part.  

                   The 50 short sections of ‘Days and Nights’ (some of them single lines, like the self-interrogative one in ‘The Songs’) reflect Harwood’s brief employment as a museum attendant (they were ‘written’ in Harwood’s head). They range from single word entries, such as ‘(space)’ (Harwood 2004:  421), which attempts to look outwards, and ‘sullen’ (Harwood 2004: 422) which looks inwards, to meditations on their own development; one explains Harwood’s frequent preference for gerund forms throughout his work: they leave the utterance ‘always in the present    ing   ing’. (Harwood 2004: 421) There is nothing quite as minimal as this in Harwood’s work, although he refers to Raworth’s serial composition ‘Stag Skull Mounted’ (1970), from which it quotes, commenting on its own failure of method, or failure as method: ‘As Tom once wrote “this trick doesn’t work”.’ (Harwood 2004: 422) ‘The line that says nothing. A chair creaks,’ in fact says quite a lot about how ‘one thought fills immensity’ as Blake puts it, (419) though ‘stuck in the fact of absence’ doesn’t quite suggest the zen-like calm of meditation. Structurally, ‘Days and Nights’ testifies to the continuing influences of Ashbery’s ‘Europe’, and to the miniature box-sculptures of Joseph Cornell, to whom the piece is dedicated, the constructor of his own ‘poetic enactments’ as Dore Ashton calls his famous boxes. (Ashton 1974: 1) We are left, as it were, peering into the miniature but expansive interiors of his assemblages in the final ‘accidental sighting’, as these texts are subtitled: ‘The white box contains a landscape.’ (423) The smaller we go: the more the find. Cornell was first excited by the ‘splice of life of collage’ as Waldrop calls it – he was untrained and could not draw – when he saw Max Ernst’s work, but it was later with his friend Marcel Duchamp that he ‘shared … a love for sudden juxtapositions, of perfectly ordinary and even vulgar objects. But seashells, pressed flowers, and butterflies were in the final analysis closer to Cornell’s vision than were Duchamp’s ironies’, as Ashton explains. (Ashton 1974: 77). Cornell preferred what she calls the bric-a-brac of ‘Victoriana or Americana’ of which Cornell was an obsessive collector. (Ashton 1974: 74) Harwood’s attitude to literary collage is similar to this cabinet of curiosities approach, closer to the juxtapositions of the Victorian commonplace book than to those of William Burroughs or Dada-period Tzara.

A final thought (after, or rather, during, a late afternoon walk down the Allerton Road where I bought a novel, The Director’s Cut,  by Nicholas Royle, which was priced £1 and which the charity shop wanted to charge me 29p for – and I refused, giving them the pound that was already a markdown, but it was an appropriate find, since Lee is a walk-on character in Nick’s latest novel, First Novel): amid the syntactic and rhythmical restlessness of Harwood’s work, between the shifting ‘scenes’ of the clusters of fragments in the narrative, there is a singular voice (that is not to be confused with its variable ‘tone’, as some commentators have noted), a set of concerns and a way of saying them that is – whatever the formal or narrative guise – immediately recognisable as ‘Harwood’, and quite unique. It is an undamaged fragility, a quiet determination to uphold eros and agape against the forces of destruction and negativity, a polyphony to undermine the stomping boots of the military marching song, a bit of camp (or the occasional kitsch ‘bad’ line) thrown in to unsettle the certainties of received discriminations in life and in the arts.

One reference of use:

Ashton, Dore. A Joseph Cornell Album. New York: The Viking Press, 1974. 

Richard Cupidi and his Public House Bookshop (Brighton) with Lee Harwood, Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky
 Read a two part review of Harwood's Collected Poems here and here. i.m. here.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Robert Sheppard: review of Lee Harwood's The Orchid Boat on Stride (and a strange thought)

Read my review of Lee Harwood's The Orchid Boat on Stride here. Here are his hands reading:

And here and here are parts one and two of a review of his Collected Poems. Perhaps best read before the Stride review. See Enitharmon's announcement of, and extract from, my review here. And, oddly, the review again, here.

I had a strange thought working on Lee Harwood's work: during the time I write about him, I kind of feel that I am in communication with the man himself. I mean this literally. In periods of work I don't feel the necessity to phone him or write to him, and it's a surprise to find that I haven't, because I feel it's already happening. Perhaps it's a personal by-product of an effect William Rowe describes in his Three Lyric Poets: 'When Harwood explores intimacies of feeling almost too delicate for the voice to sustain, he deploys the hesitancies and gaps of everyday speech, the places where meaning breaks down into the sheer lapse of lived time.’ (Rowe 2009: 7)

 There is an interview with Kelvin Corcoran here about the book (though I only found it after reviewing it).

i.m. here.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Wolf 31 Published/Robert Sheppard on Christopher Middleton

TheWolf 31 (December 2014) is now available

Edited by James Byrne and Sandeep Parmar

Included in this issue: An exclusive interview with Jerome Rothenberg by Ariel Resnikoff. Reviews of Geoffrey Hill, Carol Watts and D.S. Marriott. Poems from Chris McCabe, Manoel de Barros, John James, Jana Bodnárová, Alvin Pang and much more. See here.

Christopher Middleton

This issue also contains my piece ‘Artifice and Artificers: The Meaning of Form in the work of Christopher Middleton’, formerly an excerpt from my book The Meaning of Form (for which I have a firm publisher), and now an outtake, or more practically, a separate essay of its own and, I hope, a useful account of the work of this major writer. Read the whole essay here. Oliver Dixon has some nice things to say about it here.

An introduction to The Meaning of Form and links to its formative pieces see here.

A Wolf interview with me, conducted by Chris Madden may be read here. I'm thinking of including this in my selected poems, History or Sleep.

Friday, December 12, 2014

25 Edge Hill Poets: Joanne Ashcroft


from What the Tree Said

sweet green my worlds seemed as buds

sense-locked by me & laid

carved in hearts

along my trunk


words stirred


cordless my leaves began a breathing

beyond my arms unfurling


charmed in transport


their core (or mine) tendrilled

some over-green

some straining peaks

all sun-trailing

in hues bluntly


in small red scales

ripening were its tongues

with nutshellings scratched in

digestions gone rogue sounds escaping



Having successfully completed a BA (Hons) Creative Writing and English at Edge Hill, I continued on to study the MA Creative Writing with a focus on poetry. I chose to continue at Edge Hill to further the study of innovative poetries, and poetics, which I had begun to explore, both from a literary critical and to drive my writing practice, during the BA. During my MA, I was joint winner of the inaugural Rhiannon Evans Poetry Scholarship 2010. From Parts Becoming Whole (The Knives Forks Spoons Press, 2011) is my first collection of poetry and came directly out of the poetry written during the MA. Towards the end of my MA I became a member of the Poetry and Poetics Research Group at Edge Hill. I went on to be winner of Poetry Wales Purple Moose Prize 2012, my pamphlet Maps and Love Songs for Mina Loy is published Seren.

Working with the poet Philip Davenport (as ‘Arthur and Martha’) introduced me to using experimental poetry and visual art in community projects. I have led a series of ‘poetry as reminiscence’ workshops in the community which involved using experimental poetry writing techniques with older people. I have had my poetry and reviews published in various magazines and journals and have presented papers on my work at conferences. I am currently undertaking creative writing practice-led research at Edge Hill University investigating the idea of ‘multi-voice lyric’ in contemporary innovative poetry. Alongside this I have taught undergraduate 1st and 3rd year poetry (and fiction) modules at Edge Hill. I have continued to read my work most recently at the Blue Bus reading series in London with Robert Hampson and Elaine Randell, at Storm and Sky with Rhys Trimble in Liverpool and at Peter Barlow’s Cigarette in Manchester with Lucy Burnett, Nathan Thompson and Steve Spence.

I am drawn to poetry in which sound manifests as the dominant textual register. Modernist poetry and innovative or experimental modern poetries are where my passions and inspirations are fired.
My own poetry explores how sound aspects of language are intrinsic in poetic compositional processes and how this shapes the resultant poem. My poetics are a work in progress, especially at this point when I am developing that alongside experimenting in my creative work. As part of my current research I am experimenting in writing poetry which explores possibilities for polyphony and rhythms of identities. For this I am using Bakhtin’s ideas about dialogisms applied to poetry and drawing on Julia Kristeva’s ideas, in particular about language and the maternal body in exploring possibilities for dialogisms between speech and the female body. This writing is entering the arena of complex dialogic relations between variously endophonic and exophonic assemblages of sound sequences.

To me, poetry embodies an openness to otherness, is an active seeking after the unknown for the experience (and pleasure) of journeying (in words) rather than for the closure of arriving at an end point. It is open to possibilities and doesn’t use language to silence the other, rather, because it is not afraid of difference or not knowing, it encourages interactions and proliferations which serve only to extend and enrich the work. Poetry is painting with words, is mapping sounds into rhythms on the pages in endless combinations. Writing poetry allays my own fears of being unanswered. Poetry enables me to see (versions of) myself. Writing poetry is a release for some of the psychic energy which otherwise has me blowing light bulbs!

Video (more of What the Tree Said):
and of The Other Room reading at

See her reading her collaborative piece with Patricia Farrell here.

Details of the Edge Hill Creative Writing MA here.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Robert Sheppard's Warrant Error: unredacted report from the War on Terror

The US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report (read here) confirmed what many suspected. To 'commemorate' that event, by ordinary rendition, here are some poems from Warrant Error (see more here about this book of mine). 

Dissensus-uncensored citizens their post-fluidarity
Jams the geodesic sepulchres of GCHQ

The ballet of chatter threatens the iron triangle
A-theism in-corporates the earth’s blown powder
But resistance to existential terror within
Microquakes at neo-feudal controls
Quivers flesh contra the Universal Event

Military ground aches with mediatized Odes
While secular fatwas begin the law of rules
Territorialized apostrophes in the dead mouths of victors

We are in love with Eros and you with a suitcase
Dirty device crafted by cells O! new
Selves unresolved on a new war footing
Self-made utopias              draped in black

Self-othering hood Klans one’s unbecoming
the obsolete body art of choreographed excess
a video diary that couldn’t care more or less

Floating on flesh-hooks in betweenness aloft
who licks the blinding gusset of combat knickers

kicks a pile of fleshly rags shovelled by rubber-
necking rednecks? Instead of thumbprints
they press sweat-stains into the dustiest corners.
A body regime splintered by such loving
inhabits what it shall never possess

A barbed obscenity haunts for an extra ear
the parasitic cyborg whose hearts and minds
surrender to the body’s self-absorption.
Under the hood maggots nest like emotion
Black night stiffens the resolve of the window.
Wipe-out rain, a bad sound effect of rain, white-
noises your voices out, rustles up a simpler sound
of God’s brass neck talking through His hat
Your ruffled reflection raises the ethical question
as you paste words like ‘author’ and ‘authority’
on the board beyond this screen of your becoming
Wind, though outside, sheers your breath away.
On a traffic island in Hardman St., a kneeler torches the night
in Guantánamo orange, grizzled by a protestant cloud.
Police rush on in yellow. Fleshing blue lights on cars
parked as barriers breed darkness in the dark
Smack a lip or two, ruddied up, roughed up for a smile.
Tonight, Condoleezza Rice is being entertained

The foreign secretary, spotting bare-headed top brass,
swipes the tin hat from his head as he follows
down the steps to Iraq’s soft tarmac the secretary of state’s smile
that’s clammed to her face like a category mistake
that dropped down one floor in the lift and emerged
a changeling into the roar of a canvas wind.
Celebrity murderess heads off to a fresh beheading.
Elegant heels lift slender ankles, where he follows
Yawning policewomen guard the spaces in Liverpool
she leaves, a line of orange cones elisions in her diary
Her brain barks orders like a sea captain during desertion.
Abu Ghraib grey ocean lips sharp-toothed cliffs brushed by sun.
The mutineers have taken the dormitory.
As their voices fall asleep, they murmur against her
A tall man came to their door an
Instance of polite rendition
She was in a loose dressing gown he
Could see a strap it was
The wrong hotel between the killings
Kaleidoscope reassembled history
Moved ‘inevitably’ towards
Warrantless wiretaps and zap the road
To Damascus was shelled every day
He stuck his fingers in a bag of salt
Zawahiri had them shot filmed it
Following a script
Provided by their enemies they dropped
Leaflets on fields of perfumed martyred corpses
Self-protection was self-consumption scared
Or sacred it’s eased into the holiest story
A sonnetized account with the biggest screen test
Local colour was masked by raw
Overheads and the heresy was mere hearsay
When evidently witless their mouths agape they rose
At bungled bugle-blasts jamming Agape and Eros
In the ballad of the blade she bites him
Obliged attack he shoots mightily back in
Terror or error she tries to send the message
From compassion back to passion
She writes releases for rouged regimes
When she’s finished she pulls the plug
And he spills the viscous liquid for her
Read Alan Baker's review of Warrant Error here. And more of these 'sonnets' here.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

i.m. Dinesh Allirajah

It is with great sadness that I'm announcing that Dinesh Allirajah, creative writing associate tutor at Edge Hill, died yesterday from complications following surgery.

Dinesh was a well-known writer in the North West (but particularly in Liverpool) having published many short stories, anthologies and poetry, some it jazz poetry. He worked with us at Edge Hill and also at UClan.

He'd worked for some years at Edge Hill and is much loved by his students and colleagues alike. Dinesh leaves behind two sons, 10 and 12, their mother and his partner Vicky.
I had just linked this blog to his, where he was wittily blogging about hospitalisation but also about 'Real Time Stories'.
More here. And here. And a video clip here. See his published work here.

As I blog this I am listening to a compilation of live Miles Davis tracks. A great jazz fan, and jazz poet, Dinesh might have liked that. Only Miles could make a track called 'What's New?' sound so appropriately sad. And bleak.

Pages (this blog) home page here.


Dinesh's funeral took place on Monday 22 December at Springwood Crematorium, Springwood Avenue, Garston, Liverpool L25 7UN. It was a sombre but celebratory ceremony, ending with Martha Reeves singing Heatwave. An obituary has been published in The Guardian here.

FURTHER UPDATE: There was an evening event to celebrate the life and work of Dinesh Allarajah at the Bluecoat in Liverpool on 6th May 2015. See here.

Monday, December 08, 2014

i.m. Geoffrey Soar

I am sad to have heard this morning officially of the death of Geoffrey Soar from his wife Valerie, though I had picked up the news in one of Lawrence Upton’s updates, and I find Ken Edwards has posted a remark on Facebook. He had been ill for some years.

Indefatigable supporters of radical poetry both, the Soars were often met at readings, events and parties (including ours) in 1990s London. Geoffrey had semi-retired, I think, then, from his post of librarian at the Little Magazine and Small Press Collection at University College London, a resource absolutely vital for tracing the history of innovative poetry in the Twentieth Century. He published and exhibited at least the following:

Little Magazines Exhibition Geoffrey Soar Published by University College London, 1967

Ezra Pound in the magazines : an exhibition [held in the] Flaxman Gallery, University College, London, Library, 9 September-14 October 1977 / compiled by Geoffrey Soar.

"Joyce and the Joyceans: an exhibition compiled by Geoffrey Soar and Richard Brown" (1982).

Geoffrey Soar and RJ Ellis, ‘Little Magazines in the British Isles Today’, British Book News (December 1983), pp. 728-33

David Miller and Geoffrey Soar, Little Magazines and How They Got That Way, Exhibition Guide, 27 September-25 October 1990, Royal Festival Hall, London, draws on the Little Magazine Collection at University College, London, started by Soar and maintained by Miller.

Interaction & Overlap: From the Little Magazine and Small Press Collection at University College London Miller, David and Geoffrey Soar London: Workfortheeyetodo, 1994.

Wolfgang Gőrtschacher, Little Magazine Profiles (Saltzburg: University of Saltzburg, 1993) is a full length study of the phenomenon of little magazines which owes to Geoffrey and features a full length interview with him.

Geoffrey was also a painter and Writers Forum will be publishing some work of his soon. Our thoughts are with Valerie. 

More on the little presses here

Friday, December 05, 2014

25 Edge Hill Poets: Andrew Taylor

Andrew Taylor (photo: Paul Hawkins)


Slow cruel
hands of time
there is snow
on the ground
slightly cut off
the trains still
run just
is there a ghost in my house?
I could sleep
across tramlines
on a £67.26 bike
Danish coffee
Danish pastries
the smell of the sea
in the air
before redevelopment
crushed the soul
out of the city
and squeezed it into
glossy magazines
seek the independent
taste the double shot
walk the hill
Neon glasses say it all
especially at dusk
when the mist rises
slowly through
streets like lace
there is the need
to home
to ground
amongst the bags
the belt buckle tightens
another notch
it must be the soup
Granite walls
the private dock
summer sense of calm
within the grounds
there are ruins
in the fridge there
are cans of Coca-Cola
Elderflower presse
and San Miguel
she complains about
the size of her hands
blue plaster
blue jeans
flat white
almost a perfect leaf
the comfort
of a dusty kneeler
extinguished candles
at dusk
right through
start in one country
exit in another
battlements harbour walls
the overwhelming sense
of history
pebbles washed up
bring their own tales
strings and choirs
returning estuary
beyond home
take the old road
you will find the oak
kites on the sand
if you go far enough west
the signal reads Ireland
choirs and strings
solo against treated string
look left
as if perched on a hill
it is there
arms wrapped around
the port
another return
to face through
darkness aware
of hidden landscape
routine is played
through necessity
it sounds as though
it was recorded
in the largest
of cathedrals
what is a cathedral
if it is not
a home?
the goodness of warmth
hot coffee
regardless of location
to get aside
to listen

Recent collaborative (with Sophie Herxheimer) and non collaborative work published at Otoliths

Editor at M58 a poetry blogzine that specializes in visual and other poetries

a co-editor at erbacce-press and erbacce poetry journal

 Poetics published in Troubles Swapped for Something Fresh: Manifestos and Unmanifestos (Salt) and Otoliths, and poetry publications Cathedral Poems (Paula Brown) and Temporary Residence (erbacce-press) 

My relationship with Edge Hill is long and varied. A graduate of the BA in English and MA in Creative Writing, I gained a PhD under the supervision of Robert Sheppard. I was a founder member of the Edge Hill Poetry and Poetics Research Group. 

I now teach English and Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University.

Further (earlier) Pages features on Andrew's work may be found here:

Deatils of the Edge Hill MA here.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Set list : McCaffery/MacCormack + Sheppard/Boyland/Blowers FRIDAY 28th NOVEMBER 2014 at Storm and Golden Sky, Liverpool

Steve McCaffery and Karen Mac Cormack were brilliant.

Jo Blowers, Steve Boyland and Robert Sheppard performed the three voice piece premiered at 8 Water Street (see here for an account of the poem and the previous performance).

Steve also performed with Steve.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Set list: Reading with Sam Riviere at Liverpool University 26th November 2014

On Wednesday 26th November 2014, at the invitation of Sandeep Parmar, I was pleased to read with the excellent Sam Riviere for the University of Liverpool, as part of the Miriam Allott Reading series. I read both published and unpublished work. As ever, the well-rehearsed set was unique to the occasion, the reason for recalling them here. Watch a video of the reading here.

Set List

from Berlin Bursts

Two poems about the saying and the said:

A Voice Without (with may be read here, among other texts)
Yet Another Poem (a draft may be read here)

from Warrant Error

Poems 1-5 from ‘September 12’
5 Poems from ‘Out of Nowhere’ (some of these)

from Berlin Bursts

The first 4 ‘Poems Against Death’.

From ‘Petrarch 3: a derivative derive for Tim Atkins and Peter Hughes after Harry Mathews and Nicholas Moore (See a different set list here)

The ‘original’ Petrarch translation

Read the original in its original place for its original purpose here.

Iron Maiden
Pet (doggie poem; read here)
Petrak: The First English Sonnet, Good Friday 4001
Now then now then and now (the ‘Jimmy Savile' poem; you could hear a pin drop)

'I'm the rock hard tart who pecked his way up Thatcher's snatch!'

twittersonnet (after Rene Van Valckenborch; read his twittersonnet and twitterodes here.)
VE Day 1985 (after Wayne Pratt)

Read more about Warrant Error here.
Read more about Berlin Bursts here.

Poster for the events (Sam and I in squares 3 and 2 respectively)

Friday, November 28, 2014

25 Edge Hill Poets: Hazel Mutch



This page     flies    flies     tilts

                                                     noun  drops   drift

                                                          verbs   wing

inwards    in sight

                a bright rush    a brushing

                                           touch               a pause,



 affecting   thorax  down  

                             shivering        between


                                               and symmetry





make sense

of dancing            over nothing     

                                                         but colours



This page   falls     



                                                            lines    turn

                                                            into time

kept   and cared about


I completed the Creative Writing MA in 2011 with distinction, and am currently training in Poetry Therapy with IAPT.  Writing poetry is part of my life practice and so my intention is to write consciously, experiencing and observing myself and the world around me, including in the act of writing. This is also the motivation behind my therapy poetry practice; to create the conditions in which poetry and writing can be used to gain insights which can bring freedom from conditioned thinking.

I continue to explore notions of how a poem’s existence parallels human existence, as I endeavour to fully experience both.

 Details of the Edge Hill MA here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Robert Sheppard: John Seed: England’s derelict archive circa 1990

(The above quartet of links will direct you to my previous accounts of Seed's work.)
Seed reading at The Poetry Buzz

John Seed’s poetry battled against Thatcherism in the only way poetry can, quietly and by, and through, its formal innovations. There are some strong poems that seem to me to exemplify this. Seed shares my sense of poetry as a dark nugget of resistance to the reality principle, though he’d not quite use that language. Something in the era caused all of us to come out of our shells. It is a miracle, though, given this, that he is still able to write a poem of the imagistic clarity of ‘shadow of the gable-end’ (p. 71 of his New and Collected Poems, but also, something reminded me, in Pages 25-32; October 1987, the precursor to this blogzine! ISSN 0951 – 72 43 for those who like such things). That ‘shadow’, we are told, is ‘Sharp against the white wall,’ though it is ‘Fading and shifting’ thus one unfinished aspect of reality (and out of reach of political interference). Seed even allows

                                                                        how beautiful

                        The world seems its transformations


This hymn to unfinish reminds us that perceptual transformation is a model for other kinds of transformation, without stating anything like a political theme. In the above poem ‘transformations’ is the single and foregrounded abstract noun. The word ‘seems’ suggests that beauty itself is incomplete, only half the story, ‘as we/ Begin to leave’.

 Contiguous poems (all bar one reprinted in the same order from his 1993 collection Interior in Open Air (Reality Street)) dally less over shadows and, if not quite foregrounding political realities, abstractions become important in the discourse. The prose poem ‘Brick Lane Market’ (dated September 1984) presents a world of objects (I’m not making any facile equation with ‘Objectivism’; see elsewhere) and suggests the tumble of the famous street market (not perhaps as famous as Petticoat Lane) by presenting the undifferentiated merchandise as one long compound(ed) noun to show they are components in an aggregate, one thing: ‘Denturescrackedjugsbrokenshoespanlids’(53) These are separated from the truly useless ‘Collar studs for shirts long since rags,’ flagging up (or ragging up)‘shifting’ and ‘transformations’ that have destroyed the object’s utility. There is no suggestion that the ‘collar studs’ (used to attach the detachable and separately washable collars to shirts; hence collarless shirts were/are called ‘Grandad shirts’) will become antiques. (That’s another market economy of course. In Letter from the Blackstock Road, written about the same time and in the same city as this poem, I quote this brazen truth from a shop sign: ‘We buy junk and sell antiques.’) In fact, white space, used as carefully in Seed’s prose as in his poetry, separates us from the economy he sees beneath or behind these attempts. Over what is ‘Detritus’ he presents ‘bent figures … sifting garbage in the gutters’; the text reminds us, should we have forgotten, in bourgeois retreat from the scene, where somebody might find somebody else’s ‘dentures’ of use, that they are ‘human figures’ too, like many of the Victorian survivors of the demi-monde that Seed and Mayhew (together) bring to life in his ‘Mayhew’ poems. The central, explanatory abstraction is: ‘Circulation of commodities at the limit’. At the limit of what? At the limit of commodification, certainly (it’s ‘detritus’), and at the limit of human utility, the edge of poverty in other words.

Brick Lane Market
But this scene is not Victorian London. However, the contiguous poem in the collection(s), ‘Along the Thames, Looking from the Roof of the Custom House: October 1849’ emphatically is. (52) The precise dating shares the same digits as the contemporary poem’s, 1984, and is a numerical echo that suggests historical equation or difference. The title is that of a photograph or painting and Seed (though present in neither poem: imagine how the streak of personality would have ruined either) presents a skyscape of variable ‘Busy trade’: numerous types of boats (‘barges’, ‘schooner’ and ‘steamers’, getting ever-larger, more sea-going rather than riverine as the passage progresses), numerous items of ‘trade’: ‘beer’ (! John), ‘fruit’ and more generic ‘crates of hardware’). The verbs are active (‘moving’), adjectives suggest plenitude (‘heaped-up’) and evoke the ‘busy’-ness of business very well (and its specialised vocabulary). Seed’s Marxist commitments are even less attracted to this scene than the one of contemporary destitution (this is important, easy to miss): ‘Busy trade and boundless capital: all corners of the earth ransacked, each for its particular produce.’ ‘Boundless capital’ is, of course, imperialist and colonialist trade, which (as Seed points out in his excellent volume Marx: A Guide for the Perplexed) was the most prescient aspect of Marx’s works of political economy, the virtual prediction of the development of ‘a global working class that produces essential goods mainly for the European and North American markets’, but yet lives in ‘absolute immiseration’. (Seed 2010: 167) In 1849 this ‘market’ was, in the poem, London, the ransacking pivot of the world, the ironic ‘Axis Mundi’ represented by this picture. But, of course, 1848 was a year of Revolutions on the continent, and, more hopefully, Seed reminds us (elsewhere, in his guise as an historian) that Marx commented: ‘The chief result of the revolutionary movement of 1848 is not what the people won, but what they lost – the loss of their illusions’ (quoted p. 41). Somewhere offstage, this near-coincidence of dates (and its echoes of 1984), signals this recognition.

Seed’s poems might be seen as the Benjaminian project of giving a physiognomy to raw dates, whether 1849, 1984, or in Transit Depots (1919-1939), or – as in the dates of poems to which I now turn – 1989 and 1990.

‘New Year’s Eve, 1989, Driving South’ is an unusually allusive poem, and allusive not to Marx or Benjamin’s take on Klee’s angel of history, for example, but to the main tradition of English poetry. The poem begins (and ends) with a reminder of the time in cosmological and psychological terms, with two of Seed’s wonderful hanging indented lines (ranged right from the capitalised full line-beginnings):

                                                            this is the year’s last day

                                                and the decade’s

It ends with an iteration, but one emphasised by the capitals:

                                                This year’s and the day’s

                                                The decade’s

                                                Deep midnight (73)

(The use of ‘night’ in Seed’s work deserves an essay of its own.) Like Donne’s similarly mid-winter ‘A Nocturnall Upon S. Lucies Day’, which begins ‘Tis the yeares midnight, and it is the dayes,’ (Donne 1950: 50), and ends ‘since this/ Both the yeares, and the dayes deep midnight is’ (51), Seed returns to the essential time of year, but whereas Donne’s narrator is consumed with the loss of a lover (‘For I am every dead thing’) which he relates to the winter environment, and he expects no vernal resurrection in his state: ‘I … am the grave,/ Of all, that’s nothing’ (50), Seed’s anomie is both more personal and more socially situated: ‘the dreaming kids …/What kind of English/ History can I tell them?’ (74) As an historian he professionally faces this question; but it is also a reference to the politicisation of the history curriculum in schools (a process that returned under Michael Gove, of course, despite his going… going… Gove….) On the quotidian (and dreaded) post-Christmas long drive back from visiting distant relatives, these questions arise. There are grim jokes:

                        Whatever’s the opposite

                        Of a construction site

                        Distributed North (73)

Deconstruction? No: just plain old fashioned ‘destruction’ will do! Thatcher had no compunction about immiserating the North, her battle with miners and mining communities (her maiden speech in Parliament in the 1960s had been on this subject, revenge for the General Strike in 1926), her deliberate willingness to let Liverpool wither, ‘managed decline’ was their euphemism – it’s all a matter of record now. Back then it was inference:

                        What were we meant

                        To feel if not political

                        Hate?        and failure… (73)

‘Hate’ is capitalised by the line break, allegorised a tad, but the ‘failure’ reminds us of the self-loathing at the heart of the poem (that, drawing on the Donne, we are ‘nothing’). ‘Poverty lies and despair’ is Seed’s equivalent of Donne’s ‘absence, darknesse, death, things which are not’, (50) except they emphatically exist. He quotes his second intertextual reference as comment on this, and serves to underline the cyclical and iterative form of the poem itself: ‘We must suffer them all again’. (73) The allusion is to Auden’s famous (but suppressed) ‘September 1, 1939’ (another poem that carries its date in its title). The word ‘decade’ is inserted into what otherwise appears to be Seed’s opening and closing lines, but it refers to Auden’s similar sense of being at a bad decade’s end (I won’t do my ‘decades actually end in 0 years’ bit here): ‘a low dishonest decade’, the thirties, that lead inevitably to war (three days later than the date of Auden’s title, and he knew it). It’s a great poem (Auden’s best, despite the suppression, and destined not to be forgotten, because of the suppression):

I sit in one of the dives

On Fifty-Second Street

Uncertain and afraid

As the clever hopes expire

Of a low dishonest decade:

Waves of anger and fear

Circulate over the bright

And darkened lands of the earth,

Obsessing our private lives… (Auden 1986: 245)

Like Seed, the political invades the private, ‘the dreaming kids’. There seems no escape, and thus another underlying functionality for the circular and iterative styling of the text: ‘Where are we headed?/ Not even exile.’ (74) At least one question is answered. The poem is pessimistic.

Seed’s intertextual use of William Wordsworth and Spenser (and/or Eliot) in ‘Crossing Westminster Bridge, Nights, November 1990’ could be similarly analysed, though the comic ending (which I love):

Sweet Thames

            wherever you’ve come from

Fuck off (78) 

has less resonance than the allegorical force of the drive south (away from the blighted North) of the earlier poem. Of course, ‘wherever you’ve come from’ might be questioning which source (a suitable riverine metaphor) the words have come from: Spenser’s glorification of London presaging a royal wedding day or Eliot’s regret at the loss of all that tat in personal feeling as black as Donne’s, but deeply conservative in its social focus. ‘Fuck off’ is a response to those literary sources, as well as an expression of the ‘political/Hate’ of the earlier poem, the reality of ‘England’s derelict /Archive 1990’. (77)

A Personal Postscript

The house on the left looks extraordinarily like the one we lived in, Lessignham Ave, Tooting

Inserted into New and Collected Poems is an untitled piece, dedicated to Patricia Farrell and myself. It was excluded from Interior in Open Air probably because it is slight, a moonlit epiphany of ‘the precision/ Of light     on asphalt crystal’, where the present disperses into the ‘future we/ Disappear into’. The scene is depopulated, no humans of any kind, just the recording of place and time:


On the turn of Lessingham Avenue SW18 (sic)


November 24th 1990 (79)

As to place: Lessingham Ave, where Patricia and I lived in Tooting, is actually in SW17 (even ‘on the turn’ I think, into the main road). As for time: It’s the same month and year as the Westminster Bridge poem, but more specifically, it’s nearly a quarter to ten and it’s a Saturday. One of our ‘legendary’ London parties is referred to here, but not the now-quite-frequently-referred-to ‘Smallest Poetry Festival in the World’ (that was 4 years later, give or take ten days), but the one recorded in my journal thus:

Tuesday 27th November [1990]: Thatcher resigned last week, on Thursday. By lunchtime, I’d re-written ‘The Poll Tax Blues’ to take account of her sudden fall: ‘Thatcher’s gone but she should be dead./ [See here.] I want her to suffer like we’ve all bled.’ I needed it for our party on Saturday, when Chris [Baldwin] and Tony [Parsons] and I [i.e. our acoustic blues trio Little Albert Fly] did our full set (with some improvisations) for the delight of our guests (none of whom I really spoke to, but it was good to see Mick Parsons and Bob Cobbing; all the Alfords and Peter Tingey; John Muckle and Chloë Homewood, to juxtapose parts of the guest-list). The fall of Thatcher was part of the rejoicing: a sudden and calamitous removal by the ‘men in grey suits’ who will take over. I am under no illusion … Thatcherism has permanently altered the shape of this country and that even a change of government which, temporarily at least, seems less likely now, would not be able to reverse a good number of ‘achievements’. But even a change of Tory leader – they’re voting today – would be preferable. (Only just, probably).

That’s the unstated context of Seed’s

                                    Tense    presence

                                                the future we

                        Disappear into

as he disappeared into the Tooting night: we were all ‘No-one’ as far the Tory government was concerned, whoever we suspected would next lead it. In fact, some of the worst excesses of Thatcherism occurred after her ‘fall’.

As it was long before we were there

A Second Personal Postscript

It occurs to me now that ‘New Year’s Eve, 1989, Driving South’ was written (or written about events that occurred) three days after the day I began work on Twentieth CenturyBlues. Perhaps somebody should do something with that coincidence. On that day I drafted ‘Melting Borders’ which surrealised the news where Seed ponders over it, and serves as a ‘Preface’ to the next 11 years of work (in which there are a couple of poems dedicated to Seed, one of course in the interwoven text(s) of Transit Depots/ Empty Diaries, by Seed and Sheppard which were published by Ship of Fools in 1992, with images by Patricia Farrell). Here it is (and it should appear in my selected poems too):

Empty Diary 1926

For John Seed 1

We push cars on their sides, jeering

them out

                 coal lorries with police guards

smoulder outside the depot’s gates and

nervous clerks in tin hats salute débutantes

peeling spuds with bloodless fingers:

history’s tight membrane

the age’s leaking sewer,

revolution, spirits one broken machine gun in

a pram

hold out

until the police clear the Broadway for

the British Gazette

for one instant

Baldwin’s hanged and we call this