Friday, January 09, 2015

Robert Sheppard: 'Hymns to the God My Typewriter Believes In': History or Sleep, Selected Poems

Here's (yet) another poem de-selected from my selected poems, in this case in the already abridged version I was considering for the book.This is one of my so-called 'Text and Commentatry' poems from my book Hyms to the God in which my Typewriter Believes. It has only been taken out because there is another, more representative, 'text and commentary' (a text which 'reads through' another but is also a text in its own right) in the selection. This poem comments (and textualises!) on the sequential drafts of an Anne Sexton poem, 'Wallflower', which are presented in Robin Skelton's The Poet's Calling. I've not come across another act of writing that does that. The title of the poem (and the re-grammarised book title) is a quote from Sexton, defining what her poems are.

from Hymns to the God My Typewriter Believes In


for Anne Sexton


To write is to walk over the surface of story, kicking at patterns. It is not told, but told of. Do not extinguish its thought; it is better worn down to its threads!

            Three times you type the same words, an incantation. The circle is repeated three times.



She invites you in, but the promise is clumsy, distant. Perhaps you withdraw from the reiterated details, threadbare traps. Keep still, like a bartender, as she passes the bar


                           paces the boundaries of her body, skin prowler. Her red face is a giveaway that you won’t take up.



Deletions first! The story has clearly begun again, an odyssey of carpet navigations and curious misspellings. We are not going to escape the whiplash across the bad lines.

            X marked the spot, only we’re adrift.

            She’s out in the bathroom, throwing up, washing her hands again and again; she’s caught somewhere in the wrong poem.

            It’s ‘bliss’ she can’t spell, as though her thighs might splay drunkenly if you caught her saying ‘blish’.




Blushing without bliss

She pulls the rug from under us

The lines are on her body

Stolen and scuffed

Scoured by soap in a Victorian scullery


At least a suspicion

Her thighs on duty

Off stage

Thinking in circles again


Ask: which metaphor was which bit of whose sore thumb?



She’s not listening, no longer beside you. She’s


beside herself with hunger. The aphrodisiac silence


smooth below the waist like a manikin


Perfect playmate
of a thought

a Crusoe of radishes
and I-spy

fix your position
for the same polished performance

You can climb a
ladder but you can’t

climb out of the book
We could snigger at

the smut but we’d get thrown
clean out of the playhouse


Move back and see what energy we can distil from what we didn’t want to say. The bride has fallen, whorishly. No heart can rip her skirts off, not in a busk.

Tear up the carpet and paste its patterns on your consciousness. It is censored by the scribbler after the prayer was rolled out of its scroll, January 2nd-3rd 1962.