Monday, November 30, 2015

Robert Sheppard (Storm and Golden Sky November 2015: set list)

Storm and Golden Sky at the Caledonia

FRIDAY 27th November 2015

Sandeep Parmar and Robert Sheppard and Adam Hampton

After an afternoon teaching John James - reducing the pleasure of that work to gobbets of reference - how can you not 'get' the pleasure? - to Liverpool in the rain, to Storm for a very packed - the most packed yet - reading by Adam Hampton, me, and Sandeep Parmar, in that order. Sandeep was cool and relaxed, read really well, great work; I was the usual headless chicken; I read well, and people enjoyed it, I think. I was unusually nervous and afterwards exhausted. (It was a nervy experience reading to a 'home crowd', as Elly Rees understood, having done so herself a couple of months ago). Set list:

I was launching both Words Out of Time and History or Sleep:

from 'The Given' part one ('David's bottled fish ... Empson had wind'.)
'The Hungry Years' 
(these first two both in memory of Lee Harwood, who is mentioned in the first and is the dedicatee of the poem, and co-dedicatee of the book itself, with Scott Thurston)
'Internal Exile 1 and 3'
'Smokestack Lightning'
from 'Empty Diaries': 1946, 1954, 1955 (read here), 1967, 1968.
'Only the Eyes are Left' (for Sandeep, who is a Loy scholar)
from 'Warrant Error': the first poem, 'He breaks off', 'Black night', 'The foreign secretary', Her breath'. ('Black night' 'happened' just round the corner from the Cal, see below)
the first 'Arrival' poem. 
'The Evening Star' (a poem written the night before, i.m.  Lee Harwood).  

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

(She was being entertained by Tacky Jacky Straw at the Philharmonic Halls.)

New Book: Words Out of Time: Autrebiographies and unwritings:

Newer Book: History or Sleep: Selected Poems:


European Union of Imaginary Authors:

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Robert Sheppard: Far Language: (Flashlight) Propositions (poetics)



1          There are two general aims of the kind of poetry proposed:


1.1       The investigation and invention of poetic forms to accommodate and inaugurate new modes of perception and expression.


1.11     This will have the additional effect of extending the paradigm ‘poetry’.


1.2       Secondly, it frustrates the processes of naturalisation: delays readers reducing the strangeness of poetic language to paraphrase, to everyday language statements about the external world.


1.21     In a poem, it is only through the operations of poetic artifice that the perceptions of the ordinary everyday world are disrupted and criticised.


1.3       The concept of ‘poetry’ is entropic, and ceases to break its own paradigm, through time.


1.4       It is only through the development of new formal devices that both naturalisation and entropy can be delayed.


2          Such a poetry owes a general debt to modernism; specifically it is a reading of its forgotten vitality.


2.1       It looks to the more extreme forms of modernism (Spring and All not The Waste Land; Finnegans Wake not Ulysses), those still not wholly assimilated, and neutralised, by the Movement orthodoxy in British Poetry.


2.11     This paradoxical return can be called postmodernism.


2.111   It is broader in its use here than the simple ludic metaphorisation which the Movement orthodoxy, with its anti-modernist streak, has also claimed in its name.


2.12     It is also more precise and analytical than ‘postmodernism’ used as a tag to sell an apolitical product and consumer boom in contemporary art.


2.2       There should be a better term, one that is not itself a battleground, but there isn’t.


3          Postmodernism can be most usefully used to designate a general philosophical worldview.


3.1       Knowledge is defined as a permanent condition of exploratory and incomplete process.


3.2       Rules are not seen as normative prescriptions, not necessarily as descriptions, but a parameters produced co-terminously with the event or process they regulate.


3.3       Any activity is seen as unpredictable and is constantly moving into the unknown, towards the creation of the new, not returning always to the recognisable.


3.4       This worldview affects poetic knowledge, production and regulation directly.


3.41     Writing’s only possible state is one of change and development, a process of working towards new meanings hitherto unuttered, not the formulation of a product from prior assumptions of meaning.


3.5       This worldview also affects the reception of the literary text, which must be seen as an active process.


4          Indeterminacy and discontinuity are central notions for this poetry of the open work, drawn from the vocabulary of postmodern science.


4.1       Indeterminacy need not mean randomness, but a process of working with contingency in a conscious fashion, a dialectic of choice and chance.


4.2       Perception is an indeterminate process - for the writer writing, for the reader reading.


4.3       The types of indeterminacy may change, but they include:


4.31     Structural (and syntactic) indeterminacies of poetic form (and of grammar and discourse):


4.32     Semantic indeterminacies of reference and sense, multiple ambiguity;


4.33     Rhythmical indeterminacies of syllable and line: developing, often, co-terminously with poetic activity.


4.331   This determinacy of rhythm sometimes erodes the distinction between poetry and prose, sometimes mixes the forms.


4.4       Discontinuities could be similarly listed.


4.5       The role of subjectivity in the text will be indeterminate, the self/selves discontinuous.


4.51     Subjectivity becomes a question of linguistic position, or of a discordant polyphony of voices, rather than one of a single authorising presence, even of a ‘narrator’ or ‘persona’.


4.6       Indeterminacy de-emphasises the authorising role of the writer in the creation of meaning.


4.61     It also activates the reader so that he or she enters into the text to attempt to complete it.


4.7       Systemisation of any indeterminacy (as in prescriptions for ‘free verse’) establishes norms for imitation which diminish the de-automatising effects the devices will have upon the engaged reader.


4.71     Modes of indeterminacy and discontinuity will necessarily alter through time.


4.711   Static formulations of openness will have to be abandoned.


4.712   Determinate and continuous modes may also be able to effect de-automatising devices for the reader.


5          By employing foregrounded artifice, by laying bare its devices, the poem delays naturalisation.


5.1       Foregrounded artifice de-automatises the reader’s responses.


5.2       It makes what might be falsely taken to be ‘natural’ to appear truly as artificial.


5.3       It makes the familiar, presented in poetic discourse, strange.


6          Poetry defamiliarises the social world, the reality principle; it is not directly mimetic.


6.1       The subversive aspirations which surfaced in the 1960s have moved from the political to the aesthetic dimension.


6.11     The attempt to aestheticise politics at least politicised aesthetics.


6.12     The desire to change the world is not simply exchanged for the desire to change the reader.  For a poem, as it is being read, they are slenderly identical.


6.13     This is to concede a powerful defeat: to begin to change the desires of a reader.


6.2       Subversion, in the text, is effective primarily at the level of form.


6.21     Aestheticism is not necessarily apolitical, although it should not be complacently and autonomously closed.


7          Defamiliarisation and deformation are subversive and transformative elements in the poetic text.


7.1       The objects of the world are liberated from the reality principle in the formal autonomy of the poem, as is language, free from reference.


7.11     The autonomy of art institutes its critical function.


7.12     The aesthetic function animates the critical function: the objects of the world and language are capable of recombination.


7.13     The critical function is de-centred, sceptical, anarchistic.


7.2       It is not a question of reproducing a coherent utopian vision (or a consistent discourse) but of producing active ‘figures’ or ‘noise’ - depending upon one’s metaphor - which frustrate natualisation and notions of social consistency.


8          The text must be constant in its inconsistency, forever in a state of critical becoming.


8.1       The ethic of working for the poet is not a work ethic.  Working the work is his or her state of becoming.


9          Reading the poem should be an active education of desire, not a recognition, fulfilment and killing of desire.


9.1       The reader, producing the poem in his or her reading, enters an incomplete, open realm of imaginative freedom, recognises its formal autonomy.


9.2       This is the poem’s affirmative moment at which its indeterminacy and discontinuity, or its foregrounded devices which invite the reader to participate, co-extend with the reader’s act of reading.


9.3       The affirmative moment can never wholly be divorced from the critical function: the cry of hope and the cry of despair are heard together.


9.31     They can either be made to be heard in harmony (offering utopic images or a programme).


9.32     Or they can be made to be heard in dissonance (countering consistency).


9.321   Only this last combination can fully engage the reader, educate desire.


9.4       In the act of constructing its meanings, the readers share in the poem’s state of becoming.


9.41     In doing so, they should discover that it is also what a text is made to do, not merely what it is made to mean, that is revolutionary.


9.42     At this point, the constant change of the postmodern condition engages the future possibility of non-programmatic social change.


9.43     These meet, in the reader’s reading, not in the writer’s writing, in changing the desires of a reader, at the moment of affirmation.


10        The poem, as it is read, projects a future in its very refusal to mean this world.


10.1     This moment of affirmation, the turning towards the future suggests that however much postmodern these propositions are, they are pre-something else, flashlights unwittingly signalling as yet unreadable messages.




Sources: The material for these propositions is found also in my Some Aspects of Contemporary British Poetry, with particular reference to the works of Roy Fisher and Lee Harwood (unpublished), ‘Pre-script’ (Pages 1-8, 1987), and ‘Working the Work’ (First Offense 3, 1987).  Beyond these, the propositions are indebted (at least) to works by the following: P Ackroyd, TW Adorno, R Barthes, A Easthope, U Eco, A Fisher, V Forrest-Thomson, S Fredman, Y Lotman, J-F Lyotard, H Marcuse, M Merleau-Ponty, J Mukaéovskú, M Perloff, V Shklovsky, EP Thompson and WC Williams



18 October 1987                                                                        Previously unpublished

 Link to new 'Introduction' and links to all contents of Far Language here.


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Robert Sheppard: Far Language: Utopia Revisited (John Ash)


John Ash: Disbelief, Carcanet.

John Ash has always adopted a particular line in aestheticism.  In his works, the world is present but estranged, not so as to make that strangeness terrifying or alienating, as in Kafka, but to make it delightful and pleasurable, which surely must be a more difficult, if also more necessary, transformation.  It is also a more dangerous one, in that the impedimenta of melodrama, pastoral silliness and campness must be used.  Some poems in Disbelief, Ash’s latest and, in many ways, best volume, repeat the strategies of earlier books.  (See my review of The Goodbyes, PNR 37.)  The operative staginess (‘These are steps we will descend in sleep/like echoes of ourselves, each singing/in our different ways, without dull repetition …’) does, in fact, seem to have been repeated too many times to remain effective; all defamiliarising gestures have an entropy towards the familiar, a danger Ash must be aware of, given the range of this new book.  When not concerned with individual aesthetic consciousness, Ash creates imaginatively playful utopias, which he then describes, images of a possible non-alienating social freedom.  It is precisely the question of description in this project which now disturbs me.  The idea that an image of a possible utopia might be produced by defamiliarising and aestheticising the world alone, by making it fictive - which still seems to me a necessary first step - seems unwittingly complacent.  Lyotard in ‘The Critical Function of the Work of Art’ (in Driftworks) questions art which remains ‘a representation of something to come; this is to remain within the order of representation ….  The system, as it exists, absorbs every consistent discourse; the important thing is not to produce a consistent discourse but rather to produce ‘figures’ within reality.  The poet holds language ‘under suspicion, ie to bring about figures which would never have been produced, that language might not tolerate, and which may never be audible, perceptible, for us’.  To put it another way, Ash often argues, rather insistently, the case for aestheticism: his transformations happen at the level of semantics, often strikingly so: his ‘The Second Lecture: An over-excited man tells us about clouds’ - with its use of synaesthesia and imaginative and metaphoric dissolution - ends ‘We are effaced.  A chrysanthemum of air remains poised to drop its petals into the blue that will reshape them endlessly.’  But at the levels of syntax, rhythm, line, phonology and grammar the conventions are often as intact as they are in the varieties of contemporary poetry that Ash - rightly - has criticised repeatedly.  He tells us of the postmodern condition, but he never enacts this formally:

I regard the world as a TV

on which I change channels at will,

never moving from the bed.

It is, I would contend, only through formal disruption that a desire for change can be activated, involving the reader directly in the construction of the meaning of the poem, something Ash’s insistence makes hard: ‘utopia’ is not a radiant isolated image, but an active education of desire.

Nevertheless, this collection covers new ground, even within his aestheticism.  His ‘urban pastoralism’ is extended dramatically in an embarrassingly whimsical ‘Eclogue’ (for Black American English: ‘Are these the locals honey? / They sure talk funny.’), but in ‘Men, Women and Children’ the effect can be sour: although ‘life is a festive marching to no purpose’, the ‘destination’ may yet turn out to be ‘the oppressive portals of the capital, / the altars still smelling of blood’.  The litany, ‘The sky my husband’, is a kind of printout of possibilities that enacts metaphoricity itself as it cancels the meaning of the repeated word ‘sky’: ‘The sky my galleries my icons / The sky my radio my satellite my video’.  Ash has also turned more expansively to prose, as in ‘Every Story Tells It All’, which is a serial writing in search of its own evasive narrative.  There are ‘translations’ of Li Ho, a found text from Lorca’s letters.  But, particularly towards the end of the book, there is a seriousness of tone, as in ‘The Nine Moons of Austin’, which, when it addresses the poet Christopher Middleton, approximates something of the older poet’s integrity and capacity for wonder:

You are translating from the German,

difficult words: heilignòchterne,

meaning both ‘holy’ and ‘lucid’

like this moment of stillness and clouds

passing, noble as HØlderlin’s swans.

15 August 1987                                                                              PN Review 63, 1988

Link to new 'Introduction' and links to all contents of Far Language here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

robert sheppard & life is short at bluecoat 15th november (set list)

robert sheppard: the tweets of microbius: life is short at bluecoat, liverpool (november 15th 2015):
part of being human: a festival of the humanities

curated by professor ailsa cox

this was a celebration of all things small and perfectly formed, from the hadron to the haiku, the boson to the butterfly. activities include talks, exhibitions and hands-on workshops on how we perceive and capture moments in time; on miniature objects and microscopic creatures; and on the short form in the arts and literature. 

i read the 'tweets of microbius', twittersonnets. the tweet versions of these twittersonnets may be found on microbius’ twitterfeed:

the form was invented by the invented rene van valckenborch and all of his twitterodes (the originals) may be read here. or click onto 2010 to the right of this post and you'll betaken to them all, AND individual posts with photos. worth a look. read them in my (or his) the translated man (shearsman 2013). see here.

this is the last tweet, complete with images! 


hooke's flea
flee from
the flea u
nder the g
lass: furr

y legs and
tufted tu
sks; preci
se menace/

look at ho
oke’s full
stop: scuf

fed flares
, a furred
black sun

hooke's fullstop

Who would have thought they'd end up illuminated at blackpool: see here.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Robert Sheppard: History or Sleep, the second review by Ian Brinton

A spectrological reading of the book, by Ian Brinton, may be read on the Tears in the Fence site here (also on my 'list' to the right of these posts). The first review may be accessed here.

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Festschrift for Tony Frazer

A Festschrift for Tony Frazer is now online here

Who he? A Shearsman of sorts! (See here.)

Tony Frazer is one of the great poetry publishers of our time. 'This website,' the editors say, 'is a tribute to him on his 64th birthday. It contains more than 200 contributions from poets whose writing he has published since 1981 under his imprints Shearsman Books and Shearsman Magazine, as well as from friends and well-wishers. Together, these present a unique collective tribute not only to Tony’s achievement as the publisher of more than 300 writers, but as a friend, as a man. In its variety and richness, this unusual anthology bears witness to the far-sightedness, adventurousness, eclecticism and dedication of Tony’s vision for poetry and his tireless pursuit of the new, the original and the excellent.'

Read Richard Berengarten's editorial here

My contribution is a fictional poem by a fictional poet who writes a real homage to a real poet who was translated by Tony Frazer. (He is a good translator, a fact not mentioned in the above, but I’m sure other contributors in this huge labyrinth of praise have noted the fact.)  

So: my (or Sophie Poppmeier’s poem for Lutz Seiler, ‘Book One, Poem Three’) is here.

It will take a long time to read all of this website, but a first surf (nobody uses that metaphor anymore, do they?) reveals a poem by Scott Thurston about generosity, here. Everybody uses that word of Tony. Kelvin Corcoran gets it right, when he says: 

To begin with, it’s very hard to wrest work from his hands despite how busy he might be - surrounded by piles of manuscripts, books to proof, books to post and books to read. Then you discover how quickly he works.  Next you’re floored by the realisation that uniquely for a publisher he does exactly what he says he will do. Tony’s unstinting generosity, good sense and boundless energy shines brightly in a dim world. 

Read the rest of his piece here. As I say: 'We must honour this extraordinary and extraordinarily generous man.' (See all the short tributes here.)
Patricia Farrell’s visual tribute alerts us to the other media (image and video) also represented, here.

It is great to see two wily and incisive poems by Roy Fisher here, and sad but gratifying to read Lee Harwood’s prose tribute, one of the last things he must have written, here.

Robert Sheppard 

PS It must be trhe season of festschrifts. See here

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Robert Sheppard History or Sleep: the first review by Clark Allison

may be read on Stride here. 'The Advert of Itself: Some Notes on Robert Sheppard's History or Sleep'.

More on the book here.(And a second review here.)  There is another review of the book, by Steve Waling, here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

An Educated Desire - For Robert Sheppard at Sixty (KFS; published 14th November 2015)

With a book out with this sub-title, I can't deny it. (More here on 60!) (The title An Educated Desire alludes to my pedagogic poetics piece, 'The Education of Desire' which is now here.)

This festschrift, mainly edited by Scott Thurston with the help of Patricia Farrell, and published by Alec Newman's Knives Forks and Spoons Press, is now out. There are 66 contributors, I think, and I am supremely and humbly moved by these editings, productions and contributions. (It's a great anthology of contemporary poetry.) I will contact each individually, of course, but that will take time (I'm very busy). And perhaps I'll respond to the book more fully here. (More on the book and my receiving of it at my 60th party here.)

So a big THANK YOU to all: to Scott, Alec, Patricia, and the contributors.

The book is available HERE,  along with a sample and a list of contributors. Or

Checking the list of contributors

More on Robert Sheppard here

Saturday, November 14, 2015

November 14th 1955; 'Tombland: How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth'

Tombland: How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth

‘Wet, golden-leaved pathways. Past
the Agency, the pub, the coinshops, the new
community bookshop… Poet, on his twenty-
fourth birthday, shelters in yards and doorways

to write:
Past Talbot’s Cafe, where men play dominoes,
set before repeat afternoon television. Passing
the old man headed there – his tartan hat beacon

of you-know-what – as he says to all passers,
paralytic fingers twitching, “Are you now all right?”
Answer yes to his eyes, nothing to nothing. On;

to the watery Back-of-the-Inns, and round past
Tombland at early dusk, late-autumn afternoon,
wet leaves stuck to cobbles under homing feet.’

Milton Sonnet VII: 1632/November 14th 1979/2007/Remode 2014

For more on this metamorphosed birthday poem, see here. (And, yes, it's my birthday. This doesn't seem like ten years ago, but it was!) What's he laughing about, below? See here for what's in the birthday present, and here.

And for all the poems de-selected from my new 'selected poems', History or Sleep, see here.

Friday, November 13, 2015

November 1955

She might have thought that she wasn’t that sort of girl, telling herself so in the mirror, pouting from chaotic hair. Or she might have remained serene and cheerful, as Spinoza recommended. 

(Footnotes from Words Out of Time; see here.)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

November 1955

'Desilu laughter canned in history's back row' (Empty Diary 1955)

In some other life, she might have watched the Streader brothers walking across Southwick Green, ferocious in argument, conspiratorial in intimacy, in a way that she, as an only child, would never have understood. Or the Parsons brothers for that matter.

She might have been webbed with spidery lines, a blue-veined cheese, snakeskin coiling up her arm like a long glove above the claw. 

(Footnotes to Words Out of Time; see here.) 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

November 1955

She might have experimented with anger but her experiment would have failed, famous as she was among her set for having once persuaded Diane Arbus not to photograph her by the pier.
(Footnote from Words Out of Time; see here.)