Saturday, December 19, 2015

MERRY XMAS 2015/Petrarch 3/Happy New Year

Petrarch's original poem 3 is an Easter poem , of course, but one of my 14 variations of it, soon to be published in full by Crater Press as Petrarch 3, is a Liverpool Christmas poem, and set on 'Black Friday' which in Liverpool is not the consumer day in November, but the last Friday before Christmas, when the city goes mad and taxi drivers, in particular, call it by its dark sobriquet (though 'Mad Friday' is gaining popularity). This year, of course, it doesn't coincide with the Shortest Day, as it must have when I wrote it. What's not to like about a talking dog? My 'translation' of Petrarch; my trans-translation follows:

Era il giorno ch’al sol si scoloraro

That pitiful morning when the light of Heaven
Was hidden for our mourning maker’s sake,
I saw you first that day, My Lady, but
Was captured, disarmed, then bound to your stake. 

It didn’t seem the time for shields and armour
Against Love’s arrows, his batters and blows;
So, unsuspecting, I wept with the world,
But that day my heartbreaks began, my woes.

Love stalked me, found me, unarmed and weak,
And opened my eyes, portals of tears, through which
Sorrow flowed from the passage of my heart.

But feeble was Love’s triumph to triumph
With his arrow over one so enfeebled,
And to not even dare to flash you his dart.


Up at dawn (though it was the Shortest Day),
He was nursing a Black Friday hangover,
But took me on walkies to Seffie. He took a selfie
By the Palm House. Tied to the gate I first saw you.

It was Brass Monkeys, believe me. Licking my bollocks
Was like snuffling dropped ice cream dollops;
The men in their flashing Santa hats looked lugubrious
But the depth of my despair exceeded their Christmas Blues!

Your wet nose sniffled my arse and I growled and howled
Like a stud-dog. I slobbered and chaffed at my chains.
He kicked me and my jaws locked on my bilious yelp.
You lifted your tail like a poodle, fluffy tart,
Tripping past my flailing mass of muscle and lust.
He didn’t even notice, phone in hand, boot in my nuts.

 Please also see my notes on Petrarch variations by Peter Hughes and Tim Atkins here, which is how my project began its life. It's the most looked at page on this blog. There are now 4 more, the 'symboliste' poems, on Card Alpha 1, here. And you can watch me read some of my 'Petrarch' variations here.

'Petrarch 3' is now in print, see here and here.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Robert Sheppard: Liverpool University Reading 2014 video now online (set list)


Just over year ago today I read at the University of Liverpool in the Miriam Allott series, and it has just been put online, here. The set list and an account of the reading may be read here. I knew it was being filmed so I was on my worst behaviour. But on good form, I think. Here's the list again to help navigating the video if you only want to watch a bit.

Set List

from Berlin Bursts

A Voice Without (which 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), now the first 'line' of the super-sonnet The Song Nets.

The ‘original’ Petrarch translation
(Read it in its original place for its original purpose here.)
Iron Maiden (sub-dom poem)
Pet (doggie poem; 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)
twittersonnet (after Rene Van Valckenborch; read his twittersonnet and twitterodes here. And of my own later use of the form here)
VE Day 1985 (after Wayne Pratt)

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

'Petrarch 3' is now in print, see here and here.
Many of the poems I read appear in my History or Sleep: Selected Poems, which I was selecting around that time. See here.

Thanks Sandeep Parmar for organising.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Robert Sheppard: Sheffeld University Reading with Corless-Smith and Houen (set list)

On Wednesday 16th December 2015 I read with Martin Corless-Smith and Alex Houen in an event organized by the Centre for Poetry and Poetics, School of English, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, most particularly by Adam Piette, in Lecture Theatre 5 in the Diamond.

Martin Corless-Smith was born and raised in Worcestershire, England. He has published 6 collections of poetry (including the most recent Bitter Green) and one novel, This Fatal Looking Glass. He is Professor of English at Boise State University.

Alex Houen is author of the poetry chapbook Rouge States (Oystercatcher, 2014) and has another one (co-written with Geoff Gilbert) entitled Hold West forthcoming from Eyewear Publishing. He’s published poems in various journals, including PN Review, The Wolf, Shearsman Magazine, 3AM (forthcoming), Molly Bloom, Free Verse, and Visual Verse. He co-edits (with Adam Piette) the online poetry magazine Blackbox Manifold, and teaches Modern Literature in the English Faculty, and Pembroke College, University of Cambridge.

Both fine and different poets (and different from me too) so it was a rich reading with a great audience; and time spent with the readers, Adam and Geraldine Monk and Alan Halsey a pleasure.

I read from History or Sleep, not replicating any of the poems from my Storm and Golden Sky reading (see here):

‘Round Midnight’ (see text here)
‘Twin Poem’
‘His Furious Skip’
‘Empty Diaries’ : 1926 and 1936
from Warrant Error
            ‘Steam from the nostrils of the nervous engine’
            ‘Whose body crackles with self-quotation’
            ‘Through slatted blinds you spy another’
            ‘for Stephen’ (see the poem at the end of the post here; see the photo of the metronome mentioned in the poem at the top of the post)
            ‘for Patricia’
‘As Yet Untitled Poem’
‘The Lion Returns’ (a new poem)

More here.

You can watch a slightly earlier reading here

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Sandeep Parmar: Not a British Subject: Race and Poetry in the UK (in the LA Review of Books)

Not a British Subject: Race and Poetry in the UK by Sandeep Parmar,

has just appeared in the LA Review of Books. In it, she says, ‘British poetry, like British society, has a serious problem with race’, and proceeds to analyse that situation, although she finds rare solace in the work of the underrated D.S. Marriott. Read it here.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Robert Sheppard: Far Language: Poetic Sequencing and the New: Twentieth Century Blues

Read here... The text dates from 1992; it appeared online in 1999!

Complete Twentieth Century Blues is still in print (see link).

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

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Robert Sheppard: Far Language: Commitment to Openness (Roy Fisher, Harwood, Raworth)


Roy Fisher: Poems 1955-1987, Oxford University Press.

Lee Harwood: Crossing the Frozen River: Selected poems, Grafton Paperback.

Lee Harwood: Rope Boy to the Rescue, North and South.

Tom Raworth: Tottering State: Selected poems 1963-1987, Grafton Paperback.

When a comprehensive literary history of late twentieth-century British poetry is undertaken, it will have to take account of various writers who have not conformed to the still dominant norms offered by the Movement.  Roy Fisher, Lee Harwood and Tom Raworth have all refused the orthodoxy; each has a commitment to a poetry that emphasises its own procedures, which explores reality in language, rather than through it.  Writing, for them, need not be tied to realism or social perspectives; to varying degrees, they have felt obliged to break the paradigms that generally define what poetry will be, and have not been afraid to assimilate European and American modernism.

Roy Fisher’s work has been acknowledged as some of the best of the last thirty years, though so often in partial accounts that hint at, or openly regret, his formalism  while comfortably concentrating on his ‘English’ empiricism.  His writing encompasses the Angst-ridden perceptual realism of City, and the surreal prose narrative, The Ship’s Orchestra.  The essential point is that what generates the brilliance of Fisher’s writing is precisely that tension between formalism and realism, experiment and empiricism.  Poems 1955-1987 is an expanded, paperback version of Poems 1955-1980.  Despite Fisher’s identification of the poet as a ‘spy’ or, less subversively, as a ‘witness’, what has developed in the twenty-four new poems printed here is an anecdotal ‘voice’, even if it is distanced, as in the humorous ‘The Lesson in Composition’: ‘I could feel slighted / knowing my own work hardly ever mentions me, except / by way of some stiff joke like this one.’

This section contains some of Fisher’s finest poems, some of which extend or re-examine previous successes.  In ‘The Home Pianist’s Companion’, Fisher takes the same attitude to involuntary memory as in the terse lyrics of the 1970s.  He still avoids the ‘comforts’ of a falsifying nostalgia, but he allows himself a more discursive explanation of the processes of association experienced while playing the piano.  He reflects on the value of early childhood memories, a value which combines the surprise of specific details with the anarchy of memory’s unpredictable realignments:

reminding me

what it was like to be sure,

before language ever

taught me they were different,

of how some things were the same.

In Lee Harwood’s Crossing the Frozen River there is also a productive tension: between his desire to write as simply and honestly as possible and his taste for baroque and fictive.  This collection shows the excellence of his best work and the diversity of its attempts to delight the attentive reader.  Early poems tinged reality with dream, in a controlled surrealism that is still present beneath the most elaborately constructed of his later fictions.  The ‘voice’ is so frequently that ghostly presence, the fictional narrator.

Harwood’s aim is to leave the text open, to enable his readers to participate in its creation of meaning, to force them to make connections between disparate fragments.  This, combined with his eroticism and concern for the meaning of human relationships, makes for a poetry at once distanced and intimate, unique in British poetry.

holding a young rabbit in my hands

walking across the stubble in the late afternoon

soft fur                           shocking like the heart-beat

the dark river                                and angry knights milling

in the courtyard

setting it free in a hawthorn thicket

safe from the dogs

at night the land so bare                             ‘rustles’

‘They have no tradition of keeping their colonies neat.’

‘I care for that woman’ the song began

This style culminated in the expansiveness and openness of the book’s longest text, ‘The Long Black Veil: a notebook 1970-1972’.  Since then the juxtapositions have become less abrupt.  The ‘assorted stories’ of ‘Dream Quilt’ are presented in a wide-ranging sequence that still requires the reader to assemble the sum of its parts.  In his latest poems - and there are more in Rope Boy to the Rescue - there is a new romanticism that, in the imaginary ‘song cycle’, ‘Gyorgy Kurtag meets Sandy Berrigan’, achieves a lyrical combination of directness and artifice: ‘Naked heart to heart could warm us, / yet my fears, our fears, freeze us.’

Tom Raworth’s poetic iconoclasm has been total.  From the start, his refusal of certain conventions of artifice and his invention of new ones has caused his extraordinary work to be neglected in Britain, a state of affairs now happily rectified by the publication of Tottering State.  Early poems were often a combination of Olsonian projectivism and a surrealistic concentration on the quirkiest of everyday perceptions that normally remain unsorted by our minds.  The poems are not afraid to refer to themselves, or to delete or revise themselves, though always with Raworth’s mercurial wit.

Recently Raworth has favoured long poems of short (even one word) lines, as in Writing and ‘West Wind’.  Like subliminal messages on film, the lines flicker past the reading eye: the sudden jumps in point of view and discourse are alarmingly unpredictable.  As in Harwood’s work, the reader has an active role to play, though here it is constantly to revise deductions and predictions, each poem a ‘tottering state’ of referential acrobatics:

‘beware of the bomb’

nailed to our fence

a little

skeleton rattling

the romance

of the politics

of romance


a muscle remembers

saved by the breaks


of black spider motion

All three of these writers exemplify the best of a certain tradition in British poetry.  Raworth’s work, with its energetic juxtapositions, points to where that tradition might be heading.

1989                                                           Times Literary Supplement, 10 March 1989

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

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

An Educated Desire: Robert Sheppard at 60 edited by Scott Thurston is now available

Receiving the first copies: Novermber 2015

Scott Thurston has edited a festschrift in celebration of Robert Sheppard’s sixtieth birthday. It is an amazing read and it is available to buy from Knives Forks and Spoons. A sample is available here.

The contributors are:

Gilbert Adair    

Tim Allen    

Bruce Andrews   

David Annwn    

Tim Atkins    

Andy Brown    

James Byrne    

cris cheek    

Adrian Clarke    

Kelvin Corcoran   

Alan Corkish    

Jimmy Cummins   

Philip Davenport   

Ian Davidson    

Lyndon Davies    

Jan Dean    

Nikolai Duffy    

Ken Edwards   

Carrie Etter    

Patricia Farrell    

Clive Fencott    

Roy Fisher    

Allen Fisher    

S.J. Fowler    

Ulli Freer    

Harry Gilonis    

John Goodby    

John Hall    

Penny Hallas    

Alan Halsey    

Robert Hampson   

Colin Harris    

Jeff Hilson    

Ursula Hurley    

Peter Jaeger    

Elizabeth James  

Tom Jenks    

Judy Kendall    

Rupert M Loydell   

Chris McCabe    

Ian McMillan    

Peter Middleton   

Drew Milne   

Geraldine Monk   

Stephen Mooney   

Cath Nichols    

Simon Perril    

Frances Presley   

William Rowe    

Antony Rowland   

Ian Seed   

John Seed   

Gavin Selerie    

Iain Sinclair    

ZoĆ« Skoulding   

Hazel Smith   

Andrew Taylor    

Philip Terry    

Scott Thurston    

Rhys Trimble    

Lawrence Upton   

Steve Van-Hagen  

Steven Waling   

Cliff Yates

(So it's great thanks to them all again! I am slowly contacting you all independently. Robert)

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Robert Sheppard: Far Language: The Education of Desire (pedagogic poetics)



I have set out to write as simply as I can what I believe is happening in the kind of poetry I write and in the kinds of poetry I believe to be really important today. 

Secondly I want to try and explain why I think this writing is revolutionary.


Today’s Poetry and Advertising

It is impossible for anybody who wants to write a poetry that is politically revolutionary to write in the way most poems in Britain are written.

This poetry no longer works, though it wins poetry competitions.

If you think of all the things that are said to make poetry what it is - things like rhyme, rhythm, alliteration, etc - then you will today find them on any list of tricks used by advertising agencies in making adverts.

What once belonged to poetry has been stolen. 

Some poets don’t worry about this.

But it means that a lot of poetry today will look like adverts.  It sells not a product (‘Right for baby; right for you’) but a moral (‘What survives of us is love’).

It is often in the form of a little story that moves towards its catch phrase.  It may use flashy comparisons.

Think of adverts on the TV: so many of them are like that. 

It is impossible to write revolutionary poetry like this.


Revolutionary Poetry

The writer who wants to do something different has to write in new ways.

The poetry may seem strange.  It may be difficult to understand.

There may seem to be bits of it missing.  There may be problems in putting all its parts together; things may not seem to follow on.

It may be difficult to see who’s speaking.

It may seem as though there should be a story there, but there isn’t.

There are lots of other new ways of writing.

The kind of difficulty I’m not talking about are difficulties that can be solved with the dictionary or the encyclopaedia.

I’m talking about difficulties that stop the process of reading, or upset your reading habits.

The very use of all these odd ways of writing will be an attack on the simple ways of thinking you see in adverts, for example, but which seem to go on everywhere.

It is a way of criticising the way society uses language, the way it thinks.

This is not the same as writing a poem about pollution.  The poem about pollution might end up looking like an advert by Greenpeace, full of ‘tricks’ of persuasion.

Not all advertising is bad.  But the poem that tries to look like an advert is bad.


What the Reader Has To Do

Adverts are easy to read, even when they seem strange at first; a lot of poems written today are easy to read.  But most of the poetry I am thinking of is not easy to read.  You can’t consume it in one go.

This makes the reader work harder.

It does something else too: it makes the reader’s work as important as that of the writer.

It is the reader who makes the poem - or rather: each individual has to make the poem, to complete it, for his or herself.

The reader is no longer a passive consumer.  (Again, think of adverts: although you can analyse them, you don’t usually have to work to understand their main message, which is usually: Buy this Product or Stop this Pollution.)

Some readers don’t like this.

They prefer a poetry that they can immediately understand, that exhausts itself in one go (or seems to).  This sort of poetry wins poetry competitions.


Making a New World

Another result of the poem not being written in the language of advertising or the language of our society is that it is a thing apart from it.

It exists independently of the controls of our society.  It must start out from the world, because that’s where the writer is, where language is.  He or she must create with bits and pieces of the world.

But the writer will rearrange everything so that out of the bits and pieces of this world, he or she will make a new world.

This is not easy to explain but it’s as though the writer is breaking up a jigsaw puzzle and making a new pattern from it (but not the nice ordered picture on the box!).

This new world might not be a better world.  It might only exist as a few disconnected words making a new combination. 

But by saying something new, by making another world from out of the bits and pieces of language found in the real world, that is a way of criticising the way things are.

In a way it says, things must change.

Or perhaps it just says: things could be different.

This is also what the revolutionary says.

So therefore this way of writing will be a little bit revolutionary, although it will never tell you how things might change.


What Happens to the Reader

This poetry may be an attack on society as it is, on its ways of thinking.

But it can also have a positive aspect.

This is linked to the notion of a more active reader.

At first sight it may seem hard on the reader to make everything so difficult for him or her.

But I think it can also be a delightful thing to be allowed as much freedom as the writer, to read creatively, to fill in gaps, to be left to decide who is speaking, etc.

It is no longer just what a poem means that is important.  It is also what a poem does to the reader.

The poem may tell you a lot, but it won’t tell you everything.  It will leave you working.

Adverts and most poems try to tell you everything.  This is important because what they are trying to do is to fulfil your inner desires.  In the advert’s case you’ll have to buy the product of course.  Such and such beauty product will make you perfect. 

Romantic fiction tries to fulfil desire.  So does pornography.

They leave you apparently satisfied and no longer needing to think.  They are full of old ideas.

The new poetry doesn’t fulfil you.  It leaves you with still a lot of thinking to be done.  There will always be more and more to think about.

Poetry is the education of desire.

It might make you confused, mixed up.  But that’s all right.  When you’re trying to understand something difficult you do get confused for a bit.  And people are all mixed up when they feel an emotion they’ve never experienced before: like sexual desire, for example.

At best, the poetry will change the reader, make him or her think in new ways, not simply what the society wants you to think.

Or even what the writer thinks.

Reading is no longer a guessing game to find out what the writer thinks; you do the thinking.

This is part of the positive, revolutionary function of this writing: let’s repeat it: the education of desire.

To change the wants and desires of the people of the world would be the beginning of a revolution of sorts.

Writing has its small, but significant, part to play.



11 September 1988                                The Education of Desire (Ship of Fools, 1988)





My task in The Education of Desire was to re-present in popular form for students of A Level English Literature the poetics I had developed over some years, and which I had found relatively easy to reiterate, in my own intellectual shorthand.  But I knew my audience; intelligent but unread.  It would take at least an hour to explain and exemplify ‘defamiliarisation’ alone.  It is easy to say that the reader of this poetry becomes an active co-producer of the final meaning of a text, as she or he is drawn into the invention of the poem and forget that this notion is an extremely unusual one for my students; and - it has been made clear to me - for more sophisticated readers.  Reading a poem - and new writing in prose too - may well be an education of activated desire, but the need to explain this must, initially, avoid references to Lyotard’s essay, ‘The Critical Function of the Work of Art (Driftworks), from which this idea derives.  For an extension of its argument see Christopher Beckett’s ‘Anxiety and Desire in the Poetic Machine’ (First Offense 5) and my own response to his comments on The Education of Desire, ‘Re-Working the Work: Pausing for Breath’ (First Offense 6).



July 1990

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

Friday, December 04, 2015

Elaine Mitchener at Bluecoat: Industrialising Intimacy

I was part of a small and appreciative audience at Bluecoat in Liverpool to see the multi-talented Elaine Mitchener perform. More here. Above: the Christian Marclay 'Scrolls'. Below: with Steve Beresford. And below that a great link.

A vimeo sampler of Industrialising Intimacy may be accessed here:
(I can't embed it.)

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Christopher Middleton (1926-2015) i.m.

I have just heard that the great British poet and translator, Christopher Middleton, has died.

I wrote about his poetry of the 1970s, and his poetics piece 'Reflections on a Viking Prow', in an essay for The Wolf magazine that can be accessed here and here. I talked about his work as a poet and writer of poetics in my inaugural lecture (which I am thinking of posting on this blog one day).

Two obituaries, one here, the other here.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Robert Sheppard: Poems in YESTERDAY'S MUSIC TODAY co-edited by Rupert Loydell & Mike Ferguson OUT

This poetry anthology [says its blurb] came out of the editors' shared enthusiasm for and addiction to music, along with a certain middle-aged nostalgia which emerged as the result of failing to be moved by so much of the music they have greedily devoured over the last few years, and thankfully being intensely moved by some. Music can excite, delight, goad, amuse or bore the listener - it also have the capacity to lodge itself in your brain and be heard in the imagination at the strangest times.

This book is about that, about spiralling back into memories, about yesterday's music today: music that has lodged itself in these poets' hearts and souls, and which never fails to move them when recalled or listened to anew.

Contibutors: Rosella Angwin, Sue Birchenough, Elizabeth Burns, M.C. Caseley, Mike Ferguson, david Hart, Paul Hawkins, Sarah James, Norman Jope Jimmy Juniper, David Kennedy, John Lees, Rupert M Loydell, Stephen C. Middleton, Ester Muchawsky-Schnapper, Sheila E. Murphy, Mario Petrucci, Jay Ramsay, Angela Topping, Robert Sheppard.

Review one, in International Times, by David Erdos, says:

Robert Sheppard’s extraordinary ‘Angel at the Junk Box’ is a small modernist masterpiece dedicated to the memory of Frank Sinatra in which ‘every blip is a dizzy how.’ There are not many books or indeed poems that ask you to ‘Mute up your factitious sensation..Until the last syllable cymbals out..’ but you will find them here in both Sheppard and Juniper’s numerous pieces, along with Sue Birchenough’s ‘Aspects of One’ (‘Under my Skin you sing’), through to Sheila E. Murphy’s ‘Flute’ which details how the flute ‘eludes the calculus of impromptu masculinity..pierces the thin wall of breath and cloud..and honours learned signals still in season.’
Read it here. Read the second, by  Charlie Baylis, in Stride, here.There's another, in Stride, by Dean Meadowcroft. Here. (He notices the Sinatra too.)

The book is now available from the publisher, Knives, Forks and Spoons here.

They also published my recent autrebiographies (lots of music in that too), Words Out of Time (see here), AND the recent Festschrift on me, An Educated Desire.

See here for one of my contributions, a poem about Stan Tracey playing Thelonius Monk, which incidentally was a recovered poem (abandoned in the 1980s) included in my new selected poems, History or Sleep. See here for that one.'Angel in the Junk Box' was published in the o/p Tin Pan Arcadia but is also part of the still-available Twentieth Century Blues here. It also appeared in an anthology of poems, all of which were about Frank Sinatra: Sinatra ... but buddy I'm a kind of poem, edited by Gilbert L. Gigliotti, Washington DC: Entasis Press, 2008.