Friday, January 08, 2016

Robert Sheppard: How I selected History or Sleep: Selected Poems

I have been explaining quite a lot on this blog, here in particular, about the de-selection of poems from History or Sleep: Selected Poems, my second book of 2015, just out. More here, too.

I’ve said very little about the process of selection, though. I didn’t have a policy or guidelines, although, even while I was preparing the text of Complete Twentieth Century Blues in 2007 or thereabouts, I was compiling lists of candidates for a possible ‘selected poems’, and I found I had other, earlier, lists to add them to. These helped, because consensus over choices probably indicated the right ones to pick. I didn’t ask anybody else to help, not even Patricia, though Scott Thurston, when presented with the contents, rattled off a list of unrepresented works. ‘Space,’ was the excuse for most of the omissions.

I wanted to be representative of different works, styles and periods (!), as well as obviously showing what I imperfectly judged to be the best work. I favoured short pieces over long and (taking my cue from Peter Hughes’ Shearsman ‘Selected’) I wasn’t afraid to excerpt from longer sequences to increase representation. I had to.

The existence of Twentieth Century Blues caused a problem, given its structure. (Read about that here.) Let me explain why/how: All of my texts written 1990-2000 formed part of this time-based network of texts, ‘Twentieth Century Blues’, and some earlier ones were given membership of it at certain points. It was, to my surprise, published whole as Complete Twentieth Century Blues (2008), with poetics statements and a detailed index of its 75 parts and its 97 ‘strands’. (I might put this index on this blog at some point to indicate the mad intricacy of this scheme.) Strands of texts ran across the numbering. I described ‘Twentieth Century Blues’ as a


- work(s)

(Indeed that glyph is the 14th part of ‘Twentieth Century Blues’, the poem ‘Untitled’ in its entirety.) The way the strands work can be seen, if you have the index, in History or Sleep, in the ‘Empty Diary’ poems, both within the ‘Empty Diaries 1901-1990’ sequence and beyond. More obliquely, ‘Empty Diary 1990’ is also ‘Internal Exile II’. ‘The Materialisation of Soap 1947’ is the fourth ‘History of Sensation’; ‘Mesopotamia’ is the first in that strand, while ‘Killing Boxes’ is ‘Mesopotamia 2’, but it is also ‘Melting Borders 2’, and thus linked with both the poems of those titles (at least). And so on.

For the selection in this book, though, I thought it best to omit this numbering and the index, while acknowledging its role in the writing, and its uses to the reading, of the poems. And also to reduce the impeding of the reading process, if the reader is new to my work. It seemed better to present separate poems as discrete entities (although there are series there). 

The poems are arranged in broadly chronological order, and I’ve put a newly recovered poem up front, from 1983, ‘Round Midnight’, a poem about Stan Tracey playing Thelonious Monk. (See here.) It sets the tone. I’m also pleased that the book ends with one of Sophie Poppmeier’s supposed poems (fictional poems supposedly written by a fictional poet (see here and here for that on-going work!)): ‘Book 1 Poem 1’. In my end is her beginning (if that doesn’t sound too rude). (It does.) The book opens with chaos and invention; ends with changing one’s life.  

The appearance of a number of poems in both Tin Pan Arcadia and Complete Twentieth Century Blues allowed me to be more severe with their de-selection and this accounts both for selections (or the lack of them). These poems have been seen quite a lot.  

So what did I end up with? Well, this:

Round Midnight

One for William Carlos Williams



Twin Poem

from The Hungry Years: an Unwriting

from Mesopotamia

The Materialisation of Soap 1947

Looking North 2

Internal Exile

Living Daylights

Coming Down from St George’s Hill

His Furious Skip

Three Poems by Wayne Pratt from The Penguin Book of British Parrots

The Magnetic Letter

Melting Borders

from Smokestack Lightning

from Killing Boxes

Fucking Time 56

from Empty Diaries 1901-1990

from The Lores

History or Sleep

Three Hundred Word Sonnets: from The Lores, Book 8; from Entries: Empty Diary 1996; Small Voice 1

The Push Up Combat Bikini: Empty Diary 2000

A Voice Without

Only the Eyes are Left

Parody and Pastoral

from Reading The Reader

National Security, Huyton 1940

Three Figures Climb

Erotic Elegy

Prison Camp Violin, Riga

from Berlin Bursts

from Warrant Error

Four Poems Against Death

Another Poem

Yet Another Poem

As Yet Untitled Poem

The Given, part one

from Arrival

Standing by

Fictional Poems from A Translated Man : from The Masks; from The Light; from EUOIA.

I hope that you will want to buy the whole thing. Here.

There is a review of the book, by Steve Waling, here. A set list of one of the launch readings and links to further reviews here.