Monday, December 31, 2018

Introduction to Letts Schoolboys Diary 1969

Diary entry: Sunday 9th December 2018:

Reading Donne a lot today. Some writing. A quiet day. TV in evening. A walk… 

            First review of Hap online… [See here.]

            Enjoyable in its quiet way. 

I also blogged more of my 1969 diary to form an ‘OTD 50 years ago’ thread across next year’s posts. I must admit, I don’t quite know why I’m doing it. 1969 is clearly the year I became me, or the year my representations of self seem related to continuing representations of self. Somewhere, there is an autobiographical work potentially there. After all, there are so many things that I do remember and are excluded from The Given [with its chorus of things ‘I don’t remember...'] and transformed entirely in ‘A Rival’ (I mean ‘Arrival’) and didn’t find their way into Words Out of Time. 

[See here for details of Words Out of Time, my autrebiographies. There is a separate account of 'The Given', here. And a recent extension of the final part of the book, 'Work', here. Previously unpublished.]

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas Message from the Right Hon M. Go, secretary of Rural Affairs, the post-Brexit Dogging Agency

People of Britain, you have spoken and you shall not speak again: you have elected to place the dogging community and those who practice the dogging lifestyle at the centre of national life and post-Brexit regeneration. As the poet imagines:

fences impearled with natural oils from budding tools,
fast comforts of the dogging sites of Global Britain.

Let me tell you how I intend to further your lusty desires once we have repatriated our laws (did you see what I did there? I used a word that the National Front used to use about people, but I’m using it in a Brexity sort of way, which has nothing to do with racism, nothing at all!). Designated dogging sites are a rariety, except in Sussex, Kent and on the Wirral, and we plan to make such areas as plentiful and opulent as ordinary beauty spots. And what beauties have I spotted, hiding behind my bumper to watch the dogging community and those who practice the dogging lifestyle in rich action! As the poet also said:

You stuck out a mile in the Ladyboys of Bognor,
bigging yourself up in Bignor like you owned the place.
You’d be walking the South Downs Way, believe me,

after wild frenzy with Tom of Findon -
or with a femdom Alpha bitch in Fulking Dungeon,
nettle-thrashing you, Unworthy of Worthing!

Of course, not being part of the dogging community or those who practice the dogging lifestyle, I can only wonder,

            Like a man filming his wife taking a selfie
of her silvered face in sylvan Windsor Park.

‘This is such a pleasant spot to stain with pleasure:

the picnic tables, the rustic spread, the chorus of wasps
around the bin,’ the Rake from Hell remarks, pulling
his vest back on but feeling well pissed off…

In the new year, after Independence Day, I pledge to bring forward legislation to register dogging sites under the new Rural Affairs Act 2019 and to legislate for better protection for those in the dogging community and for those who practice the dogging lifestyle. As custodians of the environment, fecundating the land with your leaky seed, you need to be recognised as what you truly are. (And the ladies too, with their obliging ingresses.)

M. Go 

(Leaver by name and by naturism, but I’ll stick with you, like a tool stuck to a frozen gatepost! I remain, well, I don’t actually, yours, etc..)

Friday, December 21, 2018

Robert Sheppard: My latest write-through of Michael Drayton's IDEA (remains of temporary Brexmas post)

The English Strain is complete. I mean: I've finished writing it. (Book One of it, he means. 2021) The latest part of it, Hap: Understudies of Thomas Wyatt’s Petrarch is now available from Knives Forks and Spoons here:

You can read about the whole ‘English Strain’ project, if you like, in a post that has links to some other accounts, and earlier parts, of this work: here

The second book of The English Strain is entitled Bad Idea and it is a re-working of the whole of Michael Drayton’s sequence Idea, that’s 63 poems by the way, of which I have covered 23. I will post one at a time, when they are finished (but only if I feel it appropriate in terms of topicality). On this, amended, post, I've removed the poem, but have preserved some of the ideas around Bad Idea since they seem of some import (and also because I've finessed this post several times until it is quite intricate. [Second 2021 interruption: I’m delighted to announce that Bad Idea is available NOW from Alec Newman’s excellent press Knives Forks and Spoons, with a cover design by Patricia Farrell. You may get it HERE: ]

This week I was greatly impressed by Sir Ivan Rogers’ speech in Liverpool; you can access it all here:

He says:

In an earlier lecture, I described Brexitism as a revolutionary phenomenon, which radicalised as time went on and was now devouring its own children. This current phase feels ever more like Maoists seeking to crush Rightist deviationists than it does British Conservatism.

Both fervent leavers and fervent remainers as well as No 10 seem to me now to seek to delegitimise a priori every version of the world they don’t support.

But he doesn’t present the EU as benign at all, which is refreshing. We need to realise that it will act in its own interests, rightly, and that (wrongly) we will not be a part of that large social-democratic market. That political status has meant that Labour politicians have been (rightly) sceptical about a 'capitalists’ club', though it's never been exactly that, with its labour laws and environmental controls for example.

But Corbyn doesn’t get it, does he? As my son says, he’ll lose the youth vote (my son is post-youth now, but knows). He really is a Brexiteer, but probably not a very convinced one. Rogers had it right:

And even yesterday morning I listened to a Shadow Cabinet Member promising, with a straight face, that, even after a General Election, there would be time for Labour to negotiate a completely different deal – INCLUDING a full trade deal, which would replicate all the advantages of the Single Market and Customs Union. And all before March 30th. I assume they haven’t yet stopped laughing in Brussels.

They will never meet the Six Tests, because leaving will always be worse than staying. (Nobody has ever negotiated deliberately a WORSE trade agreement.) I also read this online, which somewhat surprised me. MPs aren’t delegates (I’m not arguing for another referendum, as such, btw. I don’t think we should have any.).
Corbyn has been an ambiguous figure in ‘The English Strain’, often a victor, even a hero so far. But around poem 22-23 I've started to address Labour's miss-steps on this issue. I’ve also been reading Guattari, who indicates how things move at a level not accessible to committees and sub-committees, lines of flight, forces of subjectivation, etc... But I've also been thinking about the differences between representative democracy and delegates’, and plebicites, and how we're confused with all three operating at once.

Drayton, passionate and civil, is largely out of print at the moment, though I have found a ‘Poly-Olberon’ project online, (the whole epic online, which is refreshing), and his fine sonnet sequence ‘Idea’ is available online, including the ones I’ve just translated above; have a look at both, the latter being:

Drayton, Michael. ‘Idea.’ in Arundell Esdaile, ed. Daniel’s Delia and Drayton’s Idea.
London: Chatto and Windus: 1908. 67-141; online at Luminarium:

Although I am using

Tuley, Mark. ed. Elizabethan Sonnet Cycles: Five Major Elizabethan Sonnet Cycles: by Samuel Daniel, Michael Drayton, Sir Philip Sidney, William Shakespeare and Edmund Spenser. Crescent Moon Publishing, Maidstone: Kent, 2010,

a careless book that even misses one sonnet out! But then, he's always so glum: look at the face on him! And that desperate title 'Esquire' (which meant he owned a bit of property) when what he dreamt of was a knighthood.

There are more excerpts from The English Strain coming up in PN Review next year, and in the current Poetry Wales. There’s another on Smithereens as I outline in an adjacent post on this blog. I’ve not sent any of these Bad Idea ones out yet. They are amassing if anybody wants them. 

Also next year (since I've just realised that this is my Christmas-New Year post) two readings locally, including a celebration of the also upcoming Robert Sheppard Companion and the revelation of my poetry-photo collaboration with Trev Eales. Merry Brexmas to you all. And a Grand New Year...

And particularly to Clark Allison, who has commented on most of these temporary posts, and who has a review of Hap appearing in ... the New Year. Hap, hap happy one, all.

And here it is: Clark Allison: ‘One Side Ripening’, Stride, January 2019:

I hope you've read M. Go's Brexmas message, from the Dogging Sites of Post-Brexit Britain! If not, it's here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Robert Sheppard: in memoriam Vik Doyen, Lowry scholar and much more

I’ve heard from friend, poet and critic Helen Tookey (one of the Liverpool Firminists) that one of our best friends in the Malcolm Lowry community, Prof Vik Doyen, has died in Belgium. I am very sad about this. He was a very kind and good humoured man.

He edited Malcolm Lowry's 1940 Under the Volcano and the re-discovered Lowry novel In Ballast to the White Sea and had a long history of crucial critical work on Lowry, going back to the 1960s, I think, but he was a good friend of our annual Liverpool Lowry Lounge celebrations at Bluecoat. (See about the most recent here, and its links to previous years.)

I want, though, to remember him for one more thing. As many of you know, my book A Translated Man (see this slow link here), purports to be the work of a Belgian poet writing in both Flemish and French (it was Vik who told me there was no such language as ‘Walloon’). The fiction includes the ‘editorial’ role of Erik Canderlinck (see the draft for what became his introduction, here). I located my Erik as formerly (I was hinting he was removed from his post) of the University of Leuven. Of course, I would never meet anyone from Leuven, let alone from the University! Then (in this other, Lowry world) along comes Vik Doyen from that very institution, and, at the end of one of our Lowry years, I plucked up courage, and gave him a copy of the book.

The following year (and in subsequent years) he was astonished that I had been able to recreate his colleague (he named an individual) from the university so well!So well, he insisted, that I must know him. I did not. And we laughed.
Of course, this is one of the ironies of the creation of fictional poets. Like Bob McCorkle in Peter Carey’s wonderful novel My Life as a Fake they turn up and find you. Or nearly, in this case: as Vik knew and loved and laughed with me about it. It’s unthinkable to imagine a future Lounge without him for this (and many many other) reasons. I have written myself into sadness. And shall stop…


Sunday, December 09, 2018

First Review of HAP on Litter (by Steve Spence)

Steve Spence has reviewed my new HAP: Understudies of Thomas Wyatt’s Petrarch  Knives, Forks and Spoons Press   23 pages   £6.50, December 2018, on Litter.

here. Thanks Steve.  

'It’s a rollicking good read,' Spence says, 'where questions of ‘Englishness’ are subtly intertwined with pornographic imagery and devastating political acuity. Sheppard revels in language, delighting in all the ‘tricks’ and wordplays which poetry is capable of while keeping his eye firmly on the ball.'

Also see here for more details of the book, and links to other parts of 'The English Strain' project, of which this pamphlet is a major part. 

See  also

Clark Allison for a second opinion on the patient Wyatt: ‘One Side Ripening’, Stride, January 2019:

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Robert Sheppard: Two 'Earl of Surrey' 'expanded translations' published in Poetry Wales

Many fine beasts in this issue, some friends indeed, but there are also four of my sonnets, this time 'translations' from the Earl of Surrey. They follow on from the 'Wyatt' poems that have just been published as 'Hap' (see below). You can see what's going on in the Surrey poems (and in them all really) by looking here, where another of Surrey's poems is presented alongside my expanded (or contracted!) translation. This was published in International Times. 

I write about this 'Trump' one here:

and you can go straight to the 'International Times' poems (and an image) here:

Of course, to read the new ones in Poetry Wales you'll have to buy, or subscribe to, Poetry Wales. Here. But that's a really good thing to do. It's under the steady editorial hand of the excellent Nia Davies. Thanks Nia, for publishing the poems, and thanks for the best acceptance letter ever: she wrote: 'I want to publish some of your bonkers sonnets'. What more can I say!? 

The English Strain, my collective title for these sonnets, is complete now. The latest part of it, Hap:Understudies of Thomas Wyatt’s Petrarch is available from Knives Forks and Spoons, now, here:

You can read about the whole ‘English Strain’ project, if you like, in a post that has links to some other accounts, and earlier parts, of this work: here. Yes, I do have more to say...

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Video of Atlantic Drift launch in Berkeley earlier this year

"Atlantic Drift: A discussion of the interrelationships between innovative poets in the US and the UK," with James Byrne, Bhanu Kapil, Zoƫ Skoulding, and Forrest Gander. UC Berkeley, September 2018, introduced by Lyn Hejinian.

This was also the US launch of  Atlantic Drift (see here for details and links to other launches and related Atlantic Drift news, and for cover image below) Read an account of the launch, here. 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Robert Sheppard: New 'Charlotte Smith' version published in Smithereens 2

I have a poem in Smithereens 2 which may be accessed or downloaded at the addresses above. It is one of my versions of the Sussex poet Charlotte Smith, a part of the ongoing ‘English Strain’. Good to publish it outside the UK!

 Ye vales and woods! fair scenes of happier hours

Uplands and Downlands, those scenes of Cowboys
and Indians enacted behind fishbox barricades
in Father’s waistcoat and Mother’s high heels,
and gulls’ feathers, and beads, you bore and saw them all…

Whilst I was writing these poems I commented on the process here. The most recently published part of The Englis Strain is Hap, which may be read about (and purchased) here.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Robert Sheppard and Thomas Ingmire: Collaboration ('Synovial Joints') part of current exhibition

Note (17th December 2018): The exhibition is still running of course, but the beautiful catalogue has just arrived and I realised with pleasure that the cover (as on the poster above) is part of my contribution to the event: I sent Thomas my poem 'Synovial Things' (named after 'Synovial Joints', the Steve Coleman album, and sometimes that seems to be the title of the poem, not sure finally!) and it may be read here. It is one of my 'Overdubs of Milton' which I talk about here. Five of them find their way into 'The English Strain'. The others don't, but there's nothing wrong with them on their own. Milton's sonnets don't make a sequence, really, and my tracking of them doesn't either. So U plan to publish them as 'leftoverdubs'!

You can also see our previous collaboration: both poem ('Afghanistan') and image/text here

Watch Thomas talk in 2016 about his collaborations with David Annwn, his principal poetry collaborator. The catalogue includes the latest works with David, and others (with Allen Fisher, Alan Halsey and Geraldine Monk, among those previously known to me. The others I have yet to read.). 

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Robert Sheppard Hap: Understudies of Thomas Wyatt's Petrarch published NOW

My pamphlet Hap:Understudies of Thomas Wyatt’s Petrarch is now published and is available from Knives Forks and Spoons here:


Taking only the sonnets Wyatt ‘translated’ from Petrarch, but adding a few of my own, I merge the historical Wyatt with his hysterical contemporary analogue, a reluctant civil servant of a corrupt administration. His world fluxes between Henrician terror,  administered by Cromwell, and something like our own reality, administered from inside Boris Johnson’s foreign office, itself already a history of misrule.

Tom Jenks writes of the book: ‘We need our ghosts more than ever. Robert Sheppard rouses Sir Thomas Wyatt, pioneering English sonneteer, from unquiet slumber and drops him blinking into Brexit Britain. Tudor insider, rumoured lover of Anne Boleyn, Wyatt now plies his poetic trade in the dysfunctional dynasty of Theresa May, a court characterised by its surfeit of jesters. Informed but not limited by its origins, HAP is a work of wit, verve and skill, doing to Wyatt what Wyatt did to Petrarch: recontextualising and rebooting by transformative translation. This book should be shot into space as a record of our interesting times, preferably in Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson’s trouser pocket.’ 

Read the first review, by Steve Spence, here. And the second, by Clark Allison here.And the third, which appeared in The Journal (unknown reviewer): here. Here's a fourth one: Prince, D.A. ‘Hap by Robert Sheppard’, on Sphinx: Poetry Pamphlet Reviews and Features: (2020) 

These sonnets are from a larger grouping called The English Strain. I write about them here

And about my sonnets generally here, and here . See here and here for more on my Petrarch obsession, which set this thing off, including how to purchase the first part of The English Strain, that is: Petrarch 3 from Crater press in its ‘map’ edition.

That's the frontispiece of his book, not mine. The design of my cover is by Patricia Farrell.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The 2018 Lowry Lounge in Liverpool and on the Wirral (including the Open Malc) (set list)

This year's annual celebration of Merseyside writer Malcolm Lowry, our ninth, took place on Saturday 27 October in Birkenhead and at Bluecoat in Liverpool!

• 2-4pm at the Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead
• 6-9pm at Bluecoat (Sandon Room)

At the Williamson, Firminists Helen Tookey and Bryan Biggs gave an illustrated introduction to the writer, not far from where he sailed on his first adventure in 1927, and Alan Dunn presented Lowry artwork in the cafe. (As ever, I never got across the river, though Patricia and I did visit the Mersey to look over to where Lowry would have sailed from.)

The second part of the Lounge was at Bluecoat, where there was a screening of The Lighthouse Invites the Storm, a film of a music performance commissioned last year from artists Alan Dunn, Martin Heslop and Jeff Young that reconnected Lowry with his New Brighton birthplace, and was developed in collaboration with retired seafarers from Wallasey. It was a collage of the two performances last year. Fascinating, because I only saw the Bluecoat version.

An illustrated talk by Mark Goodall, 'Symphony of Scorpions: Malcolm Lowry and Modern Jazz', examined the relationship between jazz and Lowry’s writings, paying particular attention to the work of British Jazz composer and writer Graham Collier (1937-2011). Good stuff. I went home and played a lot of Bix into the night, including Lowry's favourite break from 'Swingin' the Blues'. 

This was followed by an ‘Open Malc’ session, with musical, poetic and other live contributions. (It wasn't really 'open', but it was 'Malc', as I said in my introduction.) from the floor, made in response to Lowry. The evening concluded with a volcanic disco and the customary toast to Wirral’s greatest writer.

Robert Sheppard: I was MCing, but I also read first; nobody wants to 'go first', so I kicked us off, with ‘The Malcolm Lowry Lounge’, which may be read here, and a new poem especially written for tonight called ‘Cablegram to Dale St’. (I want to use these two poems to sandwich my ‘Malcolm Lowry’s Land’ prose piece and construct a Lowry suite one day.) 

 John Hyatt and Thalia Styxguitar and voice: ‘The Resurrection of Geoffrey Firmin. Hyatt is writing Under the Volcano backwards! Video here:

Patricia Farrell – Porcelain and Volcano reading. Patricia Farrell is a poet and visual artist. Her latest publication is High Cut from Leafe Press.  In 2011 she completed a PhD thesis titled 'Philosophical Artifice: an Enquiry with Relation to Gilles Deleuze's Difference and Repetition and the Logic of Sense'. Her piece explored Deleuze’s exploration of intoxication (he writes about Lowry).

Chris McCabe: Poet, writer, playwright, librarian and drinker. His novel, Dedalus is published by Henningham Family Press and he read a section that mentions Lowry, plus a short divinatory text for ML.

Mary Morgans read a moving letter she found tucked into a copy of Hear Us Oh Lord… by Lowry.

Helen Tookey – read a poem ‘Boat’. She has a book from Carcanet and another on the way soon. She is one of the Firminists and edited Malcolm Lowry: From the Mersey to the World with Bryan Biggs. 

James Byrne is a poet and editor and he has two books up-coming: his responses to the etchings of Goya (from Arc) and a selection of his work, translated into Spanish. And, as you would have heard, he is internationally engaged as a writer (in this case with the Mexican landscape that Lowry knew, about which he has written a splendid poem). 

Al ‘Bluesman’ Peters, is a Blues Singer/Word Slinger, but he’s also a Liverpool musical legend, and trumpet player. But no trumpet that night! But he got us all singing! Nice blues harp.

Mark Goddall is definitely a Firminst since he edits our occasional journal The Firminist. As you can see above, he is a critic and cultural commentator across a number of art and non-art practices, but on Saturday he sang his jaunty song ‘Malcolm Lowry’. 

Ailsa Cox is a short story writer and critic and has written critically on Lowry’s fiction, but, perhaps more importantly, Lowry’s work has informed many of her stories. Her The Real Louise is published by Headland. She is also one of the original Firminists. Her story about a Malcolm Lowry conference in Vancouver was moving and precise.
Then a toast of meszcal! All hands on the record decks!! Over for the year!!! It was a low-key year, between big events, I suspect. 

(Some of these texts may be appearing in The Firminist which may well appear ahead of next year's lounge.)
The Bluecoat's Bryan Biggs and the ghostly presence of Lowry. Photo: Helen Tookey)

Accounts of previous years' events (including the first in 2009!) may be read here:

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Some poems in Shearsman and back to the Mina Loy day/exhibition

I've had two new poems from the 'It's Nothing' sequence from The English Strain published in Shearsman 117/8, guest-edited by Kelvin Corcoran, to whom, many thanks. One of the poems, 'Useless Landscape' was written for the 'Modern Women' day a the Bluecoat in 2016, organised by Sandeep Parmar, to whom the poem is dedicated, and it mentions Melissa Gordon's 'Fallible Space', an installation (which she has just re-created and which is accompanied by a booklet containing the poems from that Bluecoat day, but I've no details of that yet.)

I detailed the Bluecoat day here and there is a post from Joanne Ashcroft too:

Here you can see images and Melissa's installation: 

And her website :

I write about the completed 100 sonnets of The English Strain hereAnd about my sonnets generally here, and here and see here and here for more on my Petrarch obsession, which set this thing off, including how to purchase Petrarch 3 from Crater press in its ‘map’ edition.

My sonnets Hap:Understudies of Thomas Wyatt’s Petrarch is now published;

see here:
and is available from Knives Forks and Spoons here:

I have some new 'English Strain' poems online in Molly Bloom, Aidan Semmens' fine  magazine. Here:

He has chosen ones from
NON-DISCLOSURE AGREEMENT: Overdubs of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese. 

There are more excerpts from 'It's Nothing' coming up in PN Review ...

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Robert Sheppard: HMS Little Fox by Lee Harwood republished (My reading of 'The Long Black Veil')

I gave Tony Frazer a hand with the proofreading of this new book, but it was more of a minor editorial job when we faced dilemmas like these. I wrote to Tony:

p. 18

The paragraph/verse beginning

In the morning we go for a drive…

This looks like prose in the Oasis, but it appears lineated in Collected, as verse. I believe this latter is wrong and that it is actually prose, or should be. We’d need a look at the manuscript to decide this, but see what you think! It could be either, though the tone is closer to the texture of the prose, AND very little of the verse is punctuated in the poem. Only the prose. As this passage is. (Compare to the ‘At night… passage on p. 16 on the Oasis.)

p. 22; those two lines ‘…we finally begin to fall asleep…’ I think that’s prose too, if you look at Oasis p. 19, not lineated (or it is by accident of reaching the right margin…) Again it is punctuated.

Tony has made the good decision to stay close to the original publication, but has corrected obvious mistakes, typos, etc.

You can buy the book here. £9.99

A Reading of Complexity: Lee Harwood's The Long Black Veil from his volume HMS Little Fox 

‘Harwood knows the uses of discontinuity, of partial description, of tangents whose vector energies can be gripped by the imagination, working to cohere information and feeling out of an interior coherence of the poetic action,’ writes Eric Mottram, of Lee Harwood’s work of the 1970s, and this description is particularly apt to the 12 part ‘notebook’ written between 1970 and 1972, The Long Black Veil,  which Harwood described as ‘the end-product, the “flower” of my work to date’, and which is the opening poem of the newly republished HMS Little Fox. With its Olsonian notation – actually, it well exceeds Maximus in its notational sparseness, what Harwood called his ‘puritan’ side – and its appropriation of the ideogrammic method of juxtaposition, it is Harwood’s longest meditation upon erotic obsession, yet it is also a quest for the ‘comprehension of process’, to quote the poem’s epigraph from Ezra Pound. Such process is another Olsonian inheritance (reaching back to the philosophy of Whitehead). It is a quest enacted through memory (‘What have we left/from all this?’); Harwood explains the temporal organization of his poem: ‘One actuality in time set by (beside) another, causing waves to go between the two’. Yet the image he proffers of memory, in this most self-contradictory of his poems – he describes it as both process and product – contradicts the possibility of that comforting simultaneity. The image, borrowed from Borges, of a pile of coins, each representing a memory of the preceding memory, shows ‘how our memory distorts and simplifies events the further we move from them’.

                        two years passed     ‘Oh Jung’
                        the cycles not repeated
                        only the insistence 

This distinction between vital insistence and dead repetition exists in a tense relationship with actual memory. The questor figure from earlier texts has learnt that memory is not just a series of surprising recollections but is both contained and refracted through process and mutability. Memory is paradoxical, cannot be resolved into the singularity of narrative. There is a strong desire to feel ‘totally in one place’, though this is undercut: ‘the dream echoed again and again ... in many places’.
            The ‘Oh Jung’ above is itself a reiterated insistence carried over from a quotation in the immediately preceding passage.
                                    ‘Concepts promise protection
                        from experience.
                                                The spirit does
                        not dwell in concepts.  Oh Jung.’
  (Joanne Kyger - DESECHEO NOTEBOOK)
There can be no sheltering from experience in conceptualisations, in intellectual systems of knowledge, even in this, the most allusive and literary of Harwood’s works, despite it being the most trenchantly unpoetic, in its lack of euphony, metaphor, or other elements of poetic artifice and content. The ‘Preface’ ends:

But what of the essence of this?  ‘Oh Jung's’ insistences.  The Sufi story of the famous River that tried to cross the desert, but only crossed the sands as   water ‘in the arms of the wind’, nameless but  
The Sufi parable, truncated so abruptly, demonstrates that movement or process always involves surprising metamorphoses.  Repetitions also undergo metamorphosis at their reappearances; this involves a continual defamiliarization.  The theme turns rather than re-turns.  The repetitions are both structuring the text and yet decentring it thematically as it progresses, in a dialectic of repetition and surprise.
            Book One plays with the distance between word and thing, unhappy nominalism a reflector of existential distance.  ‘How I ache now’ is equivalent to the ‘endless skies/ that ache too much’ that appear several lines later.  Despite the alienation, nature is suffused with longing.  The text is hesitant, constantly revising itself.  ‘It’s light/ I mean your body’. But the body also is the constant referent of Book One amid the general failure of reference (‘the words?    how can they...’) and the ‘distance’ between lover and lover, and the ‘unbearable distance’ of the ‘endless skies’. ‘Your body, yes     I'm talking about it/ at last     I mean this is the discovery.’ Yet there can be no purposeful inventory of bodily elements.  The book ends:
            dawn - light - body - words - raven - skies - ache- distance - valley - sun - silos - farms - ridges -  creek - each other - birds - wind
                        The Flight - BA 591          
These are the nouns of the first half of the section - an alienating inventory of what is irrecoverably lost.  The flight number is yet another sign of the reality of distance.  What survives this distance, as always in Harwood’s poetry, is an enigmatic impression, a moment from a love-affair that has been frustrated: a cinematic sequence, frozen in the frame.

                        you stop and half turn
                        to tell me...
                        that doesn't matter
                        but your look
                        and this picture I have
                        and at this distance          

            This is one version of what Harwood calls ‘the dream’: ‘anything that goes on in my head, whether it be thoughts or imaginings, day-dreams or sleep dreams.  They all give pictures of “the possible”, and that is exactly their value.’ The ‘dream’, though, is only articulated in this poem through the mediation of the transcriptions of real events, most importantly the recording of the events of a precarious love affair and its aftermath and memories.   ‘I hold you to me in a small room - the night air so heavy.  Inside “the dream”...’  And, as we have seen, the ‘dream’ recurs again and again in different locations, linking them by paradigmatic connection.
            One possible version of ‘the dream’ harks back to, is nostalgic for, the fictions of his earlier work in The White Room, yet they are now unnecessary evasions of the real that is emphatically celebrated in the notebook (mostly in journal-like passages which depict travels with the lover around North America, and which I will be passing over in this piece in the interests of economy) and in its new-found ‘straight-talking’ diction. Unlike the early fictions,

                        There’s no steamer bringing you to me
                        up-river at the hill-station
                        No long white dress on the verandah
                        It is...
                        I hold you.     isn’t this enough?    
The landscape becomes prey to the pathetic fallacy, as in his earliest successful poem, ‘As Your Eyes Are Blue’, is ‘only a description of my love for you’. The reiterated depictions of the lover’s body turns upon both her presence and her absence, affected by the complexities of the situation: the poem’s title, a haunting country and western song by Lefty Frizzell (which I used to play and sing!), weirdly narrated from the point of view of an executed man, hints that the relationship is adulterous (he is framed for a murder but will not proffer as his defence the fact he was with ‘his best friend’s wife’). In fact, the woman of the poem was Bobbie Louise Hawkins, the novelist with whom Harwood did in fact live with for some years in the 1980s. (In the parallel with the song, the ‘best friend’ would have been Robert Creeley, as Creeley himself told me, much to my surprise when I was interviewing him. I left that bit out of the printed interview.) But that lies in the future of this poem, as it were. (Also it is worth noting that the notational style was not one that Harwood would return to in such detail ever again. The ‘failure’, as Harwood thought it, of his ‘Notes of a Post Office Clerk’, the follow-up to this poem, would confirm that.)
In Book Six - mid-way through the text - ‘the questions of complexity’ are dealt with most fully. Harwood quotes E.M. Forster’s obituary for Andre Gide which praises Gide for transmitting much of ‘life’s complexity, and the delight, the duty of registering that complexity and of conveying it’. Complexity is the twentieth-century existential condition. It is in using Jung's essay ‘Marriage as a Psychological Relationship’ that Harwood develops both a theory for a constantly decentring process in his work which suggested a structural homology for the ‘comprehension of process’, and a model for human relationships.

             The distinctions

                        ‘Oh, Jung’ (1875-1961) on ‘Marriage...’ (1925)

                        The container and the contained
                        not or­
                        one within the other
                        a continual shifting    and that both ways
                        - more a flow - from the simplicity to the complexity,
                        ‘unconscious’ to conscious,
                                                              and then back again?
                        and the move always with difficulty, and pain          a pleasure   
In Jung's theory of marriage, the container is a complex character, the contained simple and psychologically dependent upon the other. There are pleasurable but also painful resolutions between them as the container looks in vain for his or her level of complexity in the partner, whose simplicity is also disrupted by the search. The contained, however, comes to accept his or her position and becomes acutely aware of the necessity for self-fulfilment. Harwood subverts the underlying submissive-dominant polarity of Jung’s essay, with his emphatic ‘and’ which suggests that the roles are interchangeable, dynamic and discontinuous. The relationship in the poem, it must be recalled, is also far from a ‘marriage’ in conventional terms.
With such mutability, process is both a mode of consciousness and a mode of communication: 

                         not so much a repetition
                        but a moving around a point, a line
                        - like a backbone - and that too moving
Part of the function of the ‘backbone’ moving around a (moving) point is that there should be no single point of view, that it should be ‘complex’.  The ‘straight-talking’ of certain parts of the poem do not contradict the elaborate but not poetic artifice of others.  They are, to have recourse to the concepts of quantum physics, complementarities: mutually exclusive positions that support one another, echoed later in the text: ‘Yes and No’. Yet the most explicit model of this ‘moving/ (on)’ in the poem is

                        yang and yin
                        light and dark        

which is accompanied by a drawing of the ‘yang and yin’ Taoist emblem. 


At one level this is a re-statement of the passage above on marriage where the two partners are in a dialectical but equitable harmony. Yet the earnest unities of Taoism are undercut - complemented - by an all-too worldly, weary, quotation from Stendhal in which Julien Sorel's love, and by implication, our narrator’s, is described as ‘still another name for ambition’.
            The poem offers multiple models of experience, many ways of approaching complexity; the instability of the lover and the erotic becomes the paradoxical centre of the poem as he is balanced between love and ambition, and marriage and adultery..
            Jung furnished the introduction to Wilhelm's translation of the I Ching, from which Harwood quotes, incompletely, in Book Six. 

                        BEFORE COMPLETION                   Wei Chi/64
                        But if the little fox, after nearly completing the crossing,
                        Gets his tail in the water,
                        There is nothing that would further.   

‘This hexagram,’ the commentary to the I Ching explains, predicts a ‘hopeful outlook’; it ‘indicates a time when the transition from disorder to order is not yet completed’. (It also explains where the title of the volume comes from, though this fact does not explain its meaning.)
            The poem continues with a not entirely convincing image of the transformation of the lover.  ‘Complexity’ includes a transformative, as well as merely linear, process, catalysis, to use Harwood’s metaphor in other poems.

                                                 in the half light ...
                        A minotaur? a cat? tiger?           Her face
                        a metamorphosis     seen     at once     many times.
                        Our powers generating...         

‘Book Twelve: California Journal’ brings about a full ravelling of the complexities of earlier books, yet focuses upon the lover. It is ironic to centre oneself in decentring, abandoned to the openness of the ‘dream’ that evokes possibility, but constantly returns to the lover, to pitch one time against another, only to find the farthest memories metamorphosed in the vagaries of recollection. When the continual shifting of place and movement, of change and exchange, and of dream and the here and now, come to fulfilment in an extraordinarily powerful piece of prose, it is not a resolution.

Making love, the final blocks clear.  My body taken into her body completely, and then her body into my body....

She anoints my wrists
the anointment a ritual like the sweetening of the body before burial, before our parting.  My not realising the completeness of this until now....

The ritual   of - repeated again - No.  We make love  -  to each other  -  in turn.  The body glowing, dizzy,...   walking through clouds.  The faces transformed again.

She puts the bead bracelet around my wrist      

The ritual is a necessary insistence, not a casual repetition, which involves characteristic transformation and metamorphosis.  As in a near-contemporary poem, ‘One, Two, Three’ there is a ritual exchange. ‘She accepts the objects - the stone, the orange blossom./She gives the objects - the whittled twig, the dried seed pod.’ The love-making is complete in both the sense that it has reached a certain stage of intensity; but it may also be a final act with its funereal equation of ‘before burial’ and ‘before our parting’: so the ‘completeness’ of the anointing is not comprehended at the time.  The poem ends with what might be a simple imperative or the fragment of a larger utterance, ‘lie naked upon the bed’, which returns to the unstable, dynamic insistence of human sexual relationships. But the pervasive ‘dream’ and its echoes ensure that the story will never be a simple one, that the text's end will never be definitively conclusive.

               In the face of ‘a multiplicity of approaches’, as Harwood puts it, there can only be a relativistic discourse, the polyphonizing of a lyric impulse and the dispersal of narrative energies. ‘The Long Black Veil’, the longest poem in HMS Little Fox, is an act of such dispersal, a recognition that ‘each of us lives at the intersection of many of these... language elements.’ The 12 ‘books’ are, with their Poundian precision and erotic uncertainty, Harwood’s mutability cantos. Out of these elements, like postmodern science, it is ‘producing not the known, but the unknown’, as Lyotard puts it; like a lover, it always returns to the known, to find it changed, even in memory or language.

My review of Collected Poems in two parts here and here. On later works here; on recent works here. And an earlier gift to him here. A later 'Laugh' with Lee Harwood may be read here.

And news of the British Library Harwood Archive here.

HMS Little Fox reappears, with some updated corrections in New Collected Poems : see Pages: Lee Harwood New Collected Poems: the best audio and video recordings (