Friday, September 28, 2018

FREE reading in Liverpool: Sarah Crewe and Patricia Farrell: new books launching: 13th October 2018

14th October: A splendid reading, by both of these poets; also the day Patricia's book was reviewed in Stride, here. Details here. Here they are in The Lion after!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Blind Lemons playing live in Shoreham

The Blind Lemons feature my old school friend Tony Parsons (not the novelist!) on guitar, with whom I performed in the blues trio Little Albert Fly in the 1990s and, before that, in the 1970s, as a duo. Here he is with his current band. It's very tight now. I saw him recently, when I was in Shoreham for my mother's funeral, and found this video looking for a pub to retire to after the event. See here and here for some images, including, in the second one, me reading 'Smokestack Lightning' (which is dedicated to Tony, the first part of Twentieth Century Blues), with the band doing a shuffle version of 'Motherless Child', all at the Duke of Wellington. (You can see a very different sole performance of the poem from 2008, here. with harmonicas and recordings.) 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Robert Sheppard: My twittersonnet 'Dwarf Planet' is part of the KFS poetry illuminations in Blackpool

My 'twittersonnet', 'dwarf planet' is part of the Knives Forks and Spoons Blackpool Illuminations at the moment and here are two of Alec Newman's photos, one of the whole display, and the one below of the poem itself.
The 'twittersonnet' was invented by Rene Van Valckenborch (though I invented him) and his and mine were both first platformed on our respective Twitter accounts, though his also appear on this blog (see here)

They were commissioned for the ‘life is short: art is shorter’ mini-festival held at bluecoat on november 15th, 2015, curated by professor ailsa cox , as part of the nationwide being human festival. see

They come from a sequence now called ‘Minute Bodies: Twittersonnets’. Some were published online in Noon: here.

the first twittersonnet (and other twitterodes) may be found in the works of rené van valckenborch in robert sheppard’s the translated man (shearsman, 2013) and the second in his petrarch 3 (crater press, 2016). the (then) constraint of 140 characters was distributed across the 14 (8+6) line frame (or minute body) of the sonnet, 10 characters or spaces per line. Here irt is again:

dwarf planet (pluto)

 (30% H20)

by a whale
’s tail/cr
isp bald c
rust faces

 charon su
cking meth

 moons in
the kuiper

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Updated My Website and added a full bibliography

During the summer I updated my website, by bringing up to date the biography I have online, and by providing a full bibliography that I've put together for the 'Companion' volume on my work that will be out soon. It's here, although the site's home page is here.

Here I muse upon the difficulties of listing every magazine appearance I've made, and show the list that I started to make and then abandoned because it was just getting too long, and which I replaced with a simpler list of every magazine title I'd been published in. Jokingly I call this 'oeuvre management', but I can just about imagine a Creative Writing degree module of that title! 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Pages (first series) reissued entire with an interview on Jacket 2: Complete Index of all 5 series

This blog is called Pages because it was originally a blogzine continuation of the print magazine of that name. It still may be partly that, though it is more of a writer's or literary blog now (and is archived by the British Library as such).

Quick hits of the New British Poetry as they happened

I am pleased to say that the first series, which ran from 1988 to 1990, has been digitalised (by the energetic Manchester poet and critic Joey Francis) and is now available on Jacket 2 here. 

There is also a recent interview with me (again, conducted by Joey), where I talk about the project from the inside, though I stray into defining 'linguistically innovative poetry' and the experience of homelessness. Read that here.

Everything is linked from the Pages Reissues page. Click onto each individual 8 page issue. Thanks to Danny Snelson, the Master of Ceremonies at Jacket2.

When I started this blog I reprinted editorial matter from the second series of Pages and thought of this blog as the third series (see the links below).

But there's enough to keep most poetry-lovers quiet on the re-issue pages of Pages. Thanks to Scott Thurston for initiating this project, to Joey for doing the leg-work and the interviewing, and to Jacket 2 for seeing fit to make it available again, in all its (deliberate) lo-tech glory. 

The Poetry Foundation comments on the reissue, see:

Pages (first series) – index

1-8        Editorial; Allen Fisher; David Miller
9-16        Gilbert Adair; Gad Hollander
17-24        Ken Edwards; Andrew Lawson
25-32        John Seed; Adrian Clarke
33-40        Hanne Bramness; Michael Carlson
41-48        Sheila E. Murphy; Kelvin Corcoran; Harry Gilonis
49-56        ‘Beyond Revival’ editorial; Virginia Firnberg; David Chaloner
57-64        Rupert M Loydell; Lee Harwood; Robert Christian
65-72    ‘Theoretical Practice editorial; Responses: Adrian Clarke, Gilbert Adair, Andrew Lawson, Virginia Firnberg; Wayne Pratt (this is the issue where Adair coins the term 'linguistically innovative poetry'.
73-80    Stephen Oldfield; Valerie Pancucci
81-88    Alan Halsey; Peter Middleton
89-96    R G Hampson; Hazel Smith
97-104    Eviction Collage; Letter from Ken Edwards; Bob Cobbing; Chris Beckett
105-112    Richard Caddel; Catherine Walsh; Aiden Semmens
113-120    Patricia Farrell; Tom Raworth
121-128    Heywood Hadfield; Colin Simms
129-136    Sheppard, Letter to The Independent (which they published); Ralph Hawkins; Maggie O’Sullivan
137-144    James Keery; Peter Riley; Keith Jebb
145-152    Ian Davidson; John Wilkinson
153-160    Johan DeWitt; Michael Ayers
161-168    ‘Poor Fuckers’ editorial; Horst Bienek, trans. Harry Gilonis; Rod Mengham
169-176    Elaine Randell; Lawrence Upton
177-184    Ian Robinson; John Welch
185-192    Ulli Freer; Virginia Firnberg
193-200    Peter Ganick; Dennis Barone
201-208    Sheppard: review of Bob Perelman; Robert Creeley; John Muckle, review of Ian Davidson
209-216    Alex Alfred; David Barton
217-218    Floating Capital advert/apology for absence


resources for the linguistically innovative poetries

Series Two: April 1994-May 1998

Issues – full features by the named poet – short responses to the published work – extras – bibliographies of featured poets

Pages 219-238 Adrian Clarke

General editorial for the Series
Robert Sheppard
Out to Lunch (Ben Watson)

Pages 239-259 Ulli Freer

Scott Thurston
Patricia Farrell                                                                                              

Pages 260-279 Gilbert Adair

Allen Fisher
cris cheek

Pages 280-281 Eric Mottram
Special obit : Recording and Informing a Generation

Pages 282-300 Hazel Smith

Joy Wallace
Peter Manson

Pages 301-321 John Wilkinson

Drew Milne
NH Reeve

Pages 322-341 Cris Cheek

Peter Middleton

Pages 342-361 Peter Middleton

Gavin Selerie
Ira Lightman

Pages 362-380 Rod Mengham/Virginia Firnberg (no poems by either)

Critical Essays Issue
RS on Ulli Freer
John Wilkinson on Rod Mengham
Adrian Clarke on Virginia Firnberg
RS: ‘Linking the Unlinkable’ (poetics)

Pages 381-396 Ken Edwards

Kathleen Fraser
Robert Sheppard

Pages 397-420 Alan Halsey

Gavin Selerie
Tim Woods

Pages 421-445 Maggie O’Sullivan

Afterword to Pages, Second Series (re-posted at the end of post, here)
Lawrence Upton


Then, 2005, Pages became this blog. I attempted to carry on numbering the pages and frequently provided an index (for example here). These were superseded by the invention of links. But you see I was continuing to publish poets's works: Tony Trehy, Dee McMahon, Marianne Morris, Ian Davidson, for example.

Here is the editorial to Pages, Third Series. 

Afterword to Pages, Fourth Series, here. This is the 'end' of the Fourth Series: here

The Fifth Series of Pages was planned to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Edge Hill University Poetry and Poetics Group on October 21st 2009, and it did, here, but after that I began to treat this blog as a literary blog and I had long-ceased to attempt to carry on the numbering of the pages of Pages: it's not the digital way. I talk about the blog (as a blog) here in another interview that complements the new one with Joey Francis. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Robert Sheppard: Non Disclosure Agreement sonnets in Molly Bloom 17/another in Cumulus 2

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

He has chosen some of the 'English Strain' sonnets, these ones from

NON-DISCLOSURE AGREEMENT: Overdubs of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese. One begins, after its borrowed title from EBB's opening line,

YES, call me by my pet-name!

Pet! Petsy? Petronella? Petrarca! Where Petrarch dwells
there lies Poesy, as he makes for himself a self
in language, however embarrassing his cowpat lyricism,
since he – I – could not hope for imperial laurels....

This sequence seems oddly pertinent at the moment, given the antics of a certain phallocrat just out of government.

Another 'English Strain', is currently published in Cumulus 2 at the same time (so far print only): that one is my version of a poem by the Earl of Surrey. 

I write about the completed 100 sonnets of The English Strain here
My recent contribution to Blackbox Manifold, that other excellent online journal, here

is from Hap:Understudies of Thomas Wyatt’s Petrarch, so there is quite a range on show online now.

I write 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. The poem partly quoted above signals the return of Petrarch for the last few poems of the collection.   

My sonnets from the 'English Strain' project Hap:Understudies of Thomas Wyatt’s Petrarch is now published;

see here:

and is available from Knives Forks and Spoons here:

Book One of ‘The English Strain’ project, The English Strain, is available from Shearsman Books here:

Book Two, Bad Idea is available from Knives Forks and Spoons, HERE:

My response to Peter Riley agnostic approach to 'expanded translation' here includes a few remarks about the whole 'English Strain' project with links to other parts:

Also in this issue of Molly Bloom, Julia Webb, Sarah James, Gerry Loose, Maria Stadnicka, Jonathan Catherall, Rhea Seren Phillips, Mark Goodwin, Zohar Atkins, Steve Spence, Iain Britton, Melissa Buckheit and Hazel Smith.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Robert Sheppard: 'Between' a poem for Roy Fisher published in Tears in the Fence

My poem 'Between', a kind of elegy for Roy Fisher, appears in Tears in the Fence, now available from . The image below is relevant to the poem.

I say 'a kind of' because the story told in the poem is real. Before setting off for work I looked at Twitter and found a tweet announcing that Roy had died. That was upsetting. But having previously read a Tweet wrongly announcing the death of another poet, I decided to check again. But I couldn't find the tweet again. So I wasn't sure. I set off for work and the adventure in the poem occurred. Which could only occur in that 'between' state of uncertainty. Once I got to work I saw a tweet from Neil Astley, the publisher of Bloodaxe, and realised that the news was true. (None of this is a spoiler for the poem, by the way.) A few weeks later I attended Roy's funeral, by which time it felt all too real. As I write in 'Work' (the 2017 supplement):

We followed the ducks and rabbits to a humanist affair with wild flowers and jazz and – against Roy’s wishes – poems.

Tears in the Fence 68 is now available from and features poetry, prose, creative non-fiction and prose poetry from Ian Seed, Simon Collings, Melisande Fitzsimons, Anna Backman Rogers, Beth Davyson, Robert Sheppard, David Miller, Peter Hughes, Tracey Iceton, Jill Eulalie Dawson, Kate Noakes, Taró Naka Trans. Andrew Houwen and Chikako Nihei, Aidan Semmens, Mark Goodwin, Barbara Bridger, Alexandra Strnad, Daragh Breen, Andrew Darlington, Caroline Heaton, Peter J. King, Amelia Forman, Clive Gresswell, Steve Spence, Rebecca Oet, Sue Burge, Chloe Marie, Lucy Sheerman, Peter Robinson, Michael Henry, Wendy Brandmark, Abeer Ameer, Reuben Woolley, Kareem Tayyar, Sarah Cave, Angela Howarth, Norman Jope, John Freeman, Eoghan Walls, Jennie Byrne, Marcel Labine Trans. John Gilmore and Peter Larkin.

The critical section features Ian Brinton’s editorial, Andrew Duncan on Sean Bonney, Mark Byers on Jasper Bernes and Sean Bonney, Nancy Gaffield on Zoë Skoulding, Frances Spurrier – Poetry, resilience and the power of hope, Simon Collings on Ian Seed, Peter Larkin, Clark Allison on John Hall, Astra Papachristodoulou on Nic Stringer, Greg Bright – What Is Poetry?, Mandy Pannett on Seán Street, David Pollard on Norman Jope, Louise Buchler on New Voices in South African Poetry, Anthony Mellors on Gavin Selerie, Linda Black on Anna Reckin, Jonathan Catherall on Nicki Heinen, Richard Foreman on M. John Harrison, Morag Kiziewicz’s column Electric Blue 4, Notes on Contributors and David Caddy’s Afterword.

Good to see former Edge Hill MA student Jennie Byrne there! As she notes here: 

I have, of course, written about Fisher's work in my book The Poetry of Saying (see here) and elsewhere, but here are links to a number of posts on this blog that you might like to read, before you get a chance to read 'Between' in Tears in the Fence: 

My most recent piece is on Fisher's radicalism here.

I've been published many times in Tears and here is my announcement of a previous appearence, another poem in memoriam, this time for Lee Harwood. I believe they also published my i.m. to Barry MacSweeney.

Thanks to David Caddy for all these appearances and for his publishing tenacity: 68. 

Saturday, September 08, 2018

‘Work’ from Words Out of Time: the 2017 Supplement

Astute readers of my autrebiography Words Out of Time will have noticed that the final piece, ‘Work’, the last part of ‘When’ (i.e., the end of the book) finishes not with a full stop but with ellipses. (Seriously, I doubt anybody noticed it!) That’s because its focus, the world of work, acts of, commitments to, actions of labour, wasn’t over for me at that time. (They still aren’t, but I did formally retire, a year ago and I reflect upon that here.)

There was more to write of the piece. Formally, the text distends time (the original idea was 15 words for the diaries when I’m 15, 50 for when I was 50, and thus 61 words for when I was 61, etc, but that broke down to nevertheless leave the general effect). That means that the text covering 2011-17 is as long as that for 1965-2011. (I was thinking of the fact that most conventional (auto)biographies spend more time on the early years, and I wanted this section to ‘do different’.)

I want to post it here (with a little linking clip of the text as it appears in the book (which you may obtain here.) and in its original magazine publication in Blackbox Manifold here: click and scroll). I hope it appeals.

Coincidentally, I’ve also excavated the text of ‘With’, the first conceptual part of ‘When’ in memory of my mother, a re-mix using sentences that refer to her (and plundering an earlier outtake I posted on this blog) here (and here. ).The final eulogy, in which I use a shorter version of this re-mix, may be read here

Perhaps one day the end of 'Work' will be restored to the book itself or to a re-print of ‘When’ on its own. Until then, here it is, in celebration of a year having passed since that retirement into full-time writing.

I wrote in detail about producing the first part of Words Out of Time, ‘The Given’, here. It’s an unusually lengthy exposition of method (practical poetics) for me, based on Adrian Clarke’s adage that ‘materials + procedure =’. 

If you want a conventional biography, I’ve got one here on my website. Up to date until mid August 2018. That it, it does not (at this time) mention my mother’s death in late August 2018. But it might by the time you read it.


(with the 2017 supplement)


Scooters and adding machines. Sunday morning overtime. Not negative but not noting ‘I did not go to’. Driving along the seafront in a Triumph Mayflower. Don’t forget spelling hospital spells. Homework. Superman aircrew books chess set. Learning to type. Circus horses. Thirty laps, boots sinking in mud. Glossy ammonites. Harbouring the world (on tape). Earth landing. Monitor, send QSLs to Vietnam. Hang on every Apollo silence. Record. A tone-deaf violinist choosing to sing the blues. Nobody can recognise ‘nobody’ in the cancelled day. The radio catches fire: acrid message chokes. A small tetrahedron of sugar paper given to model an interior but flattened to record a fiction! Starts autobiography. Picks through the archive. Leotards decorated with entrails. Groundhogs ticket in his pocket: Cobbing plays him ‘e’. Exchange employment between time, shadowgraph, black holes. Diffident, she sleeps under the spangled canopy, sponging off relatives, smoking dope. Deep breaths at the shore. Shouting over costs. Handsomeness the price of immortality (on the cans). Spending time copying. Labouring. Nobody’s freaking out in bubble-baths now. Orange jackets assert a new Right to Work 1976. ‘Bully Boys’ on paper. Police radio whispers. Interracial promenade. Faceless names. Working live cases, exchanging fear and pity glances in the shit, bogged down in ‘obligation’, transcribing her unpunctuated Friday pub-lunch monologues. Preludes to Jodie’s titillations on the page. Absence is addressed in absence. Plastic tatters in the window-frame. The axis of one day turning upon vertical rain-shafts. Far from credit, servants whom ‘one’ tips. The shell breaks. A booklet on fallout shelters, a fridge. Ergometrics of not writing. It finishes or the money finishes, unhuman perfection on the platform. Walk from the sites of earlier poems. When criticism becomes creative, every job’s up for grabs. Dead texts show other landscapes, stories of the logics of war machines. Difficult, inaccessible, complex: facts like dreams. The exotopia of increased work at work, as x months’ service serves towards increments. Build imaginary prisons with real zombies in them; beat the dead rabbit as ‘art’. Text is absent now the reader produces, sucking butter from its bread. Disobey the world that constitutes reference of the poem. Dissolution of self through apertures of Being. It’s c.v. season. Miles cuts into his musicians’ ears. The sentences remain beautiful, the syntax articulate, the sense disjointed. Glancing at my reviews in magazines I can’t afford. A slip of unsuccess slips. Full of bladder debris. Expressionist bathos. Workplace Calvinism. A post in the Dinky Inferno. Strategic chance: to free myself, I produce a beautiful F sharp for my micro-epic, figured to block somebody else’s manifesto. Like a baby sleeping through The Great Storm of 1987 while the CBI complains we stayed awake. Another ashen book, its thesis wrapped. Sweep noise poetry to pick up jammed voices. ‘Some younger poet’ masters the invisible genre, hammers decades of self-reflection into a node. An anti-fascist poem ‘for my students’. Two hours overtime. Float and flash perceptions. Working the work. What rough beast slouches in grey print on recycled paper? A scratch living room blues opera. Impacting language as a mode of existence, a means of escape. Who catches that last helicopter out of Kuwait? The New Referent. I take two or more verses on harp, hardly able to resolve. They’re not on the tape, which confirms perceptions, replaces memory. A palimpsest of image-traces under the songs. Her boot twisting on the bed. Extra choruses: compensating mistakes with emotion. Like Benetton. We’re stuck with bad rubbish. With no hope of good riddance! He’d rather fiddle in defeat than fight! Four hours teaching Lee Harwood’s work, then wording the petition, lobbying the Governors’ headlights. Back-pedalling management. Three large windows with Lady Hawarden shutters. Unobscure Disasters. Here’s yesterday’s slogan mid-circle: ADDRESS THE SYCOPHANTS! New geography grates against the talking time of lyrical seascapes. No good news but good to see you! Today’s slogan: Never trust a man who turns himself inside out! Tomorrow’s slogan: a full circle, but no words in it. Just instructions for the dancers: total immobility, self-similar poietic structures at smaller and smaller scales. Subpoenaing memory. If I weren’t a literary device I’d be depressed! Sloppy bucolics. This rhythm of working recognises poets by their handwriting. The gift of cheat. Sparrow hops. I walk/ to the post office, buy stamps./ A book of haiku. A poem-essay. Working poetics, the ethics of pleasure. To Waterloo to walk amongst the shells, shit and jellyfish. At work. Light executive dusting. Working. At. Home. Vacation to the site of the first English poem, gusting crosswind. Sing mē frumsceaft! Local clarity and global vacancy: Barry MacSweeney recites his Mary Bell sonnets; a 21 gun salute for the Queen Mother. Sleeping with hobby fish, rising to another other, the rainy park: a heron, head tilted, 1998. Angela drives my torn ankle home from work. The computer recites my poem zipping down unpunctuated columns without breathing. Chillier as the weather turns to 141 emails. First person omniscient narrator. No stopping or shopping, the postman dives under the window; a bag of sugar on the step, new sentence. We speak the language on the sides of the shrieking armoured cars. Time’s rot, we’re the first chord after long silence. We blink into daylight with the Mole’s vision, from tunnels which were filled with a century’s human waste. Where the people once drew water, one cough fills immensity. She saunters up the road, eyes fixed on the screen of her phone, her thumbs moving with dexterity. I grip the pen with my thumb but it’s a rigid clamp, a plug. The sounds of an electric toothbrush, of a suitcase on wheels running over bones. He arrives home from work, safe, with a story to tell. ‘The taxi crashed.’ Stroke of luck. He lives out of time in book time, stroke of pen. A detached part of his psyche like a retina. He thinks about the word that’s found his head, off to work, reading the proof of Sinclair’s next book. He begins again, re-narrating himself. Tongues lash. Light feathering. Buries her face. Re-works the old sentence. He lies with his tongue. He nibbles her neck, throat strap. He’s sucked out of his body, mindful. He spins his hands up her dancing skirt. Gomringer print wrapped in protective cloud. A diuretic tickles his inhibitors. Students workshop or worship their poems, thick snow settling into their Kerouac haiku. Oeuvre management. Number-crunching awayday Nazis, bequeathing structural pain, carried away on a comedy of errors. He professes fumbling in mobile text, pure poetry with polysexual nerves and palpitations. Her knuckles tremble before her eyes, ogling her power. He works on public language. He takes inner leave. There’s no poetry in which everything is scribbled lost notes. There are, however, memory blocks, intractable non-material that obscures the spectral cohort. History begins again as the new boss arrives. He doesn’t look at me. He doesn’t look at me, becomes Saying again, as I turn the page as if opening a door. When I speak he isn’t there to listen, though he doesn’t finish or unfinish. Institutional memory grinds. Ligament rips: 2009 cashpoint caper. It hurts me too. The lost grain of the guitar. Now touch the dock where the Birmingham Six stood to be accused, tried and found. Revisionist history, sentences in time. Orange March outside the Maharajah. Memory’s loss of memory and the absolute unforgettable. He relinquishes his diaries, but windows crash, firebombs are rumoured, and he works at them again, daily. On the Sussex step, he rescues family photographs from heavy albums. At his workstation, goose vibrato like Braxton’s contrabass. I cup the blues harp and the artist works my ‘feelings’ for it into ‘art’. The man whose face has died decides for us. Stroke of pencil. Works his way through us. Inserts phrases from lost works, odder than odd, not negative capability or uniform finish. Rainbow weather falls, drops silver light, splashes around her face. Form thinks. Taut shoulder blades delineate. She delivers herself, a working sketch for full invasion, occupation. Weird with work, no one listens. Overruled, they go for unilateral strike, a shifty round the Matisse-Mallarmé. Status and reward: work diary empty. Listening to students’ angst, saved by pork pies. The view from Centre Point. A turtle sunbathing, a procession of Monarchist giants. Shortlist in my other diary. Jeff and I work up our poems, old underwear hanging from a ruin. Messianic interventions against empty time. Think in Hungarian about Turkish atrocities. Work along the Danube to meet Duchamp’s waistcoat. I finish Ulysses (this time) at 4.13 pm on Saturday 2 September 2012. Mother and Father business: rent, chiropody. Fox cockily trots along Bromley, event poised on tip-toe. The Corn Exchange. Working on breathing, Norton 360 runs through the files. Shoes on boards, her steps around, preparing. Raw fingers hold down chords; content breaks through form, releases energy, music in every room, strokes of plectrum. I speak to him and the gasping stops. A dead day, reading The Iliad, slaughters of eminent men. Lee sells his working papers. By the time I arrive home from work, Odysseus is home. Trudging through sludge and sleet. Re-reading Reader’s Block. Inventing my own plagiarist, talking to the dead. Flat language stretches to distant horizons, flurries of snow. He works at words like an anorexic picking at salad. He needs similes like a hole in the head. Awoken by the coroner: to make Dad dead. Why does she throw herself down Steep Hill? Why is the head of George III ‘privetted’? Why does he not remember the scar on the woman’s leg? Why was Stephen rustling in Patricia’s work-room? Why was he fading like a ghost? Why was Scott networking like there was no tomorrow? Tomorrow, Billy Fury festooned with flowers. A brave attempt to maintain the lyric ‘I’ behind the kiosk at the bottom of Bold St, away from the Spectacular Other. Clerical Error. I am a singing, playing, blowing, and sucking machine. Jo descends the spiral fire escape like Duchamp’s nude, breathing overtime. Graveyard shift research culture: Shunga dildos. Geeky work, a fully corporeal encounter with metrical weight. We missed The Necks, three vacated bar-stools. Six hands touch time. Different holes for work. On tape, reciting (falling asleep): ‘victims’ for ‘vectors’. Fan-girl backs out of the room. Back to Mum telling me Dad refused to work the Berlin Airlift. Burst couplets. Joanne talks through her tree: Cavafy played round the corner. Laboured multi-media, enjoyed his poise, he who instructs her to close her eyes. A gawp at Oriel Chambers. I don’t remember audition. I’m trying to write down the moment as it happens, metered prose, HR admin on the Marie Celeste, the Alisdair Gray murals, views from my window 2015 – exactly those! After a bonus day, I find this alone writing on this page. I don’t remember. Edge of waiting for last year. She mounts the platform, delivered by enforcers. Carys stands on a chair to read. Back to whisky and Jack Bruce. Robots on Strike. Watery sun, low and dripping, Patricia returns from work carrying phials of Tom Jenks’ tears. Why did he only ‘generally’ enjoy the cold, bright weather? Why did he refuse to ‘cart the freeloader’ to his next drink? Wave-bands drift, he’s guzzling straight into my records of his consumption. A four hour meeting about research regulations, a burlesque world, thumbs-up to ceremonial emails. We stand inside the Warhol. Particles of extrusions. Kelvin phones to say Lee is in hospital. We stand outside the Bender. In her bunny ears and corset, surrealist geography, a scrutiny meeting, she fills the afternoon with dashes, commas, semi-colons. Am I my card-holder’s warden? An orchestra playing thunder? Unaffected by buffering, I stand before the Cornell. There is a plaque where the work is buried. Admin polish. Through the biography of Leigh Hunt, inoperative thoughts of Lee Harwood. Black paintings bump into pantomime horses. Tell him his work will be safe. Tom Raworth (smiling). Some matures signed the visitors’ book. Sandeep in The Big Apple: James in the small orchard. Me telephonically tempting him back. I table ‘Poet’ at the MA session, turn tables on the work-in-progress. We crash into Simon’s reading, Archilochus dropping his shield. A meeting at 11.00 am: teaching till 9.00 pm. Work, the sixth day in a row, to ‘deliver’ a ‘taster session’, twice, cheerfully. Remode to overcome the obdurate persistence of materials: a bust of Edwin Morgan, the Spanish Inquisition, Olive’s immobility, the ‘horrible woman with dementia’, the small Matisse room, the astronaut from Southwick. Codeine dreams: terrorists in Liverpool. Or is it just an unfortunate world to co-habit? I spotted a spit. On strike. So out. Stroke of cat. Back to cheese and Matt Munro. Deadline for notice: no Penultimate Helicopter whirring out of Ormskirk. To vote. To work. To hear the word repeated on the news. I spent the morning re-working Fuxit! James and I pass Kamasi in the mizzling Manchester street, home with a pocket full of Jimmy’s Donegal seaweed. Atrocity stirs poetry, a reversed film of a person walking backwards in Liverpool. ‘Art’ writing; ‘proof’ reading. Avantgarters at the avantgarden party flash in episodic sun. A fly lands on my knee, drops frass: politicians creep back onto our radios. Practice-based poetics lacking critical apparatus. I seldom look to the future. As. It. Happens. Off the train, unloading ancestral junk. Was the dream his, in which my biro refused to write the word ‘me’? Damaged artifice: a rash of sonnets. Pub-quiz Scouser for an ear-worm. In a drowsy nimbus I form words, break the spell, get up for paper. Black Friday bargains. Allen reads the ‘Burgler’ pages. Crash into fever and sweat. Students well up in nightmares. Clammed to the radiator. Spitting, pushing over the hat-stand, throwing the de-humidifier across the room. Century Rolls; a big, unfolding surprise. Three samples: little pinches. Technique is cognition, but Ian McMillan is smaller than he looks on the radio. Limps off into the snow, sad. Posted off passport and picked up drugs. Culling and cutting. He’s no poet when he walks out on his voice. She used to work flowers through her handlebars and sing. Stuttery conversionettes. We followed the ducks and rabbits to a humanist affair with wild flowers and jazz and – against Roy’s wishes – poems. Flip that: wasn’t reacting to the world by logic, association. To view Trev’s trios. Came away with a memory. Listen with Mother, Carys’s story, broken by a policewoman on the step. All day marking, the Liverpool Mass: mad monks chanting electro-acoustic Cobbing. Tendered my resignation. Hell broke loose. I am nothing, lyric intersubjectivity, plural motives hoisted from us and dumped in the skip. We didn’t fit the bill, terror attack in London on the Coventry bar TV. Schadenfreude at May’s hubris. Up Hepstonstall to visit Asa: foolish enough to have been. Dreams of Scott playing drums on the Downs. Moves. Moves in response to another body. Working up. Down the hill, you find yourself at bridge height, level with people crossing before you (I’m on the step of The Brewery Tap in Chester at 3.00 pm on Monday 7 August 2017, a workday) but as you sink towards the river, you lose that specious equality, until you, too, climb the steps and stand on the city walls, overlooking the wide river, with its weir guarded by cormorants and gulls patiently waiting for flailing fish panicked by the weir’s rush – sumos, courtesans, firemen, samurai and actors. Legwork. Time clawed back, sitting at my desk thumbing old poems, working up to release at my fingertips. He screams in his sleep and reception calls his room. I take deep leave. Labour of Love. Her hard-won lips. Lispy neologism ‘poethics’ a metaphor for deep listening that happens before Saying, after saying my list of thanks, a litany prefaced with treadmill and grindstone. Pencil me in (and out).


2012-2013/November-December 2017

Most of the text (the update, post book publication) appeared on LUNE: See here. But that's disappeared off-line.  

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Eulogy i.m. Joan Sheppard

Eulogy i.m. Joan Sheppard read at Tribe’s Chapel, Eastern Avenue Shoreham-by-Sea on Tuesday 4th September 2018.

The service was intimate and personal and I spoke the text below and my aunt, Marjorie, spoke eloquently and extempore about Joan as a sister. 

Women’s lives often seem chaotic and fragmentary, but in fact they are often simply multi-faceted. A kaleidoscope of relationships, responsibilities and roles. In the case of Joan, I can’t rely much upon my early memories because they are so hazy, and the life before that time (and after too) is quite literally a collection of snapshots: the photographs I liberated from the dust museum of material possessions that was Oakapple Road, at the same time Joan herself was liberated to the excellent care of St Clare’s. We will see some of them this afternoon.

Of course, I have some general memories of being raised by her, and of course, I like to think judging by the result (me) she was good at it. She was reliable and efficient, sensitive and responsive. In keeping with many women of her generation, she gave up her career for housewifery. She taught me to type.   

There is one photograph of her at work in the typing pool of the Alliance Building Society, in the early 1950s. It’s like one of those film stills of the era in which the glamorous starlet is deliberately surrounded by what would have been called ‘Plain Janes’ in those days to emphasise her good looks. But there is nothing contrived about the photograph.

It was her good looks that kept her at home. My father didn’t want her to return to the male-dominated sexist environment of ‘the office’. She did return to work in the more liberated 1970s, part time, at Vagas, and laid out patterns for Marks and Spencers’ clothes. When I cleared out Oakapple Road, I managed to find a friend who was doing fabric design. Her mini creaked low in the road as she transported a cupboard full of offcuts. Joan was a near hoarder, I think.

In some ways she had the sensibility of a recluse as well, with a natural inclination towards extreme caution. She wouldn’t say ‘Boo’ to a goose. In fact, she was often so timid, that she would be terrified that the goose might say ‘Boo’ to her! The world was full of potential harm. It must have been quite exhausting to navigate it, a poisonous spider free with every bunch of bananas from the greengrocers! On the other hand, she was surprisingly tough, and supportive of me, if I needed help. Or tough on, against, or towards, me (if she thought that necessary).

Yet she had a very silly sense of humour. I remember once we were eating (lots of memories revolve around food, prepared from a 1950s Stork Margarine cook book, which had the status of rabbinical law). We were eating prunes (prunes are a running theme of this memorial) and I ate my first, stone in my spoon, and I asked, ‘What shall I do with the stones?’ She said, ‘Put them where I put mine,’ pointing to the flat rim of her bowl, upon which there were already a number of stones. I obeyed her instruction, deliberately misunderstanding what she meant, and put my unwanted stone in her bowl next to her discarded stones. We laughed. The incident became a running joke, a catch-phrase we would use whenever appropriate: ‘Put them where I put mine.’

Like other memories this doesn’t connect with many others, though perhaps it ties in with Frank Crumit’s silly ‘Prune Song’, which she would sing at times, but it has little detail in it to date it.

I made poetic use of those liberated photographs, in a piece called ‘With’. It’s a collage, appropriate to this fragmented account, and I have remixed it to isolate the sentences about Joan. They come in no particular chronological order, but neither does memory. They relate, better than I can in speech, how those facets of her life fit together – or don’t. Here are some of the sentences:

My mother sits in a large living room with family photographs on the sideboard. My mother dressed as a rag doll with the Christmas tree beside her. My mother with gloves leans, languid, against a frosted sash window. My mother as a toddler advances across the grass, with arms waving, while over the road an awning advertises Antarctic Real Cream Ices. My mother laughing in a sleeveless jumper on the low metal folding-chair, with both her hands resting, claw-like, across her knees, her floral skirt. My mother grips the rail of the ship with me standing long-haired, shirt collar worn over jacket collar, sun-face lapel badge, beside her. My mother’s ferocious gaze, eyebrows stark, with a crowd of ox-eye daisies as chorus. My mother and father and aunt (and me) picnicking with a tablecloth by the roadside, beneath the barbed wire fence. My mother with rows of fuchsia, morning glories, geraniums. My mother and my son grin in the light with a pool of shade leaking from the tree behind. My mother pouring Blue Nun with my son scooping up his dinner. My mother and her sister rest on the bench with the canopy above. My parents’ wedding, 1950, the full contingent packing in, smiling, with Air Ace teeth and Dr Crippen spectacles, handbags and bonnets, double-breasted suits and bouquets. My mother turns towards flamingos with a bag slung across her shoulder. My mother coming out of a caravan with flip-flops and a bath towel. My mother, hair high, frowns, leans out of the dip of the deck chair, with the green budgie in its cage, sharpening its beak on the cuttlefish, echoing everyone’s voices.  My mother Hoovers the cat with the Hoover. In the Triumph Herald, my mother pours tea from a thermos with a shopping bag beside her. My mother as a giggling girl, my aunt as a smiling girl, with the tall woman, the toddler on the wooden horse taking my mother’s resistant hand. On Hove Lagoon my father and I look back to my mother on the quay, as he rows us out with ease and care. My grandparents on the picnic chairs, my mother and I slump on the rug with the Tupperware and transistor radio. My mother and aunt sit on a cannon, both laughing with straw hats. My mother smiles in her homemade dress, with dinner yet to be served. My mother and father cut the cake with a clump of hands and knotted ball of fingers. My mother at the church door, smiling full and unabashed, accepts her centrality to the universe with this moment. On her father’s arm, with her wedding veil down, my mother thinks she’s invisible.

People have supposed that Joan didn’t have much of a life in the care home and it’s true, she wasn’t a great joiner-in, and liked that invisibility, but I think her life there was an improvement on her virtual incarceration in Oakapple, kept almost bed-ridden by a hefty chemical cosh. Immediately off the drugs, a fragile but contented person gradually emerged, and she lived happily, according to the routines and rhythms of St Clare’s and its friendly staff. When dementia overtook her, I don’t think she seemed unhappy or confused, just diminished: there was less there each time I visited, the recitation of a narrowing set of themes. Finally just ‘I’m fine!’

But for most of her stay, she was coherent, and talked about the family and news that she received via phone calls, letters, visits and the media. After one such visit, in April 2016, I recorded the subjects of her conversation. You won’t be surprised that this lively, intelligent, far-ranging, engaged, amusing and serious itinerary of people, actions and opinions, also resists consequential ordering. Again, it’s all detail: no generality. She talked with me about:

Frustrated spinsters, the Spanish Inquisition, Mr Thrower and his family, Olive on the phone, Tommy Cooper, Ken Dodd, busy Marjorie, Joan getting married (‘I didn’t know anything about the world’, she laughed), Melanie, Jeremy Corbyn’s scruffiness, Chris Whyte (the astronaut from Southwick), the other astronaut from Chichester, on not being able to choose what to wear, her hair wash, the damp towel, the forbidden chocolate slice (‘I’m a chocoholic!’), seagulls, owls, Tommy Cooper (‘a violent alcoholic’), Neanderthal Man, falling over in the night, Hitler’s … (well I can’t say it here, but he only had one of them), on the Moon Landing having been faked in a film studio, The Times, The Daily Mail, the Express, the Shoreham Herald, the celebrations for the Queen’s 90th birthday, the forthcoming celebrations for Mum’s 87th birthday, her strict anti-Royalism, on how Queen Victoria married a German, how Yasmin the Yemani waves to her, the crack in the wall examined by Mr Thrower, the contents of my latest letter to her, on Joyce in her nursing home, the Hippodrome, Frankie Howerd, the Clock Tower in Brighton (‘Is it still there?’) a corned beef sandwich (her favourite), Miss Barnett’s Holy Communion at St Clare’s (she’d taught me at school in the mid 60s), cod and chips, Stephen’s liver, the nurse from Worthing Hospital who visits her, Maureen and Ted, a card from Marjorie, her gallery of photographs, her amazing lack of wrinkles (unlike prunes, which remember, form a running theme of this memorial), her amazing teeth, her no need of reading glasses, my Senior Railcard, my Bus Pass (she laughed uproariously at my photograph), Tommy Cooper, David Cameron’s expenses, Charles and Camilla’s ‘carryings on’, Edward VIII’s Nazism, the weirdness of codeine dreams, Peter and Wendy, Peter and Wendy’s family, Richard’s visit to Colombia, the length and arduousness of his journey (a 9 hour flight), the length and arduousness of my journey from Liverpool, my forthcoming retirement, glasses of Lambrusco, Patricia’s mother’s nursing home, Red Rum, and – wait for it – the present whereabouts of Sergar. 

I will miss the intimacy of those insanely free-form conversations as much as the fixed scenes in the photographs and the melting, morphing ones in my memory.


The pre-re-mix of the text is published in Words Out of Time, which is available here. Oddly I'd forgotten there was a rejected passage (the original was too long) - I've just used one or two of its sentences in the final mix - which I posted here. But the piece used on the day was the shortened version, printed above. The full version is here.

My memorial for my father is here

'Standing By', my poem in his memory, is now published with another poem as The Drop. See here

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Robert Sheppard: Thoughts on a Year after Leaving Edge Hill

It’s a year since I retired, and it’s about six months since I stopped referring to myself as retired and started to think of myself as a full-time writer. You can look back at my ‘first day of freedom’, AND at my retirement ‘do’ rap. I'm curious that, in the latter, I wrote and recited the following:

Generally depressed by the Brexit result which has left many students bereft of a cleanly conceptualisable future, young people have discovered that they are not just individual consumers but that they form an electorate, surprisingly left-leaning, that wishes to scrap tuition fees and loans and even to erase standing student debt. They’ve even been gifted two elections to try this power out, and they’ve got a taste for it.

That makes this moment a potentially interesting one that could stall the growing pitting of student against staff and suggests a more collaborative future for HE

As I put it in a recent poem about ‘one of those days in sovereign global Britain’

(you didn’t think you were going to get away without this, did you?)

There are no students in this poem yet their standing debt
Has nurtured a collective electorate that forms beyond
The ‘envies’ of petit bourgeois consumerism
This semantic field is manured with usurers’ tears
(The poem is one of my versions of Surrey's sonnets.)

The industrial dispute during the year over, well, pensions (you wait until Brexit when they will ‘roll back the state’ – what do you think the second half The English Strain and Bad Idea (so far) is about?)… The dispute in the ‘old’ universities did indeed answer some of these issues. Students on the whole lined up behind staff, part time lecturers finally revolted against their exploitation, and academics become militant in an inspiring way. It was a shame this dispute was not also in the ‘new’ universities sector where the exploitation (caused increasing research, increasing teaching, increasing admin and increasing bullying) is more acute. It was, as they say, consciousness raising. My involvement with the Ern Malley Orchestra (see here), many of whose highly unionised members teach at Liverpool University, showed me what was happening second hand. I took part in the only way I could: I (temporarily) resigned as an external examiner. I also talked at a conference on the profession of Creative Writing (a keynote, follow the links to the text at the end of this post), though that was before the dispute. I'd not seen such a negative vibe amongst Creative Writing tutors before. Exhausted.

Actually I've had quite an active year, professionally, given that I’ve retired. No, I haven’t, have I? I am a full time writer. This seems to be true in a very literal but limited way. I have written a lot of creative work, but NO critical work at all. Only that keynote (and a post about Roy Fisher's radicalism, here). No editing. No curating poetry readings. None of the things I thought I might do. The magazine Patrica and I proposed, Three Famous Aviators, remains firmly glued to the tarmac. Though I've been pondering how to process the 'fictional poet' trilogy (as I see it, and as I see it here). But that's creative work again.

I can’t quite explain this, but now I’ve had a year ‘off’ (though no holiday) I might turn my attentions to more than my creative work (some of which is recorded on this blog: the ongoing sonnets, the collaborations withPete Clarke and Trev Eales, and more). I suppose if my goal was to have no goal (as Patrick Kavanagh put it) I shouldn’t be surprised to find I have no goal. But certainly not targets. No outputs. No projects. But possibly a (private) list.

I've just seen the contents of the 'Robert Sheppard Companion'. It's overwhelming and I'm not going to be lonely with a companion like that! A big boot up the rear from other people's suppositions about what it is I might have been doing.

Watch this space. An upcoming post on the history of Pages itself may suggest some renewed literary activism. Even 'aesthetic justice'.

(The above was mostly written before my mother died, so a lot of these thoughts have been put on hold while I deal with the bureaucracy of death. Here.)