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Thursday, November 14, 2019

'Poet, 24'. The first part of Tombland written 40 years ago today

Forty years ago today I was writing a long poem, ‘Tombland’, a topological poem about Norwich, where I was living, just outside the medieval city walls. I seemed to have found my ‘place’ material (as Roy Fisher had Birmingham, Allen Fisher had London, Lee Harwood had the South Coast, I felt. I was also thinking about, and reading, Williams and Olson, my diaries suggest).

Norwich 1979 (photo (c) Heywood Hadfield)
Since I am currently blogging my 1969 diary (see here for general intro, here for 50 years ago today).

Let’s see what I wrote 40 years ago today: 

During the afternoon I went for a walk. En route I made notes for a poem now in Winter Walks/House Journal : I walked along St Benedicts, looked up at the church of that name, over the ground covered in leaves. Wet, golden-leaved pathways. I stopped in Plough Yard and wrote ‘past the agency, the pub, the coinshop’ (Note 2019: I had a Roman coin for my birthday from the shop, which eventually features in my Micro Event Space of this year! See here.) ‘the new community bookshop. 24th birthday. Poet under umbrella, sheltering in yards. I thought how [illegible] it was, now autumn is here that the Churchscape is altered: St Margaret’s (!) added to it, already formerly by trees. Past Talbots Café. And I met the old gaffer from the pubs/Talbots. He said, ‘Are you alright?’ I said ‘Yep!’ His eyes stared. I stopped to write in St. Gregory’s doorway.
            I past {sic} the market, a watery back-of-the-Inns, and visited Tombland (wet leaves – cobbles). And walked to the City Hall.
            ‘A Look at Macedonia’: photograph exhibition. It’s probably warmer in Macedonia now. [There’s a connection between this exhibition and the reading of Macedonian poets I had to read translations at a few days later, a significant pre-history to the fictional poets of the EUOIA. See here. ]
            Home. Genesis of the poem, written as note walking, notes in the City Hall, and once at home….

The first part of Tombland resembled these notes and I may also have written the diary after the poem, perhaps from the notes to the poem.

Read Tombland in its revised state. HERE. I've fiddled around with it over the years, and I'm happy with it (at last!).

It didn’t appear in my Selected Poems, History or Sleep, (see here) but I could see it at the head of a Collected Poems. Which is mostly why it's coming to mind. Parts of the poems also appear in 'Words' in Words Out of Time (see here) but I think they can bear re-arrangement. After all, at some point I thought to 'remode' the first part of 'Tombland' as a Miltonic sonnet.   

Friday 14th November 1969: Prince of Wales born, 1948

Friday 14th November 1969: Prince of Wales born, 1948

My Birthday (and his [arrow to ‘Prince of Wales’]) had another tape recorder mike, and tapes, plus money. Bad cough, cold, and sore throat.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Wednesday 12th November 1969:

Paul Plumb gave a lecture at school on tape recorders. There is a tape competition.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Latest Drayton write-through Another cosmology Brexit poem (temporary post)

You know what’s happened, if you’ve been following my posts. I’ve run out of the sonnets of Michael Drayton from his 1619 Idea, which I have been using to write my sonnet sequence Bad Idea, the latest part of The English Strain. I thought Brexit would be over before I’d written all of its 64 poems! I write about it extensively (with lots of explanation, the odd photo, and links) in the hub post HERE:

Despite the various schemes outlined, I’m continuing this Brexit work with Idea’s Mirror, using selected Drayton sonnets jettisoned on his way to the definitive 1619 edition. The narrator is Idea herself, Drayton’s shadowy muse. Politics is moving too fast (even as I compose) to keep up, to limit myself to one a week (the previous periodicity) at the moment! I’m returning to one a week but it might not be that easy. But with an election called, with a Flexibrexnextension accepted, it’s not clear how long this work will be. I’ve been trying to think that through. Does this finish with the election, with Brexit, with a referendum, or revocation? It depends who wins the election, I suppose. I turn to the possibilities at the end of this post.  

Here’s number 8. A poem using an outdated cosmology (again, like last week’s). But I got it to work. Patricia was washing her hair, had dropped something down the plughole. I went out to her to check that word for a mechanical cosmos: orrery. And she ended up in the poem, as Idea’s analogue. The wrinkled patches belong to Idea (and to Saturn in the original poem, of course)! There has been much about Bo’s upside down wreath. Of course it was an error (but imagine the furore if Corbyn had done that). BUT it speaks to the lack of ‘care’ in the man. He literally ‘couldn’t care less’. The foot on the table with Macron.  


motor of this globalised world
in its entropic cosmos
human orrery I
drop down the plughole
dye my hair with a plastic bag
on my head pour
unguents for my wrinkled patches
my mirrored dark eyes blur
starry fantasy
Corbyn scorches among
his prime movers
praised in his idea’s orbit
sunny Bo bursts from the PM’s car
to lay a wreath upside down

11th November 2019

As I say, I have selected these poems so that they move (backwards) through the various editions of Drayton’s poems. The originals are pretty rare, which I why I’m posting each here. Here’s today’s model: Sonet 23



To the Spheares

Thou which do'st guide this little world of loue,
Thy planets mansions heere thou mayst behold,
My brow the spheare where Saturne still doth moue,
Wrinkled with cares: and withered, dry, and cold;
Mine eyes the Orbe where Iupiter doth trace,
Which gently smile because they looke on thee,
Mars in my swarty visage takes his place,
Made leane with loue, where furious conflicts bee.
Sol in my breast with his hote scorching flame,
And in my hart alone doth Venus raigne:
Mercury my hands the Organs of thy fame,
And Luna glides in my fantastick braine;
The starry heauen thy prayse by me exprest,
Thou the first moouer, guiding all the rest.


The poems are to be found in MINOR POEMS OF MICHAEL DRAYTON


The first epigraph derives from, ‘To Idea’, in E N D I M I O N and   Phœbe , IDEAS LATMVS. This is drawn from the Renascence Editions text, which was transcribed by Risa S. Bear, November 2000, from the edition of 1595.‘Endymion and Phœbe,’ n.d., 4to, entered in the Stationers' Register, 12th April 1594.

The issue for this on-going work now, which I have been making public (as I have not been with other projects, it is worth noting), is what do I do with it after the election? So far I have written the following poems:

(Dates of composition and sources in the editions of Michael Drayton’s sonnets)

1: 8th October 2019; 1605: Sonnet 57
2: 15th October 2019; 1605: To Sir Walter Aston, Knight of the honourable order of the Bath, and my most worthy Patron
3: 17th October 2019: 1602: Sonnet 63 (To the high and mighty Prince, James, King of Scots)
4: 20th October 2019: 1599: Sonet 1
5: 24th October 2019: 1599: Sonet 3
6: 30th October (one day short of Brexit Day 2, Halloween) 2019: 1599: Sonet 9
7: 5th November 2019: 1599: Sonet 11 (To the Moone)
8: 11th November 2019: 1599: Sonet 23 (To the Spheares)

As you can see this has not advanced isotemporally, if there’s such a word, and I will hit the election date (also Idea’s birthday, as one of the poems declares, in horror) in a number of weeks’ time. There are only 4 possible outcomes of the election (although Jo Swinson, not a very bright button, Idea thinks, has other plans; I was going to say ‘other Ideas’!) They suggest 4 outcomes for both ‘Bad Idea/Idea’s Mirror’ and for the whole of ‘The English Strain’ project (again, see the hubpost for that in its full glory). They are:

1.A Bo Majority. Brexit will happen quickly and Idea’s mirror will be shattered, as would she be. The poems would stop. At 14 maybe? At one a week from now on that would be Christmas, so probably a few more. Maybe time to move on to the Wordsworth poems mentioned in the hubpost? Even take a short break. I admitted to Brexit-fatigue the other day, in my diary. Yes, even me, and possibly Idea too!

2. A Corbyn Majority. Re-negotiation and a further referendum. Idea would be much more hopeful under this scenario: perhaps she could carry on with her Braidottiesque deleuzoguattarianism (i.e., her unfashionably utopic politics). More poems (or the same number of more hopeful poems might be written then). But her ‘mirror’ would not be shattered. The Wordsworth poems could only be transposed if the referendum vote was to Leave.

3 A Bo Minority administration. Could Brexit be delivered? If not, what poems by Idea (or another?) could track the chaos? And for how long, or for how many could I carry on? But mirth would be possible, although it would be ‘deja vu all over again’!

4. A Corbyn Minority administration. Could Brexit or a referendum be delivered? If not, what poems by Idea (or another) could track the chaos, the breakdown, the compromises? Best to vacate the little room (stanza) quickly.

What would Idea do under these two last conditions? At the moment, I have to admit, I don’t know, quite.

I am left in the odd position that politically I really want the outcome to be 2, but that 1 or 3 suits the poetry better. I need to put country before party … I mean: poetry!

There is a fifth outcome for the poems, of course. Which is: ‘The English Strain’ will end at the end of ‘Idea’s Mirror’. But then, just as the ‘Brexit’ theme developed out of the poems (it appears towards the end of ‘It’s Nothing’, when I made a joke about the word ‘Brexit’, which I thought might need explaining like ‘stagflation’ or other temporary and ex-contemporary expressions), ‘The English Strain’, in its versioning of canonical (and not so canonical) sonnets, need not be completely stuck on the Brexit theme. It is as much a formal exercise as a thematic one. And an historical one. I still feel the lack of transpositions of Romantic sonnets. Then I’d be through. 

As I recently wrote to Clark Allison, who has been following these temporary posts in a comradely (and comforting, to me) way: ‘Drayton could run out again if I carry on at this rate! The 'jump' to Wordsworth would only be so if Brexit arrives with all its nationalistic pomp (and 50 pence pieces!). That would constitute The English Strain Book Three. But I might ditch all that. I had plans to move onto Christina Rossetti after the Barret Browning poems. But I cut it short. That Miles Davis advice: 'End your solo before you're done'!’

Tuesday 11th November 1969:

Talked about dreams in English. Was my usual talkative self during it.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Pete Clarke and Robert Sheppard: 'Black Panels' in John Lennon School of Art Exhibition

Pete Clarke is currently Artist in Residence in Printmaking at the John Lennon School of Art, Liverpool JMU.

This Residency coincides with the series of three printmaking exhibitions 'Printed Matter' October 1 - November 13 curated by Hannah Fray, Paul Davidson and Neil Morris.

The last of the three exhibitions 'Deep Black' includes artists from Liverpool, Germany, Serbia and Morocco. Clarke's  print triptych 'Wasteland' was part of the Krakow Triennial Exhibition and the second 'Black Panels' is a collaboration with the poet Robert Sheppard.

I like seeing my work in these contexts.

Black Panels

Monday 10th November 1969:

Duke of Edinburgh today told us the Queen was in the red!!

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Sunday 9th November 1969:

Reading: George Bernard Shaw: Everybody’s Political What’s What.

John came up. Listened to Radio 260.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Thursday 6th November 1969:

Number One: The Archies: Sugar, Sugar.

Had to come home for dinner-time for I had forgotten my games-kit.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Wednesday 5th November 1969:

Guy Fawkes Night. Had no fireworks. Did firework tape, with anti-Bomb-fire Night remarks.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Tuesday 4th November 1969:

New arrangement for science, a week for a subject, then the next science.

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Sunday 2nd November 1969:

Reading: Eric Thacker and Anthony Earnshaw: Musrum.

Saw nobody. In morning heard Radio 260.

[That was a very cult book: odd I should have picked this up from the library]

Friday, November 01, 2019

Saturday 1st November 1969:

Could not do interviews because Scotty and John were both out. Nanny and Grandad came.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Friday 31st October 1969:

John came up in the afternoon. Sent letter to Radio 255, asking if we could send DX-news for broadcast each month.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Thursday 30th October 1969:

Number One: The Archies: Sugar, Sugar.

John came up. In afternoon, John played Je T’aime Moi Non Plus. (B.B.C. banned it.)

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Wednesday 29th October 1969:

Carried on with tape. Got a teenager who knew about a station, and might have run one. Scotty came.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Tuesday 28th October 1969:

Started interviews for Sun Radio, about pirate radio. Did 3. One was with a couple of girls. We did it and then found it did not record, so we asked again if we could do it again. They refused.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Bill Griffiths; Six Ghost Stories for the darker nights

I have done this before, provided all the links to the 'ghost stories' of Bill Griffiths on this blog.

In 2005 I read a marvellous ghost story in Neon Highway written by Bill. I told him what I thought of it and he said he had more, both published in book form (Seaham Tales) and unpublished. I offered to publish six new ones - and did so, on Pages, one per month.

Enjoy this English municipal Gothic, Griffiths-style. Now the nights are drawing in, it's a good time to pick up on these. I hope you don't mind these raw links. They are numbered (excerpt number 5, oddly)

And my reading of Bill's The Book of the Boat may be accessed here

Links to videos celebrating the launch of the third volume of Bill's Collected Poems may be accessed here. His stories await their collector. 

Monday 27th October 1969:

Today I rejoined the Southwick library (see 10th July 1965)

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Robert Sheppard and Trev Eales: Gallery 19 of Charms and Glitter published on Train

I’m pleased to say that ‘Gallery 19’ of Charms and Glitter, a project (and soon to be a book) of poems and photographs by Robert Sheppard and Trev Eales, appears on Train (poetry journal) HERE.

The photographs were all taken as part of Trev’s work as a music photographer.  

You will find three photographs and matching poems featuring ‘Dancers with Arcade Fire’, ‘The Flaming Lips’ and ‘La Fura del Baus’. There is plenty of glitter!

This gallery is different for some others (which I will let you access in a moment) since it does not feature close ups of the rock artists as in other parts of the project. (La Fura del Baus isn’t even a band, but a Catalan theatre company.)  

It’s also the only place I directly address Trev at and about his business:

Diego Rivera couldn’t have crowded this out
so well as you. You took this slice – as

one man takes a photograph of the back
of your moment – and went in fast.

Other parts of the project are online and may be accessed via a link to what I call a hub post. It deliberately contains no images itself but is the gateway to our collaborations, which focus on festival artists as varied as St Vincent, Lee Scratch Perry, Patti Smith and Heather Barron Gracie from Pale Waves.  

Go here!

Charms and Glitter is due for publication from Knives Forks and Spoons in 2020.  

Sunday 26th October 1969:

Reading: Leslie Charteris; The Saint Goes West.

John and I heard a jazz programme on Radio 260, then a new pirate Radio 255. I taped 255.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Saturday 25th October 1969:

Went down John’s. Got Duke Ellington L.P. (5 shillings). Auntie Marjorie and family came.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Friday 24th October 1969:

At night, Mum and Dad went to the cricket social. (They used my amplifier, and many of my records.) Scotty came round we did the same as we do usually. Heh!! Heh!!

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Thursday 23rd October 1969

Thursday, 23rd October 1969:

Number One: The Archies: Sugar, Sugar.

The Connaught Theatre came and did a play by Stradgrinsky (with music) and the staff had a meeting while we were at play.

[Note: That’s a strike meeting.]

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Wednesday 22nd October 1969:

Had the student Mr. Capell (History and R.K.) and Mr. Humphries (Maths) for last time. Went out walking at night.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Tuesday 21st October 1969:

Timid English teacher [student] started getting mad, almost to break-down point.

[Note: 3A were buggers to control.]

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Sunday 19th October 1969:

Reading: H.G. Wells: The Time Machine.

Taped Radio 260 in Morning with John. He went out in the afternoon, so I read my book The Time Machine.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Thursday 16th October 1969:

Number One: Bobbie Gentry: I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.

Took Sun Radio sticker and politic [?] review (by me) and clippings to school for board. Went out at night for a walk with Scotty.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Wednesday 15th October 1969:

After school Paul Plumb came to give a demo on stereo and mono record players. He threw out records, I got one.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Tuesday, 14th October 1969:

Chemistry test. At night, went out with Scotty. We discussed what we could so at the weekends.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Monday 13th October 1969:

Hales read Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence in class. Had it taken away by Mrs Reed (the Roman Catholic).

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Sunday 12th October 1969:

Reading: Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence

Went over to Auntie Joyces. Before I left, I taped Radio 260, I got an article about Blues music from an old mag. I also found The Times on the train.

[Note: That would be an article about Paul Oliver’s The Story of the Blues.]

Friday, October 11, 2019

Saturday 11th October 1969:

Went down John’s. A good load of records. His friend, Alan Shaw came over from Littlehampton.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Robert Sheppard: 5 sonnets from Bad Idea published in Shearsman 121 and 122

I am pleased that Tony Frazer has selected a group of five sonnets from Bad Idea for the latest Shearsman 121 and 122, the first of which is actually the 'address to the reader' at the beginning of the sequence. (The others were written between September and November 2018, and the trace both Michael Drayton’s sonnets, of which they are ‘overdubs’, and the Brexit news of the time.) So it’s a good place to start. There are, of course, lots of other goodies in this issue, though I’ve yet to read it. It arrived in the middle of me working on the first poem of the sequel, Idea’s Mirror. It also contains poetry by Clark Allison, Annemarie Austin, Benjamin Balint, Miranda Lynn Barnes, Alison Brackenbury, Rachael Clyne, Andrew Duncan, Chris Emery, Gerrie Fellows, Adam Flint, Mark Goodwin, Lucy Hamilton, Jeri Onitskansky, Alasdair Paterson, John Phillips, Paul Rossiter, Alexandra Sashe, Kate Schmitt, John Seed, Maria Stadnicka, Andrew Taylor, James Turner, Rimas Uzgiris, Rushika Wick, Tamar Yoseloff; and translations of Greta Ambrazaitė and Toon Tellegen by Rimas Uzgiris and Judith Wilkinson respectively.

You can read more about Bad Idea as it has evolved here, with links to other print outings from the sequence, links to online sonnets, with links to earlier (related) sonnets in the project The English Strain, complete with photos and stuff:

The most recent instalment of The English Strain  to appear is Hap: Understudies of Thomas Wyatt’s Petrarch is available from Knives Forks and Spoons here:

 The cover of Shearsman is by Ghirlandaio; the cover of Hap is by Patricia Farrell

Friday 10th October 1969:

Did my usual work in Metal-work. I filed a small bit of steel in 2 hours.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Thursday 9th October 1969:

Number One: Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin: Je T’aime Moi Non Plus. * The B.B.C. banned record. 

Our class again got detention.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Idea's Mirror: poem 1 of my new Michael Drayton-Brexit transposition (temporary post)

I have run out of the sonnets of Michael Drayton in his 1619 Idea which I have been using to write the sonnet sequence Bad Idea, the latest part of The English Strain. I write about it extensively (with lots of explanation, the odd photo, and links) in the hub post HERE:

Despite the various schemes outlined there, I plan to continue this Brexit work with Idea’s Mirror, using extra Drayton sonnets jettisoned on his way to the definitive 1619 edition.

I dreamt about Boris Johnson all night, it seemed, the effect of catching a portion of a documentary which confirmed my opinion of him as a power-hungry delusional with no sense of how that power might be used since he has no opinions, to speak of. No centre.

Idea, Drayton’s ideal woman, seems to have had the same dream, and sings so. The epigraph may be for all of the sonnets or maybe only this one. We’ll see.

Idea’s Mirror

                        Amidst those shades wherein the Muses sit,
                                    Thus to Idea, my Idea sings…
                                                                                    Michael Drayton

Later poems are up now on this blog. Click on HOME to the right of this post (and scroll down to find the latest). They are only there for a week or so.

As I say, I have selected these poems so that they move backwards through the various editions of Drayton’s poems. The originals are rare so I shall post each as I go.





The epigraph derives from, ‘To Idea’, in E N D I M I O N and   Phœbe , IDEAS LATMVS. This is drawn from the Renascence Editions text, which was transcribed by Risa S. Bear, November 2000, from the edition of 1595.‘Endymion and Phœbe,’ n.d., 4to, entered in the Stationers' Register, 12th April 1594.

Wednesday 8th October 1969:

Dad took the tape recorder apart, to see why it played both tracks at once. Fixed it!!

Monday, October 07, 2019

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Monday 6th October 1969:

Today, I was told that I had won a prize at English last year. I choose [sic] a book on electronics as prize.

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Sunday 5th October 1969:

Reading: Star of Ill Omen, Dennis Wheatley

Radio 260 is a pirate in Southwick, they are not as good as Sun [Radio], but they are fair. The English of the D.J. isn’t …

[possible continuation:]

and we tried to track them down, but we ran into Philip Standen (See August 1968) and he said the D.J.s would cut up rough.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Saturday 4th October 1969:

Went down John’s. He’s heard Radio 260 on Sunday (28th). Person with unbroken voice. Sun Radio in Southwick. 

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Friday 3rd October 1969:

Sealand (See September 1969). I wrote to them. I wish to become Sealandic.

Had a go on Scotty’s mother’s moped. Also recorded more.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Thursday 2nd October 1969:

Number One: Bad Moon Risin’, Credence Clearwater Revival.

Scotty came round at night. We recorded some songs. Got new record head for gramophone.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Monday, September 30, 2019

The End of 'Work': the unfinished part of Robert Sheppard's Words Out of Time published in LUNE magazine

I'm pleased to say I have some new work in the online journal


Guest Edited by Nathan Jones, one of the co-organisers of Storm and Golden Sky (relevant because quite a few of our readers are featured here). See here for more.Thanks to Nathan.

Issue 03: Display (link here)

p. 65 if you are scrolling.

Lune is edited by Jenn Ashworth and Charlie Gere from Lancaster University. Caty Flynn is Assistant Editor.

I have a piece of experimental prose which I explain in the head to the text here.

My book Words Out of Time: autrebiographies and unwritings (Knives Forks and Spoons) ends with a piece entitled ‘Work’. In that version it finishes not with a full stop but with ellipses. That’s because its focus, the world of work, acts of, commitments to, actions of labour, wasn’t over for me at that time (the book appeared in 2015). Formally, the text distends time, or slows it even (the original idea was 15 words for unwritings of 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 reacting against the fact that most conventional (auto)biographies spend more time on their subjects’ early years, and I wanted this section to ‘do different’.) Here’s the end of that end.

Words Out of Time (without this supplement) is still available from Knives Forks and Spoons. Buy it here.

I write about it here. There are links to reviews and outtakes.  

I also write about this new piece here.

Tuesday 30th September 1969:

Talking about nuclear warfare in English.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Monday 29th September 1969:

A student for Maths: Mrs Edwards is still ill.

Elsewhere in diary: 29/9/69: I do not watch the Television much, I listen to the radio, or I read (or play records or record.) 

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Sunday 28th September 1969:

Reading: Three Men in a Boat, JK Jerome.

Went over Auntie Marjorie’s. In the afternoon we went to Preston Park (Rockeries).

Friday, September 27, 2019

Saturday 27th September 1969:

Went to Jumble Sale. Bought Les Salauds vont en Enfer (to [be] intelligent in French lessons) and many books. Waiting list for books is 9 books long.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

On Bad Idea (and reference to earlier parts of The English Strain, and to prospective parts) (hub post)

Michael Drayton with laurels

I’ve been wondering what that special place in hell looks like, for those who promoted #Brexit, without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely.
                                                                                                Donald Tusk

I have now ‘finished’ the second book of my The English Strain project (see below for the first and for more details), which is entitled Bad Idea. It is a re-working, a transposition, if you will, of the whole of Michael Drayton’s sequence Idea; that’s 64 poems (with the addition of its ‘Address to the Reader of these Sonnets’). I’ve been at it since July 2018, one a week (more or less), now for over a year. Now I have run out of sonnets! 

Hub Post

Fortunately some ‘Bad Idea’ poems may be read online, so I’ll offer the links to these first. I’m pleased to say three poems appear appropriately in Monitor on Racism. Patricia Farrell’s two images of Bo accompany them. Thanks to Monica at Monitor. Find the poems and images here:

Four consecutive poems from Bad Idea (XLV-XLVIII) are published together in International Times. Thanks to poetry editor Rupert Loydell. HERE

I write about those here:  
Not so happy in power
There are some 'Bad Idea' poems published in Tears in the Fence 70; see here.
I am pleased that Tony Frazer has selected a group of five sonnets from Bad Idea for Shearsman 121 and 122; see here.  

On 8th October 2019 I started writing the sequel to Bad Idea entitled Idea's Mirror. These will be posted on this blog, temporarily, one a week. There's one there now, if you want to search for it.


As you can see, they are poems‘about’ Brexit (as are some of the first book of ‘The English Strain’, to be called The English Strain). The idea of Bad Idea originally was that it would pass through Brexitday and onto the other side, where it might gather some positivities. (I’m not even hinting here that post-Brexitactuality will have any positive effects at all.)

For a while it has been clear that I was running out of the poems at my weekly rate of progress, although the Flexibretension (and Bo’s extremist ‘do or die in a ditch’ deadline) runs to 31st October 2019 (‘the eve of the Day of the Dead’ as one of my poems notes, Lowryesquely). Now it looks like an election may follow in November or December, after the dreadful proroguing, ‘for those rogues have prorogued the no-deal clock’, as I put it in poem 61. But of course, that all changed on 24th September, while I was writing the last poem of the sequence. As I put it as introduction to the temporary posting of that week's poem on Pages:

I’m typing this at 10.27 a.m. on Tuesday 24th September, not my usual ‘Bad Idea’ day, but I read the whole sequence through last night and plunged in. I wanted to write it before a decision about the legality of Prorouging is announced in three (actually it’s now one) minutes’ time. I wanted the [party] conferences to be in motion so we leave the whole sequence at a moment of indecision, an unrested untotality of unfinish, Brexit still not clearly decided for, or against. Hanging – for the next poetic possibilities. I realise the importance to the country, but that doesn’t stop me having thoughts about formal possibilities. However, with transposition, the decisions are not merely formal. Are they?

So I am faced with how to proceed. And how to proceed when the political events that I seem to be tracking, tracing, are moving so quickly. The Supreme Court ruling (whose result was unexpected) has thrown another spanner in the works of Brexit (which I imagined would be well-finished by the time I ran out of sonnets as I have).  

I called a summit of Drayton’s ‘thrice-three Muses’ to discuss possibilities but they didn’t show, like Bo at a press conference! I’ll have to think it through myself. What I’ve done before is to source more sonnets, like a greengrocer after a no-deal Brexit searching out the last Spanish lettuce!

Musing on the train to Manchester some months back, and in the pub, waiting for Scott Thurston, I settled upon some post-revolutionary reactionary sonnets of Wordsworth, 1802-3. About 24 of them.

Wordsworth may not help much (although there are poems about Kent, where the Dogging Sites of Brexit Britain, and Farage, come from! There’s potential in that. ‘Lie back and think of Nigel!’ ‘After Brexit the only meat we’ll get is each others’ bodies,’ she purred: ‘Let’s go dogging!’ It’s one of the themes that was picked up in the first book, but when Go was appointed to Rural Affairs, which surely is a dogging agency, this theme ran and ran. Here’s a Christmas message from him!

Following Go's instructions for people to become 'more active in the environment'
I have also located more of Drayton’s ‘Idea’ poems not included in the 1619 edition, 12 of them, and I thought I might use them as a now necessary appendix to ‘Bad Idea’ itself, and also use however many I need of the 1595 edition’s poems (the ones not preserved in the 1619, obviously). I’ve sorted them but I’m not satisfied with them. Too many of them are dedicatory sonnets. Or text-book Petrarchan exercises. They are, by nature, not as good as the ones in the 1619 edition. Scholars agree. (I might post this selection on this blog at some point if I don’t use them. I am less sure I won’t now after the Supreme Court ruling. Everything seems up in the air.)

In another poetics scenario, I thought I might move back reflectively through the sequence I have written as befits the title Idea’s Broken Mirror (derived from Drayton’s original title for the sonnets, Ideas Mirrour). I could make use of both my versions of Drayton’s poems and his originals, as we move backwards, as week by week models. (The predecessor of this lies at the beginning of The English Strain: the multiple versions of one Petrarch sonnet in Petrarch 3, published by Crater. See here.) The mirror is broken so it would have to offer a more fragmentary view (not necessarily textually) and it will not be necessary to progress from 63 back to 1 in its entirety. So when would the break off point be? It could be anywhere I wanted it, or where history dictates: perhaps at Brexit or some other crux point, an election maybe. The sequence might be only 4 poems or 63.

This personal flexi(br)extension is useful to the uncertain progression, to the need to respond to national chaos, and to the need (simply) to stop at some point. This (and the extra Drayton sonnet idea, or some combination of them, it strikes me now) would form a coherent annexe to ‘Bad Idea’, if needed, in a way that the Wordsworth option doesn’t. However, the idea of using a different verse form is inviting. As I describe now.

At one point, I envisaged these next poems as being more like my 100 word sonnets (I might even take up that form again, which I talk about here, and which I invented 25 years ago, my diaries remind me) in that they might be impacted, unpunctuated, multiply coherent rather than unitarily narrative, rather like ‘Break Out’ in The English Strain, book one, the first 'Brexit' sequence.

I more recently invented a half-pint sonnet, two versions, the syllabic and the 50 word isoverbalist (word-count) one. I shall check up on these minimal beauties too, though I suspect they will be just too minimal for what I have in mind. Oddly I checked sonnet 63 and found that it was exactly 100 words long: the kind of serendipity I pick up on creatively. Sometimes.

On the other hand, Idea’s Broken Mirror or Idea’s Mirror could be narrated from the point of view of Idea herself, obviously stripped of her Platonic and Petrarchan idealism. My Charlotte Smith versions (see below) represented my comic ‘becoming-female’ as a narrator. Perhaps here it would not be so comic. They need to reflect BACK on the poems as they already exist but they need to absorb the developing political epic of Brexit, and they should project forwards. (The extra Drayton sonnets option could achieve that too, obviously.) Throughout Bad Idea Idea has been trying to get a word in, and when she does, she’s often quoting Rosi Braidotti's Deleuzoguattarrianism, though she has developed certain human traits also (a certain plumpness and a love of gin, especially on Ladies’ Day). Perhaps she has no need of them now.
Idea at Ladies' Day, Aintree (face obscured by newspaper with the latest Brexit news)

As ever, of course, these thumbnails (one definition of poetics) are not blueprints. I’ve already backed away from this plan and that, and then come back to it. (See here on the nature of poetics as a speculative writerly discourse: 

Idea herself has had something to say on the shortage of sonnets. In an early Bad Idea sonnet she notes sardonically, sitting in a bar in her ripped jeans,

News just in: Article 50
may be extended to delay no-deal (or even Brexit)!
Idea stretches her denim on a barstool, eyes the TV, thinks:
I can see it all: he’ll eye up Daniel’s Delia next,
covet more sonnets to stockpile through this mess!

(i.e., a no-deal Brexit). But Samuel Daniel’s Delia is not as complex as Drayton’s work. But it’s still there.

Wordsworth might be a better option, I think in a different frame of mind: just leap out of the Renaissance into the Romantics.

Whatever I decide next, Wordsworth is potentially waiting for a new turn for the third book of The English Strain – though that thought is unthinkable in two senses: both of the post-Brexit world with which it would deal, and the thought of writing a third book of transposed sonnets! Somewhere the sonnets of John Clare lurk as final possibilities. Or quennets rising out of them like sparrows from the nest. Then it’s done….

Though I’d have my homework to do, as I have had with Petrarch, Milton, Wyatt, Surrey, Smith, Barrett Browning and Drayton. And maybe even Shelley. Why Shelley?

An even more recent thought: Perhaps use might be made of Shelley’s ‘England in 1819’ (particularly as it is alluded to in one of the Bad Idea sonnets). Surely somebody has tackled that with the Peterloo celebrations this year. See my thoughts on poetry and Peterloo here:

Perhaps Shelley could act an an ironic introduction to the Wordsworth sonnets. (Also I have already transposed ‘Ozymandias’ in Warrant Error, a poem about history for my historian son Stephen.)

You can see I am not clear which way it will go.

Or indeed when I will start working on it. ALL the sequences I have produced for the ‘English Strain’ project so far have involved a break between sequences, both for fatigue and research. Having now written the longest set of transpositions on one author, it’s clear that the break should be substantial, but it can’t be that long if it’s to track Brexit. A short prorogue may be more than enough of an hiatus.

Scott Thurston’s review of Elena Rivera’s Scaffolding also pointed to a fraternal enterprise, a copy of which I have purchased and shelved to read in that hiatus which, it is clear to me now, is opening up at this point. Read Scott here:

Of course, I am working on other creative projects; I just don’t NEED to post them weekly like this. Jamie Toy writes about the periodicity of these weekly posts in relation to the temporal progression of Brexit here, in Versopolis:

I also want to record my thanks to Clark Allison who has responded by email to every temporary posting of these poems, right back to Hap at least.


Back to Bad Idea and touchy Micky: he was very grumpy about his lack of visibility and patronage as a poet, and Bad Idea reflects that now and then. Recent research has rather revised the Victorian view of him (only a paragon of virtue could write Drayton’s verse). Here he is in court, touchy in a very different sense, and in a very different court from the Royal one he wanted to be summoned to!

 She ‘did hold up her clothes unto her navel before Mr Michael Drayton and … she clapt her hand on her privy part and said it was a sound and a good one, and that the said Mr Drayton did then also lay his hand upon it and stroked it and said that it was a good one’. Suspicion of Incontinency: London Consistory Court proceedings, 8th March 1627

(Source: Capp, Bernard. “The Poet and the Bawdy Court: Michael Drayton and the Lodging-House World in Early Stuart London.” Seventeenth Century 10 (1995): 27–37.)

Poor old misunderstood Drayton is somewhat out of print at the moment, though I have found a ‘Poly-Olbion’ project online (the whole epic is online, which is refreshing and exhausting), and this fine sonnet sequence ‘Idea’ (the 1619 version) is also available online; 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:

This is also the source ( for much more of Drayton’s poetry, including the ‘extra’ sonnets I located for possible further transpositions.

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! 

In fact, I’ve also bought

Evans, Maurice, ed. Revised by Roy J. Booth. Eizabethan Sonnets. London and North Clarendon: Phoenix Paperback, 2003,

a careful book that includes the 1619 Idea entire (with original orthography) and has some notes. BUT not so careful that it doesn’t have the typo I have made mischevious use of in one of my poems: ‘This anthology mistypes my chosen verb ‘eternize’./ A new word enters the language as I enternize you!’

Brink, Jean R. Michael Drayton Revisited. Boston: Twayne, 1990, has also proved extremely useful in giving an overview of Drayton’s career and voluminous works, and questioning a lot of the unsupported assumptions that still circulate about his poetry (particularly about identifications of ‘Idea’ Not that I don't mind wild speculation. In Poem LIII I note:

‘If Shakespeare’s dark lady was born a Sheppard,
then I would hope to hook more than a goldfish
hanging over these railings for her to pass.’      

which is a cheeky reference to somebody's shit theory that Shakespeare's Dark Lady was Jane Davenant, (nee Sheppard), mother of William, and whose father was a Robert Sheppard).  
You may read about the whole ‘English Strain’ project in a post that has links to some other accounts, and earlier parts, of this work: hereThat was 100 poems long. The most recent instalment of it to appear is Hap: Understudies of Thomas Wyatt’s Petrarch is available from Knives Forks and Spoons here:

I write about my sonnets generally here, and here and see here and here for more on my Petrarch obsession (the first part Petrarch 3 is still available from Crater) which kick-started ‘The English Strain’ project into motion.

There are more excerpts from The English Strain in The Robert Sheppard Companion, and some critical writings on my sonnets.  

Three more overdubs of the Sussex poems of Charlotte Smith (from the first ‘book’ of the work) have been published at Anthropocene, an online platform run by Charlie Baylis. The first, ‘To the River Adur’ features a line or two from a letter from Lee Harwood. The second, ‘Written at a Church-yard in Middleton in Sussex’ is an overdub of Smith’s most famous poem (of that title), and ‘The sea-view’ which is a fully gender-bending Brexit-madness poem from later in the 14 part sequence.

You can go straight to them, here:

I am pleased to say I have six poems published in BlazeVOX 19, edited by Geoffrey Gatza, four of them poems from ‘The English Strain’ project, also transpositions of Charlotte Smith sonnets. You may get straight to the pages here:

Another Charlotte Smith variation may be read in Smithereens 2, on page 15:

Charlotte Smith

Links to a number of the published poems from Non Disclosure Agreement (the last part of the proposed first book of The English Strain) may be accessed here:

Some older ‘English Strain’ poems (from the first ‘book’) may be found here:

Brexit Office