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 IT, I have two new poems from Bad Idea  Poem LV was written on 1st August 2019 and concerns ‘Booster Bo, turbocharged with active verbs’ getting elected as leader of the party. Poem LVI, written a week later, is in the voice of one of the true Yeoman of Kent, who, after Brexit, will be tasked with both the defence of the newly liberated realm, and custodianship of the Dogging Sites. Go straight to the poems here:

Two more sonnets from Bad Idea appear on International Times. They are L
VII, which is about Bo (Boris Johnson) and his ‘vision’ of the world, and LVIII, which features the various carves-up of the nation pending if Bo takes us out of the EU. Idea appears in each poem, as its muse.
You may read the two poems HERE:

Another 5 poems from Bad Idea may be found here:

Four poems from Bad Idea may be read about, and linked to the online magazine, M58, here:

On 8th October 2019 I started writing the sequel to Bad Idea entitled Idea's Mirror. Three poems (actually the last in the sequence) were published in International Times, see here.

I am pleased that the first 4 poems from  ‘Idea’s Mirror’ appear in The Lincoln Review . Read them here:

2021: 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:


Read the first review, by Alan Baker in Litter here: Review - "The English Strain" and "Bad Idea" by Robert Sheppard | Litter (

And now there's a second review of both books, here, from Clark Allison, here;

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.) Here's a post written 'in the thick of it', as I considered Brexit (and particularly the position of Labour under Corbyn): Pages: Robert Sheppard: My latest write-through of Michael Drayton's IDEA (remains of temporary Brexmas post)

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

Read the first review of Bad Idea, by Alan Baker, in Litter here: Review - "The English Strain" and "Bad Idea" by Robert Sheppard | Litter (

 Read the second, by Clark Allison, here, on the Tears in the Fence website: HERE:

 Read the third review, by Steve Hanon, in the Manchester Review of Books, here:

Pages: BAD IDEA reviewed by Steve Hanson in The Manchester Review of Books (