Saturday, December 28, 2019

Robert Sheppard: thirty years since Twentieth Century Blues was begun, 20 since it ended, and future plans

A double anniversary: I began my long network of texts Twentieth Century Blues on 28th December 1989 and I sort of ended it on 28th December 1999, in that on that day I decided to stop extending the cumbersome strands and interconnections of the text – see some of the posts on this ‘network’ below – and resolved to write one last poem (an ‘Empty Diary’ for 2000 that I called ‘The Push Up Combat Bikini’). That’s what I did.

In December 1989 I wrote in my journal, after some poetics notes that appeared, spruced up, here :

… world events move fast, at least in Romania they do. Too fast to use in a poem, the situation changing hour by hour. An acceleration of history, certainly not its end… 

as would have been the current neo-liberal thinking. I also found a way of writing to keep up with ‘events’, with the poem I wrote the following day, on 28th December, ‘Melting Borders’, which became the preface to Twentieth Century Blues.

Those buckets of blood there are the president’s property;
they reek of recent history, but have nothing to do
with what has become your fault; leakages
of household gas that punch too-distant disaster-holes
in the indifferent sky…

I write about the book that this project became here:

And here:

One POETICS of Twentieth Century Blues may be read here .

Another, ‘Linking the Unlinkable’, is found  here.

I wrote about ending the network (or k(not)-net-work), on December 1999 (the last entry of a journal, as it happens):

Half an hour to go to end C20th Blues. Even a quick look through this journal shows the moments of crisis in its development, a moment in 1993 when I worried about inclusions and exclusions, and its great initial moment when I saw Europe (correctly) changing its political and cultural configuration and wondering about the influx of the culture. The Rothenberg/Joris, as I say in the piece itself, goes some way towards dealing with that. But what a different era, when I wrote of walking down the street and of sensing everything against you, the great Tory-Capitalist machine. Now, irony guides me more; Tony Blair wants to make GMT into Greenwich Election Time on the Internet. Thatcher changed human consciousness. He wants to control time. Time Lord.   

The Age of Irony was succeeding The Drowning Years, just as we have given way to Warrant Error (Era?) and then The Age of Immiseration (where we still are. In Bad Idea I think I’ve replaced irony with slapstick).

Twentieth Century Blues is written about by others (particularly Mark Scroggins) in The Robert Sheppard Companion: see here.

It seems appropriate to quote these diary entries that the time I am just finishing posting my 1969 diary daily: 50, 30 and 20 years all laid out! (Forty years was mentioned last month on this blog.) (See

You may still buy the 2008 publication (all 300+ pages of it) Complete Twentieth Century Blues from SALT here:

Or navigate their website to their Robert Sheppard page. It is a sort of ‘Collected Poems, Volume One’.

I like to think of today as ‘Twentieth Century Blues Day’, but I don’t expect others to remember it! But it is a day when I customarily ponder my poems (though that could be said of every day!). 

The second book of ‘The English Strain’ project, Bad Idea (which consists of ‘Bad Idea’ and ‘Idea’s Mirror’) is now complete (see here

and here:

I have a couple of other projects to get on with (including a neglected batch of microfictions), and I hope to return to critical writing on a piece about collaboration (and I will also put some energy into posting about my own collaborations as a warm up). Indeed, following on from my EUOIA work, the collaborative work in Twitters for a Lark,

(see here:

and here:

I need to get round to its announced third part (announced by Zoe Skoulding at the start of her contribution to the Companion!). I’ve a few ideas relating to my involvement with Ern Malley events and fictional poets generally, and perhaps about the Isle of Man (possibly linked loosely to my Firminist involvement concerning Malc Lowry). But those ideas never seem to resolve into resolve, as it were.

As ever: more reading.