Sunday, December 20, 2020

A Well-Deserved Break/Bad Idea available/Brexit Christmas Past

I’d like to wish everybody a merry Christmas and a happy New Year – but that’s so difficult this year. The febrile excitement among the over eighties (faint reverberations of what they must have felt when they got their bus passes two decades ago) for the forthcoming vaccine is a pretty good indication of how bad it has been. It's also clear that Boris (Bo in my mythology) is trying to wish us a Covid Christmas and a Brexit New Year: two blasts of unrelated, coincidental, chaos (even with his U-Turn on his 'Geronticidal Yuletide Rules'). These are the themes of my latest writings. 

My own shield, in a sense, has been the writing of Book Three of ‘The English Strain’ project, poems which started with the comedy of Brexit that quickly crashed into the tragedy of Covid. You can trace it in the poems, week by week, over the year, that I have been temporarily posting, and permanently commenting upon. At the moment I am writing the last part of the projected poems. Here’s one of my reports, a hub post as I call it, about Book Three (British Standards) in progress : . You can see that I have been ‘versioning’ the Romantics’ sonnets.

What a pleasure then that book two, Bad Idea, versions of Michael Drayton’s 1619 sonnet sequence Idea, is now available, just what we need, a 2021 book (publication date April) today. ‘Bad Idea’ is a naughty version of Drayton’s muse, Idea, but also a sequence about a very bad idea, Brexit. Here’s me reading the only 'Christmassy' poem in the collection, from a copy that arrived the other day!


That poem was written two Christmasses ago, about the time that I wrote the following skit, Go’s message to the Dogging Community (the idea that all Britain will have left after Brexit is its native national sport has been a developing strain!). What a different world, where the once sacred dogging sites of the Kentish Yeomanry have been dug up to make a Brexit Lorry Park to deal with the congestion and chaos:  Pages: Christmas Message from the Right Hon M. Go, secretary of Rural Affairs, the post-Brexit Dogging Agency ( 

Bad Idea, although dated 2021, is available now from Knives Forks and Spoons, and you may buy it HERE:


See also my subsequent post: 

Pages: BAD IDEA (versions of Michael Drayton's Idea) available now from KFS (

The lurid cover by Patricia Farrell is just about right, and even more lurid in the flesh! (The cover, not Patricia, that is!) During composition, I wrote about Bad Idea here . (The final part of Bad Idea is slightly different; called ‘Idea’s Mirror’; that’s described here: ).

Just before I sign off for my Christmas break, here’s a link to a post that describes Book One of the project, simply called The English Strain, whose proofs I have today sent back to Tony Frazer to correct for publication by Shearsman Books. Pages: Robert Sheppard: the Petrarch sonnet project finished with poem 100 In case you are confused, 'The English Strain' sonnet project consists of 

1. The English Strain (Shearsman, forthcoming)

2. Bad Idea (Knives, Forks and Spoons, available now for 2021)

3. British Standards (work in progress)

 If you are accessing this blog for the first time, here’s a post that lists the best stuff from the first 15 years of Pages:

See you in 2021 after my winterval break... Later:

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:

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Weird Syrup: The final Keats variation: a (premature) farewell to satire as a strand in British Standards

I've finished working on Keats' sonnets, though admittedly 200 years after Keats himself.  I want to reflect upon that a little, but not before I've given you a wider context for this part of the larger project. I began work on a book entitled British Standards in pre-Covid 2020, but post-Brexit Independence Day. Both of those ‘issues’ are important to it, as is the fact that all the poems are 'transpositions' of Romantic sonnets. And the first will still remain so, even with recent news (slipped into this poem at the time of writing, late November 2020, where news stays news) that now THREE vaccines are on their way. The first section was finished late March, just after the (first) lockdown was belatedly, fatally for some, announced. For this, I transposed poems from Wordsworth’s ‘Poems Dedicated to National Independence and Liberty’, and retitled them ‘Poems of National Independence’, and even more cheekily subtitled them, ‘liberties with Wordsworth’. I write about that sequence here:

Then followed ‘14 Standards’, the lockdown poems, and in turn, two additional ‘Double Standards’ about the now-departed Cum’s disgraceful lockdown infringements – I transposed a couple of Shelley’s sonnets – and his elitist refusal of apology and regret. See here for all 16 ‘standards’: . There are links to online publication of some of the poems too (as there are in many of these links).

‘Tabitha and Thunderer’, interventions in the sonnet sequence ‘Sappho and Phaon’ by Mary Robinson, followed, and they may be read about (with video) here:

Another Shelley transposition, on ‘Ozymandias’ this time, may be read about here (in a post that is the hubpost for my dispersed versions of Shelley):


‘Ozymandias’ is positioned alone after my Robinson poems. Then I turned to Keats! I had some trouble getting going; you can read about that struggle here:

This post will operate as a hub post as I call it: listing any publications that may ensue, of
this Keats sequence ‘Weird Syrup’. The first 7 are entitled ‘Contrafacts and Counterfactuals from Keats’. These were composed of 14 couplets. Now I have finished a new group called ‘Curtal Song-Nets from Junkets’, and they are curtal sonnets, a weird (but unsyrupy) combination of the stanza developed from the sonnet by Keats for his Odes and from the curtal-sonnet invented by Hopkins, which I made a late decision to remode as 10 couplets with a tail/tale to trail/tell.

That last poem was displayed here for a week. It was almost a farewell to satire, almost (because I think the rest of British Standards might be less satirical, but I'm not sure).  I read the following piece the other month, and it struck me as important to the misgivings I have now and again about the socially referential aspects of this project, but then I realise and accept that satire has to thrive on those: ‘There’s something about satire which means that it oozes outwards quicker than other modes, it forces the reader to draw the text into relation with the social totality quicker, it is ecological insofar as it is always profoundly embedded in a wide contextual web and twangs those threads repeatedly.’ says Robert Kiely. I like the 'oozing' motion referred to there, and an ecological gloss on what might be thought purely logical, as it were.

Read it all at


Publications from 'Weird Syrup' will be listed HERE. HUB POST:

Three poems from Weird Syrup: Overdubs of sonnets from John Keats and ‘Sheppard's lively readings of them’ on video, as they are described there, appeared on Parmenar in July 2021. Read them and hear them here:

‘When I Have Fears that I May Cease to Be’ is published on Stride. It is, fairly obviously I think, a version of one of Keats’ most famous sonnets, though mine begins with the contemporary-sounding ‘When Bo has fears that/ Trump may cease to be //President…’ You may read it here:

 A poem by Robert Sheppard | Stride magazine

Another two of these Keats poems appear in Tears in the Fence. There's a link to that publication, and two more videos here: Pages: Two more sonnets from British Standards (from Keats) in Tears in the Fence 75 (

What comes after Keats? I could write through another sonnet by Shelley (though I'm going off the idea of treating Shelley's 'Ode to the West Wind' as a sequence of 5 sonnets). Individual sonnets have been operating as 'interval' sonnets throughout the book. I've even thought of returning to Wordsworth, since he was so productive at the start of the year; I've read through his sequence to the River Duddon, his last important work, though I might check out the sonnets about capital punishment again. One of my running arguments about Brexit was that it was about re-introducing hanging once we were free of inconvenient human rights. Maybe. Eventually I see the book British Standards ending with versions of Clare's sonnets, probably as quennets (since I've largely superseded sonnet frames in the development of my larger project). But, as I had problems with Bad Idea (book two of the 'English Strain project), in that I ran out of poems to version before I'd reached Brexit, the same has happened in regards to the Brexit Transition Period and Covid-19! I have difficulties here (which are admittedly my problem and of little importance to you) which I will have to deal with. 

Next day: further readings and notes. The sonnets on capital punishment (in support of, by the way) end with the reassuring line: 'Cheered with the prospect of a brighter day'! Preposterous! I won't be working on these, but I might choose the sequence just before it in the old Oxford Wordsworth, the 14 poems of 'Sonnets Dedicated to Liberty and Order', a title that is often confused by critics with the 1802-3 poems that I used earlier in the year (see here).  These dried out fossils of verse were written (in a Urizen-like authoritative tone) in the 1830s and 1840s, and are just waiting for me; I know it. I can feel it in my prostate (which has been more or less cleared by my consultant after the biopsy, by the way, and possibly the reason these poems are starting to flow again). The abandonment of BOTH the 14 line frame AND the satirical voice may have to be delayed a bit. But then look at these two, pretending they are pulling a Christmas cracker: 

Looking back, I have a full post on my previous ‘Trump’ poems (he’s only on-stage now and then; this is the ‘ENGLISH strain’ after all), here: 

And I’ve left a residue about the fourth ‘Curtal Song Net’, and its references to Trump here:

In writing these poems, I have been helped by Zuccato, Edoardo. Petrarch in Romantic England. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, a book I have read very quickly, having come across it reading (even more quickly) Translating Petrarch’s Poetry (a book I am in wrtiting about my earliest 'transposed sonnets' and you can read about that here: )

Before we completely leave Keats, it's worth recording that I’ve made counterfactual use, as it were, of Keats before, in my volume of three short stories, The Only Life (Knives Forks and Spoons, 2011), in which I briefly describe Keats’ thoughts and actions on his eightieth birthday. Read about that here: . Buy it here:

Looking to the whole project (and in explanation) let me emphasise that British Standards is (or will be, when completed) book three of my ‘English Strain’ Project. My ghostly production of Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’ turned the project (that will appear in the next Tears in the Fence), so that it could not turn back to the 14 line sonnet frame (see ).  I’d been looking at some poems of Robert Duncan, ‘derivative’ (his word) of Dante’s sonnets, which weren’t formally sonnets at all. (I mean they possessed none of the determinants of sonnethood; not even 14 lines.) That seemed like a necessary formal ‘volta’, or ‘turn’, as the sequence begins the long descent towards the runway. I have a determination (though not religiously so) to never write a 14 line poem, or a sonnet-approximate poem, again, once this project is completed.

On this blog, as I’m guessing most regular visitors know, I’ve documented ‘The English Strain’ as work has progressed through to its third book. Here are two comprehensive posts to check out, with lots of links to online excerpts and other ruminating blogposts, one that looks at Book One, The English Strain here and another at Book Two, Bad Idea here . (The final part of Bad Idea is slightly different; called ‘Idea’s Mirror’, it’s described here: ).

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:



Cover design: above, the cover; below, the original image, by Patricia Farrell 

There are two ways of seeing this book. One: it is a homage to Michael Drayton’s 1619 sonnet sequence, Idea, skilful transpositions into contemporary forms. Two: it tells the story of Brexit, as it passes through the body politic, the undigested cake and eat it of daily life. We read of the peccadillos and pet projects of the Brexiteers, the ineptitude of resistance. Expect comedy and chaos rather than analysis, ‘how not to get the blues while singing the blues’. Drayton is both Renaissance man and man of resentment. His worshipped muse Idea is a tragic Scouse idealist caught in a satire nobody can quite control. ‘The English Strain’ of the sonnet tradition meets the dogging sites of post-Brexit Britain. You’ve got to laugh.  

Parts of Book One of ‘The English Strain’ are still available in booklet form; look here for Hap:

There are a number of reviews of Hap, but here’s a pretty new one: Prince, D.A. ‘Hap by Robert Sheppard’, on Sphinx: Poetry Pamphlet Reviews and Features: (2020) 

I have written in detail about the writing of Petrarch 3 (see )

 Look here for Petrarch 3 in its wonderful fold-out map format.

As I've said in my opening remarks, British Standards presents transpositions of notable sonnets of the Romantic period, from those by William Bowles to Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Chronologically, they lie between those of Charlotte Smith, which I’ve already worked on here,

and those of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, that I’ve also worked on, both of them in the final parts of Book One:

 I’m posting these poems temporarily, so there is only ever one (or two) at a time on this blog, once a week at the moment. Jamie Toy wrote about this periodicity of mine in relation to Brexit  here, in Versopolis :

Pages: Robert Sheppard: My Poetics of the Sonnet in 'The English Strain' / excerpt from 'Idea's Mirror' in The Lincoln Review

Saturday, November 14, 2020

It’s 15.37 on 14th November 2020, my grey, overcast 65th birthday

It’s 15.37 on 14th November 2020, my grey, overcast 65th birthday, rainy enough to abandon a walk in my new duffle coat, the whole day overcast by the Coronavirus Pandemic. I think we would be celebrating otherwise - if the world were different. A party, even. The only cheering thing has been the ‘resignation’ of The Cum (as he appears in my recent poems): he’s shot himself off through the letterbox of Number 10 for the final time. I have to consider how to react in the poems I am writing at the moment, versions of Keats’ sonnets. See here for that part of the ‘English Strain’ and links to the rest of the project (so far) here:


Five years ago it was a different story (see picture above) and I’d like to share some links to records of that day, one of our big parties, events we started in Esher, years before, and perhaps entered legend under the guise of our Smallest Poetry Festival in the World in 1994. There is little recording of this event except this magnificent t-shirt design by Stephen Sheppard.


See here for more on that event:

 But five years ago was recorded more. Photos and videos, even. A party at which I was surprised to receive a book, An Educated Desire, anonymously edited by Scott Thurston, a series of over 60 poems and/or images made by poets and artists, for me. I am still stupendously grateful, and you can read about it here:

and here:

and still purchase it from Knives, Forks, Spoons; it's available HERE,  along with a sample and a list of contributors. 


BUT I also decided to do something myself at this party. I played a set of songs on guitar and voice and harp. A small fragment of the set (a big mistake to do this at my own party!) was filmed and may be encountered here:

There was, in fact, this give and take: there was, also, a fantastic party (of which I am releasing no details here.) Do I dare to imagine that we might be able to meet like this again? I do dare. As Horace Silver finishes his solo at 16.15 and I post this into the social mediation of a blogpost.

Monday, November 09, 2020

My version of Keats' When I have Fears' thinking of Brexit thinking of Trump (some thoughts)

I began work on what I’ve entitled British Standards in pre-Covid 2020, but post-Brexit Independence Day. Both of those ‘issues’ are important. And the first will still remain so, even with today’s news (too new even for my poem, where news stays news) that a vaccine is probably on its way. The first section was finished late March, just after the (first) lockdown was belatedly announced. For this, I transposed poems from Wordsworth’s ‘Poems Dedicated to National Independence and Liberty’. I write about that sequence here:

Then followed ‘14 Standards’, the lockdown poems. See here:

‘Tabitha and Thunderer’, interventions in the sonnet sequence ‘Sappho and Phaon’ by Mary Robinson, followed, and they may be read about (with video) here:

 There are links to online publication of some of the poems too (as there are in many of these links).

Now I have turned to Keats. I had some trouble getting going; you can read about that struggle here:

I’m thinking of calling these poems ‘Weird Syrup’. The subtitle ‘contrafacts and counterfactuals from Keats’ is the title of the first seven, now complete. These were written using couplets, 14 of them. Now I am at work on a very different grouping called ‘Curtal Song-Nets from Junkets’, and they are curtal sonnets (a weird but unsyrupy combination of the stanza developed from the sonnet by Keats for his Odes and from the curtal-sonnet invented by Hopkins).


Here’s the fourth, and the ‘tail’ has got shorter again. (The 3rd consisted of a lecture on negative capability!) Of course, Trump’s refusal to concede has to be poeticised. Absolutely necessary. The poem and tail ended with the words: 

He’s ‘well on his way to decompensating’

(whatever that means

Yesterday I blogged about all the Trump poems in ‘The English Strain’ project (see the link below), and it must have sunk deep and erupted up into today’s poem. I was planning to do some of my Bangor University moderation today. It’s my last word on Trump. Dump Trump. I thought of using this exchange in the tail (which is true, really really true):


I Tweet back: Shhhh!!!


That last comment in the poem (to get back to the POEM) about Trump being ‘well on his way to decompensating’ is a quote from niece Mary, and you can access her saying that here.

 I take it to mean that Trump's caffeine-fuelled life style will catch up with him before 2024 (the next election), and in any case she thinks he'll be in prison. 

I have a post on my previous ‘Trump’ poems (he’s only on-stage now and then), here:


British Standards is book three of my ‘English Strain’ Project. 

 On this blog, as I’m guessing most regular visitors know, I’ve documented ‘The English Strain’ as work has progressed through to its third book. Here are two comprehensive posts to check out, one that looks at Book One, The English Strain here and another at Book Two, Bad Idea here .

I am delighted to say that Book One and Book Two are now published, The English Strain from Shearsman, and Bad Idea from Knives Forks and Spoons. 

Three poems from Weird Syrup: Overdubs of sonnets from John Keats and ‘Sheppard's lively readings of them’ on video, as they are described there, have just appeared on Parmenar. Read them and hear them here:

Sunday, November 08, 2020

Trump and his appearances in The English Strain project (with videos)


 and then I re-directed him (time on his tiny hands?) to this blogpost. I hope you have found it too. I know he’s a cruel autocratic narcissist, but Bo (who is but a school play version of Trump, less King Zog and more Pere Ubu) and all the rest of them have to be richly comic figures in my growing satiric mode (soon to be curtailed in favour of my signature ‘inaccessible’ ‘experimentalism’, I assure you, though I’m still joking there, of course, maybe). Although Byron didn’t sonnetise, I’m drawing closer to my inner Don Juan as I go.

Trump appears throughout ‘The English Strain’, in all three books (see links at the end of this post for a full mapping of the project). You’ll find him in a part of book one, published so far, Hap: Understudies of Thomas Wyatt’s Petrarch, (see
here for Hap:

) but he’s also in the follow-up transpositions of the Earl of Surrey’s sonnets. I write about this ‘Trump’ one here:

and you can go straight to the poem as it appeared in International Times here:   

And I’ve read it this morning, for you,  on a minute video, though it has sunk (like Trump?) to the bottom of this post!

That poem is an interesting example regarding my ‘transposition’ method; you can read the Earl of Surrey’s sonnet first, followed by my sonnet, on the IT site.

 A nice run of the second book, Bad Idea, also appears on International Times here, and the third poem is about Trump’s unstate(ly) visit to London.

It was a bit wordy, so I’ve cut it down for the Knives Forks and Spoons book (due early 2021). Here’s the revised text, and I read it on video too.

Bad Idea XLVII

Proud of his Tweets, Trump’s
dumb thumbs pad school bully wit.
So long as there’s credit on his phone 
there are MAGA crowds to welcome him to London.
Protest? Paid actors acting out sad acts (like
Henslowe’s men mincing my eternal lost lines)!
Tory pretenders tumble like clowns.
With no shouts or claps at every pause
between his stumbled words, he sits
scowling at empty applause. He will enter
this moment, buy transnational space
within ‘our’ national places.
(The anthology misprints my chosen verb ‘eternize’.
A new word enternizes the world as I enter you!)

6th June 2019

 He appears in book three too, in my ‘overdub’ of Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’, to be published in Tears in the Fence in 2021. I write about that here:

It has to be said, he is less present in British Standards as book three will probably be called. Maybe that’s as should be. Even this week I wondered whether to refer to the way he manipulates his ‘fans’, when I ended the latest version of a John Keats transposition with these words: “In these times, I think of Bertrand Russell’s summary of the ethics in Stefan Themerson’s writing: ‘The world contains too many people believing too many things, and it may be that the ultimate wisdom is contained in the precept that the less we believe, the less harm we shall do.’”  

I think I’ll let that ‘In these times’ speak both generally and specifically to our historical instance. On the other hand, will I be able to resist the Mayor of Philly’s comment that Trump should put on his big boy pants? Donald, where’s your big boy troosers? Or, as I say in one of my poems: ‘Trump’s bitter fruit hangs like fake outsider art/ on the wailing wall of his mirrored pout,’ which I remember Charles Bernstein rather liking. The poem it’s from, ‘Huge Power and Sinful Sleep’, is dedicated to him. Charles, that is.

He does appear on a later poem in 'The English Strain', too, and I write about that here.

On this blog, I’ve documented ‘The English Strain’ as work has progressed. Here are two comprehensive posts to check out, one that looks at Book One, The English Strain here and another at Book Two, Bad Idea here .

Book Three (still in progress) is referred to, section by section, starting with these: For ‘Poems of National Independence’, see:

For ‘14 Standards’, see: .

For ‘Tabitha and Thunderer’, see here:

Lately, I've turned to Keats. I had some trouble getting going; you can read about my struggle (!) here:

Sunday, November 01, 2020

In Lieu of a Lowry Lounge 2020: Remaking the Voyage a book of essays

There is no ‘Lowry Lounge’ this year and I have been celebrating the Day of the Dead, upon which Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano was set, by reading the new essay volume on his work Remaking the Voyage, edited by Helen Tookey and Bryan Biggs (two major Firminists).

You can read more about it (and buy it) here:

 These essays are focussed on the ‘lost’ novel In Ballast to the White Sea. Like so many things that are declared ‘lost’, like Scott Walker or late Marcel Duchamp, the manuscript was hiding in plain sight (he left a copy with his mother in law, no jokes please). Now published, this unfinished novel of the 1930s has some marvellous scenes that are tackled here. Cian Quayle has done the walk around Liverpool that I’ve wanted to do, following the route through the centre of the city that the characters take. (Having not seen the centre of Liverpool since 11th March, I want to do this walk even more now!) Most of the essays are hard-core academic pieces and there are works by Lowry scholars Pat McCarthy, Chris Ackerley, Sherril Grace and others, and newcomers to Lowry, like my friend Christopher Madden. I haven’t read much of it, but I can test a decent academic work when I weigh one in my hands, after years in the business, as it were. I look forward to reading it (it arrived on Friday, you see, and I’ve still got Caleb Williams to finish).

In 2018 (last year I missed the events) I posted an account of the Lowry ‘open mic’ which was a successful feature of the day, and I also added links to previous years’ celebrations, which I will repeat here (along with two non-November Lowry posts that I’d like to draw attention to). There’s a video of John Hyatt’s piece as well.

The first lounge was held in 2009, and celebrated the publication of the first volume edited by Helen Tookey and Bryan Biggs, From Mersey to the Sea:

This was a book I was in, with a piece about walking to Lowry’s grave, a semi-psychogeographical trek that I undertook in 1979, which I re-traced through my notes (I was thinking of the way Lowry’s Dark as the Grave… stalks Under the Volcano). Here’s a post marking my realisation that the walk in 1979 was undertaken exactly 40 years ago. Here’s that one:

 I became very interested in the work of Lowry’s single disciple, David Markson, whose own late novels seem to be masterpieces of post-modernism. I read some of his work at the 2012 Lounge. (Another year, I remember, I read from Lowry’s mentor, Conrad Aiken’s Unshant.)

One of my big contributions to the celebrations was getting Iain Sinclair to talk about Lowry and I documented that year’s event at Bluecoat in some detail. By that time I’d written my book on Sinclair, during the writing of which I’d wondered inconclusively whether Sinclair was influenced by Lowry. (If you are to follow any one of these links, I’d recommend this one first. Lots of photos.)

 My accounts are not systematic; there are some years missing. So let's jump to 2016:

 2017 included the conference upon which Remaking the Voyage is based. I was in attendance (I didn’t present: I am not a scholar of Lowry, and don’t wish to be.) Shirrell Grace’s paper also introduced me to the novels of Timothy Findley (a great fan of Lowry’s who left no traces of his fandom as that elusive ghost 'influence'!). I read his Headhunters after the conference and was astounded: The Heart of Darkness translated to Toronto.

That conference was the last time most of us met the pioneer Lowry scholar (and perfect Belgian gent) Vik Doyen. It is good to see that he is remembered in an afterword. I remember him here (and our special ‘Belgian’ link):

I have no doubt there will be more events to come, though it becomes difficult to know what else there is left to ‘cover’, as they. And whatever we do, it must lead us back to these difficult, desperate, writings.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Robert Sheppard: The last two Empty Diary poems are published on Stride

 I have two ‘Empty Diaries’ published in Stride:

Empty Diary 2019, HERE  

and ‘Empty Diary 2020’, HERE!

They are quite special to me, since I see them as the last ‘Empty Diary’ poems. (But see my note below!) And it is nice that the project (if that’s what it was) should appear on Stride since Rupert Loydell was the publisher who first collected the poems in print, for which I am eternally grateful, as I am for these two. 

The original publication of Empty Diaries contained ‘Empty Diaries’ 1901-1990. (Exeter: Stride, 1998). Revised, they reappeared, reprinted in Complete Twentieth Century Blues, Cambridge: Salt Publishing, 2008, with additional poems, the ‘Empty Diaries’ 1991-2000, scattered throughout the text, not as a sequence (but as a ‘strand’): see here:

 There was also a Cyberpunk ‘Empty Diary 2055’ inserted into the batch and an ‘Empty Diary 1327’ in Petrarch 3, but they are special cases (clearly!).  Read about 'Empty Diary 2055' and see images by Patricia Farrell from its Ship of Fools publication  here

The whole sequence (written between about 1991 and 2020, with gaps) is now expired, along with my desire/need to write sonnets. (The English Strain has also demonstrated this ‘turn’).

Below you will find links to certain poems from the sequence (if that’s what it is) which have appeared online, but I will say a little about the project (if that’s what it is) first.

I remember the early stretch, 1901-90, conceived as writings out of photographs featuring women, as sheets of paper with the date at the top, which I would fill in a non-linear way. If I found a photograph with a woman in it for 1963 I would make notes on the ‘1963’ page and forget about them. Once I’d filled the sheets, I would work sequentially through the notes making poems from them, sometimes one a day throughout holidays from the FE college I worked at. That was the theory, and often the practice, but I inserted extras (quotations, other interfering materials) into the mix, and this account simplifies the process, as does memory!

From 1992 onwards, the poems were written in the years denoted, and subject to various processes. Though the focus on women and representations of women was important. I think you can see gender relations performed in the photographic representations of any time (particularly where men take the photos, but also – differently, crucially – where women do too). I think I was trying to write what I thought feminist poets with an innovative leaning should be writing. Remember, they were few and far between, when I began, though there were plenty of feminist poets writing in mainstream or popular modes. But any decisions about the sequence (like ‘the woman narrator is always a woman of 35’) were countermanded by some other part of it. It wasn’t theoretical, and little affected by feminist theory itself. I thought of it as the backbone of my long poem Twentieth Century Blues – and that it was finished with ‘Empty Diary 2000’, the final poem of the blues (dedicated to Barry MacSweeney). 

There is also a selection of them in my Selected Poems, the best ones I hope: History or Sleep from Shearsman. See here

In about 2014, I broke my rule that all the ‘strands’ of 
Twentieth Century Blues should end with that book, I decided to extend this one sequence into the current century: ‘Empty Diaries 2001-14’. A corona, note, 14 sonnets. (Again!) They are egregiously rude, using Google sculpting for the new century, rather than photographic ekphrasis.

Since 2015 I have been writing one a year (as were those written 1991-2000, by the way).  

‘Empty Diary 2019’ was ‘twittersculpted’, a tight bundle of what we find on a certain type of twitterfeed. I read it here. 


‘Empty Diary 2020’ had to deal with sex in the time of Corona (as ‘Empty Diary 1920’ touched on the Spanish Flu, see below), and did. In South Korea, they re-introduced stadium sports (empty terraces rather than empty diaries) by packing the seats with sex dolls. Imagine the groundman having to blow them all up! (An image I couldn’t get into the poem, by the way, as I similarly failed to use the line ‘Until then, sweetheart, enjoy his vanilla sundae,’ in ‘Empty Diary 2019’!). It is not google or twitter-sculpted, but written, consciously, as a sonnet (and it fits well with the sonnets of British Standards which were written around it.) I read it here. 

In addition to these two published this week, a group of earlier 'diaries' are online, and you can access them from the links below.

‘Empty Diary 1920’ may be read here:

The ‘Empty Diaries’ for 1905, 1936, 1954, 1968 may be read here:

(These I read for the Archive of the Now. A link is provided to the sound recordings of them.)

See 'Empty Diary 1956' 

'Empty Diary 1990' may be read here:

And here:

Empty Diary 1993 may be read here:

‘Empty Diary 2000’, the final poem in Twentieth Century Blues, may be read here (at
 the bottom of the page:

The first eight twenty-first century ‘Empty Diaries’ appeared online in The Literateur, now a dead site, unfortunately. But good news: the second six appeared, and still appear, in a wonderful edition of 
Blackbox ManifoldSee here.

This 2015 one has a touch of the bossa nova about it: 
Empty Diary 2015

The 2016 Empty Diary was published in the special 50th issue of Erbacce. See 

On BlazeVOX you may read ‘Empty Diary 2017’ and ‘Empty Diary 2018’ (scroll past the excerpts from ‘Elegiac Sonnets’):

 Update 2021: You can guess what's happened! I've written an 'Empty Diary 2021'. Entitled 'Fleshly Encroachments' it is in a sort of lineated prose that alludes to the poems of the 1990s, and is my first poem, post the sonnets of The English Strain and of 'Empty Diary 2019' and '2020'. It looks like the strand of poems is continuing...