Friday, January 31, 2020

Robert Sheppard: one sonnet from 'Breakout' my first Brexit poem for Brexodus Night

didn’t think

it would be like this green murk 
slanted light catches the national fish basking
just below the surface black lengths wait
sluggish broody & autarkic stirring things up

for a jape the men see where 
to cast their bait vote British now 
it’s an antonym to paki spat in 
the street but the fish rest unmoved

as a terror truck ploughs into a 
celebrant crowd its national day 100s of 
miles away the continent we no longer
belong to our sympathy tempered by autonomy –

they’ve got our country back for us
and now they want it for themselves

Those last two lines seem prophetic of this hour, though written in 2016. Hear me read it all here:

This poem is from 'The English Strain' book one, which I describe here.

Bad Idea ((book two of 'The English Strain') is described fully (with links to other published poems from the work) here:

Idea’s Mirror (the last part of book two!) is described here:

Here is a link that links to all the links to the good things on this blog:

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Solo Thoughts on Collaboration 4: Literary Collaboration part one

The first three parts of these posts may be accessed from this post here:

I want to finally get round to defining literary collaboration as the co-creation of a literary work or works by two or more writers by whatever method. And I want to begin by exploring the instances where I have adopted this possibly large range of methods. In other words, where there is no other medium involved (music, dance, visual art practices), although there are elements of vocal performance involved now and again. As with other parts of this enquiry, I shall be considering the activities on the ‘Collaboration’ page of my website, which I believe is comprehensive. (I update it each summer, here.) They fall into three categories: early literary collaborations, ones deriving from the ‘Enemies’ project and its offshoots, and the EUIOA project resulting in Twitters for a Lark. Later posts will cover the last two areas: if you want to read those use the link above.

Bob Cobbing

With Bob Cobbing I made two collaborations. On both occasions Bob wanted the text to be … well, text. Not to be sound or visual poetry. Possibly he thought I was incapable of producing such work (he was right) or he wanted to do what he seldom did in later years: produce a purely lexical text. 
First there was Codes and Diodes (Writers Forum 1991), a processual piece using the text and left-overs from my poetic introduction to Processual. (That may be read here: )

I literally gave him the scraps of paper in a bag and he made the extraordinary opening text, out of it. The following texts are produced from this ‘fixed’ vocabulary, which of course is not the vocabulary of the introduction. They were the parts that were used! We took turns about 4 times.

Then, a year before Cobbing’s death, we worked on Blatent Blather/ Virulent Whoops, a text written between July and October 2001, whose text may be read
here. A video of Patricia Farrell and I reading a revival of the text at The Other Room is visible on The Other Room website. (See video here: Written via the post (other collaborations have involved email) we took turns to write however many three line stanzas we desired. It somewhat scrambles a reader’s sense of who wrote what. That’s something I think is quite important, so that contributions can’t be assigned, sourced, and a text begins to stand on its own, as though authored by a single, though plural entity. Dialogue becomes collaboration. In terms of content, it picked up themes or motifs, e.g. names of rivers, kinds of animal, etc. (I suspect Bob had books of facts and word lists to work from.)
[NB 2021: These two collaborations are now available together, from Veer: see Pages: COLLABORATIONS (Bob Cobbing - Robert Sheppard) published in a box by Veer - out now ]

Scott Thurston

In contrast, the poems emphatically lyrical, with Scott Thurston I produced Turns (published by Ship of Fools/The Radiator, 2003). This was a slow to-and fro-ing collaboration undertaken over several years, one poem each. It begins with ‘The Blickling Hall Poem’, which I wrote in 1980 (when Scott was 7!
‘The Blickling Hall Poem’ may be read Here. ), and decades later Scott responded to it with a single lyric poem. And so on, taking, as the title reminds us, turns. Then after 2003 there was a long gap, but the poem Scott wrote for the book he edited, An Educated Desire, which appeared (literally) on my 60th birthday in 2015, seems another ‘turn’. I’ve lazily said I’ll write a response to that and ‘Turns’ will then be started again. Though if Scott waits another 12 years that’s going to be a long wait. It’s clear who wrote what poem, although it doesn't say so. It is self-consciously a dialogue. Mind-bendingly slow. (News just in 31 January 2020: I've jut received a request from an editor to include 'The Blickling Hall Poem' in an anthology of 'country house' poems! Interestingly, the editor found the poem on this blog. Kevin Gardner and John Greening edit this  anthology Hollow Palaces. Read about that here, and watch me read the poem on video: Pages: Robert Sheppard: The Blickling Hall Poem (re: History or Sleep Selected Poems) .)  

With Rupert Loydell, our book Risk Assessment (Damaged Goods, 2006) resulted from a fast email exchange. I still have copies available free. We adopted a method (not saying what!) that means you can’t discern who wrote what. Re-reading them, I can’t. Here’s a few still online:

I hadn’t realized so much of it was online. I hope some of you stop to read them.

Rupert Loydell

Rupert Loydell I regard as one of the two Mr Collaborations. Rupert has undertaken a lot of collaborative writing and art projects, and his creativity seems to bounce off of his collaborative encounters. I think I agree, although my own collaborative work (until the EUOIA) was sporadic, although writing these posts, I’m discovering that I’ve collaborated far more frequently and variously than I would have imagined. It breaks up the monotony of solo production, throws one’s imagination into the pit of somebody else’s, with whom you will, must, interact. You can change and they can too. Something unforeseen (though not necessarily unplanned) is produced. Something neither could have produced on his or her own. Possibly something in a third voice.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Robert Sheppard; Thoughts on Collaboration 3 (a digression on translation and transpositioin)

Parts one and two may be read here:

The first link is also a hubpost containing links to all posts...

I turn now, or I will do, soon, I promise, to literary collaboration. (I am still for the moment thinking about my own collaborations, out of interest for the future, and also to ‘get me going’ on an article on literary collaboration for a collection to be published next year.) I want to define lit. collab. as the co-creation of a literary work or works by two or more writers by whatever method.

But first I want to examine one hybrid example which could have been covered when I was discussing collaborations with Jo Blowers in the last post. This is a performance collaboration of a poem by me. Twice in the autumn of 2014, Jo Blowers, Steve Boyland and I performed an interactive three voice piece (a text from A Translated Man treated) at 8 Water Street and at the reading series I co-directed, Storm and Golden Sky. See photos and details here. It’s a reworking of the poem, ‘Kybartai Nocturne’, which begins:

what is that sound 
humming like an antique fridge packed with ice
the hint of a turbine something turning
            a patient siren rising and falling....

The poem was reversioned, using the ‘canon’ technique deployed in 'Revolutionary Song', which you can read here. It is actually a poem by my fictional poet Rene Van Valckenborch, or no, it’s by his fictional poet, Jurgita Zujute. (This is so complex that I never bothered explaining to our audiences.) See: and

Steve, Me, Jo

I write about the interactive, improvisational performances with Jo and Steve here :

You will notice, from the photos, that Jo Blowers is here performing vocally with Steve Boyland (and me). She'd trained with him. A great voice artist, I would like to collaborate more with Steve in the future, though he seems (happily) busy these days. As I say in ‘Thoughts 1’, music is the ‘other’ medium I understand best, though whether we achieved music or multivoiced recitation is debatable. It was not recorded.

The second ‘example’ of collaboration is one I noted twice in my reading yesterday, as it happens. Juha Virtanen in his book Poetry and Performance During the British Poetry Revival 1960-1980: Event and Effect, writes of Eric Mottram’s multi-voiced collage performance poem:

The quotations in Pollock Record permeate each other’s pores and interstices, creating layer upon layer of new relations in the process; therefore, the interactions between these materials cannot be construed as a passive absorption of American influences. More accurately, Pollock Record is an arena where Mottram attempts to actively work with Pollock as a mutual collaborator. (p 93)

Similarly, but scholarly, as it were, Holly A. Laird wonders at the end of her Women Coauthors whether her whole book hasn’t been a collaboration with the pairs of writers she writes about.
I think in the latter case, the ‘collaboration’ is metaphorical, and nothing like the work of ‘Michael Field’, for example, which she examines. I think Juha’s case is a better one, because of the form of the collagic text (big sheets of paper with selected quotations attached). The active form makes it akin to collaborative equality (in a way that Laird’s critical discourse cannot; nothing wrong with that!). It’s as close to a ‘mutual collaborator’ as one can get, BUT, of course, Pollock has no say in it. However elastic his sayings or practices or analogous bits of text selected by Mottram may be, however activated, animated, Pollock as a creator is never fully co-creator. He’s a pre-creator, but his words and images may be actively refunctioned (but that, in my reading, and Virtanen’s, actually, is simply to say that it is read or received in performance. All reading, like writing, is an act-event. (I say a little more about this in ‘Thoughts 1’. It’s out of Derek Attridge again.)). Mottram’s is an ‘attempt’ in Virtanen’s words.

Think of Frank Sinatra. I often do (so did Mottram: he had Close to You I remember amongst his cassettes). Think of those not entirely Duets albums, Frank’s postmodern period. Frank recorded the songs (perhaps with gaps, perhaps straight with added edited drop-outs) and then the other (Bono or Aretha Franklin) sang to the recordings (never encountering Mr Sinatra). They were duetting with him, but he wasn’t duetting with them. That’s not a mutual collaboration. As to Tony Bennett ‘duetting’ with the long-dead Billie Holiday…

Dialogue with materials, selected ones, is not the same as interaction with a creator or co-creator. Which is not to say the illusion of collaboration or even duetting is not possible to conjure in the way Juha beautifully describes. I follow Attridge’s sense that to feel a text ‘authored’ is part of its event and effect. Same must follow for coauthored. 

I had not thought to consider them here, but the works in the two books of ‘The English Strain’ project so far raise some questions of this kind. (See here for ‘The English Strain’, book one, and here for Bad Idea, the English Strain book two. Lots of materials and links. I will not re-describe the project here, although it is worth recording that, as with the fictional poet project which I touched on above, I’m wondering whether there will be a third part (or whether I will ‘end my solo before I’m done’, to quote Miles Davis (again)).  

I don’t think I’ve been collaborating (in ‘The English Strain’ manuscript) with Petrarch in Petrarch 3, with Milton in ‘Overdubs from Milton’, with Wyatt in Hap: Understudies of Sir Thomas Wyatt's Petrarch, with Surrey in ‘Surrey with the Fringe on Top’, with Charlotte Smith in the ‘Elegaic Sonnets’, or with Elizabeth Barrett Browning in ‘Non Disclosure Agreement’.

See here for a few poems from ‘Non-Disclosure Agreement’:

Nor do I think I’ve been collaborating with Michael Drayton in ‘Bad Idea’ and ‘Idea’s Mirror, which together comprise the ‘Bad Idea’ manuscript.

Four consecutive poems from Bad Idea (XLV-XLVIII) are published together in International Times. HERE .

I feel that I have been in some sort of communion with the authors, but I know that is an imagined and, I hope, imaginative, experience. One not communicated to the readers. Though I felt a certain nobility in Wyatt, while Surrey (this is reflected in the title I gave his section) was a bit of a tit. In fact, with his conspicuous consumption, his acts of vandalism, his recklessness as a soldier, I felt he was like the (Tory) Cambridge undergraduate who burnt a £20 note in front of a homeless man. Hopeless, privileged shitbag. (Played by Lawrence Fox in the film?)

‘Some say I’m a funny old translator,/ ‘expanded’ like a supersized cod piece,’ writes ‘my’ Michael Drayton.

The term ‘expanded translation’ has been used of some of the works that influenced this project (particularly the Petrarch versions of Peter Hughes and Tim Atkins, which I write about here: )

I found myself on the fringes of the AHRC project investigating ‘expanded translation’, both via my chapter on Hughes and Atkins in The Meaning of Form (which was part of an excellent reading pack, and Sophie Collins’ anthology had been published by then), but via the ‘fictional poets’ project (ironically, because although the poems claim to be translations, there are no originals, not even of ‘Kybarti Nocturne’, even with the Google translate version ‘back’ into Lithuanian on the EUOIA website. Wait for the arrival of a real Lithuanian poet-collaborrator in a later post!).

See here for the Bangor launch of Twitters for a Lark which was part of that:

But the ‘English Strain’ poems are more like ‘expanded’ translations than the fake translations of the ‘EUIOA’ project! They are ‘more like’ but they are not. In fact, the word I have settled on to describe this kind of writing is ‘transposition’. Of course, in the titles I have used the words ‘overdub’ and ‘understudy’ to describe my attitude to the poems. In the one case I am providing new words for an old poem (like Eric Thompson’s narratives for ‘The Magic Roundabout’!); in the other, I am offering my voice as a substitute. In the ‘Surrey’ sequence I even declare ‘direct rule’ (I was thinking of Northern Ireland) but I claimed I was speaking over the poem, taking over the poet. Actually, most of the poems are subtle, and not so subtle, re-workings, re-writings, writings-through, of the ‘originals’. I’m not collaborating at all. Sometimes it’s more like taking them hostage and forcing them to write a confession. Sometimes.  I also want to avoid analysing my techniques too much, because I may not be through with the method.

I should record I also don’t like Jacobson’s ‘intralingual translation’ much, though that is useful (particularly for a virtual monoglot: ‘O’ Level French: fail). ‘Versioning’ I’ve used before, but I prefer to use that of transformations of my own work (with the emphasis on ‘form’ as always). I use it above to describe what our vocal trio did to or with ‘Kybarti Nocturne’.

‘Transpositions’: I believe poetics is often finding what one already knows. I hit upon the term ‘transposition’ to discover that I’d already used it, well before I took it from Idea’s favourite philosopher Rosi Braidetti. She notes its use in music: ‘Transposition indicates variations and shifts of scale in a discontinuous but harmonious pattern … an in-between space of zigzagging and of crossing: nonlinear and chaotic, but in the productive sense of unfolding virtual spaces.’ (RB Reader: 226).

Or in genetics: ‘Transposition refers to processes of mutation, or the transferral of genetic information, that occur in a nonlinear manner … Transposable moves … dissociation of bonds’ etc. (p. 226)

More generally: ‘An intertextual, cross-boundary or transversal transfer of codes .. a leap …’ (p. 226)

Something like that will serve, I think. Poetics is not a blueprint but a thumbnail. Braidetti is interested in the process of transposition; so am I when I am writing the poems, possibly the reason for the rituals of composition with these ‘English Strain’ transpositions, which I have written about elsewhere, and which is entirely new to my writing behaviour, it strikes me now for the first time. Whereas the event-act of writing produces this thing, this transposition. It will serve, yes. The action is on the part of the author, but what is authored is produced from the active interaction with the creation of another, involving some acts of selection. The original text is indeed changed in the act-event of subsequent readings, which is why I like to see my ‘English Strain’ poems read against the originals. In ‘Petrarch 3’ that’s achieved by having 14 versions of one translation from Petrarch. Occasionally this fact may be demonstrated in presentations of other poems. Here’s one of the Earl of Surrey's poems with my transposition of it:

It lays bare the method(s) of ‘transposition’ used in this case, and again it’s not my job to itemise the techniques. I do not feel it fully adheres to the meaning I want to circumscribe as ‘collaboration’. I’m not particularly concerned if others disagree with me. For me, this is about the essay I’m writing, but it’s also about teasing out what I might write next, creatively.

In terms of what I will write next on this blog it is to return to my opening paragraph here and launch off into my own ‘literary collaborations’. I want to finally get round to defining lit. collab. as the co-creation of a literary work or works by two or more writers by whatever method.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Robert Sheppard: 3 sonnets from 'Idea's Mirror' published in International Times

Three new(ish) sonnets have been published in International Times. They are described as ‘Overdubs of Michael Drayton in the Voice of Idea, his Muse’, but are in fact the last three poems in the sequence ‘Idea’s Mirror’, my supplement to ‘Bad Idea’. Together, the two sequences form the manuscript of ‘Bad Idea’, the second ‘book’ of ‘The English Strain’ project. These are the first to appear from ‘Idea’s Mirror’.


This showing of just pre- and just post- 2019 Election poems is accompanied by Patricia Farrell’s fine illustration of a Techno-Dogging Site. News just in is that Michael Go will be opening the first post-Brexit dogging site (in Kent) on Independence Day. It has been announced that the new national sport (of sovereign global britain), dogging, will be organised by a new Government (sorry, People's) agency called The National Thrust. 

You can see the three original Drayton poems I have transposed here (the last three 'Amours' poems):

Bad Idea is described fully (with links to other published poems from the work) here:

Idea’s Mirror is described here:

That post also contains some thoughts about the then possible shapes of any ‘English Strain’, book three. I think now it will include the Wordsworth option, and may involve versions, overdubs, understudies or transpositions of Romantic sonnets.

And you can look up another eight online poems from Bad Idea that may be accessed from this post:

Thanks to Rupert Loydell, Stride and IT poetry editor, for taking them all. 

[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: ]

Friday, January 24, 2020

Robert Sheppard: Thoughts on Collaboration 2

(Thoughts on Collaboration 1 may be read here:

This post will also operate as the hubpost for this strand as it grows)

Collaborating with someone (when it is not a matter of setting in music or illustration in image) is truly experimental, and can feel more so when one does not possess the language of that other medium. (That might be code for: one does not know what one is doing.)

The language I (think) I understand most is music. I have occasionally added my own music to performances. You can still view my 2008 re-enactment of a late 1990s version of my ‘mythology of the blues’, ‘Smokestack Lightning’ here.

And here is a photograph of me not publicly eating a hamburger but playing the harmonica and singing one of my ‘Petrarch 3’ variations (one not in print, incidentally, since I see it as a performance piece only, a ‘song’ actually).

But working with musicians is rare. I’ve read part of the text with The Blind Lemons too, but that was an impromptu (though Tony Parsons did used to read the passage himself at some gigs.) (See here.)

 But that wasn’t quite what I mean and isn’t listed on the ‘Collaborations’ page of my website, which is the best guide to what I have achieved collaboratively. See here:

As you will see from that page the only straight music was work with Peter F. Stacey and our Ship’s Orchestra group, circa 1980. He and Stevie Wishart did set some poems to music, and we had a piece by Christopher Fox written for us. (He was not then a well-known composer.) We had a go at a piece Bob Cobbing had given me: ‘Mind Axe-Ting’ I think it’s called. But it’s all a bit vague now, and nothing was recorded. I wanted to cassette record us but Peter kept saying we’d get into the UEA studio one day – but we never did. (I also sang briefly in a folk band with them!)

Working with musicians is something I’d like to attempt again. (I mean apart from being in a band as a singer, something I’ve kept quite distinct from this kind of collaboration. And no, I don’t write generally write songs.)

Bob Cobbing and I did perform Blatant Blather/Virulent Whoops – and I believe that was filmed. There are flights of sound poetry in it, using the visual score that I introduced. (Bob wanted the text to be purely lexical (The text may be read here..) Patricia Farrell and I have revived the piece a number of times in homage to Bob. I’ll come back to the text of that exchange in a later post.

(See video here:

 By contrast, my ‘Collaborations’ page details (at least in gig terms) the works I wrote for (and with) Jo Blowers. ‘Shutters’, was ‘with’ because she identified passages in a draft of the poem that she liked and I developed only those. In general terms, I don’t think I ever understood the language of movement in performance, although I think I wrote great pieces for her and other dancers to use (in many different ways, it should be said). We are both living locally and occasionally works are revived. See Here and here.

My longest collaborations have been with Patricia Farrell. That was amply demonstrated at the Edge Hill Ship of Fools exhibition that accompanied the Robert Sheppard Symposium in 2017. Collaboration methods varied from – occasionally – illustration of a pre-existing text (our New Year’s cards are usually a rushed version of this). Even some of the best might be thought of as ‘illustrations’, Mesopotamia, Fucking Time, for instance, but the default collaboration method seems to be for us both to look at the same thing and to produce two semi-autonomous sets of works which we then present together. ‘Looking North’: we took photographs together of North London in 1987 and then produced the works and combined them. ‘The Blickensderfer Punch’: ditto with the typewriters in the Ship and Mitre around 2001. Fandango Loops: ditto with images of Copenhagen (although I did use the shapes of Patricia’s abstract images to determine the shape of the unconventional quennets that were produced): 2012ish. On my part it is to be classed as ekphrasis (but only in the twisted way I approach it, which I explain here. Open Eye.) Writing this account gets me thinking we should do another collaboration soon! To do so I suspect we would identify a focus and then photograph it or work from images of it. (Patricia has also taken part as a collaborator in performance with me, not just as in the Cobbing piece, but as a second voice in various contexts. She often provides covers for my books, but again they aren’t quite collaborations, although they come from a collaborative life, as it were.)

with Patricia Farrell cover
You can get a sense of all this from the grainy photos of the Ship of Fools exhibition. Here
are lots of photographs of that accessible through another loaded hub post


I shall later return to deal with the two literary collaborations we have produced. (You can also see what Patricia is up to solo via her website:

This is her own page on ‘Collaborations’ too:

Reading at the exhibition (Pete's works behind)

For a far shorter period I have been collaborating with the painter and print-maker Pete Clarke. He has had along practice of using text in images as a kind of secondary signifier. Patricia, by contrast, would not combine the two languages, although she both paints and writes. (She has also written a perceptive piece on the collaborations with Pete in The Robert Sheppard Companion. See here:

.) Our first batch of collaborations was exhibited in full at the 2013 Edge Hill exhibition (see here:

). The most recent have thus far only been seen as the cover of last year’s Micro Event Space which contains the ‘Arena Area’ text written after our walk around the docks of Liverpool. He has dozens of small canvases with (parts of) my minimal text upon it. Take the first poem:

parked in the park forever

a darkness that darkens the lungs
concentrated pitch

See how that appears on the cover of the book:

 Cover Micro Event Space:

Here are some links. Read more about the book (including links to its micro-launches, other reviews and how to purchase it) HERE! 

More here: Pages: Pete Clarke's new catalogue and our on-going collaborations (

Working with Pete is a slow burner but there will be future opportunities, I’m sure, simply to show some of the work and possibly to read some of it.

Thomas Ingmire is an American calligrapher and we have ‘collaborated’ on a couple of pieces, I think. I put collaborated in inverted commas because he doesn’t think that that is what we have been doing. ‘Interactive’ would be the word. The first piece he worked on was a calligraphic version of a poem from Warrant Error called ‘Afghanistan’ (the poem itself was produced from photos). I don’t recall the process. But I write about it here.


The most recent piece, ‘Synovial Joints’, was for Thomas’ 2018-19 exhibition at the Jewett Gallery in San Francisco, ‘Visual Poetry: A Lyrical Twist’. (See here for more information, images and a video:

). He sent me images and I had to choose which ones I liked. I think: which ones reflected either the music I was interested in, or the poem. My poem was an outtake of the ‘overdubs’ I produced from the sonnets of Milton. It combined phrases from Milton’s sonnet for musician Henry Lawes and an interview with Steve Coleman, the jazz sax player, whose album provided the title. At some point I was also responding to a recording of solo sax by a friend of Thomas, Clifford Burke. I think it was an interpretation of his calligraphy for the first poem. Anyway, whatever the case, the process involved interactive decisions on my part that fed into, possibly determined, parts of the final work. Unlike Patricia and Pete, the artist and his studio are not near at hand, so this is how it has to be. I dearly want to write a poem for him, perhaps interacting with his calligraphy. Certainly the theme of music has been flagged up for future use.

Image of poster
part of the calligraphy for 'Synovial Joints' at the top

Talking of music, my most immediate collaboration is concerned with music – and this time the non-literary art is photography. I’ve used photography a lot in my writing and in some of my collaborations (and I talk about that here, along with (rejected) earlier plans for the work I now am describing.) My friend Trev Eales was always keen on rock (and some folk, less jazz) music and we met in October 1974 at a Thin Lizzy concert at UEA, and we’ve been friends since. In later years he took to photographing at rock and world music festivals, eventually working for organisers and online review magazines (I think). I looked at his website (see here: and was astonished by some of the photos (both the rock festival commissions and his landscape work). He lives in Barrow-in-Furness and over the last ten years we’ve been meeting in Lancaster during the day now and then, in all weathers. One sunny day, at a pub by the river, I posited the notion that I might write a few poems to go with a few of his photos – and maybe they could be exhibited. This couldn’t be a simultaneous co-composition. I wasn’t with him at the concerts. It was therefore his job to arrange the images in what we called ‘galleries’, groups often of three images. Some were of bands (The Rolling Stones, Blur), some of music types (reggae artists, senior women), some in relation to their physical stances, some were even based around musical instruments (bass players). Kamasi Washington was all on his lonesome as a jazz saxophone player. In the poem for him I refer to bumping into him in the street with another friend, the poet James Byrne. Otherwise I am absent from the poems as I was absent from the festivals. Halfway through the process, though, we did attend the ill-fated Hope and Glory Festival in Liverpool together (I liked the VIP lanyard!) , and although none of Trev’s photos from that day were used in the final work, it was important for me to see him at work, crushed in the press pit, leaping up during a performance at a decisive moment. However, we did see Badly Drawn Boy (not to be confused with my son, Badly Overdrawn Boy, another collaboration with Patricia!) and I recall the sudden change in acoustic – but mostly the sense of menace I felt about the failure of crowd control. Nobody misbehaved but we were crushed in by crowds in narrow passages, and nobody from Liverpool in that crush could not have not thought of Hillsborough. (Not a day goes by in Liverpool without a thought of Hillsborough.) Here’s the poem:

Badly Drawn Boy

After the belly-rumble bass, the
diaphragm-rattling beat, these
domed thoughts come pure and raw,
acoustic bliss. Framed, projected,
he could dwarf his own performance.

We stand well back and watch
the crowd washing over a wall.

Crushed in a funnel of shuffles,
the pressure at our backs compels.
Lost, we cease to listen. Uncrowded

notes float
into the Victorian Liverpool sky.

Selection was as much its artifice as collaboration. Trev’s selection and combination of images. Then my selection of galleries to write through. My problem was trying to minimize the prevalence of male artists and guitar-players. I think we achieved a balance (more or less: depends how you count: people in the photos, the ‘star’ of the band, the faces in the crowd?)… Of course, photos from the press pit (the photographers are allowed in for the first three numbers only) have a uniform angle, so it was good to see Damon Albarn from above, the Jessie J band face on, Arcade Fire from a long way away. There was a lot of to and fro-ing on email and also one meeting at The Sun in Lancaster with Trev’s laptop. 

Originally the poems were going to be short, and relatively accessible. We were thinking of an exhibition only, but that’s not likely now. In fact, we had a book lined up, but that was unavoidably pulled. As of now (I'm updating this post on 14th July 2020) we are not sure where the project will go, if anywhere. There is a series of poems of course, but not all of them will see the light of day. 

That brings it up to date. There are some future plans. Pete and I will doubtless carry on. Thomas has gestured towards more. Trev has his bucolic side to consider. Patricia and I ought to attempt another work (a text and image work) soon.

The keywords that emerge are: collaboration: interaction: selection: arrangement. The one thing that hasn’t happened is simultaneity, actually writing while music, drawing, painting, printing, calligraphy, or photography is happening. Pete collaborates with the Koln artist Georg Gartz and they literally paint on the same surface at the same time. Must be fun. (My one use of simultaneity is among my literary collaborations, the one with Ian McMillan.) 

Why do it? I’ve just mentioned fun, and that can be there, certainly. If it isn’t fun, as Robert Creeley wrote, don’t do it! Fellowship with another artist is important. With someone you respect and trust. Then you can afford to experiment, to make mistakes as well as takes. There is give and take, which is rare for a writer (unless you write for the theatre). You’re suddenly not alone. Dialogue. Community. But mostly it must be for the challenge of change. It will change you, it will change the work, not just the unprecedented and unpredictable work that is produced from interaction and collaboration, but the practice that lies outside of that. It involves an act-event that abandons poetics in the service of changing poetics. And you hope in some sense it is that for the other party (or parties) too. There is the added strangeness of working across media, in situations one doesn’t completely control or understand, but I think these reasons for participating in collaboration are generally the same for working within the same medium. That’s a surprise.  

And the subject of my next forthcoming post... Part three, is here.

This post above will also serve as the hubpost for all the posts in this strand

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Robert Sheppard: Thughts on Collaboration 1: Introduction

[Links to later posts in this 'collaboration' strand are at the bottom of this post.]

I am writing an article on the theme of ‘collaboration’ in contemporary British poetry. I see collaboration as being quite vital to many poets’ operations today. It seems like a good subject, and I could attack the issue academically quite well, I hope. However, as in most aspects I concentrate on in my criticism (ethics, history, form) they have a spin off into my creative practice, though the creative practice also has ‘themes’ that I do not investigate (ekphrasis, gender, Brexit) in my critical practice. Which I think is a good thing. Floating between the two is the discourse of poetics, of course. This is a subject about which I have written a great deal. (See my ‘Necessity of Poetics’ work HERE:

I may well call the piece I am writing ‘From Dialogue Out: Modes of Literary Collaboration in Innovative Contemporary British Poetry’. By literary collaboration, I mean to delimit the exercise, so I will be excluding multimedia from the discussion (just as well because another contributor to the collection will be covering that area). I want to consider, as a way of easing myself into the discussion, and as a way of thinking back on what I have collaborated upon, both literary and extra-literary collaboration. There is a difference between writing words together with someone and mixing words with image, sound, movement. I think I will consider what I have attempted in the last category first, because it is vitally important to me (but less so for the work directly in hand). Some of that is ongoing; some it is historical (another distinction). Actually, some of it may concern the future. One of the possible futures for the ‘fictional poet’ project, (see weebly
) weighs heavily upon me, though that might be a case of ‘fictional’ collaboration. (Don’t worry about that, just yet.) The pause in my ‘English Strain’ project (see here

or more fully, here:

), creates a vacuum into which all these ideas fall, abhorrently or otherwise.

Before I turn to those possibilities (the past neatly summarised on my website site on the page, notably called ‘Collaborations’, the plural suggesting the specificity of reference) I perhaps need to consider the term collaboration itself.

Afghanistan by Thomas Ingmire (text mine)

I know one of my collaborators, Thomas Ingmire, doesn’t think that’s what we are doing, and others, of course, don’t like the term for its political implications. ‘Collaborators’ with the Nazis were served severely by the French people after the Second World War. Boris Johnson called people from other parties ‘collaborators’ if they communicated with the EU, though they legitimately should have, in my opinion. After all, ‘Here’s his better world that’s pure idea, unseen: / ‘collaborators’ distract us from its flames’, as I put it in ‘Bad Idea LVII’, written last August. Part of me argues that to say that you’ve ‘executed’ a plan doesn’t mean you support capital punishment (Brexecutions are the aim of Brexit, I’ve always said, by the way, but I’ve not used that term (yet)). But … but … the connotations do remain. But … but … we have to use a word for it. Co-created? That’s not too bad, and it’s one I’ve used.

'Tangled Scree' by Pete Clarke (runner up for Adrian Henri Prize 2013)

In 2013, to accompany the exhibition at Edge Hill of work by Pete Clarke (with many of our collaborations included) see here:

I hastily convened a free symposium on ‘Collaboration’ at which I’m sure this issue was discussed. Though what I remember is the ‘show and tell’ aspect of it: Andrew McMillan on the poets’ nude calendar, Scott Thurston and Steve Boyland demonstrating voice collaboration… It was a great success but none of it was documented on this blog. (Did somebody write a report of it for the Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry , of which I was an editor at that time? Yes: Tom Jenks did. But I won’t search out the report just now. I’ve also lost a book, photocopies of pages from, ‘Laird, 2000, Female Co-Authors (reference incomplete)’, which also has some theorizing of the subject. Well, I've just (4/2/20) recovered the line up for the Symposium. Here:

Literary Collaboration – a symposium hosted by the Edge Hill University Poetry and Poetics Research Group (English and History Department)

23rd April 2013 1pm-9pm E1 (afternoon) & Hub 2 (evening)

E1 is in the Education Block beyond the lake. Hub 2 is upstairs in the Hub.

To accompany the exhibition of image and text MANIFEST by Pete Clarke and Robert Sheppard in the Edge Hill Arts Centre, Ormskirk, between April 8th – 26th

Schedule with 20 minute papers

1.30: 135: welcome

1.35-2.50: Session A: Processes, Texts and Artists (3 speakers)


Speakers: Andrew Taylor ( Nottingham Trent/Edge Hill): ‘Two Poets, Two Artists, and a Person who Makes Things’. 
Richard Barrett (Salford) ‘processual work might always be considered collaborative’ 
Joanne Ashcroft (Edge Hill) Collaborating with Mina Loy


3.00-4.00: Session B: Voice Text and Music  

Chair: Patricia Farrell
Judy Kendall (Salford) ‘The use of music and text in Seaming To's 'Songs for My Grandmother'
Andrew McMillan (JMU/Edge Hill) Collaborations with photographers: a 'third' voice emerges

4.00-5.10: Session C: Interdisciplinary Collaboration  


Speakers: Rebecca Sharp: Synaesthetic Poetics: interdisciplinary collaboration in three works– ‘Unmapped’ (poems + paintings, with Anna King); 
‘The Ballad of Juniper Davy and Sonny Lumiere’ (poetry in performance, with Elizabeth Willow); and ‘Rules of the Moon’ (text + sound, with Philip Jeck). 
Eleanor Rees (Exeter): 'Arne's Progress', A Contemporary Broadside': collaborating with Desdemona McCannon

Including Pete Clarke (UCLAN) in the exhibition space, The Arts Centre.

5.30 break


6.30-6.35: welcome

6.35-7.50: Session D: Image Text, the Graphic Novel, Collaborative Dramatic Writing  

Chair: Ailsa Cox

Patricia Farrell (Edge Hill) will speak on the collaborations of Clarke and Sheppard
Rodge Glass (Edge Hill) on writing a graphic novel
Kim Wiltshire (Edge Hill) Playwright collaborations in the Theatre

7.50-8.40: Session E: The Interface and Other Voices

Tom Jenks (Edge Hill) will speak on the human-machine interface

Steve Boyland and Scott Thurston (Salford) will speaking about voice-text-movement collaborations (30 mins max)

Final discussion until around 9.00

Post-Symposium Drink in Ormskirk

TEAM: Robert Sheppard - Joanne Ashcroft - Tom Jenks

I am currently reading Juha Virtanen’s Poetry and Performance During the British Poetry Revival 1960-1980: Event and Effect in which collaboration is discussed. What I am impressed with so far is his ‘conception of performances as events of intersubjective authorship and cacophonous collectivity’, (p. 21) which suggests (and I agree) that all literary events (he takes the term from Whitehead, I would go to Attridge) are kinds of collaborations.

I talk about act-events here: ) There will be more about that elsewhere. So far, I’ve only read chapter one, which is about The Royal Albert Hall Poetry Incarnation in 1965. Something I write about here:

This is also a hub post for the 'Thoughts on Collaboration' strand

This introductory part one, above, flags up the themes and surveys the territory, here:

In part two, I talk about ways I've collaborated across media here:

Part three, is 
here. I talk more about literary collaboration, but I also try to account for my own transformative practices (in 'The English Strain' project) that are not collaborations, not translations, but are transpositions.

Part four, on some of my literary collaborations, is here.

Part five is about SJ Fowler's 'Enemies' collaborative project, in general, and my part in them (with videos). It may be accessed here.

(Here is an example of a collaboration between Tom Jenks and SJ Fowler. It is an hilariously funny guide to life after Brexit using the images from the 1980s 'Protect and Survive' booklet. It's less part of my 'Thoughts on Collaboration', and more of an interlude. I witnessed this performance.) 

Part six is a round up of my own literary collaborations in Twitters for a Lark; poetry of the European Union of Imaginary Authors (the EUOIA) 

Part seven considers some of the ways female coauthors have operated and whether the term 'coauthors' isn't a better term to use to describe what's going on here. 

Part eight consists of two parts: my considerations of the past collaborations of Kelvin Corcoran and Alan Halsey 
here. The second part is the linked review of their co-authored Winterreisen on Alan Baker’s excellent online journal Litter HERE (if you want to go straight to it). 

Part nine contains some thoughts on SJ Fowler’s 
Nemeses: Selected Collaborations of SJ Fowler, 2014-2019. HTVN Press, 2019 : here:

There are also links there to the review I have written of 
Fowler’s book.  That may be read on Stride  HERE

Part 10 is an account of Fowler’s poetics of collaboration. Here:

Part 11 is an account of Fowler's collaboration with Camilla Nelson (as it reads on the page), here.

Part 12 continues to analyse Fowler's collaboration with Nelson, but it takes account of the extraordinary dynamics of its 'Enemies' performance (which was filmed), here.

Part 13 reviews most of Juha Virtanen, Poetry and Performance During the British Poetry Revival 1960-1980: Event and Effect. Here.

Part 14 contains links to all parts and off-shoots of this collaboration strand, in preparation for the writing of an article on that subject, here. 

SJ Folwer comments on all 14 of these posts, here: