Monday, January 13, 2020

Robert Sheppard: links to all SIX Bad Idea poems (Drayton versions) on Stride (with Drayton's originals)

A sequential run of six sonnets from Bad Idea appeared on Stride as posts in early January 2020. Below you can follow links to them. But first, a little about the sequence.

Bad Idea is a collection of 79 poems. It can be described formally and in terms of content in two ways. Firstly, they are versions, or ‘overdubs’, of the sonnets of Michael Drayton, particularly of his 63 poem book Idea (1619), which is a Petrarchan sequence in the Elizabethan mode of Sidney, Spenser or Daniel. Only one of the originals, ‘Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part’, is regularly anthologised, but it is often compared favourably to Shakespeare. My versions often stray from, but return to, a syllabic count. The versioning is often, but not exclusively, comic, satirical. One possible way of publishing the poems would be with the originals, but I am not wedded to that idea. At least one Drayton should be on show.

In terms of content (and title) Bad Idea focusses upon the attempt by British governments to execute Brexit. Whether fortuitous or not, the sequence featured Boris Johnson (Bo) quite early on, and developed themes that accumulated during the writing (e.g., that Britain, falling back on its own meagre resources, will transform into a freeport dogging site after Brexit.) On the other hand, a little of Drayton’s own life, spent vainly trying for patronage, with one indecent incident reported to the courts, enters the poems. As in Drayton’s sequence, Idea emerges as the unattainable ‘muse’. I was writing the pieces one a week, tracking events, but also only allowing the poems to emerge from my close readings of the Drayton sonnets. I feel the dates of composition are integral to the poems’ meanings. Almost built out of the comedy of the protracted Parliamentary stalemates, I ran out of sonnets and decided (after a brief re-write of Shelley’s ‘England in 1819’, why not?) to select some of the sonnets excluded from Drayton’s 1619 volume. (I proceeded to write 14 ‘Idea’s Mirror’ sonnets to trace the election period and to write in Idea’s voice. After the election I felt everything had changed (although that is too premature a judgement to be historical, as it were), and that the work was complete.) 

I believe that, at the formal level of versioning of Drayton, it is arguably successful; in terms of its content, I believe it reflects the Brexit process. (These levels merge with reference to Drayton’s masterwork, Poly Olbion, an epic attempt to capture the ‘Matter of Britain’.) Although the narrator is clearly critical of the Brexit decision, he (it’s not a she) fears a second referendum and finds most political parties lacking, although he is not cynical. Conventionally speaking, he must be forlorn and love-struck. Idea is represented in both sequences as a fervent European (she seems to have been reading Rosi Braidotti’s work) and there is a certain utopian streak in her thinking that stops her simply fulfilling the role of a Remoaner. 

Brexit is obviously the most important political event of the moment (climate change is not an event, but a process), but it is clearly going to be playing out over many years to come. I believe these poems could become quite popular in a climate that will have readers eventually reflecting upon this part of British history. (At the moment I detect exhaustion, but curiosity in the era will revive.)

This a general link to the blog:

Here are specific links to the six poems, and a few words about each. Below the links lie Drayton's original 1619 poems in order. 

‘Bad Idea’ XXII: To Folly: State of the Union Address’ is (perhaps) a Christmas poem: ‘Theresa May wasn’t born yesterday, but re-born’, we are told:

‘Bad Idea’ XXIII  is rather rude about Corbyn (before it became popular or routine). It says ‘He’ll be plodding with delegates’/ consent as fleet desire melts into micro-fascism.’ Which reads prophetically:

‘Bad Idea’ XXIV, called 'May Albion Never Learn', a satirical quote from a piece by Dickens, tells us of Brexite(e)rs: ‘their private dreams could be /our public nightmare.’ There is another version of this poem (I mean, of the Drayton original, below), 'To the Reader of these Sonnets', which appeared in Shearsman recently. (See here.) Like the previous posting, this feels prophetic:

‘Bad Idea’ XXV is dedicated to the virtually-vanished Karen Bradley, who was appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, but had no idea (not even a bad one) about sectarian voting patterns or life in NI. Drayton’s poem that is transposed here amused me because, in a poem that praised the English language, he used many loan words (and words that had not been loaned, but stolen). I use one of with a surprising meaning:  

Hear me keen on your Brexit county boundary,
Hailing your stiff-necked loyalist with healing song,
Disarming with lyric the slaughtering gallōglāch!

Read the rest:

‘Bad Idea XXVI Despair’ (Drayton’s title too) was the first poem in the sequence, possibly the only one until we reach the sequel Idea’s Mirror, that is not funny. It is an elegy to Jo Cox, though situated in the Parliamentary debates of January 2019. A year ago… In 2016 I posted about Jo Cox' murder here: at that time I was relating it not to these sonnets in 'The English Strain' but to my fictional poet 'European project', the EUOIA (see that last link for more). Read here:

‘Bad Idea’ XXVII: This sonnet muses over the Parliamentary debates on ‘deals’, but ends by considering the proposed post-Brexit arrangements. In a humorous way. It’s a good way to end of slab of these bad ideas! Read it here:

Here are the original Drayton poems, from Idea (1619). Enjoy comparing. It's probably the best way of reading them.


To Folly

WITH fools and children good discretion bears ;
Then, honest people, bear with Love and me,
Nor older yet, nor wiser made by years,
Amongst the rest of fools and children be ;
Love, still a baby, plays with gauds and toys,
And, like a wanton, sports with every feather,
And idiots still are running after boys,
Then fools and children fitt'st to go together.
He still as young as when he first was born,
No wiser I than when as young as he ;
You that behold us laugh us not to scorn,
Give Nature thanks you are not such as we.
    Yet fools and children sometimes tell in play
    Some, wise in show, more fools indeed than they.


LOVE, banished Heaven, on Earth was held in scorn,
Wandering abroad in need and beggary,
And wanting friends, though of a Goddess born,
Yet craved the alms of such as passèd by.
I, like a man devout and charitable,
Clothèd the naked, lodged this wandering guest,
With sighs and tears still furnishing his table
With what might make the miserable blest.
But this ungrateful, for my good desert,
Enticed my thoughts against me to conspire,
Who gave consent to steal away my heart,
And set my breast, his lodging, on a fire.
    Well, well, my friends, when beggars grow thus bold,
    No marvel then though charity grow cold.


I HEAR some say, “This man is not in love.”
“ What ?  can he love ?  a likely thing !” they say ;
“ Read but his verse, and it will easily prove.”
O judge not rashly, gentle Sir, I pray !
Because I trifle loosely in this sort,
As one that fain his sorrows would beguile.
You now suppose me all this time in sport,
And please yourself with this conceit the while.
Ye shallow censors, sometime see ye not
In greatest perils some men pleasant be ?
Where fame by death is only to be got,
They resolute ?   So stands the case with me.
    Where other men in depth of passion cry,
    I laugh at Fortune, as in jest to die.


O WHY should Nature niggardly restrain
That foreign nations relish not our tongue ?
Else should my lines glide on the waves of Rhene
And crown the Pyrens with my living song.
But, bounded thus, to Scotland get you forth,
Thence take you wing unto the Orcades ;
There let my verse get glory in the North,
Making my sighs to thaw the frozen seas ;
And let the Bards within that Irish isle,
To whom my Muse with fiery wing shall pass,
Call back the stiff-necked rebels from exile,
And mollify the slaughtering Gallowglass ;
    And when my flowing numbers they rehearse,
    Let wolves and bears be charmèd with my verse.


To Despair

I EVER love where never hope appears,
Yet hope draws on my never-hoping care,
And my life's hope would die, but for despair ;
My never-certain joy breeds ever-certain fears ;
Uncertain dread gives wings unto my hope,
Yet my hope's wings are laden so with fear,
As they cannot ascend to my hope's sphere ;
Though fear gives them more than a heavenly scope,
Yet this large room is bounded with despair ;
So my love is still fettered with vain hope,
And liberty deprives him of his scope,
And thus am I imprisoned in the air.
    Then, sweet despair, awhile hold up thy head,
    Or all my hope for sorrow will be dead.


IS not Love here as 'tis in other climes,
And differeth it, as do the several nations ?
Or hath it lost the virtue with the times,
Or in this island altereth with the fashions ?
Or have our passions lesser power than theirs,
Who had less art them lively to express ?
Is Nature grown less powerful in their heirs,
Or in our fathers did she more transgress ?
I am sure my sighs come from a heart as true
As any man's that memory can boast ;
And my respects and services to you
Equal with his that loves his mistress most.
    Or nature must be partial to my cause,
    Or only you do violate her laws.

[Update 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: ]

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

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

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

The most recent instalment of The English Strain Book One (Bad Idea is Book Two) to appear is Hap: Understudies of Thomas Wyatt’s Petrarch is available from Knives Forks and Spoons here: