Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The last of my Wordsworth versions in 'British Standards' (Book Three of 'The English Strain')

My ‘English Strain’ project has sped on, given the rapidity of production in the last few weeks. Poem one was written in the very different world of the first week of February; this last poem is being written on the last day of March. There are two posts about the background to the project: one that looks back at Book One, The English Strain here and another at Book Two, Bad Idea here .

The final part of Bad Idea is called ‘Idea’s Mirror’, which is described, along with some of the prospective poetics plans I had before the general election in December 2019, here: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2019/12/my-last-ideas-mirror-post-election-poem.html

The manuscripts of both books are ready for publication. Both submitted.

The third book is entitled British Standards. Its preface is a version of Shelley’s ‘England in 1819’ (obviously retitled ‘England in 2019’), written in October of that year, whereas the first part of the book was begun in 2020, after Independence Day.

For the first section, I have used poems from a part of Wordsworth’s ‘Poems Dedicated to National Independence and Liberty’, retitled ‘Poems of National Independence’, and subtitled ‘liberties with Wordsworth’, which is what I have taken. I’ve selected ones written 1802-3, around the Peace of Amiens, when he returned to France, briefly. Each carries the first line as a title, for identification. The poems are easy to find, though not always in the versions I have used. Wordsworth wrote over 500 sonnets; I’ve read about 100 of them in the last three months or so.

This blog post from Jonathan Bate, who is about to publish a Wordsworth biography (which I have on order, but it’s going to be a little late for this initial writing of my project, I know) is illuminating about the early vs. the late poems. This is relevant, since the poems I have used are late revisions of early poems. That’s a further twist, about which much has been written, I know: which is why one poem We had a female Passenger who came from Calais deals with the finding of two versions of the poem I’d selected: 

In your fidgety revisions, she’s ‘a fellow-passenger… 
from Calais’ (tracking today’s trafficking route); 
‘gaudy in array’ you wrote, though ‘spotless’ is
nobler, this ‘Negro woman’ now ‘white-robed’
in your neo-Netflix pot of time.
‘Pot of time’ is very cheeky, I know. For some reason, I’d imagined that Wordsworth’s revisionary poetics was limited to The Prelude, but it pervades his publishing history.

My poems present a vision of post-Brexit Britain, which is now overtaken by the coronavirus, which was hardly an issue when I began this ‘corona’, though it does get a mention, even in poem 2., back in early February. Maybe ‘overtaken’ overstates it: it mingles with it (in all kinds of ironic ways). 
Patricia Farrell's representation of a Techno-Dogging Site (December 2019)

The last poem of the 14 mutes (hopefully extinguishes) the dogging theme, but it’s there. The last two poems from ‘Poems of National Independence’ have been published on International Times here:


Here's the last of the sequence read by me:

As you know, the National Thrust (formerly the Department for Rural Affairs) has opened a number – the government says 40, but it’s nearer zero, like their pre-Nightingale hospitals – of new dogging sites. Most were ready for Independence Day (31st January 2020), and several were the new Techno Dogging sites promised in the Conservative Party Manifesto. Ever since the current Chancellor of the Dogging Sites of Lancaster was at Rural Affairs, around the time he issued his famous Christmas Message in 2018, anticipation has been growing, but it's all on hold now. Read it again here: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2018/12/christmas-message-from-right-hon-m-go.html

Pre-social distancing

Of course, now all the dogging sites are shut. (You couldn’t make it up: they are shut. The national press made much of an online message cancelling one dogging meeting in the Midlands. Appropriate self-distancing is practised by my men of Kent in my poems!)  

The final poem in the sequence has been removed from this post, but it will act as a hubpost to any of these Wordsworth transpositions that appear in print or online. 

Read the whole of my 'There was a Fellow Passenger' transpositioin here in the 'Talking to the Dead' feature on Stride here.

My Brexity-Covidy poem ‘Milton! Thou shouldst be living at this hour,’ is published on the wonderfully named New Boots and Pantiscracies. See here:

and I write about it here:

British Standards aims to present versions (or transpositions) of sonnets of the Romantic period (between those of Charlotte Smith, which I’ve already worked on here, https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2019/07/more-english-strain-poems-overdubs-of.html

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

EBB is clearly a BDSM freak with her dog (and slave Robert Browning) locked in that top floor flat. (‘Knock here for Latin lessons with Mistress Elizabeth’). She's also a Tory minister's 'mistress'. Four more poems have appeared in print recently: see here:

I’m thinking of the poems I ‘transpose’, and the ones I plan to process, as ‘Standards’ in two senses: I have been listening to Anthony Braxton’s ‘Standards’ albums, where he plays those communally malleable tunes dubbed ‘standards’ by jazz musicians, but I’m also thinking of the ‘standards’ that British locks and other devices conform to, which seem, incidentally, to have survived the supposed uniformity of 40 years of EU Regulations, and which Bo and others will doubtless champion, along with Imperial Measures and £.s.d. Oh, and hanging.

Hear an Anthony Braxton ‘standard’ above, or here: 

Braxton is still at it too: look at this: filmed live, at one of the only jazz concerts this year so far: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRYGqZifWCE

After these 'Poems of National Independence' I have been working on a non-sequence of '14 Standards'. Some of these may be currently on the blog in later posts (click onto HOME to see the most recent and then scroll back).
In a piece to be posted soon, on ‘collaboration’, I was moved to make a remark about ‘the meaning of form’ and I found myself reflecting upon ‘The English Strain’ as a whole, contrasting the formal and the content. You can read the ‘collaboration’ strand from here: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2020/01/robert-sheppard-thughts-on.html

And you can read about my critical book The Meaning of Form here: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2016/09/robert-sheppard-meaning-of-form-in_19.html

I genuinely believe [I wrote] that literary works can have efficacy (at the level of form) that is truly liberational. To take my recent ‘Poems of National Independence’, I take it that the satire about Brexit is on the surface, but the real aesthetic work, the lastingly moving part of the experience, lies in the act-event of the reception of the formal distance between Wordsworth’s original ‘Toussaint, the most unhappy man of men!’ and my ‘Flat-Battery Bo, rusticated man’s man!’ That’s where I locate the active, eventful innovation.

In fact, the address to the reader that begins Book Two, already states a similar case, basically a version of the first sentence (and axiom) of The Meaning of Form:

I hang out inside these sonnets, punching
echoes into new shape, because I take 
poetry as the investigation
of complexity through the means of form. 

You can access six poems, transpositions from Michael Drayton, see above, from Bad Idea here:

Another eight online poems from Bad Idea may be accessed from this post:


Three sonnets from the last section of Bad Idea, ‘Idea’s Mirror’, may be accessed here:

In ‘Petrarch 3’, the opening part of Book One, the transpositions are achieved by having 14 versions of one translation from Petrarch. This part of Book One, ‘Petrarch 3’, is published under that title. Another part is published as Hap which ab(uses) the sonnets of Thomas Wyatt. (It’s also where the dogging in Kent theme began: he lived in, was banished in, his wife possibly played around in, Kent. Both pamphlets are still available.

Look here and here for more on my Petrarch obsession/project, including how to purchase Petrarch 3 from Crater Press in its ‘fold out map’ edition. I have written in detail about the writing of Petrarch 3 (see https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2020/09/practice-led-piece-on-petrarch-3-from.html )

Hap: Understudies of Thomas Wyatt’s Petrarch (Does. Tin. On. It. The. What. Says) is available from Knives Forks and Spoons here:

Occasionally my method of transposition is demonstrated in publication. Here’s a poem by the Earl of Surrey (he's also in Mantel) with my take on it: http://internationaltimes.it/direct-rule-in-peace-with-foul-desire .

I contemplate the term ‘transposition’ at the end of the following post (that is mostly about collaboration, you can scroll past that bit). In determining that ‘transposition’ isn’t collaboration proper, I also demonstrate that ‘transposition’ isn’t translation, even of the fashionable, ‘expanded’, kind.

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:  https://www.knivesforksandspoonspress.co.uk/product-page/bad-idea-by-robert-sheppard-102-pages
I’m not only working on this sequence, by the way: my website is updated annually with life, writing, collaborations, criticism (by and on), etc. here: www.robertsheppard.weebly.com

The National Thrust: the national sport

Monday, March 30, 2020

If Dylan can release his back-catalogue, so can I...

This video, taken by Liz Eales, was shot on 14th November 2015, my 60th birthday party, at which I misguidedly decided to entertain my guests. I should have just enjoyed myself! Anyway, here it is.

This was also the night that An Educated Desire was published, by Knives Forks and Spoons, a book of poems written for my birthday (secretly edited by Scott Thurston).

Here's more on the book, and the evening, here and here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Robert Sheppard: Yes, like all the other poets, I have an old poem about a virus: Grippe Espagnole (from Empty Diaries)

I didn’t think I had a poem about viruses and plagues. Every poet seems to have found one in their product and rolled it out. Then, while thinking about how ‘Empty Diary 2020’ ought to take on board the unspoken subject of sexual relations (both physical and psychological) in the age of corona, I remembered that one of the earliest poems in the sequence, ‘Empty Diary 1920’, indeed took on board, took for title, the Spanish Flu of that year. (From the numbering alone you can see how the sequence is organised.) Here it is. As usual, the narrator is a woman. The method is collage, but the ‘gentle art of collage’, as I say of Lee Harwood’s work. . The earlier sequence was mainly written from photographs (as I say here:

https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2017/01/robert-sheppard-talk-for-open-eye.html )


Empty Diary 1920

Grippe Espagnole

                    Split in a
mirror, gloves or fingers in
their meadow of scarf lines, with
its censure, like a man’s. I’ve
shelves of those Everyman books,
a chair in front of the fire.
Light up, read Goldman, bloomers
under the wet umbrella.

I’m photographed in front of
my portrait, self-vigilant,
a seismic oscillation 
of bone, cruel beauty dances
for a field of fogged lenses.
Only a master could paint 
the crumple of rich dresses;

                    my nest of
hair for marble eyes to steal
a home, crystal beads trembling
under those hot sick fans. Such
tyranny behind men’s masks
breeds: Poisons sprayed onto bus
seats, nestling between the hard 
joints, sticky with the flu’s beads.

The original publication of Empty Diaries contained the ‘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: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2018/05/twentieth-century-blues-published-ten.html

Some of them are now online and may be read if desired. The ‘Empty Diaries’ for 1905, 1936, 1954, 1968 may be read here:


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

See 'Empty Diary 1956' here.

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 (and the bottom of the page:


In about 2014, breaking my rule that the ‘strands’ of Twentieth Century Blues should end with that book, I decided to extend the sequence into the current century: ‘Empty Diaries 2001-14’. A corona, note, 14 sonnets. They are egregiously rude, with a lot of Google sculpting for the new century.

The first eight 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 Manifold. See here.

Since then I have been writing one a year. Some of them are online. 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 here.

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


That brings us nearly up to date. 2019’s is unpublished. 2020 remains unwritten. But, as I said at the top of this post, it is not unthought-about in our current preoccupations.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Robert Sheppard: Four Poems from 'Non Disclosure Agreement' published in Some Roast Poet

Four poems from ‘Non-Disclosure Agreement’ have appeared in the Spring 2020 edition, number three, of the Manchester-based magazine Some Roast Poet, edited by Steve Henson. Big thanks to Steve!

‘NDA’ are overdubs or transpositions of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese. Like others of these poems tracking politics in and around Brexit, the title (at least) was prophetic, since they become suddenly important because of the #metoo movement, but the speaker of the first half, ‘Brazilian Sonnets’, is the mistress of a Government minister during Brexit. The second half, ‘Cake and Eat It Britain’, has a variety of speakers; finally it shows Petrarch himself, coming back to claim his tradition; and that poem is featured in Some Roast Poet.

Brazilian Sonnets

Four other 'NDA' sonnets, appear online in Molly Bloom, Aidan Semmens’ fine  magazine, here. Four more, featured on Stride, may be accessed here:


I write about Non Disclosure Agreement here:


I hope this isn’t confusing but Non Disclosure Agreement is the last section of The English Strain, which I write about here . (Book Two of ‘The English Strain’, Bad Idea, is written about here .)

… as on a Boris bike … (phrase from one of the published poems)

Some Roast Poet also contains poems by Tim Allen, Alan Halsey, Scott Thurston, Karen Kendrick, Nell Osborne, and carries a long poem by Rhys Trimble.

There is a blog HERE

Friday, March 06, 2020

Robert Sheppard: in memoriam Lawrence Upton

My memoir of attendances at Bob Cobbing’s Writers Forum workshops carries a pertinent memory of fellow attendee, Lawrence Upton, extemporising a text, while leafing at speed through a paper: ‘Lawrence Upton improvising a marvellous, irrecoverable text from that day’s newspaper photos; a sly smile of success as he sits down: June 19 1994 .’ (See section 5 of the following http://jacketmagazine.com/09/shep-cobb.html.) That’s it. It was gone forever. And that, the smile suggests, is success. Instant ekphrasis.

Now Lawrence has gone. There is some fear that his work, his archive, his place in literary and performance history, might be gone with him. Just like that, as Tommy Cooper would have said. (Lawrence would have liked that.)

There is an online petition to save his archive. There are friends. There is a posthumous ghoulish Twitter feed. (I realise I am aping Lawrence’s expository prose style, by the way.)

I am amiss, I know, at leaving it so long to respond to this bad news. I have two personal resources with which to respond, my memories and his performances and publications. As my opening gambit suggests, these overlap. But I’ll try to keep them apart.

I have many memories of Lawrence, of his general affability (who else could suggest to our son, when he was only about 14, that all the brothels of England should be regulated by an organisation called Offuck?) and of his intransigent neo-Stalinist poetry warrior positions, which he would explain in meticulous detail. I can hear him now. I’d rather mute that second side. At least I managed to get him to talk to Bob Cobbing after a 20 year hiatus, over a dispute about … what?... nobody can remember. Or was it the other way round, I can’t remember? At any rate, I told one of them to go upstairs to speak to the other in the empty workshop room. When we returned, they were chatting merrily – and began to work together again on Domestic Ambient Noise, their 300 pamphlet epic …. (See here about that.)

I helped him run Subvoicive readings in my last couple of years in London. He made all the decisions. I collected the door money.

I have a large cardboard folder bulging with Lawrence’s publications, some ephemeral beyond the usual meaning of that word, others (his Reality Street book, say) less so. There is a beautiful visual poetry volume published in Canada. (Jennifer Cobbing called it, slightly un-loyally, the best book of visual poetry ever! Lawrence told me that, with some glee – or was it pride?) There never was a selected poems, though there ought to be. Still. I always thought people never quite realised how good he was. Part of the reason is that the work is so varied: the MacDiarmid-like ‘Letters’ to various folk, weird narratives, visual texts (who else would use Marmite in a concrete poem?), conceptual pieces, posters (his ‘All England is Alarmed’ hung over our front door in Tooting). I’m NOT going to open that folder now, because it will distract me from my task, and I shall never finish.

Lawrence appeared on this blog when it was more of a blogzine. See here for two wonderful texts:  http://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2005/08/lawrence-upton-two-texts.html. He came to visit us in Liverpool, but after that he spent so much time in Cornwall that our paths never crossed much. The last time may have been Jennifer Cobbing’s 90th birthday reading. He performed a brilliant vocal piece with a violinist. I know he studied at Goldsmith and collaborated with a multitude of his equals.

Oh yes, I first met him in the mid 1970s at the Poetry Society. We had already corresponded and I'd sent poems (which he wisely never published) to his early magazine Good Elf. But it was many years until we met again and we became friends, late 1980s. ‘Good ’elf!’ seems a good way to conclude this all too brief note.     

The twitter feed is here:


A detailed website is here:


See Robert Hampson 's obit in The Guardian here

Monday, March 02, 2020

Robert Sheppard: The Broken Spine reading, Southport (set list)

I'm pleased to say that Patricia and I read at the launch of The Broken Spine, a new magazine of poetry and photography, edited by Paul Mullen (a former MA Creative Writing Student at Edge Hill) and Alan Parry, who I met for the first time. Both editors read, as did David Hanlon, David Welshe, Rob Edge (also ex-Edge Hill), Elisabeth Horan, Mary Earnshaw. There was music to end, from Paul, Micayl, Leonic Jakobi, and possibly others. I'm reconstructing the names from Twitter, where videos of most performances are posted (see @BrokenSpineArts on Twitter). Website: here.  

I have just realized the whole of my reading is on the Twitter feed, but here is the set list. Knowing there was going to be some music and knowing that Paul was interested in music (I saw his duo Little Wing about 10 years ago) I put together a little set about music. I'm unlikely to repeat this particular order. 

1.     ‘Round Midnight’, the first poem in History or Sleep, my selected poems, see here: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2013/12/stan-tracey-im.html

2.     ‘Prison Camp Violin, Riga’, from History or Sleep and Berlin Bursts and anthologized in the Carcanet anthology Smart Devices. The right analogy was to call it my 'hit single'. See here: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2018/07/robert-sheppard-my-prison-camp-violin.html and here: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2020/01/prison-camp-violin-riga-anthologised-in.html

3.     ‘The Hippest Man to Walk the Planet’, a poem about Ray Charles, from Liverpool (Hugs and) Kisses (with Robert Hampson). See here: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2015/01/robert-hampson-and-robert-sheppard.html

4.     ‘Beefore or Never’, the piece commissioned for the Captain Beefheart Weekend at the Bluecoat in 2017. See here: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2017/11/robert-sheppard-reading-at-doped-in.html

5.     I then read two galleries from the Charms and Glitter project, music poems which accompany the poems of Trev Eales. See here: Pages: Whatever happened to the book Charms and Glitter? (robertsheppard.blogspot.com)

6.     I finished with one of the ‘Poems of National Independence’, part of British Standards, which was addressed to Trev Eales (and recalls our trip to see the Who in 1976) -https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2020/02/real-beginning-of-new-series-of.html

Patricia Farrell read from her Logic for Little Girls, which is also forthcoming from Knives Forks and Spoons.
[And now, 2022, the Broken Spine editors have asked for videos of the contributions to Issue One. I must have read this one. And here it is. It can also be found on the BS TikTok site, my debut on the platform!]