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