Thursday, May 28, 2020

Robert Sheppard: 14 Standards from British Strandards is complete as one sonnet appears at the virtual WOW Festival 2020 (hub post)

Another part of my ‘English Strain’ project is finished as it moves beyond its third (and final) book. I’m pleased to say a poem from the book, which is entitled British Standards, is from the section called ’14 Standards’, has been published online as part of this year’s virtual WOW Festival ‘events’, in a collection of writings called ‘Lockdown, Unlocked’. I wrote it especially for Victor Merriman, who asked me for something. Many thanks to him.

but his general introduction seems to have already been taken down.
For this showing I turned Bo back into Boris, for clarity, although I didn’t explain Coleridge’s two extraordinary neologisms. A ‘Psilosopher’ is a false philosophy; ‘suffictions’ are fake suppositions. John Thelwall was a radical as wsell as a sonneteer, which is why I choose his sonnet for the radical WOW Festival!

Here’s a video of me reading the sonnet, with Bo restored to his single ejaculatory syllable.  

This is a hub post for the ’14 Standards’ section of British Standards. No other poems have been published to date. (Though until about mid June my one about slavery and Liverpool place names (written before the drenching of hollow racist statues) will still be temporarily posted on this blog.) 

Read 'We had a female Passenger who came from Calais' as part of the the 'Talking to the Dead' feature on Stride here. I write about the poem and read it on video here.

Read 'An Overdub of Letitia Elizabeth Landon's The Dancing Girl here. Or about the poem (and hear/see another video) here.  

Pages: OTD 2020: a version of Horace Smith's 'Ozymandias' was written; it and other 'Standards' appear in The Cafe Review in the USA (

Pages: ON THIS DAY 2020 I wrote this lacuna-pocked poem as a version of one of Coleridge's sonnets (

Pages: ON THIS DAY 2020 I heard the ambulances in the lockdown silence and wove them into a Leigh Hunt sonnet (

Pages: ON THIS DAY 2020 I wrote a lockdown transposition of a Willian Bowles sonnet and was rude about Bo (

I’ve documented my progress to date in detail as ‘The English Strain’ progresses. There 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 . (The final part of Bad Idea is slightly different; called ‘Idea’s Mirror’, it’s described here:
Parts of Book One are still available in booklet form, see below.
The preface to the third (and projected final) book British Standards. The preface is a version of Shelley’s ‘England in 1819’. The body of the book was begun in 2020, after Brexit Independence Day; the first section was finished late March. For that first section, I transposed poems from part of Wordsworth’s ‘Poems Dedicated to National Independence and Liberty’, retitled ‘Poems of National Independence’, cheekily subtitled ‘liberties with Wordsworth’. I write about that sequence here:

All the poems I transposed in ’14 Standards’ may be found in Feldman, Paula, R., and Daniel Robinson. eds.  A Century of Sonnets. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, a fascinating and eye-opening anthology. I did not write these transpositions sequentially, and I used a variety of methods and forms, in order that they don’t conform to the pattern (or the narrative) of contiguous poems. The only one I chose to write was ‘The Vanity of National Grandeur’ because I knew which one was just the job for the WOW Festival. (Of course, a seeming pattern emerges: it will resemble you, and all that!). I hope you see how my perverse self-interrupting poetics works.

The 'Dominic Cummings' 'affair' prompted a pair of poems entitled 'Double Standards', which stands as a kind of coda to '14 Standards', both them overdubs of Shelley. 

I call these ‘transposed’ poems ‘Standards’, since the originals are part of our poetic repertoire. I’ve been listening to one of Anthony Braxton’s ‘Standards’ albums, on which he plays and transforms those communally malleable tunes dubbed ‘standards’ by jazz musicians. I refer directly to that in Standard 10. Hear an Anthony Braxton ‘standard’ here, indeed the ‘Recorda Me’ that I refer to in that poem, off of Braxton, Anthony. 23 Standards (Quartet) 2003, Leo Records, CD LR 402/405 (CD), 2004.

Braxton is still at it too: watch this: one of the only jazz concerts this year so far:

Second half here:

I’m also thinking of the ‘standards’ that British locks and other devices conform to, with a hint of moral standards, of course.

Like a lot of the world during the weeks of writing them (6th April-18th May 2020), I had a pre-scripted lockdown life, which was quite useful. Given that the poems are often fragmented, they are perhaps less funny than previous ones. I only wanted to write indirectly about coronavirus, but some have turned into my ‘lockdown’ poems (because they are). Of course, the virus had already appeared thematically in ‘Poems of National Independence’, slowly creeping in until it had subsumed the Brexit theme.

As might be gathered from what I have said, British Standards as a whole (not just this corona) aims to present transpositions of sonnets of the Romantic period, from 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:

There are quite a lot of poems from various past parts online. You can access six poems from Bad Idea, Book Two, here:

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. Both pamphlets are still available.

Look here and here for more on the 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 )

Hap: Understudies of Thomas Wyatt’s Petrarch is available from Knives Forks and Spoons, here:

If you’re fed up with reading Hilary Mantel’s accounts of Wyatt (or Surrey for that matter), OR you can’t get enough of Henrician Terror, Hap is the book for you, and the link above will prove efficacious. Alec Newman is awaiting your order (there are other books of mine there, too, as well as the new out now)!

Two ‘Poems of National Independence’ have been published on International Times. Link here, via my short laptop videos:

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, so far as I’m concerned, I also demonstrate, if only for myself, that ‘transposition’ isn’t translation.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

My latest Liverpool-Brexit-Virus-Slavery British Standard transposition (of Robert Southey)

I'm keeping parts of this 'temporary post' up permanently because it has taken on a fuller resonance giving the resurgence of Black Lives Matter (and particularly with the symbolic drenching of the hollow Slaveowner in Bristol). We have loads of slavery-soaked place names in Liverpool; my poem 'Overdub of Poem on the Slave Trade by Robert Southey'' offers two of them. To change them all would mean we wouldn't be able to find our ways around, but it might happen. My ‘English Strain’ project moves on into Book Three. I’ve documented my progress to date in detail.

My version of Southey's poem will be appearing in Tears in the Fence 73, due February 2021. 
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 third (and projected final) book is entitled British Standards. More about that here
Currently, I’m finishing the second part of Book Three, ‘14 Standards’. There is more on '14 Standards', now that's finished too, here.

All the poems I am transposing for British Standards may be found in Feldman, Paula, R., and Daniel Robinson. eds.  A Century of Sonnets. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, a fascinating and eye-opening anthology. I am not writing the 14 transpositions sequentially, and I am using a variety of methods and forms, in order that they don’t conform to the pattern (or the narrative) of contiguous poems. (Of course, a seeming pattern emerges: it will resemble you, and all that!) I am selecting each poem from my list so that I don’t know which poem is waiting to satisfy my urge to write the ‘next’ poem, as I think of it, getting up, or even earlier, lying in bed, or often, on bedding down the night before, after watching Newsnight. Like a lot of the world I have a pre-scripted life at the moment, which is quite useful. Given that they are fragmented, some of the poems – not all of them – are ‘difficult’, and difficult in different ways, they are perhaps less funny than previous ones. I only want to write indirectly about coronavirus, but some have turned into my ‘lockdown’ poems (because they are!). I hope you see how my perverse self-interrupting poetics works.
On to the last to be written. This one. Of course, since it was the last, I knew in advance which one it was going to be: the only one left on the list, the gap formed of Robert Southey’s anti-slavery poem, a difficult one to negotiate. I somehow knew I wanted to deal with Liverpool’s legacy and one of Stephen’s books,
Cameron, Gail, and Stan Crooke, Liverpool – Capital of the Slave Trade. Liverpool: Picton Press, 1992,

was useful, especially the list of familiar street names named after slavers, as was, for the word ‘pro-sacchharites’ (or anti in the print), 
Godfrey, Richard and Mark Hallett. James Gillray: The Art of Caricature. London: Tate Publishing, 2001,

a catalogue to an exhibition we visited in 2001. Bum Boats! Tarleton married Mary Robinson, so it forms a link to what I plan to do next, which is a version of 14 of the sonnets from Mary Robinson's 'Sappho and Phaon', . This is another lockdown poem, really. I actually have twisted my ankle in the back yard, not on Tarleton. I’ve not been into the centre of Liverpool since March.

As I said above, I think of these ‘transposed’ poems as ‘Standards’, as part of our poetic repertoire, or should be. Here's Southey's original. As I also said above, my version of it will be appearing in Tears in the Fence 73. 
Poem Against the Slave Trade III

Oh he is worn with toil! the big drops run
Down his dark cheek; hold--hold thy merciless hand,
Pale tyrant! for beneath thy hard command
O'erwearied Nature sinks. The scorching Sun,
As pityless as proud Prosperity,
Darts on him his full beams; gasping he lies
Arraigning with his looks the patient skies,
While that inhuman trader lifts on high
The mangling scourge. Oh ye who at your ease
Sip the blood-sweeten'd beverage! thoughts like these
Haply ye scorn: I thank thee Gracious God!
That I do feel upon my cheek the glow
Of indignation, when beneath the rod
A sable brother writhes in silent woe.

I have used this poem as the single 'example' of my 'originals' at the start of '14 Standards'. That's a practice that I have adopted since the earliest parts of 'The English Strain'. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Robert Sheppard: 'The Formal Splinter' published in HL Hix' Counterclaims (Dalkey Archive)

“Poetry makes nothing happen.”  “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.”  Incessantly repeated, typically taken as truisms.  But are they true?  In this unique and timely anthology, H. L. Hix invites more than 150 contemporary poets and scholars to counter those claims.

The familiar pronouncements from Auden and Adorno, respectively, are, after all, a full human lifespan old, made at particular historical moments, in particular cultural contexts, and from particular subject positions.  Contributors to Counterclaims were asked, “What must or might be said now about poetry?”  Their answers sum to a broad and luminous vision of poetry: what it does, what it is, what it might be, what it shows us about ourselves, and they are presented in Hix’ new book from Dalkey Archive, Counterclaims: Poets and Poetries, Talking Back. (Read a good account of the book, by Clark Allison, here.) 


As yet it is not listed in the Dalkey Archive site, but will be. Its isbn is 9781628973310. See here:

I am one of the contributors. It is good to share the pages with critical grand masters like Derek Attridge, poetics mentors like Charles Bernstein, admired poets like Forrest Gander, and friends and colleagues like Rupert Loydell and John Redmond – and all the other respondees whose thoughts I value, like Andrea Brady and Rachel Blau Du Plessis, Steph Burt and Pierre Joris. Then, there are the fascinating connective poetics introductions by Harvey Hix himself, and then don’t forget all the thinkers (mostly poets) whose work I don’t know (yet).

My contribution is a quotation from an essay of mine (chosen by Hix) and a short paragraph I wrote about form (no surprise that it is in the ‘Form’ section of the anthology). Hix then uploaded the response (and all the others) on his blog, which is on my blog roll to the right of this post, and which has moved on to a fresher sampling. Or use this link:

My piece ‘The Formal Splinter’ (as I called it) was written in 2015, when I was working on my critical book, The Meaning of Form. I hadn’t quite gathered how to transpose the critical thinking (had under the sign of Derek Attridge) into poetics. Most of my thinking for that book may be accessed here: I write about form, forms and forming here.

‘The Formal Splinter’ appears on this blog, in a 500 word version, here:

Read the 200 word version, which is what appears in the book, here, as part of Harvey's poetics blog posting Inquire (here).

Another attempt to transpose the ‘formal’ turn into poetics is the piece on rhythm called Pulse, that appeared in part in Tentacular recently. See here:

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Robert Sheppard: Essay included in the NEW Allen Fisher Companion

The Allen Fisher Companion is out. Look here, or navigate the Shearsman site. 

This long-awaited collection of essays, edited by Robert Hampson and cris cheek, gives a chance for Allen Fisher’s many admirers to study his work (both literary and visual) in depth with a group of experts. Contributors include Clive Bush, cris cheek, Collum Hazell, Steven Hitchins, Pierre Joris (twice), Paige Mitchell, Will Montgomery, Redell Olsen, William Rowe, Scott Thurston, Shamoon Zamir, Karen Mac Cormack, Marjorie Welish, Matt Hart and Rob Holloway. 

There is an online review of the book, by Simon Collings, on Tears in the Fence here. It quotes a pertinent remark of mine on Fisher's method. 

And me. My contribution is my essay ‘Apocalypse Then’, referring to the politics of the late 1970s, and subtitled ‘Between Place and Gravity', to suggest that this is an interesting way to contextualise Allen Fisher’s two major long poems, and sub-subtitled, ‘Technique and Technology’ to gesture towards my focus up his writing methods and results, and upon one of the themes of the work by Fisher that I treat: The Apocalyptic Sonnets (written in 1978 but now visible in part in The Reality Street Book of Sonnets).

The book looks great, and I look forward to reading it. I have written about Fisher in most of my book-length studies of poetry, from The Poetry of Saying to The Meaning of Form, as well as in a number of essays, and reviews, including this one. It may also be read in my collection of essays, When Bad Times Made for Good Poetry, providing a different context. Also from Shearsman:
Or here.

I write about Allen Fisher generally here:

I write about later work, Proposals, here, in preparation for part of The Meaning of Form:

and about his poetics, Necessary Business here:

For a similar sort of book, see The Robert Sheppard Companion, from Shearman:

Friday, May 08, 2020

Robert Sheppard: from 'The English Strain' VE Day 1985 (Petrarch in the style of Wayne Pratt)

Victory In Europe Day had been annexed by the Brexiteers as Victory Over Europe Day but it looks as though the coronavirus has put paid to the more extreme displays of triumphalism. As a child of a good man who fought in the Second World War (see my Schrage Musik, here, my 'war poem', for him), I find the above itinerary pretty lame and jingoistic, but I DO have a VE Day Poem.

It appears in my sequence 'Petrarch 3', which is a set of variations on Petrarch's third sonnet (see below for its publication details). This one is a 'true story' as they say, but the meaning of the meaning of form is that its plot is now quite transformed. It is the story about the first 'date' Patricia and I took, which we were unaware was VE Day. We picked a backstreet London pub and walked into the celebration, as described (there was a man in a Nazi uniform and the old girls did find it funny, note, well before Prince Harry tried his great-uncle's one on). However, I have used the style of my parodic 'mainstream poet' Wayne Pratt (he appears in Twentieth Century Blues and in History or Sleep). The poem doesn't date from 1985, but 2011. I did, however, post it on here once before, as poem for Patricia's 60th birthday! See here.

VE Day 1985

                                                after Wayne Pratt

At the VE Night piss up, the gloom of the Blitz, the chill
Of V2s, Goering’s capture, Berlin scorched, were recalled.
Then forgotten, the old girls squawking along with Al Bowly.
On our first rendezvous we’d landed on this lot.

But this wasn’t the time for cockney triumphalism;
The cheeky young man in the SS glad-rags
Tickled the dollies’ flab. Pickled in gin,
they roared till they pissed their bloomers.

They fondled me and petted me and Love had to wait…
We sat up all night lost in the depths of each other’s eyes,
My hand just inside your blouse. My excuse was scabies,

And you were under orders to declare your bunch of grapes.
At dawn, we walked around the railings, Clissold Park.
Inside we could hear the parakeets sounding the all clear.

Read the 'original' Petrarch 3 translation (the poem I was 'transposing', as I'd say now), and another version, the Scouse doggie version, here.

'Petrarch 3' is the first part of The ‘English Strain’ Book One, The English Strain, which will be published later this year; read about it here .

See here and here and here and here for more on my Petrarch obsession/project, including how to purchase Petrarch 3 from Crater press in its 'map' edition. 

There are accounts of my reading Petrarch 3, with set lists and summaries here and here

And you can watch me read some of my 'Petrarch' variations here.

Tom Jenks unfolding Petrarch 3

Sheppard, Robert. ‘Era il giorno ch’al sol si scoloraro’: A derivative dérive into/out of Petrarch’s Sonnet 3’, in ed. Carole Birkan-Berz. L'Aura del Petrarca. Oxford: Legenda, explores the sequence more,  (see )

You may more profitably read Tom Jenks (see above, with Petrarch 3) on this sequence in The Robert Sheppard Companion, see here:

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Robert Sheppard: Two transpositions of Wordsworth from British Standards published on International Times

I am delighted to reveal that two poems from ‘Poems of National Independence’ (in British Standards, book three of ‘the English Strain’ project) have been published with customary alacrity by International Times (with a splendid lockdown image by Claire Palmer, above, who has illustrated some of my previous appearances on this august site). Here they are:

Here's the first of the two poems read by me:

That's the second poem read by me.

Thanks again to Rupert Loydell, poetry editor.

The lines about

the abject position of the contemporary poet now,
according to the press, and even some bards;
we must soothe and smooth the national mood,

are quite heartfelt; I hate all the talk about how we should turn to the salving power of poetry to uplift us in such demanding times (though I do understand the need to escape the ‘new normal’, which I take to be a different, and possibly more critical, strategy).

It’s an accident that I’ve hit Wordsworth’s 250th birthday year and month with the first part of British Standards. I saw lockdown Grasmere on the local TV on his actual birthday: there was some surmise that he would have liked it as quiet as the town seemed. It was dead! I reckon Wordsworth would have liked a little more rural ‘industry’, as he might have put it. I have just read Jonathan Bate’s new biography Radical Wordsworth (I’ve finished re-reading The Prelude and the Wu biography of Hazlitt, and some of Hazlitt’s fine essays) and it’s a user-friendly account of the best part of Wordsworth’s career and life. He writes about the sonnets I have transposed quite a lot, particularly because they came about at a crucial period in Wordsworth’s life, 1802-3, during the Peace of Amiens, that allowed him (a bit like Bo) to visit his ‘other’ ‘French’ family. Read more about the sequence here:

The ‘English Strain’ project moves on in Book Three. I’ve documented my progress in detail. There are two comprehensive posts to check out, with links to other online poems, 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 called ‘Idea’s Mirror’, and that’s described here:

You may read the two poems from Bad Idea on International Times here: