Follow by Email

Thursday, May 21, 2020

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

I'm keeping this 'temporary post' up because it has taken on a fuller resonance giving the resurgence of Black Lives Matter (and particularly with the symbolic drenching of the Slaveowner in Bristol). We have loads of slavery-soaked place names in Liverpool; my poem 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.

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 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 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. 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. I've removed the text but here's my reading of it. 

Standard 4


I think of these ‘transposed’ poems as ‘Standards’, as part of our poetic repertoire, or should be. Here's Southey's original, for you to see:

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