Friday, October 23, 2020

Robert Sheppard: The last two Empty Diary poems are published on Stride

 I have two ‘Empty Diaries’ published in Stride:

Empty Diary 2019, HERE  

and ‘Empty Diary 2020’, HERE!

They are quite special to me, since I see them as the last ‘Empty Diary’ poems. (But see my note below!) And it is nice that the project (if that’s what it was) should appear on Stride since Rupert Loydell was the publisher who first collected the poems in print, for which I am eternally grateful, as I am for these two. 

The original publication of Empty Diaries contained ‘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:

 There was also a Cyberpunk ‘Empty Diary 2055’ inserted into the batch and an ‘Empty Diary 1327’ in Petrarch 3, but they are special cases (clearly!).  Read about 'Empty Diary 2055' and see images by Patricia Farrell from its Ship of Fools publication  here

The whole sequence (written between about 1991 and 2020, with gaps) is now expired, along with my desire/need to write sonnets. (The English Strain has also demonstrated this ‘turn’).

Below you will find links to certain poems from the sequence (if that’s what it is) which have appeared online, but I will say a little about the project (if that’s what it is) first.

I remember the early stretch, 1901-90, conceived as writings out of photographs featuring women, as sheets of paper with the date at the top, which I would fill in a non-linear way. If I found a photograph with a woman in it for 1963 I would make notes on the ‘1963’ page and forget about them. Once I’d filled the sheets, I would work sequentially through the notes making poems from them, sometimes one a day throughout holidays from the FE college I worked at. That was the theory, and often the practice, but I inserted extras (quotations, other interfering materials) into the mix, and this account simplifies the process, as does memory!

From 1992 onwards, the poems were written in the years denoted, and subject to various processes. Though the focus on women and representations of women was important. I think you can see gender relations performed in the photographic representations of any time (particularly where men take the photos, but also – differently, crucially – where women do too). I think I was trying to write what I thought feminist poets with an innovative leaning should be writing. Remember, they were few and far between, when I began, though there were plenty of feminist poets writing in mainstream or popular modes. But any decisions about the sequence (like ‘the woman narrator is always a woman of 35’) were countermanded by some other part of it. It wasn’t theoretical, and little affected by feminist theory itself. I thought of it as the backbone of my long poem Twentieth Century Blues – and that it was finished with ‘Empty Diary 2000’, the final poem of the blues (dedicated to Barry MacSweeney). 

There is also a selection of them in my Selected Poems, the best ones I hope: History or Sleep from Shearsman. See here

In about 2014, I broke my rule that all the ‘strands’ of 
Twentieth Century Blues should end with that book, I decided to extend this one sequence into the current century: ‘Empty Diaries 2001-14’. A corona, note, 14 sonnets. (Again!) They are egregiously rude, using Google sculpting for the new century, rather than photographic ekphrasis.

Since 2015 I have been writing one a year (as were those written 1991-2000, by the way).  

‘Empty Diary 2019’ was ‘twittersculpted’, a tight bundle of what we find on a certain type of twitterfeed. I read it here. 


‘Empty Diary 2020’ had to deal with sex in the time of Corona (as ‘Empty Diary 1920’ touched on the Spanish Flu, see below), and did. In South Korea, they re-introduced stadium sports (empty terraces rather than empty diaries) by packing the seats with sex dolls. Imagine the groundman having to blow them all up! (An image I couldn’t get into the poem, by the way, as I similarly failed to use the line ‘Until then, sweetheart, enjoy his vanilla sundae,’ in ‘Empty Diary 2019’!). It is not google or twitter-sculpted, but written, consciously, as a sonnet (and it fits well with the sonnets of British Standards which were written around it.) I read it here. 

In addition to these two published this week, a group of earlier 'diaries' are online, and you can access them from the links below.

‘Empty Diary 1920’ may be read here:

The ‘Empty Diaries’ for 1905, 1936, 1954, 1968 may be read here:

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

See 'Empty Diary 1956' 

'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 (at
 the bottom of the page:

The first eight twenty-first century ‘Empty Diaries’ 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 ManifoldSee here.

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 

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

 Update 2021: You can guess what's happened! I've written an 'Empty Diary 2021'. Entitled 'Fleshly Encroachments' it is in a sort of lineated prose that alludes to the poems of the 1990s, and is my first poem, post the sonnets of The English Strain and of 'Empty Diary 2019' and '2020'. It looks like the strand of poems is continuing...