I've finished working on Keats' sonnets, though admittedly 200 years after Keats himself. I want to reflect upon that a little, but not before I've given you a wider context for this part of the larger project. I began work on a book entitled British Standards in pre-Covid 2020, but post-Brexit Independence Day. Both of those ‘issues’ are important to it, as is the fact that all the poems are 'transpositions' of Romantic sonnets. And the first will still remain so, even with recent news (slipped into this poem at the time of writing, late November 2020, where news stays news) that now THREE vaccines are on their way. The first section was finished late March, just after the (first) lockdown was belatedly, fatally for some, announced. For this, I transposed poems from Wordsworth’s ‘Poems Dedicated to National Independence and Liberty’, and retitled them ‘Poems of National Independence’, and even more cheekily subtitled them, ‘liberties with Wordsworth’. I write about that sequence here: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2020/03/the-last-of-my-wordsworth-versions-in.html
Then followed ‘14 Standards’, the lockdown poems, and in turn, two additional ‘Double Standards’ about the now-departed Cum’s disgraceful lockdown infringements – I transposed a couple of Shelley’s sonnets – and his elitist refusal of apology and regret. See here for all 16 ‘standards’: http://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2020/05/robert-sheppard-14-standards-from.html . There are links to online publication of some of the poems too (as there are in many of these links).
‘Tabitha and Thunderer’, interventions in the sonnet sequence ‘Sappho and Phaon’ by Mary Robinson, followed, and they may be read about (with video) here: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2020/09/my-transpositions-of-mary-robinsons.html
Another Shelley transposition, on ‘Ozymandias’ this time, may be read about here (in a post that is the hubpost for my dispersed versions of Shelley):
‘Ozymandias’ is positioned alone after my Robinson poems. Then I turned to Keats! I had some trouble getting going; you can read about that struggle here: http://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2020/09/an-overdub-understudy-version-of-keats.html
This post will operate as a hub post as I call it: listing any publications that may ensue, of
this Keats sequence ‘Weird Syrup’. The first 7 are entitled ‘Contrafacts and Counterfactuals from Keats’. These were composed of 14 couplets. Now I have finished a new group called ‘Curtal Song-Nets from Junkets’, and they are curtal sonnets, a weird (but unsyrupy) combination of the stanza developed from the sonnet by Keats for his Odes and from the curtal-sonnet invented by Hopkins, which I made a late decision to remode as 10 couplets with a tail/tale to trail/tell.
That last poem was displayed here for a week.
That last poem was displayed here for a week.It was almost a farewell to satire, almost (because I think the rest of British Standards might be less satirical, but I'm not sure). I read the following piece the other month, and it struck me as important to the misgivings I have now and again about the socially referential aspects of this project, but then I realise and accept that satire has to thrive on those: ‘There’s something about satire which means that it oozes outwards quicker than other modes, it forces the reader to draw the text into relation with the social totality quicker, it is ecological insofar as it is always profoundly embedded in a wide contextual web and twangs those threads repeatedly.’ says Robert Kiely. I like the 'oozing' motion referred to there, and an ecological gloss on what might be thought purely logical, as it were.
Future publications from 'Weird Syrup' will be listed HERE. None has yet been submitted to magazines.
What comes after Keats? I could write through another sonnet by Shelley (though I'm going off the idea of treating Shelley's 'Ode to the West Wind' as a sequence of 5 sonnets). Individual sonnets have been operating as 'interval' sonnets throughout the book. I've even thought of returning to Wordsworth, since he was so productive at the start of the year; I've read through his sequence to the River Duddon, his last important work, though I might check out the sonnets about capital punishment again. One of my running arguments about Brexit was that it was about re-introducing hanging once we were free of inconvenient human rights. Maybe. Eventually I see the book British Standards ending with versions of Clare's sonnets, probably as quennets (since I've largely superseded sonnet frames in the development of my larger project). But, as I had problems with Bad Idea (book two of the 'English Strain project), in that I ran out of poems to version before I'd reached Brexit, the same has happened in regards to the Brexit Transition Period and Covid-19! I have difficulties here (which are admittedly my problem and of little importance to you) which I will have to deal with.
Next day: further readings and notes. The sonnets on capital punishment (in support of, by the way) end with the reassuring line: 'Cheered with the prospect of a brighter day'! Preposterous! I won't be working on these, but I might choose the sequence just before it in the old Oxford Wordsworth, the 14 poems of 'Sonnets Dedicated to Liberty and Order', a title that is often confused by critics with the 1802-3 poems that I used earlier in the year (see here). These dried out fossils of verse were written (in a Urizen-like authoritative tone) in the 1830s and 1840s, and are just waiting for me; I know it. I can feel it in my prostate (which has been more or less cleared by my consultant after the biopsy, by the way, and possibly the reason these poems are starting to flow again). The abandonment of BOTH the 14 line frame AND the satirical voice may have to be delayed a bit. But then look at these two, pretending they are pulling a Christmas cracker:
Looking back, I have a full post on my previous ‘Trump’ poems (he’s only on-stage now and then; this is the ‘ENGLISH strain’ after all), here:
And I’ve left a residue about the fourth ‘Curtal Song Net’, and its references to Trump here:
In writing these poems, I have been helped by Zuccato, Edoardo. Petrarch in Romantic England. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, a book I have read very quickly, having come across it reading (even more quickly) Translating Petrarch’s Poetry (a book I am in wrtiting about my earliest 'transposed sonnets' and you can read about that here: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2020/09/practice-led-piece-on-petrarch-3-from.html )
Before we completely leave Keats, it's worth recording that I’ve made counterfactual use, as it were, of Keats before, in my volume of three short stories, The Only Life (Knives Forks and Spoons, 2011), in which I briefly describe Keats’ thoughts and actions on his eightieth birthday. Read about that here: http://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2012/01/only-life.html . Buy it here: https://www.knivesforksandspoonspress.co.uk/product-page/the-only-life-by-robert-sheppard-41-pages
Looking to the whole project (and in explanation) let me emphasise that British Standards is (or will be, when completed) book three of my ‘English Strain’ Project. My ghostly production of Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’ turned the project (that will appear in the next Tears in the Fence), so that it could not turn back to the 14 line sonnet frame (see https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2020/09/my-occasional-transposition-of-shelley.html ). I’d been looking at some poems of Robert Duncan, ‘derivative’ (his word) of Dante’s sonnets, which weren’t formally sonnets at all. (I mean they possessed none of the determinants of sonnethood; not even 14 lines.) That seemed like a necessary formal ‘volta’, or ‘turn’, as the sequence begins the long descent towards the runway. I have a determination (though not religiously so) to never write a 14 line poem, or a sonnet-approximate poem, again, once this project is completed.
On this blog, as I’m guessing most regular visitors know, I’ve documented ‘The English Strain’ as work has progressed through to its third book. Here are two comprehensive posts to check out, with lots of links to online excerpts and other ruminating blogposts, 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: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2019/12/my-last-ideas-mirror-post-election-poem.html ).
I’m delighted to announce that Bad Idea is available NOW from Alec Newman’s excellent press Knives Forks and Spoons, with a cover design by Patricia Farrell. You may get it HERE: https://www.knivesforksandspoonspress.co.uk/product-page/bad-idea-by-robert-sheppard-102-pages
Cover design: above, the cover; below, the original image, by Patricia Farrell
Cover design: above, the cover; below, the original image, by Patricia Farrell
There are two ways of seeing this book. One: it is a homage to Michael Drayton’s 1619 sonnet sequence, Idea, skilful transpositions into contemporary forms. Two: it tells the story of Brexit, as it passes through the body politic, the undigested cake and eat it of daily life. We read of the peccadillos and pet projects of the Brexiteers, the ineptitude of resistance. Expect comedy and chaos rather than analysis, ‘how not to get the blues while singing the blues’. Drayton is both Renaissance man and man of resentment. His worshipped muse Idea is a tragic Scouse idealist caught in a satire nobody can quite control. ‘The English Strain’ of the sonnet tradition meets the dogging sites of post-Brexit Britain. You’ve got to laugh.
There are a number of reviews of Hap, but here’s a pretty new one: Prince, D.A. ‘Hap by Robert Sheppard’, on Sphinx: Poetry Pamphlet Reviews and Features: https://www.sphinxreview.co.uk/index.php/946-robert-sheppard-hap-understudies-of-thomas-wyatt-s-petrarch (2020)
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 )
Look here for Petrarch 3 in its wonderful fold-out map format.
As I've said in my opening remarks, British Standards presents transpositions of notable sonnets of the Romantic period, from those by William Bowles to Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Chronologically, they lie 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: