Friday, December 31, 2021

Happy Dogging New Year via a statement from Go and a transposition of a Wordsworth sonnet

 Happy New Year everybody!

It was in another world – a world we were part of, as it happens – that Go (a character that runs through the ‘English Strain’ project) issued his New Year announcement to the dogging community and to those who practice the dogging lifestyle. The post-Brexit largesse that would allow the newly-liberated populace of Bressex (that’s Britain’s new name) to fuck each other’s brains out in the open air didn’t materialise (as we knew it wouldn’t), and the dogging community and those who practice the dogging lifestyle, particularly in Kent (home of Sir Thomas Wyatt and subject of some of Wordsworth’s most patriotic and idiotic sonnets), have not had a grand time, what with lockdowns and Covid regulations, lorries queuing up, and pesky foreigners arriving on its chalky littoral. So, cast your mind back to the New Year 2018, when Brexit was replete with promise, like a pig’s bladder full of shit, and enjoy Go’s apocryphal statement to that essentially British community (and its lifestyle), apocryphal because, although dogging features in the poems, this document is a separate feature:  Pages: Christmas Message from the Right Hon M. Go, secretary of Rural Affairs, the post-Brexit Dogging Agency ( .

 So, one of those Kentish sonnets by Wordsworth, 'Vanloads of Libertines', ventriloquised by me, transposed into something othery and Brexity, seems like the best way to wish you a happy new year. On this video I read it (past tense).

On this post, you may read the text. (Present tense)

Pages: ON THIS DAY 2020 I wrote my final transposition of a sonnet by Wordsworth (

But you can also compare it with the original, with which it appeared in International Times:

‘Poems of National Independence – Liberties with Wordsworth’ | IT (

The very last poem of ‘The English Strain’ will be appearing in International Times soon! (Future tense!) Until then, read about Book One of 'The English Strain', The English Strain here .

Book Two, Bad Idea, is talked about here .

You can buy both books so far here: Pages: How to buy The English Strain books one and two together (


Book Three, from which the above poem comes, is called British Standards. Unpublished, it is best described here:

Friday, December 24, 2021

Merry Christmas to you all! (from Miles and me)

I usually have a break from this blog over Christmas, but I don't feel like it this year. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The Yearbook of English Studies for 2021, edited by Samuel Rogers, a quick survey

’Tis the year’s midnight, and I began the day at this desk in darkness, and I will continue to be in darkness in late afternoon and give myself an hour to reflect on The Yearbook of English Studies for 2021, edited by Samuel Rogers, a volume containing fourteen essays exploring a range of poetry from 1980 and the present.


I thought the essays were of a very high standard, and even my own contribution didn’t seem to conspicuously let the side down, my piece on Literary Collaboration. (I write about that here: Pages: My piece on 'Collaboration' is published in The Yearbook of English Studies 2021 ( As I have with other publications I now give myself no more that an hour (plus injury time) to comment on it. 21/12/2021: 16.32.      


I began reading (unusually for me, a cover-to-cover ploughee) in the middle, with Rory Waterman’s entertaining piece on parodies of Philip Larkin, useful for me because one of my (deliberately?) yet teasingly glimpsed new (abandoned?) projects, is to unwrite and overdub New Lines as a fictional poet work. It makes an unlikely appearance here: Pages: A Fictional Poet's Notebook (part 10) ( And I was entertained, clearly. It is interesting just how authoritative Larkin still seems, how recognizable the parodies. (Some of Wayne Pratt’s verses approach Larkin, but my new boy Perceval Lynam takes him on, but isn’t quite parody, since he is a poet of Different Lines.) 

Disinterest drove my inspection of Daniel Hughes’ work on Tony Conran, a poet I must read more of, clearly, of great ambition and scope. Likewise, Devon Campbell-Hall introduced me to the work of Raman Mundair, although I wasn’t particularly excited by the quotations (though they weren’t extensive enough to be properly exciting). I know Yvonne Reddick a little from events in Liverpool and (I think) at Edge Hill, and I enjoyed her work on Karen McCarthy Woolf, particularly for its summary of ecopoetics, and I noted that experimental ecopoetics is a thing (rejected by Reddick here). (That would include Camilla Nelson, one of my ‘collaborator’ subjects.) Peter Mackay dealt with Scottish Gaelic writers new to me, with the exception of Meg Bateman (who appeared in Foil years ago). The arguments over translation and publication seem spirited and worth recording for those outside Scotland (there was a little of that, referring to Wales, in Hughes’ piece).

Bridget Vincent’s piece on late Geoffrey Hill took a long view (and high view) of Hill’s work, and I enjoyed the emphasis on ‘attention’ (which I think should be emphasized in a poetics), but I didn’t warm to Hill’s austere ethical tone (I rather suspect his sense of self-importance, of which I have heard elsewhere: he puts himself at the top table and his admirers – I don’t mean Vincent – serve him whatever he wants). It’s 20 years since I saw a friend flee from one of his readings in terror! I continue to admire some of – what is now – his ‘early work’. Ted Hughes’ late work Birthday Letters (actually, he was writing them over the decades) gets a good reading from James Underwood, who emphasizes that ‘epistolary’ function in the title. How do we read ‘letters’? It got me thinking about that more generally and sent me off to an essay in the Poetic Genres companion that is referred to here. These ‘letters’ are not confessional, but weirdly dialogic: for closure and clarity. Another ‘great’ is Eavan Boland, and Nicholas Taylor-Collins argues why she should have been awarded a Nobel Prize! This is not as daft as it sounds, since Taylor-Collins traces Boland’s reputation against the award’s criteria, and she scores. Sarah Kennedy likewise sounds out Alice Oswald’s reputation and achievement, but focusses on her ‘classical presences’, in a convincing essay that makes me want to follow the work up (though I kept thinking of Simon Perril’s ‘Archilocus’ trilogy; see here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: Simon Perril’s Archilochus on the Moon).

Other contributors (including me) cannot rely on received reputations to argue for their writers, and don’t. There is no ‘This poem won the Blah Blah Prize’, because it didn’t! (This is only occurring to me now, as I survey the whole collection.) Instead, there is more exposition of writers’ associations (with presses and other writers and ‘traditions’, for example). Robert Kiely usefully unravels some references to mathematics in the work of Catherine Walsh, though the work studied, Optic Verve, is a bricolage of other materials (many of them intensely social, documents about a housing estate in Dublin, for example). Ian Davidson writes with an astonishing clarity about the ecologies of language (and of ecology, too!) in Tom Pickard (who we may think we know, but who has published a lot of recent work that has passed me by), Lesley Harrison (who is completely new to me, but looks fascinating, particularly work on Hull trawlers) and Welshman Rhys Trimble (whose book discussed here I possess but have yet to read): the attention on all three on language.

Staying (or straying back to Wales), editor Samuel Rogers writes on Zoe Skoulding (with passing references to Davidson as a poet) and his first few pages are a useful take on the lyric, going for Kate Hamburger’s theories (probably accessed through Jonathan Culler’s Theory of the Lyric). He squares a circle in linguistically innovative poetries by dealing with the lyric I as a function of language: ‘Poetry that actively points to the epistemological uncertainty of reality, as well as the impossibility of clear expression through the medium of language, can nevertheless produce some of the most sustained accounts of embodied experience of environment, landscape, nature, or place, as an “out there” beyond the text.’ (p. 268) So there! All this is negotiated through Skoulding’s early work. (I’m sensing Rogers is moving through the oeuvre. Good; Zoe deserves this exegete.)


Zoe reading

Robert Hampson presents the work of Prudence Chamberlain (as I did: we even use the same quotation!), Nisha Ramayya (I quote her in Pulse: Pages: Robert Sheppard: 'PULSE: All a Rhythm' published in Tentacular 5 (with links)), Alison Gibb, and Karen Sandhu, all of them tutored (for they are all students at Royal Holloway, we are talking here of the entry of innovative writing into the academy) by Redell Olsen, whose work (old and recent) is surveyed: the common denominators are feminist contents and radical expanded forms, extending into performance (which is where Robert’s precise essay collides with mine, which features readings of collaborative performance.)

A great collection, produced under ‘lockdown’ (you can follow my essay’s evolution on this blog, starting here, all links provided: Pages: Robert Sheppard: Thughts on Collaboration 1: Introduction .)

OK: all done in an hour. A glass of water and I’ll tidy it up and post it. 21/12/2021: 17.26.      

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Robert Sheppard: ‘So, now to the poetics’: from a Journal Entry, 22nd December 1983

Just as I completed typing this journal extract up, I decided that I probably wouldn’t include it in the book manuscript of/on poetics that I seem to be assembling at the moment, that I might call (after one of its most authoritative, and even influential, pieces) The Necessity of Poetics. (You can read that here: in one of its versions.) It was written, deliberately, as poetics, not as a theory of poetry. I had just worked out that theory for my PhD – and here I decide to write about some of those ideas (Veronica Forrest-Thomson and some structuralists, and Ricoeur and Marcuse, who I name) without academic gloss, or references. I find the mentions of Auden and the language poets a little odd, but I do like the parts about the uses of the self and the lyric, and particularly the following sentence: ‘I see the desire for a diminished self as a healthy move towards a New Humanism, which accepts than Man is no longer to be thought of as the central, originating presence of the universe (in the place of God).’ This refers, at least in part (and much of this piece combines various traditions of thought) to ‘eco-humanism’, which I was reading at the time, or a little bit earlier. It also is a riposte to certain attacks on the avant-garde for its refusal of identity. The other continuity is the thought of Christopher Middleton (see here: Pages: Christopher Middleton (1926-2015) i.m. ( and Pages: Robert Sheppard: Inaugural Lecture PART 2: Measuring Experience (on Christopher Middleton). His Viking Prow has been churning poetic quietude for decades now. I find this piece more open than slightly later attempts to codify poetic artifice, as in this piece, ‘Flashlight Propositions’, which I also think I am going to omit from the book. What did I call them? Oh yes: ‘operational axioms’! Later notions of poetics loosen these operations and those axioms a lot! (As here, again:

So, now to the poetics.

            The enemy can be defined as The English Poetic Tradition. It has afforded us some of the greatest poets of our language, but in this century, it has spawned midgets and misguided talents, e.g. Larkin and Auden. The text is thought of as forever closed, as an utterance coming from the empirical author. The poem translates thoughts into words and the words then become transparencies behind which we can clearly see the thoughts. This is what is thought to be ‘communication’. The poetry offers us the familiar (England, more often than not) and its details are easily naturalised. The iambic pentameter is a major defining characteristic, yet even this is value-ridden. Not least of all, in its transparent moulding of speech, it reifies the speaking voice and thus the illusion that there is the presence of a transcendental ego behind (and before) the poem. The pervasive self-hood seems to be the aspect of poetry that is definitely in a state of crisis, although the Wayne Pratts of this world might not think so. Historically, the notion of a self-hood in poetry is a recent and, possibly, lamentable development. But the subjectivity of the text should not necessarily be that of the author (empirical or ‘implied’).

            This, then, is The Enemy: The Great I am and the Great Iambic.

            How do I see my own work developing, in the light of this? How has it developed to date?

            I want the Self in my poetry to be indeterminate, relative and – at times – plural. Far from seeing this as an anti-humanistic, alienated poetry, I see the desire for a diminished self as a healthy move towards a New Humanism, which accepts than Man is no longer to be thought of as the central, originating presence of the universe (in the place of God). But the reader is the real person of the text, not the writer, or even the characters, of a poem. The writer is the catalyst of the poem. As far as the reader is concerned, the writer is a self produced by the text. But as far as the writer is concerned, the text is produced by the writer – and if he or she is a truly contemporary writer, he or she will see that the text is completed by the reader. The writer and the reader are both the producers of meaning of the text. The horizons of the poetic world of the writer (in writing the text) fuse with the differing horizons of the readers (in reading the text). This is not what is commonly thought of as communication.

            This is not to argue that ‘I’ cannot appear in a text. It is only to be aware that as soon as I have written ‘I’, I am a reader of that text myself, since the self in not a stable entity (although it undoubtedly has recurring characteristics and is part of a history), but is an effect of consciousness produced in the acts of perception, moment-by-moment in a time continuum. Je est un autre, and this is cause rather for wonder, than for angst and alienation. The writer is free to use one self, or many selves in a text. In reading the text, the readers receive a new self (not the writer’s, I hasten to add. Brain transplants may be theoretically possible, but not via the medium of poetry!).

            American forebears dissolved the egotistical self in the act of perception.

            Iambics are already avoided in my work, and this indeterminacy of the self and the indeterminacy of perception demand some form of indeterminate structure. This can occur at the level of rhythm or at the level of semantics, but it will inevitably happen. Defamiliarisation, for example, is a formal procedure to prolong and frustrate perception. The Russian formalists saw this as an end in itself, but it carries a moral dimension: that of reactivating the reader’s perceptions and destroying habitualised, automatic perception. It is also pleasurable. We must avoid stuffy texts at all costs.

            The point of these modes of openness is existential and – ultimately – political, and they must never become obsolete through overuse, in imagese, or ‘place poetry’, or conventionalised cut-up. (That’s why it is not possible to say what my ‘freedom forms’, as Roy Fisher calls them, will be.)

            Whether my poetry is a poetry that is co-extensive with reality, or whether it is the poetry of a fictive landscape, it still involves defamiliarisation. In defamiliarising the dominant reality, in offering sensuous images from the point of view of a formal autonomy, the poem is operating as an (implicit) critique of that dominant reality. It gives pleasure. Pleasure may excite us, but it might not necessarily move us. To be moved the reader must feel that the poem is opening up for the fusion of horizons. This may be achieved through the category-expansion of metaphor, by the opening up of a world by the entire poem, or sequence of poems. This world is an image of a possible reality, a synopsis for a new mode of Being. (It is at this point that the theories of Ricoeur and Marcuse meet.)

            This is my latest formulation of what I called formalist-humanism. It is obvious that whether or not I indulge in self-disclosure is completely irrelevant to this aspect of poetry. Whatever the terms reality, reality principle or Being signify, then I take it that a poem is intimately involved (as far as the reader is concerned) in what Christopher Middleton has called, in an equally hesitating manner, ‘if not the revelation of being, then … apertures upon being’. (His ‘Notes on a Viking Prow’ become more and more important for me as I explore this whole area.)

            So, what is the writer’s job? To produce language that appears to have coherent origin, the sort of stream-of-wordprocessor writing that the American language poets indulge in? No. That does not give pleasure (or, at least, not much). It certainly cannot move us, if by moving we accept my above definition (as the shock of new significations from out of the old). No, the writer’s job is to attend so attentively to his or her poetic focus that he or she fails to expend energy on the self as a supposedly stable entity. And if the past selves of the writer’s ego happen to be the poetic focus, the self which is the effect of the text will still be another self. And then – but I’m beginning to repeat myself – the reader enters the picture!

Sunday, December 05, 2021

Pete Clarke's new catalogue and our on-going collaborations

Pete Clarke has published an exciting new catalogue, Other Echoes … doubt and distance, featuring work he has been painting at Bluecoat over the last couple of years. It is wide-ranging and includes his ‘doubt and distance … of lost content’, which is now in the Walker Gallery, after it was short-listed for the John Moores Painting Prize in 2017. That's Pete and the painting in The Walker below. You can contact the publisher (Pete at the Bluecoat) at Studio 4, Bluecoat, School Lane, L1 3BX. Pete’s website is

The catalogue includes work based around ‘Arena Area’, a series of (deliberately) short poems that I wrote for/with Pete. We took a walk around Liverpool and found the remains of a ‘car park fire’ down the docks in January 2018. He took photos; I looked (and wrote, later). The text appears in the new catalogue, 12 short poems, for example:


parked in the park forever

a darkness that darkens the lungs

concentrated pitch


with which it starts. Pete has produced a number of small canvases which use these words, sometimes re-ordering them, sometimes focusing in on groups of words (in and across lines). Here are some of those images.


I also read 7 of the sections behind a page of the catalogue on this video. (By chance I begin by reading the words on the canvasses arranged on this page, which are also those quoted above.)


The catalogue refers to our ‘on-going’ collaboration, but we haven’t done anything this side of lockdown. Perhaps this catalogue will spur us on. But we have been going for a long time now. Below are links to other works of ours.

Pages: Pete Clarke and Robert Sheppard: 'Black Panels' in John Lennon School of Art Exhibition


The text ‘Area Arena’ appears both in the catalogue, and in my Red Ceilings volume Micro Event Space. One of Pete’s works from the accompanying sequence formed part of its cover, above. You may read more about that book and its micro-launches (which don’t look so funny post-lockdown post-social distancing!) here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: Micro Event Space launched in a series of micro-readings in micro event spaces

Thursday, December 02, 2021

No need for a fourth book of The English Strain, I've decided

Pages: Should I write a fourth ‘book’ of The English Strain project? ( In that post I tasked myself with writing a fourth book of my ‘English Strain’ project. In this post I shall explain why I don’t think I will be doing that!

Bo bored with The English Strain

I have immersed myself in the poetry of the 1890s, and in the period (via Ellman’s biography of Oscar Wilde, which I have been meaning to read since 1992, when Patricia bought the book). The poetry is not exceptional, though fascinating (I studied it at UEA on the Baudelaire to Eliot module with George Hyde) and I believe that the single one I have written, an overdub of a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem of 1889, is sound. I spent some time looking at candidates, from Scouser Richard le Gallienne to Arthur Symons, to get the sickly flavour of that yellow decade and its decadence. The enervation was attractive and appropriate to our political realities in all sorts of ways. (Johnson is as careless and profligate as Wilde, it struck me.) The Hopkins was chosen as a kind of introduction to the decade.

Bo bored with Bad Idea might have helped with finding other poems to overdub or transpose. The Penguin Poetry of the Nineties anthology (I have had the first edition since 1974, but now have the 1997 second edition, with more women poets and Wilde) would have been central.

But (with Patricia now back at Blue Room) I thought I’d leap in (only 3 days after waking up with the thought of this next book!). I identified 3 poets not in the Penguin anthology who seemed precursors to the real decadents (about whom I’d listened to on a ‘In Our Time’ programme the previous Thursday); there were to be Hopkins, Swinburne, and (most obviously) Wilde. I only got as far as the Hopkins. Here’s the original, one of his last poems and probably the only one of his with somebody having a shit in it! (Of course, you can be assured that my poem took that into account). I also re-read Will Daunt’s book on Hopkins in Lancashire, which came out of some MA work that that fine poet (Daunt I mean) did with me at Edge Hill: Daunt, Will. Gerard Manley Hopkins: The Lydiate Connections. Ormskirk: Ormskirk Imprint, 2019.

The shepherd's brow, fronting forked lightning, owns
The horror and the havoc and the glory
Of it. Angels fall, they are towers, from heaven—a story
Of just, majestical, and giant groans.
But man—we, scaffold of score brittle bones;
Who breathe, from groundlong babyhood to hoary
Age gasp; whose breath is our memento mori—
What bass is our viol for tragic tones?
He! Hand to mouth he lives, and voids with shame;
And, blazoned in however bold the name,
Man Jack the man is, just; his mate a hussy.
And I that die these deaths, that feed this flame,
That … in smooth spoons spy life’s masque mirrored: tame
My tempests there, my fire and fever fussy.

[Note: My version of this poem is now published online by the International Times, and may be read here: ]

The jump from the 1840s to the 1880s is a incongruous one, if I only write this one and place it at the end of British Standards, which is what I currently plan to do. The poem itself foresees the demise of Bo – now openly called Johnson, the shine rubbed off – with the final ‘knife … in whose hand’? (My money’s on Sunak, though I’d like to see the whole avaricious crew go down.)

I enjoyed writing this poem (which you will forgive me for having posted on this blog for only a few days), enjoying my ‘overdub’ method, but I need to ‘end my solo before I’m done’ (as I often quote Miles). (The method could be used to unwrite New Lines (see Pages: A Fictional Poet's Notebook (part 10) (; I might do that, a totally different project!)).

A fourth book of ‘The English Strain’ project? While my poetics often thinks about the reader (though I gesture towards ‘readers’ as the actual plural users of the text) I seldom think about readers as ‘consumers’ in the ‘poetry’ market, as people buying books with limited resources, with ever-diminishing marginal propensities to consume (A Level economics coming back there). I doubt if readers would want to read a fourth book (a third might be pushing it!), and it might be politic to move on. Soon.

Despite liking ‘The shepherd’s brow’ by Hopkins, would not further production be in danger of being merely that, if I were to version some of the sonnets of the period? There are 31 in the 1997 Poetry of the 1890s: Wratislaw, Robinson, Nadeau, Douglas, Henley, Dowson, Johnson, Symons, Gray, etc.. None has – unequivocally – the ‘fruit fly’ quality that Queneau talked about (he had Mallarme, of course). In fact, only Symons interests me much (as I suggest here:  Pages: Should I write a fourth ‘book’ of The English Strain project? ( I possess a 1913 edition of his The Knave of Hearts, a copy once owned by Agnes Bedford, who I discovered (reading Peter Brooker’s book on the London Modernist avant garde) was a friend of either Olivia or Dorothy Shakespeare, Pound’s mother in law and his wife. She had written in pencil the original French of Symon’s translations of Verlaine. There’s something there, I think. (My Verlaine appears early in Book One: see here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: Petrarch 3 published a year ago  but also here, about the book whose cover appears next: Pages: Practice-Led piece on 'Petrarch 3' from The English Strain published in Translating Petrarch's Poetry (Legenda) (

 Update July 2022: A final poem, ending the project at the end of book three, has been published in International Times, an appropriate venue for a finale of these political poems: ‘The final poem of British Standards, the third and final book of the ‘English Strain’ Project’, I announce before its subtitle: ‘Monitoring Adam Mickiewicz’ first Crimean Sonnet: The Ackerman Steppe’. Its actual title is ‘After-Shock’, the last of four ‘After’ poems at the end of the book.

Read it here:

Read about the first two books (now both available); The English Strain here, which features sonnets from Petrarch (via the Symbolists) to EBB, and whose cover (by Patricia Farrell) presents a composite image of the transposed poets, contrasting with the single image of Petrarch above it! :

and Bad Idea which features only versions of the sonnets of Michael Drayton, here:

and about the unpublished third book, British Standards, which features Romantic Era sonnets only: here:

The POETICS of the sequence, may be accessed here: Shifting an Imaginary: Poetics in Anticipation – New Defences of Poetry ( This piece is currently planned for inclusion in British Standards. 

Pages: Should I write a fourth ‘book’ of The English Strain project? ( lays out some of the thinking about book four which I am now rejecting!

Bo bored with British Standards

In essence, two worries: that I might simply go into automatic 'production' mode, AND that the readership (such as it is) will be bored by 'more of the same'. The two are not unrelated.  

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Should I write a fourth ‘book’ of The English Strain project?

Should I write a fourth ‘book’ of The English Strain project? (I hear some groans!)

 Should I let Bo(ris) get away with it? is another way of putting that question. Ending the English Strain project seemed – still seems – a good idea, at the point that Global Britain failed its first test by withdrawing from Afghanistan (not by choice, but because it was following the US). Bo is so much weaker than he was, less a figure of fun and more a principle of chaos, boostering around the booster vaccine (I had mine!) without a mask, cancelling trains, burning bridges, plundering social care reserves, building a Royal Yacht, defending his chums, then U turning, you know the stuff …


A phantom fourth book suggests itself (though it might morph into something altogether else). And Victorian sonnets (though why just sonnets? Patricia asks me; I have resolved not to write even a 14 line poem again!) suggest themselves as vehicles. There’s an unthinkably expensive 5 volume anthology containing 2000 such beasts (here: ). There are famous sequences (I’ve covered EBB in book one), such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s rather abstract ‘The House of Life’ (see or sister Christina’s ‘Monna Innominata’ (see

) which fit structurally, but don’t inspire. Then I thought about Meredith’s Modern Love, but that’s too narrative – though obviously all these attributes can be subverted to subvert my subject matter, or poetic focus, as I prefer. Then I wondered about Decadent Sonnets (that’s a possible title!) and I spent some time looking at them, from Scouser Richard le Gallienne’s (who went to school round the corner and published his first book in Liverpool!) and Arthur Symons, his ‘Nerves’, for example, but as yet have resolved nothing! Here is Symons, to give the sickly flavour of that yellow decade and its decadence:

The modern malady of love is nerves.

Love, once a simple madness, now observes

The stages of his passionate disease,

And is twice sorrowful because he sees,

Inch by inch entering, the fatal knife.

O health of simple minds, give me your life,

And let me, for one midnight, cease to hear

The clock for ever ticking in my ear,

The clock that tells the minutes in my brain.

It is not love, nor love's despair, this pain

That shoots a witless, keener pang across

The simple agony of love and loss.

Nerves, nerves! O folly of a child who dreams

Of heaven, and, waking in the darkness, screams.


Not great, but the enervation is attractive.

 Hartley Coleridge and EBB appear in books 3 and 1 respectively, and maybe the single Dante Rosetti poem in book 3 (see it, or rather, hear it, here: represent the outer limits of Romanticism, as covered so far: all just prior to 1850, so maybe that is a starting gate. To count back through this online list of Victorian poets from Bottomley to (for 25 poems, one per poet), Hardy, or to 50 (Marston) or to 75 (Fergusson) suggests the sort of extent possible. Fifty seems the best, if this were the method. Which I’m not saying it would be. All poets and poems here: . Though maybe something more selective, with other sources might work better. But one poem per poet (as in ‘14 Standards’ in book three) seems to be emerging as an idea. (Not enough women on this list, though.)  

 Obviously, there is reading to do, but prior to that there is checking (in several senses of the word) the ‘impulse’. That can’t be decided in the same way a corpus of poems for transposition may be selected. Should the focus still be the very Bo who is ‘getting away with it’?

Update July 2022: BUT NOW a last poem has been published in International Times, an appropriate venue for a finale of these political poems: ‘The final poem of British Standards, the third and final book of the ‘English Strain’ Project’ I announce before its subtitle: ‘Monitoring Adam Mickiewicz’ first Crimean Sonnet: The Ackerman Steppe’. Its actual title is ‘After-Shock’, the last of four ‘After’ poems at the end of the book.

Read it here:

Read about the first two books (now both available); The English Strain here, which features sonnets from Petrarch to EBB:

and Bad Idea which features ONLY the sonnets of Michael Drayton, here:

and about the third book, British Standards, which features Romantic Era sonnets only: here:

 Why am I sharing plans that might see the light of day but might not? I don’t do this for other projects I’m working on (though the fictional poets material has had outings on the blog). It’s because the entire project (as the links just above this paragraph and its links demonstrate) has been ‘tested out’ and discussed, and partly published (with videos of me reading the poems) on this blog. Each poem was temporarily posted here, since they were written (or transposed) in a few hours, a very unusual practice for me, with the posting part of the process.

 As to the POETICS of the sequence, that may be accessed here: Shifting an Imaginary: Poetics in Anticipation – New Defences of Poetry ( That piece is planned for inclusion in Book Three, British Standards. Its final sentence seems appropriate to this post too: ‘I cannot say what comes next and I’m saying it now.’ There’s the irony.

NB The answer to the question of my title was YES. (Wrote one poem.) Then NO. See here:

Pages: No need for a fourth book of The English Strain, I've decided (

Friday, November 19, 2021

My piece on 'Collaboration' is published in The Yearbook of English Studies 2021

The Yearbook of English Studies for 2021 examines contemporary poetry from Britain and Ireland. Edited by Samuel Rogers, the volume contains fourteen essays exploring a range of poetry from 1980 and the present.


Permanent link: 

The volume is organized into four sections. ‘Place, Identity, Environment’ contains discussions of Tony Conran, Raman Mundair, Geoffrey Hill, and Karen McCarthy Woolf. Attention is paid to questions of nationhood, cultural identity and ethnicity, the ethics of attention, and the pressing matter of climate change. In the second section, ‘Placing Language’, Rhys Trimble, Lesley Harrison, and Tom Pickard are compared; Gaelic poetry is explored via Meg Bateman, Ruaraidh MacThòmais, Rody Gorman, and others; an analysis of Catherine Walsh further underlines the connections to place afforded by language.

The third section, ‘Ways of Looking Back’, mediates between the contemporary and the past. This includes classical presences in Alice Oswald, parodic responses to Philip Larkin (no comment), and a consideration of the late Eavan Boland’s legacy. A fourth section showcases some of poetry’s ‘Forms of Meaning’, a Sheppardian title if ever there was!  Redell Olsen’s cross media lineage is traced to Sophie Robinson, Nisha Ramayya, and others. Ted Hughes is revisited via the epistolary tradition. Literary collaboration is approached through Kelvin Corcoran, Alan Halsey, S. J. Fowler, Prudence Chamberlain, and Camilla Nelson. {That’s my bit!} Finally, the complications of the contemporary lyric are examined in Zoë Skoulding’s work.

My chapter 'Doubling Up: Modes of Literary Collaboration in Contemporary British Innovative Poetry', is described in my abstract:

 Literary collaboration has become an important part of contemporary poetic practice in the last few years. Types of collaboration vary: Kelvin Corcoran and Alan Halsey have collaborated over many years; other pairings may be one-offs, as in the series of collaborative events (‘Enemies’ and 'Camarades') organized by S. J. Fowler. This discussion compares the Corcoran–Halsey texts with selections from the printed and online manifestations of Fowler's pairings, particularly with Prudence Chamberlain and Camilla Nelson. I engage with performance, though not with the broader sphere of cross-media collaboration. I ask whether it is possible to locate the kind of seamless collaboration that genuinely creates what some commentators call 'the third voice'; however dialogically it is produced, it produces a single entity, an imagined unitary subject position.

 Thanks Sam Rogers for editing this.

 My working method was quite a laborious one. Encouraged by the fact that I drafted some of the chapters of my book The Meaning of Form as posts on this blog (a hub-post to the many links is found here: Pages: Robert Sheppard The Meaning of Form: forms and forming in contemporary innovative poetry (Summary and Weblinks)) I decided to blog about ‘collaboration’, both in terms of my own literary collaborations (such as the recent pair of pamphlets with Bob Cobbing republished (in a box) by Veer here: Pages: COLLABORATIONS (Bob Cobbing - Robert Sheppard) published in a box by Veer - out now) and about my critical readings of the above named writers, and I assembled 14 posts (with links to one review on Stride and another on Litter related to it). You can find all that here:

Of course, the published piece is more economical (there are gains and losses in that). And it is accompanied by others’ works, which might be more interesting for you. If you have access to jstor you might find it here: Doubling Up: Modes of Literary Collaboration in Contemporary British Innovative Poetry on JSTOR

A subsequent piece, on Tim Atkins, I decided to write without recourse to the blog. In one situation this method was advantageous; in the other, it was less so (not for the reader, I trust, but for me, as writer!).

Nevertheless, the whole process of writing academic literary criticism is a little in question for me, given the effort required and the absence of reward (not even, on occasion, receiving a copy of the book). Perhaps I prefer the kinds of loose poetics/criticism I used for Pulse and developed in relation to The English Strain, all three volumes. (For the former, see here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: 'PULSE: All a Rhythm' published in Tentacular 5 (with links); for the latter, here: But then I do enjoy engaging with the difficulties of text and the intricacies of reading. 



A major part of my chapter concerns the contents of SJ Fowler's Nemeses, his selected collaborations. He seems to like the final thing: A note on : Robert Sheppard's brilliant essay on collaboration — SJ Fowler (

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Three new poems from British Standards published in Overground Underground

 I am pleased to say I have three poems in the second issue of the Liverpool-based magazine Overground Underground, masterminded and edited by Michael Sutton. More about those poems later. The editorial says the magazine contains ‘just the kind of echoey, interrelational, intergenerational jewellery box we strive to unlid before the world’. I’m something to do with that third adjective.

It’s a colourful, visual gathering (I’ve not had time to read it yet), and may be obtained here:


Issue 2 also features work from Ameek, Amphis Design, Kathryn Aldridge-Morris, George Ashdown, CD Boyland, Emma Buckley, Kayleigh Cassidy, Janet Clare, German Dario, Darren C. Demaree, Joe Devlin, Michelle Lynn Dyrness, Joel Robert Ferguson, Emma Filtness, Hollie Goodwin, Paul Hawkins, Rus Khomutoff, Charles J. March III, Richard Marshall, Michelle Moloney King, Zach Murphy, Jacqueline Nicholls, Emily Orley, JP Seabright, Craig Sinclair and Rob Stewart. It was printed with love at Printworks, Liverpool.

I noticed that Rob Stewart’s ‘Poem Model 1’ is a transposition of ‘Sonnet 72 by Shakespeare’ (one of the few sonneteers to escape my clutches in ‘the English Strain’ project).

 My contribution consists of three ‘sonnets’ from the ‘14 Standards’ section of British Standards, part three of the project. See below for news of the first two parts. These are transpositions of ‘To a Young Lady, Purposing to Marry a Man of Immoral Character in the Hope of his Reformation’ (what a title! what a cad!), by Anna Seward, ‘The Idiot Girl’ by Mary F. Johnson (which is a sort of true story, re-narrated during lockdown), and ‘A Dance of Nymphs’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. They are all in different ‘forms’. I read two of them here, but you’ll have to get the magazine to see the forms. ‘The Idiot Girl’ is too long for these short videos.


 ‘To a Young Lady, Purposing to Marry a Man of Immoral Character in the Hope of his Reformation’


'A Dance of Nymphs'

You can read more about ‘14 Standards’ section here, and find links to more texts and/or videos:

 and about the third book, British Standards, here:

And about the first two books (now both available) The English Strain here:

and Bad Idea here:

 (All of these have further links to more poems and the sites to buy the books and read their reviews, so far.) 

Monday, November 15, 2021

A poem about Dante published in Junction Box (links)

I’m pleased to see that my poem ‘Thinking About Dante’ is published in Lyndon Davies’ excellent online magazine Junction Box. Here:

 Thanks Lyn.

 I’m not the only one ‘thinking about Dante’ because this issue, number 16, is a special issue of the magazine to celebrate Dante’s 700th anniversary. To read the rest of the magazine, it’s probably best to go to this page and navigate from it:

The other contributors are Pierre Joris, Fran Lock, Eléna Rivera, David Annwn, Allen Fisher, Ellen Dillon, Ian Brinton, Lee Duggan, Doug Jones, Scott Thurston, Angela Gardner,  Tom Jenks, Beth Greenhalgh, Philip Terry, Peter Hughes and David Rees, Steph Goodger, Simon Collings, Rebecca Chesney, montenegrofisher, David Rees Davies, Penny Hallas, Chris McCabe, Susan Adams, Robert Hampson, Tessa Waite, Peter Larkin, Nerys Williams, Graham Hartill, Stephen Emmerson, Frances Woodley, Steven Hitchins, Anthony Mellors, and Lyndon Davies.

I haven’t had a good look at it, but I will, and I’ll start with the editorial:

The request to respond to Dante arrived at a very difficult time for me. I’d just finished working on the three-volume English Strain project, which begins with versions of Petrarch and ends with Hartley Coleridge (and one supplementary version of Shelley’s long lost poem). I write all about that here:

The last thing I wanted to do was plunge into another ‘transposition’, as I call my versions, and reading a review (in the Handyman, in the way the poem describes) of some of the anniversary volumes on Dante, I knew I wasn’t much drawn to him (putting your mates in Hell seems a much praticised rhetorical move of the era). I’d already decided I would never write another sonnet (!) and Philip Terry had already carved up the Inferno (he’s in Junction Box, too, by the way.) So I found myself drawn into speculation and memory, and massive disrespect (that’s probably a hangover from the sonneteering!).  

Here are two comprehensive posts to check out, each with further links to earlier stages of the sonnet project, the first that looks at Book One, The English Strain here (written after I’d completed it but before it found its title!).  There’s another post on Book Two, Bad Idea here .