On this blog I’ve documented ‘The English Strain’ as work has progressed through to its current third book, British Standards, with which this temporary post will be mostly concerned: another transposition of a sonnet by John Clare. In short, the parts of ‘The English Strain’ are:
1. The English Strain (Shearsman, forthcoming, I’ve proofread it, added the cover text, and it’s coming soonish)
2. Bad Idea (Knives, Forks and Spoons, available now; see below)
3. British Standards (work in progress, i.e., today’s poem!)
There’s another post on Book Two, Bad Idea here . (The final part of Bad Idea is slightly different; called ‘Idea’s Mirror’; that’s described here: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2019/12/my-last-ideas-mirror-post-election-poem.html ).
I am delighted to say that Book Two, Bad Idea is available from Knives Forks and Spoons, so you may buy it HERE and NOW: https://www.knivesforksandspoonspress.co.uk/product-page/bad-idea-by-robert-sheppard-102-pages
I write about the book here too: Pages: A Well-Deserved Break/Bad Idea available/Brexit Christmas Past (robertsheppard.blogspot.com)
Back to (or onto) Book Three. (More about the other books below). Here’s Clare poem 7. A lot of Clare poems begin, ‘I love to’ ‘wonder’ ‘wander’ ‘see’ or ‘walk’ and I thought I’d have one, even though the original begins with the lines I use as title (which are echoed later in the poem). I’ve been reading my diaries sequentially, and have reached 1976, a particular time, when I was twenty, that I nearly referred to in this poem, with the deleted lines
as I read my journal for 1976 heeding
Bonaparte’s words about one’s world at 20.
I’m also reading about Ernst Bloch and his utopianism (quite different from Adorno’s) that is creeping in her, despite The News. OK, let’s have a receptive hush for the poem and video.
What a night! The wind howls, hisses and but stops
I love to wander
the vacated Covid streets
as snow falls slow
on the breeze. A single
flake flukes my pocket,
pricks my bare hand. I
lift it out and smile.
What a night! was ever
said in the soft
safety of morning, sun
burning on snow
heaped by glistening tarmac:
escape for Triumph Heralds
with spinning tyres
and gasping engines.
Night allegorised so
that even pissing
at frozen bus stops drunk
prefigured the never-
believed in the un- (yet)-
known, as new
In the windows
of parallel streets: peeling
NHS rainbows from last spring,
BLM placards from
16th January 2021
I began work on the book British Standards in pre-Covid 2020, but post-Brexit Independence Day. Both of those ‘issues’ are important to it. And the first remains so, even with the fact that several vaccines are on their way, though they now have to fight against a stronger strain of the virus, the ‘English Strain’ one might even call it, though I take no pleasure in that. 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 (some of those coming out in the States soon), 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). Shelley’s poems are threaded through British Standards. Another Shelley transposition, on ‘Ozymandias’ this time, may be read about here (this post is the hub post, as I call it, for these dispersed versions of Shelley, one out soon in Tears in the Fence, another proof I have just ‘read’):
‘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
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
The Keats poems are called ‘Weird Syrup’. The first 7 are entitled ‘Contrafacts and Counterfactuals from Keats’, the last 7, ‘Curtal Song-Nets from Junkets’.
This post operates as a hub post about the Keats transpositions: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2020/11/weird-syrup-final-keats-variation.html
You can watch Andrew Kotting’s film about John Clare here (I enjoyed Iain Sinclair looking like he was about to rob a bank in his piggie mask): BY OUR SELVES MASTER STEREO on Vimeo
I’m interested in Clare’s music collecting. (Critics seem more interested in settings of his poems to his own music, not the same thing.) But here’s a beautiful and not much perused rendition: Two John Clare hornpipes - YouTube
John Clare’s poems aren’t proving as easy to transpose as I once imagined, since they are so unmetaphorically direct and sensually replete. Here is what I wrote in my journal (adapted a little) on 9th December 2020, to get me going:
Clare has posed problems. I have selected 15 possible sonnets (there are dozens of other possible sonnets, but needs must be) and they form a nice corona. But I can’t think of how I might utilise them, which is why I thought, again, last night, to return to Wordsworth (later political poems, even his dreadful ones on capital punishment, one of Brexit’s hidden prizes, I am sure). But it seems retrograde, an evasion of Clare, even though the Wordsworth poems are well-suited to the sudden last-ditch Brexit madness that has re-emerged with all the 2016 arguments intact…
Clare, in the asylum, wrote ‘as’ Byron, in a text called ‘Don Juan’; at the same time, he also claimed not to be Byron, since the poem says: ‘I think myself as great a bard as Byron’. (He’s right.) He was the author of ‘Don Juan’, if we take the text he called ‘Don Juan’ to be ‘Don Juan’. Could I transpose the chosen sonnets into a mode that derives, not from Byron himself, but from Clare’s satirical mode in ‘Don Juan’, which is certainly consonant with my variations of EBB in Book One?
I feel protective about Clare, even more so than in the case of Mary Robinson, (see here: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2020/09/my-transpositions-of-mary-robinsons.html
) because Clare’s achievements are not yet recognised fully, and there is no consensus over the oeuvre, a corpus, a mini-canon, bar a few well-known poems. Hence very few of the sonnets I’ve selected from Bate’s anthology appear in the Major Works!...
Kövesi quotes Gadamer on the fusing of horizons in writers who ‘transpose’ (my term for what I’m up to) Clare into their own times and terms. This he thinks is fair game for the ‘creative’ writer, but he seems dead against it in the practice of critics who impose a method. (I remember teaching new historicism, which I thought was useful to understand Iain Sinclair’s work (see here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: Everything Connects: The Social Poetics of Iain Sinclair ) but not so good to follow in its own right.)
I’ve not pursued the ‘Don Juan’ front in many of the poems, including today’s (which doesn’t mean that that won’t be returned to at a later stage, but it doesn’t mean I will; as I go on, it seems less likely, ‘and more and more unlikely’, he adds, with each posting!). I detourne myself.
Poetics works like this for me: I propose something, and immediately do something different, but I might have to return to it: the follies of Brexit and Bo’s abandoned ‘Gerontocidal Yuletide rules’ demand a satirical voice, rather than the poetics of dispersed subjectivities among people and animals. It will probably damage the ‘beauties’, as they would have said in the 1820s, of the originals. So far from ‘Clare’ taking the project’s final poems from Book Three into a post-Brexit (even post-virus?) world with a new tone, I may adopt his ‘Don Juan’ tone to deal with Bo and Go and their deals, and bring these capers to rest… OR [I find myself characteristically flim-flamming in poetics dialectics] the first x poems might be mainly one thing; the last x could be Sheppardian quennets (as I’d long planned for the end of this Project); that is still possible, and the decision to do so need not be decided until I’m x-1 poems in. We’ll see, as they say, and you’ll see, if you follow this blog at all regularly. Everything is fluid, though I am aware that these are the last poems of the project, and will need to accommodate that fact, somehow. (I am bothered by the temptation to do some ‘euro-sonnets’, Baudelaire – Mallarme – Rimbaud – Verlaine – but I might adhere to the ‘End your solo before you’re done’ ethos of Miles Davis. Though I’ve gone on so long, it’s more like Miles’ exasperated plea to Coltrane after a 45 minute solo; ‘Take the saxophone out of your mouth!’)
Resources so far
3 December 2020 — ‘Careless John Clare’, Dr Erin Lafford (University of Derby): EHU Nineteen - English, History and Creative Writing (edgehill.ac.uk), at https://www.edgehill.ac.uk/englishhistorycreativewriting/research/ehunineteen/?tab=events; accessed 10/12/2020.
Bate, Jonathan. John Clare: A Biography. London: Picador, 2004.
Clare, John. ed. Jonathan Bate. Selected Poems. London: Faber and Faber, 2004.
Clare, John.eds. Eric Robinson and David Powell. The Major Works. Oxford and New York: Oxford World Classics, 2004.
Kövesi, Simon, John Clare: Nature, Criticism and History. Palgrave Macmillan: London, 2017.
Kövesi, Simon, and Erin Lafford, eds. Palgrave Advances in John Clare Studies. Palgrave Macmillan: Cham, 2020.
Middleton, Christopher. Carminalenia. Manchester: Carcanet, 1980.
Zipes………………….. to add ……………….
As might be gathered from what I have said here, British Standards, as a whole, presents transpositions of admired 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, 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, The English Strain, soon to be published: