On this blog I’ve documented ‘The English Strain’ as work has progressed, through to its current third book, British Standards, which this poem continues.
For your guide, the ‘books’ of ‘The English Strain’ are:
1. The English Strain (Shearsman, now published. See below.)
2. Bad Idea (Knives, Forks and Spoons, officially out April, but available now; also see below).
3. British Standards (work in progress, as of this posting)
There are two ways of looking at the project: accounts of the capering of Bo and Go and other clowns across the post-Brexit dogging site that newly independent ‘Bressex’ has become, or the subtler story of the English strain of the sonnet form. I hope I will send readers back or away to the ‘originals’. Part of my poems’ meaning has to lie in intersectional reading between one of Shelley’s sonnets, say, and mine. That’s one role of the reader here, although general knowledge of transposition will be enough to see what’s going on. I’m not dismissing tradition; I’m invoking it. Book one is called The English Strain: the project begins with Petrarch, picking up the ‘Brexit’ theme in a number of sonnets of my own, until Milton, Wyatt, Surrey, Charlotte Smith and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, provide the frames for me to hang my boots on. This continues in book two, Bad Idea, though there I stick to Shakespeare’s contemporary Michael Drayton, a fine sonneteer. I’ve spent almost as long on this project as on Twentieth Century Blues.
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 One, The English Strain is available from Shearsman; see here:
I am also 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
Back to (or onto) Book Three and P.B. Shelley. Shelley’s poems are threaded singly through British Standards. One 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 now, also in Tears in the Fence): see the last post on the blog (click HOME on the right, or look here)
Or stay here to read another (probably the last, unless I decide to put one right at the end). Shelley’s sonnets (except in ‘The West Wind’) are one-offs. Fortunately, so is mine. Here’s a video too.
Astral Zen Knickers
multitracked overdub of Shelley’s ‘To Wordsworth’
Sheppard the chanteur wet with lyrical rain
dripping tremulous lines of things that depart
you once sang White Van Man’s ‘Sweet Thing’
driving the chariot of a dynamite love over
indifferent drinkers in the Shakespeare’s Head.
Tell that ancient blues shouter he should shelter.
Better, he should shut it! One loss is yours:
you’ll never never never sing that song again.
Chanteur Shelley cancelled Wordsworth but
not his songs – still consecrate to truth and liberty.
‘Dick Turpin wore a mask!’ So did the gerontologist
who pulled out the brain of survivin’ Sir Ivan,
injected it with monkey glands (so sings Sheppard),
stuffed it back in with a pair of Union Jack pants.
27th February 2021
The first section was finished late March 2020, 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. There are links to online publication of some of the poems too (as there are in many of these links). Interestingly, I used Shelley’s ‘To Wordsworth’ as an epigraph to ‘Poems of…’ I don’t know whether to change that now, or whether the continuity is an interesting one.
A number of my poems look back to the 1970s in ‘The English Strain’, particularly in my Charlotte Smith versions, and there are a few references to my blues singing career. One of the earliest songs, I sang with Tony Parsons was Van’s ‘Sweet Thing’. It’s a number we continued with as a very special part of our various duo and trio acts into the late 1990s. But it’s more ‘Sweaty Thing’ these days. Knighted in 2016, benighted by 2020, Van Morrison is an anti-masker. And he’s written limp songs about it, see here:
BUT see here for ‘Sweet Thing’ and Astral Weeks: Van Morrison – Sweet Thing Lyrics | Genius Lyrics
It seemed appropriate to Shelley’s ‘the gods have failed us’ poem. Morrison was incredible in the 1970s, though even then (when I saw him) I commented in my diary that he was as ‘charismatic as a potato’. But in those days, he didn’t look like one. I address myself in the poem to escape the saccharine taste of actual regret (which isn’t funny). I can tell if it works if even Patricia laughs!
In the sequence of British Standards, after Wordsworth, there followed ‘14 Standards’, the lockdown poems (quite a few online now, some of those coming out in the States soon, and one in Tears in the Fence this week), 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’ (and links to online publication): http://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2020/05/robert-sheppard-14-standards-from.html .
‘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
Then (again after a quick Shelley) I turned to the brilliant poems of John Clare in my ‘Unth(reading) Clare’ sequence. Read about it here: Pages: The final sonnet transposition from John Clare (robertsheppard.blogspot.com)
As might be gathered from what I have said in this post (and others), British Standards, as a whole, presents transpositions of admired sonnets of the Romantic period, from William Bowles to Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Chronologically, they broadly 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, out tomorrow, but available now:
So what now?
I was tempted to write some ‘euro-sonnets’, Baudelaire – Mallarme – Rimbaud – Verlaine – but I know I must adhere to the ‘End your solo before you’re done’ principle of Miles Davis. Though I’ve gone on so long, it’s more likely to require Miles’ exasperated plea to Coltrane after one 45 minute solo: ‘Take the saxophone out of your mouth!’ ‘Take your sonnet out of my mouth!’
What I did do is to make a list of all the possible plans for the continuation of the sequences, to see what felt good. To my journal, an entry for 25th January 2021:
I have investigated various ‘endings’ of ‘The English Strain’ project. Stop at Clare. Or add one Shelley. Find another 14 ‘standards’ (possibly in clumps: 4433: 4 by Hartley Coleridge, 4 by Rossetti, 3 by Tennyson Turner, etc). Or ‘Laura to Petrarch’. Or Rossetti’s early Ur text of ‘The House of Love’, 16 poems. Or 2 Byrons. Or any other, listed above…
Clare ran out in February, actually! (That poem might still be up on my blog!) I decided to write a Shelley interlude as I have between each sequence and add another 14 poems to end British Standards and to turn to the very accomplished sonnets of Hartley Coleridge. The more one looks, the more accomplished he seems. I have selected the poems from his 1833 collection. I have a collection of his letters, which I am reading. This allows the project to extend into summer, at least. But I am not sure how I shall ‘place’ him, or whether I shall invent some scenarios for him. I’m currently toying with the title ‘Partly Coleridge’. The Labour Party seems to have escaped this work since Jeremy was buried, and Kier Starmer doesn’t appear at all. Maybe he’ll say something worth satirizing! I don’t think he will, though: he reminds me of a Madame Tussards of himself. I might make my narrator a Red Wall Tory (since HC himself was a Tory and an acclaimed anti-Democrat).
So it’s onwards, but I’m near the end. You, however, have two volumes to be getting on with, while I finish these. I might not hurry, but I shall continue the temporary posting of the poems here (that’s all become a part of the ritual of producing these poems, as well as a way of dealing with their contemporary content).