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Friday, February 19, 2021

My THE ENGLISH STRAIN is published today by Shearsman

Hurrah! The English Strain is published today by Shearsman, available here:

‘Enraptured by the versioning bug,’ I confess, of my 14 variations of Petrarch’s third sonnet, ‘Petrarch 3’, which kick the book off, ‘I was off on one.’ With some comic verve, I hope, I refunction some of the finest sonneteers, Petrarch himself, and those of ‘The English Strain’ project which gives this book (and wider project) its title: Wyatt and Surrey, ‘the first reformers’ of English poetry, and John Milton, exemplary political poet. None is safe from my comedic appropriations of their works and days. 

It’s quite a new tone for me. Lock up your sonnets! My Wyatt spies for a British foreign office that fluxes between the Henrician court and Tory high command, post-Referendum. Surrey is a chinless wonder of aristocratic chivalry, the marvel of the French killing fields (and contemporary Norfolk dogging sites). Mordant humour and irony continue in my ‘trans translations’ of the two major women sonneteers: of Charlotte Smith, the Petrarch of Petworth, witnessing strange happenings on the Downs, and Barrett Browning, Mistress Elizabeth of her Wimpole Street penthouse and the clued-up ‘mistress’ of a clownish politician. 

The dominant satirical theme, the national strain surrounding that once novel word ‘Brexit’, is almost picked up casually in the sequence ‘It’s Nothing’, where I deliberately fail in the attempt to speak in my own voice. I’m more at home in my homemade 100-word sonnets, as I nail Brexit in a neat couplet: ‘they’ve got our country back for us/ and now they want it for themselves’. (Isn’t that more and more true?) As you read this book, be warned: between poetic worlds, between sonnet and transposition, big laughs and little truths are lying in wait for you. There’s 100 of them. 

To be clear, the parts of ‘The English Strain’ project are:

1. this book, The English Strain (out today);

2. Bad Idea (Knives, Forks and Spoons, officially out April, but also available now; see below)

3. British Standards (work in progress).

A useful review, by Alan Baker, of Petrarch 3, which set the whole project off, may be read on Litterbug, here. I write about 'Petrarch 3' here:  Pages: Practice-Led piece on 'Petrarch 3' from The English Strain published in Translating Petrarch's Poetry (Legenda) (

Tom Jenks wrote of one of the sequences published today: ‘Sheppard uses Wyatt in the way Wyatt used Petrarch: as a means of producing a new work of literature that is linked to, but not bound by, the original… Sheppard here expands further the boundaries of translation, the transposition of historical events to contemporary circumstances being not just incidental to the translation process, but an act of translation itself… Sheppard’s poetics of translation can be aligned with those of Borges, Benjamin, and Bernstein, who all regard translation as something more than a functional service to the reader. This view of translation admits a constellation of methods, strategies, tactics, and techniques disallowed by more conventional approaches. Sheppard posits, both in theory and in practice, a translational mode that is open, fluid, permissive, voracious and, above all, creative.’

This post describes The English Strain here (before it gained its title!).

The Journal concludes: ‘I have yet to read a better, more succinct, more ribald analysis of the mishap of Brexit.’             

Geraldine Monk in The Robert Sheppard Companion informs us: ‘Sheppard’s writing is rough, rude, quirky, serious, learned, and never afraid to be humorous. In short it is as irreverent as it is relevant.’

Here are three representative poems from the book, read by me. The first is 'The Lion Returns', from 'It's Nothing', the section where I speak in 'my own' voice. (Twigger warning: This may make you nostalgic for the pub.)


The second is a transposition of a sonnet by Charlotte Smith, '

Number three comes for near the end of the book, where I transpose a sonnet from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's 'Sonnets from the Portuguese'. 

I write about the ‘transpositions’ of Charlotte Smith, ‘Elegiac Sonnets’, here: 

A few of the ‘Elegiac Sonnets’ may be read here: Robert Sheppard - Spring19 (

I write about my ‘transpositions’ of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ‘Non-Disclosure Agreement’, here:

A few of the poems may be read here: Robert Sheppard (

I am delighted to say that Book Two, Bad Idea is also available from Knives Forks and Spoons NOW:

Read about it here  and here: Pages: BAD IDEA (versions of Michael Drayton's Idea) available now from KFS (

British Standards is still being written. Here’s a post about getting it going: Pages: Real beginning of new series of 'liberties' taken with Wordsworth's sonnets (temporary post of The English Strain' series) (

Covers of the book are by Patricia Farrell. The cover of The English Strain features the features of Petrarch, Milton, Wyatt, Surrey, Smith and Browning (it has her eyes). We attempted a further image, with me added, which we didn’t use. Here it is!