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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

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

ON THIS DAY 2020, as coronavirus was approaching its first peak or killing spree, I wrote ‘Vanguard of Liberty, ye men of Kent’ which was later published in International Times.  

But here’s the poem again, in case you missed it. It is a transposition of a poem by Wordsworth, and develops the ‘dogging site’ theme that runs through my 'English Strain' project. It's all we've got left after Brexit, in the comic strip logic of the poems. 

Here instead of the portrait of Wordsworth painted by William Hazlitt is a sentence that tells you that that was destroyed by Wordsworth around 1816. Gillray's caricature with the Bum Boats can still be seen today though!


Vanguard of Liberty, ye men of Kent

Vanloads of libertines, playboys of Kent,
you once set your calcic frowns against
France’s toothless coast! Now’s the time
to prove you’re rock hard tarts! Let Gillray’s
Bum-Boats dump the last of your hops. Those
French hear your brave woodland shouts for show
as you roam, single, in self-distancing self-love;
they watch your glistening lance throb
in your (well-washed) hand, as you film
an isolated maiden in a mask. (‘She’s a nurse!’)
No partying now: we’re ramping up mass testing,
damping down individual urges. In breathless
Bo’s Britain, each stay-indoors chartered street
is mothballed in his notional socialism.

31st March 2020

  

Gillray's Bum Boats

Bo's Bum Bum Bum 


See here also for my video of this text, although you will find another transposition published by International Times:

Pages: Robert Sheppard: Two transpositions of Wordsworth from British Standards published on International Times= 

Poem at ‘Poems of National Independence – Liberties with Wordsworth’ | IT (internationaltimes.it)

 There is also a post about finishing with Wordsworth here: 

This poem comes from British Standards, which you can read about here: Pages: The final sonnet transposition from John Clare (robertsheppard.blogspot.com)

British Standards is the third book of the ‘English Strain’ project. You may read about the first book and second book here. Indeed, you may now buy them.

Book One, The English Strain is described here (on a post that was written before it gained its title!).


There’s another post on Book Two, Bad Idea here .



I am delighted to say that Book One, The English Strain is available from Shearsman; see here:

https://www.shearsman.com/store/Sheppard-Robert-c28271934?offset=6

I am also delighted to say that Book Two, Bad Idea is available from Knives Forks and Spoons; see here:  https://www.knivesforksandspoonspress.co.uk/product-page/bad-idea-by-robert-sheppard-102-pages

Sunday, March 28, 2021

ON THIS DAY 2020 I wrote a transposition of one of Wordsworth's sonnets (read it here and on International Times)

ON THIS DAY 2020, as coronavirus began to rage, I wrote ‘England! The time is come when thou shouldst wean’ which was later published in International Times. 

But here’s the poem again, in case you missed it. It is a transposition of a poem by Wordsworth, one of a 'corona' of 14 that I wrote on those days 2020. It was written when Boris Johnson was in hospital. 

 England! The time is come when thou shouldst wean


Britain, the time is now to wean yourself from
hoarding fancy food or panic buying bog rolls.
It’s hard. Old routines are unsettled. Seedy spots
where you trespassed (camera phones in one hand),
idly watched at bridle-paths for meat-wagons
freighting broad-bodied flesh, are shut, policed
by drones. If in Italy, Spain, France, Germany,
they falter, how will proud Brexit Britain fare?
It lost the email inviting it to share with them.
We self-isolating ‘get well’ card rhymesters
(the abject position of the contemporary poet now,
according to the press, and even some bards;
we must soothe and smooth the national mood) gift
Bo our best wishes: Our prime hopes rest with you!

28th March 2020


This was the video made at the time of the first posting. See here for that video of the text (along with another transposition thus published by International Times):

Pages: Robert Sheppard: Two transpositions of Wordsworth from British Standards published on International Times

Poem at ‘Poems of National Independence – Liberties with Wordsworth’ | IT (internationaltimes.it)

 I talk about the end of the Wordsworth series here: Pages: The last of my Wordsworth versions in 'British Standards' (Book Three of 'The English Strain') (robertsheppard.blogspot.com)

This poem comes from British Standards, which you can read about here: Pages: The final sonnet transposition from John Clare (robertsheppard.blogspot.com)

British Standards is the third book of the ‘English Strain’ project. You may read about the first book and second book here. Indeed, you may now buy them.

Book One, The English Strain is described here (on a post that was written before it gained its title!). 

There’s another post on Book Two, Bad Idea here .

I am delighted to say that Book One, The English Strain is available from Shearsman; see here:

https://www.shearsman.com/store/Sheppard-Robert-c28271934?offset=6


 

I am also delighted to say that Book Two, Bad Idea is available from Knives Forks and Spoons; see here:  https://www.knivesforksandspoonspress.co.uk/product-page/bad-idea-by-robert-sheppard-102-pages

 

Here's my most recent poem in International Times: this time, Shelley gets the treatment! Pages: Another Shelley transposition from British Standards published in International Times (with original poem and video) (robertsheppard.blogspot.com)

Thursday, March 25, 2021

ON THIS DAY 2020 I wrote 'One might believe that National Misery'

ON THIS DAY 2020, as coronavirus raged, I wrote ‘Great men have been among us; hands that penned’ which was later published on the Poetry and Covid website, here: Six Poems (poetryandcovid.com)

 Here’s the poem again, in case you missed it. It is a transposition of a poem by Wordsworth. Here's a new video. Most of the vids in this On This Day strand are those made on the day the poem was written. This one, which caught me on the hop, was made on 17th March THIS year!



One might believe that natural miseries

One might well believe that national misery
only blasted Britain, made it a void land
unfit for labour: rural workers dwell on
sofas, ordinary businessmen tap online.
Bright sun and breeze herd them to the weekend parks,
for their sensual pleasures, soothing flesh, no cares.
Myriads must work – against themselves. ‘No more
Brexit frenzy, no more drunken mirth!’ cries Bo.
The Great Libertarian has switched off the
lights!... This sonnet has been interrupted to
deliver the latest lockdown laughter to
your doorstep. Watch this spot while the Cum spumes: ‘Herd
immunity, protect the economy,
and if that means some pensioners die, too bad.’


25th March 2020

The Cum

This poem comes from British Standards, which you can read about here: Pages: The final sonnet transposition from John Clare (robertsheppard.blogspot.com)

 British Standards is the third book of the ‘English Strain’ project. You may read about the first book and second book here. Indeed, you may now buy them.



 Book One, The English Strain is described here (on a post that was written before it gained its title!).

There’s another post on Book Two, Bad Idea here .

 I am delighted to say that Book One, The English Strain is available from Shearsman; see here:

https://www.shearsman.com/store/Sheppard-Robert-c28271934?offset=6

I am also delighted to say that Book Two, Bad Idea is available from Knives Forks and Spoons; see here:  https://www.knivesforksandspoonspress.co.uk/product-page/bad-idea-by-robert-sheppard-102-pages

I also reflect upon the Poetry and Covid website here:  Pages: ON THIS DAY 2020 I wrote this lacuna-pocked poem as a version of one of Coleridge's sonnets (robertsheppard.blogspot.com)

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Another Shelley transposition from British Standards published in International Times (with original poem and video)

I have had another poem published in International Times. It tickles me every time that I am published in this online continuation of such an important organ of the political and aesthetic underground of the 1960s. If you don’t know it, its combination of archive material and new items (such as mine) is impressive. Thanks, as ever, to poetry editor Rupert Loydell.  

My poem is another of my transpositions of Shelley's sonnets that will appear in British Standards singly between the longer sections. There is a hub post (on which I detail the publication of these inter-sequence poems) here: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2020/09/my-occasional-transposition-of-shelley.html


This poem recalls seeing a local leader from Birmingham saying her (black and Asian) constituents would not respond well to seeing British troops helping out in vaccine centres. The white guests (this was Newsnight) couldn't believe it. As often, these poems have proved prophetic.

It’s sometimes a good thing to be able to demonstrate the intuitive way in which the ‘original’ poems are transposed (I have long given up describing the process as ‘translation’), which can only be done by providing, in this case, the Shelley poem, and my ‘version’. Here it is:

Lift Not the Painted Veil | IT (internationaltimes.it)

 

This is a video of me reading the poem the day I wrote it. (The text may differ from the published one.)

One of my previous appearances in IT was a poem I had transposed from the Earl of Surrey. The transposition is again a political one; this time it was a poem about Trump. And again the Surrey poem is displayed next to the Sheppard version:

Direct Rule: In Peace with Foul Desire | IT (internationaltimes.it)

http://internationaltimes.it/direct-rule-in-peace-with-foul-desire/ 

All of these ‘versions’ and ‘transpositions’ and ‘unthreadings’ etc., are part of a larger three volume project called ‘The English Strain’, and some previous poems on IT (without ‘originals’) have come from other parts of the project. Here are links (and links to links) of other poems, chiefly from Book Two, Bad Idea, versions of Michael Drayton’s renaissance sonnets. See here: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2019/12/robert-sheppard-two-more-poems-from-bad.html

And here: 

https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2020/05/robert-sheppard-two-transpositions-of.html

Here are two comprehensive posts to check out, 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 . (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:

https://www.shearsman.com/store/Sheppard-Robert-c28271934?offset=6

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


 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

ON THIS DAY 2020 I wrote 'Great Men Have Been Among Us' for British Standards

ON THIS DAY 2020, as coronavirus began to rage, I wrote ‘Great men have been among us; hands that penned’ which was later published on the Poetry and Covid website, here: Six Poems (poetryandcovid.com)

 But here’s the poem again, in case you missed it. Perhaps for comfort (with the references to poets whose poems I had transposed before) I looked back, before looking ahead. Bo was still crying libertarian nonsense in the face of a pandemic. 


Great men have been among us; hands that penned


Now Viral Men have been among us, hands
unwashed, tongues speckled with disease,
I yearn for touchy-feely Drayton, Browning, Smith,
vain Surrey, wicked Wyatt, minatory Milton,
and the moral of their sonnets of selfhood,
environment and socius, transposed (by me!),
before this Age of Self-Isolation and social
distance, Bo’s ‘inalienable free-born right to go
to the pub’, reluctantly, frozen. France,
trussed in transnational infection-data exchange,
perpetual empty boulevards in lockdown, is all virus
and no genius. As Bo says: ‘We live in a land
of liberty, but we rule nothing out.’ Nothing
fills his want of the skilled low paid like nothing.

21st March 2020

This poem comes from British Standards, which you can read about here: Pages: The final sonnet transposition from John Clare (robertsheppard.blogspot.com)

 


British Standards is the third book of the ‘English Strain’ project. You may read about the first book and second book here. Indeed, you may now buy them.

Book One, The English Strain is described here (on a post that was written before it gained its title!).

 There’s another post on Book Two, Bad Idea here .

I am delighted to say that Book One, The English Strain is available from Shearsman; see here:

https://www.shearsman.com/store/Sheppard-Robert-c28271934?offset=6

 


I am also delighted to say that Book Two, Bad Idea is available from Knives Forks and Spoons; see here:  https://www.knivesforksandspoonspress.co.uk/product-page/bad-idea-by-robert-sheppard-102-pages

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

ON THIS DAY 2020 I wrote 'Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour!' for British Standards

ON THIS DAY 2020, as coronavirus began to rage, I wrote ‘Milton...’ which was later published on the  New Boots and Pantocracy Website Postcards From Malthusia DAY EIGHTY-SIX: Robert Sheppard | new boots and pantisocracies (wordpress.com) (There are many fine poems there on the lockdown theme: and before that, like mine, the focus was Brexit!)



 But here’s the poem again, in case you missed it.

 


Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour

Cummings, Britain hath no need of thee! You’ve
found your swamp to drain. Religiomaniacs,
fruit salad generals, poets laureate (no friends,
but I defend, like Milton), even your puppet’s
National Thrust, where, naked under heavens,
majestic sticks, in Lethean flood, stick – all are forfeit
to your ‘scientific’ elite: ‘complex contagions in a
thermoacoustic system’ reapplied as insecurity
from starter home to care home, neatly monetized.
The intelligent rich (a moron’s oxymoron) claim
only selfish men may raise us up, return to power. Free
Dom, self-isolation is your viral wet dream, of use,
your voice white noise in a Seeing Room’s drone.
Bo’s cheerful hand rests on your thoroughbred’s thigh.

16th March 2020 


This poem comes from British Standards, which you can read about here: Pages: The final sonnet transposition from John Clare (robertsheppard.blogspot.com)

British Standards is the third book of the ‘English Strain’ project. You may read about the first book and second book here. Indeed, you may now buy them.

Book One, The English Strain is described here (on a post that was written before it gained its title!).


There’s another post on Book Two, Bad Idea here .

I am delighted to say that Book One, The English Strain is available from Shearsman; see here:

https://www.shearsman.com/store/Sheppard-Robert-c28271934?offset=6

I am also delighted to say that Book Two, Bad Idea is available from Knives Forks and Spoons; see here:  https://www.knivesforksandspoonspress.co.uk/product-page/bad-idea-by-robert-sheppard-102-pages



Saturday, March 13, 2021

ON THIS DAY 2020 I wrote 'O Friend, I Know Not which Way I must look (transposition of Wordsworth)

ON THIS DAY 2020, as coronavirus began to rage, I wrote ‘O Friend!...’ which was later published on the Poetry and Covid website, here: Six Poems (poetryandcovid.com) My poems are all dated (there are to be another 10 or so of these OTD 2020 poems over the next couple of months). I also reflect on the Poetry and Covid website here: Pages: ON THIS DAY 2020 I wrote this lacuna-pocked poem as a version of one of Coleridge's sonnets (robertsheppard.blogspot.com)

 But here’s the poem again, in case you missed it, less masked than Ms. Campbell, it is true. 



O Friend! I know not which way I must look


Parts of Bo want to look away (it wasn’t meant
to be like this!) comfort in the great oppression.
Dressing in a mask is just for show,
like Naomi Campbell’s empty airport hazmat chic!
The wealthiest among us are best protected.
The handyman and the cook have been laid off
below the sick pay threshold, to build up ‘herd
immunity’ in the herd, wheezing at sports events,
coughing in open libraries over closed books. Plain
thinking gives way to the Cum’s behavioural data,
predicting our supposed crisis fatigue, acceptable loss.
Bo prays we must ‘take it on the chin’ for the economy,
chants ‘Buller! Buller! Buller!’ as he rinses his trotters,
huffs back to his breathing, breeding, household.

13th March 2020

 Here is a video of me reading it on the day it was written (in draft). I make a few gestures too! 'Buller etc!' is the greeting which former members of the Bullingdon Club emit when they spot a fellow member (or a member with his member in a pig, of course.)



This poem comes from British Standards, which you can read about here: Pages: The final sonnet transposition from John Clare (robertsheppard.blogspot.com)

British Standards is the third book of the ‘English Strain’ project. You may read about the first book and second book here. Indeed, you may now buy them.

Book One, The English Strain is described here (on a post that was written before it gained its title!).

There’s another post on Book Two, Bad Idea here .

I am delighted to say that Book One, The English Strain is available from Shearsman; see here:

https://www.shearsman.com/store/Sheppard-Robert-c28271934?offset=6

 


I am also delighted to say that Book Two, Bad Idea is available from Knives Forks and Spoons; see here:  https://www.knivesforksandspoonspress.co.uk/product-page/bad-idea-by-robert-sheppard-102-pages



Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Robert Sheppard: Some memories of the Creative Writing MA (cohort 1978-1979) at the University of East Anglia

I have recently been asked a number of questions about the Creative Writing MA at UEA, in particular about the year I took it in 1978-9. I found myself writing, broadly, the following and I thought it of enough interest to share. 

One of the lockdown things I seem to be doing is reading ALL my diaries chronologically. This request arrived extraordinarily at the right point in my journey through this scribble. And I had just read the Klavans novel that I refer to. 

Of course my ‘autrebiographies’ in Words Out of Time ‘tell’ the story differently (though it is there to be seen). See here: Pages: My REF description of my book Words Out of Time: autrebiographies and unwritings (robertsheppard.blogspot.com) 


The MA (as we called it; I don’t remember in those days using the term ‘masters programme’) was not the only one in the UK at the time. There was one at Lancaster (and Peter Redgrove was busy at Falmouth Art College teaching at undergraduate level). But UEA was the better known by 1978/9. We knew that Ian McEwan had passed through some years before – but these still felt like pioneering days. The Creative Writing MA shared half of its programme with the MA in the Novel, so we mixed with some of the regular MA students. We had to choose two courses of their four (I chose ‘Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche and Lawrence’ and ‘Postmodernism’) and the other two modules were creative writing modules. They were purely workshops for which we provided contributions. Later on, there were tutorials. Finally, we had a dissertation, which was purely creative writing. There was no requirement for what – decades later – I called ‘Supplementary Discourses’ in some research for the English Subject Centre, i.e., commentary or poetics. This work was supported by the tutorials.

 Malcolm Bradbury was running the programme, but he was a busy person and (somewhat to our consternation) he was often off all over the world and absent a lot. I understand this now, after a career as an academic. In fact, just as the lack of poetics at UEA at that time taught me the necessity of poetics, Bradbury’s inability to say no to invitations has taught me how to say no, when I have to. He was not there in the final months leading up to the dissertation, so we were all showing that work, in one to one tutorial situations, to his replacement, who was Angela Carter. Now a superstar, of course, she was then a rising star, and very much a UEA figure, in that Lorna Sage’s advocacy of her work was career-making. (A year or so before, and during the course, I think, too, I saw her read some of her fairy tales at a lecturer’s flat, probably Lorna’s; are there recordings of her reading them? she was splendid.) As a tutor many of us found her vague, after Bradbury, but in the end I think people got used to her indirectness. (She had difficulty with me, because I had decided to not write fiction, and submit poetry, which the regulations allowed, though I had to show them to Bradbury to convince him this was the case!) She worked out where I stood poetically by coming across an article about ‘English Black Mountain’ (her term) in Artscribe (which she gave me and I still have). She told me to send work to Bananas and to mention her name. I did, though nothing was published.

 Outside of these contact hours, we were left to ourselves. The Novel MA people stuck close to one another; the creative writing people were more dispersed. I had been an undergraduate at UEA so I had friends who were then third years, and others outside that pack, like Peter Stacey, the composer, and Frances Presley, the poet, who mixed with some of the European students. I lived in one of the famous Ziggurats, Norfolk Terrace, as did Walter, from Germany, next door. See My Favourite Building: the UEA Ziggurats | Journal | The Modern House .  I think there was a floor for postgraduates. But the core students stuck together, frequenting the Graduate Student Association, upstairs in University House, which sold cheap cocktails (deadly).

 The Creative Writing group was small, but not tightknit. I was close to Paul Stewart (who came from the Lancaster BA). He was a big fan of Bruce Springsteen and Bowie (he had singles of ‘Heroes’ in several languages!). In my diary I find: ‘He’s also one of the most essentially good people I’ve met for such a long time.’ I forget what he was writing then, but now he is famous for his ‘Edge Chronicles’ children’s books, of which he has sold millions of copies around the world! His adult non-fiction book Trek is about some English people driving a Morris Minor from Kenya to Britain in the 1950s, a great read. He gave me a copy when we met up after many years in 2008. He slept on my floor on the night of the election that brought Thatcher to power in May 1979 and said that if she won that election he would leave Britain: he did, (with Walter, my neighbour, I think) and didn’t come back from Germany for many years! (That provides a key sentence in Words Out of Time.) He’s the big success of the group.

However, at the time, Bradbury (the rest of us felt, resentfully, I have now to admit, with sorrow) only had eyes for our one American student, Jodie Klavans. She was a Southern Belle, immaculately turned out, and writing a violent kind of Southern Gothic. I think she told us that she picked Norfolk, England, because she was from Norfolk, Virginia. When she arrived at Heathrow, she got a taxi to Norwich: an unthinkable thing. She was enigmatic but kept herself to herself. She was the one creative writer who didn’t come to the fancy restaurant in Tombland, Tatlers, to celebrate my birthday, I remember. (Actually, I’m finding these forgotten things in my diary!) She went on and published one book, which I have only now (2021) read: God, He was Good (The novel It’s a Little too Late for a Love Song is its better US title). I enjoyed this story of working class Virginians and their lack of opportunities and (what the book is good at encapsulating) their moving yearnings and aspirations. It is gritty and fast-paced. Carter is quoted on the blurb. She may have taught a bit and wrote screenplays, but did not fulfil that great promise (other than in that one book). (I googled her recently.) She published as J.K. Klavans.

John Ewart was older than the rest of us, was married; his wife Jenny had a baby during the MA. My diary records his ‘attractive cynicism’! He published one of his well-crafted stories, ‘Birds’ in London Magazine. He moved to Sussex right at the end of the course.

Kate Raby came from Falmouth, where she had been taught by Peter Redgrove. She and I were repelled (I think isn’t too strong a word) by the thrusting professionalism being nurtured by Bradbury. This happened not so much in the classes, but at one evening meeting at Bradbury’s quite plush house, at which he held forth (I don’t remember literary agents being there, as I believe happened in later years) and we did once meet in the posh bar of the Maid’s Head in Norwich. I remember that a drunk pestered Kate and I had to tell him to push off, while Bradbury cowered from the encounter. I don’t know what happened to Kate, but she had a boy friend who taught at Falmouth. (Googling her name gives falmouth_school_of_art_page_3 (zen.co.uk) but I search in vain for her on that page, but I find a van that I suddenly remember showing up outside a Norwich pub once.) The diary records also she had a poem published in Bananas. Paul Stewart had a story accepted there by the end of the course.

 


And then there’s me. (Above.) My life and works are best related here:  Biography - Robert Sheppard (weebly.com) and through the associated bibliographies on this site. It’s never occurred to me that, after Paul, I’m a success of the course. I’d always thought myself a kind of qualified failure, whose chances came later. After the MA, I then researched for a PhD with Vic Sage. (One career, it seemed.) Writers Forum published a pamphlet of poems just at the end of the course: it seemed acceptance would lie with the avant-garde. (Another career.) 'Creative Writing' only returned to my life in the late 1990s, when the subject caught up with the alternative poetries. (The meeting of careers.)

Myth has it we were all meant to discover what the ‘unique selling point’ of our work was, under Bradbury’s tutelage. In fact, Bradbury encouraged us to identity what our ‘obsessions’ were, and to follow them, whatever. (Partly fatal advice in my case, as was his insistence that we should all write novels. He told me, I remember, that he had such problems getting Ian McEwan’s book of stories published. Again, this was fatal advice.) He introduced us to the work of Malcolm Lowry, which I thought extraordinary (but is another bad example for a young writer). I am today involved with annual Lowry celebrations in Liverpool! I am thankful for that introduction from Malcolm Bradbury. (See Pages: In Lieu of a Lowry Lounge 2020: Remaking the Voyage a book of essays (robertsheppard.blogspot.com))

UEA is famous for literary activities and the annual Henfield Fellow (writer in residence) that year was Roger Howard, who was a poet as well as a playwright. I published a poem by him in Rock Drill 1 a year after the course and his bio reads: ‘Chiefly a playwright, he has also taught at the universities of Peking, York, East Anglia and Essex, as well as writing poems and translating from the Chinese. He has written books on Mao Tse Tung and on Chinese theatre. Lives in Suffolk.’ I liked his workshops, open to all, but only Kate and I went along from the MA group. The playwright Snoo Wilson was around and about too.

‘I feel the apprenticeship is up. UEA has been that for me, this year,’ I wrote in August 1979. [A few days later I reveal a different attitude, though I suspect irony: 'Now for competition with the immortals!']

 

Malcolm Bradbury and Angus Wilson 1970s, Norwich

Robert Sheppard: 9th March 2021

Friday, March 05, 2021

A Rapid Response to A Companion to Contemporary British and Irish Poetry ed. Gortschacher and Malcolm

My chapters ‘The British Poetry Revival’ and ‘Lee Harwood’ appear in the massive Contemporary British and Irish Poetry. You may read about it here: Pages: My two pieces (British Poetry Revival & Harwood) & editorial exhibit in CONTEMPORARY BRITISH AND IRISH POETRY, 1960 – 2015 Edited by Görtschacher and Malcolm (robertsheppard.blogspot.com). At that point, the point I announced publication, I’d not read the volume, of course, though I had noted that my poem ‘Fucking Time’ was subjected to a formalist reading in the Introduction, to which I am grateful. And I present some links to prefatory thinking on both of my pieces. 

 


The formalist turn appears at particular points, especially in the essays written by the editors (again, this post needs reading against the earlier one to check the full list of contents which I include there). Now I’ve read the whole thing, I am allowing myself an hour to respond. 

I’m not going to criticise areas not covered, poets omitted, etc… because it is a marvel that so much is included – and I found myself enjoying (or being instructed through delight) essays on subjects that I hadn’t thought I would like.

The book moves from the general to the specific (and from my not so well-remembered earlier chapters to the final article I finished reading half an hour ago!) So we begin looking at some of the institutions of poetry: how could Wolfgang NOT look at the little magazine, still important, in the age of online platforms? Prize culture is dissected, so that the way I recently answered one of Wolfgang’s students on the subject now seems a little naïve! I said: ‘Such prizes are machines for the production of taste. Last year’s winners often become next year’s judges. That seems perfectly benign to the organisers: winners will be capable of picking winners like themselves. You can see the innate conservatism in the mechanics. Nobody is misbehaving; it’s not fraudulent. It’s faulty, but it always produces a result.’

The late and very much missed David Kennedy’s piece on anthologies links with another piece, by Robert Hampson, on ‘generations’, and their anthologies – and indeed, Robert dissects the notion of a generation as a nice little temporal pond for little fish to feel big in (not his language of course). Robert prefers anthologies that cross generations (and I’m glad, of course, that he cites Atlantic Drift which I edited with James Byrne. (See here: Pages: Robert Sheppard and James Byrne (eds): ATLANTIC DRIFT published NOW (with links to reviews, events, etc.))

It is pleasing to see that my subject The British Poetry Revival and Scott Thurston's subject Linguistically Innovative Poetry (I think we both acquit ourselves honorably) are flagged up in the introductory paragraph, along with other shorthands of the era – and that this comprehensive ‘Companion’ will indeed be comprehensive. However, we still find essays on the American reception of British Poetry that focus on Heaney and don't even mention Raworth, for example, or one on the 'long poem after Pound' that doesn’t even checklist Allen Fisher!

Of course, that happens, with generalities. And we are only experts on that about which we are experts. But on the whole, if an essay is on Concrete Poetry or The Martian School (again, for example), it does not have to deal with its other (whatever that might be). I enjoyed quite a lot that wasn’t in my ‘area’. A good account of Liverpool poetry, or on Ulster poets. I enjoyed the Black Poetry essay (only one?) and it sent me off after Bernardine Evaristo’s verse-novel (yes, verse-novel) The Emperor’s Babe which is an exciting read. (Set in Roman Britain, it fed into some of my other reading, on that era, in one of the books I received as payment for my essay writing!).

One of the less congenial formalist investigations was indeed into ‘verse’. (No time now, but my Pulse – still unpublished – conveys my take on that. See here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: 'PULSE: All a Rhythm' published in Tentacular 5 (with links) While we’re at it, my ‘take’ on form, which is not identical to the stylistics firework displays we find here, may be perused in some detail: Pages: Robert Sheppard: The Meaning of Form in Contemporary Innovative Poetry PUBLISHED .

I did enjoy David Malcolm’s essay on the Movement – or to be precise, on New Lines, which emphasises what is often ignored by detractors: that the poetry therein breaks all the so-called Movement poetry rules (‘No poetry about foreign cities…’ etc). My pre-emptive defence is that I’ve always talked about the Movement Orthodoxy to indicate that the dead hand on British Poetry (still there or gone, do we think?) is a kind of ideology operating separately from individuals and even examples. It reminded me of one of my posited project from long ago, which was to re-write New Lines (I’d call it Different Line, a Larkin quote) as the anthology it should have been. Volume Three of the Fictional Poets project. I wonder, as the idea revives. It would be heard narrated by a Debenham’s dummy found by a Berlin poet in 2021; this plot-summary shows how byzantine this option would be. Don’t be surprised if you never have to read it! Back to the book.

I should have loved John Sparrow’s piece on cris cheek, Bob Cobbing and Maggie O’Sullivan, and I did, although I found the language of art-making used grated against my sense of poetic artifice (I think – I don’t have time to check it again now). An essay generous with visual examples.

I would never have thought of including chapters on Religious Poetry, or Anglo-Jewish Poetry, or Brit Poets in Exile – but I found them fascinating.

Some pieces I admired as a writer of critical prose. ‘Radical Landscape Poetry in Scotland’ by Alan Riach was a tightly-written piece, and it was good to again come across these lines of Norman MacCaig that I heard Jackie Kay quoting the other night on BBC Scotland:

Who possesses this landscape? –

The man who bought it or

I who am possessed by it?

Interest aroused by this chapter, it was a pleasure subsequently to read Monika Kocot’s piece on the old Makar, Edwin Morgan. (Indeed, this alerted me to another book that I’ve just bought, though I’ve yet to read it, McGonigal’s A Life of Edwin Morgan.)

I’m sort of flicking through the book as I go, doubtless missing gems (there’s 628 pages of glittering), and I’ve moved on to the last section that looks the oddest in a ‘companion’ that is generally general: essays on individual writers. Selected from a longer list (I remember, pleased to find Lee Harwood on it, for me to offer my services), these include excellent pieces, like the superb, concise, tightly-packed piece on Bill Griffiths by Ian Davidson. Batchelor on Barry MacSweeney is very fine. But I equally enjoyed Will May on FT Prince (that sent me back to the work). Peter Hughes’ piece on Peter Riley was a marvel (NO quotations from critics). But the piece on Kathleen Raine (how un-fashionable can you get?) was illuminating, although it did not change my negative readings of the work. I learnt a lot from the piece on Anne Stevenson – and should read more of her, even her Plath biography. She was a great friend of Lee Harwood, and I enjoyed her company at the Arvon Foundation (the only time I was asked to work there.)

In conclusion, though this is no review, this is a ‘scholarly and comprehensive study’ of its subject. I suspect it will be used as a reference book. A shame, because it does repay close attention page by page. I feel I want to read it all again. I’ll resist. It can go on the shelf where my publications are invading, volume by volume, others’ books’ spaces already there. I’ll have to shift two or three paperbacks to get this one in!

(I spilled this out with seven minutes to go in my allotted hour. It has been useful to cut through a lockdown lethargy that has descended upon me, oddly, after a year.)

RS: 25/03/2021