Thursday, November 04, 2021

A Fictional Poet's Notebook (part 10)

Some of these posts have been incorporated into a prose chapter of my 2023 book, Doubly Stolen Fire, which you may read about, and purchase, here: Pages: Doubly Stolen Fire (a new book of hybrid texts) is now OUT (


Sophie Poppmeier: 16th February 2021: Something quite different has occurred. I’d wondered about the provenance of Danny/i. It seemed old (though not wise!). I went searching across its surfaces, across its bald head, across the fixed rouge lips, under its stiff chin, and, lower, fingering its crevasses (or lack of them), polishing the suggestive androgynous mound of its crotch, as though sex might erupt, but it didn’t. I dismantled it, limb by limb; and, between one forearm and upper arm, in the cross-section of its supposed elbow, I found the words Debenhams 1955. Google elucidated the mystery; Danny/i was an English mannequin from a department store (that had found its way to the fashionable retro boutique where I rescued it).

            ‘That would explain the English,’ I said (in English), as I reassembled Danny/i. It seemed unfair to leave the creature in bits.

            Every person has a book in them, we’re told. Perhaps every mannequin contains an anthology, having been dressed in so many guises.

            This is what happened, over the last few weeks.

            Now I realised that Danny/i had been talking English for longer than I had imagined. I attuned my ear to the words that came from its tight lips with increasing clarity amongst the steady fluency, a clarity and fluency I could barely match in my fevered transcription. This was no longer collaboration (if it ever had been); it was dictation. When I realised that Danny/i was reciting the same ‘book’ (as I thought it) over and over, I could often wait until the next iteration to complete any given utterance. Like a loop, the voice continued, until I had finished transcription (and I typed it up as I went along). Although I needed to tidy the transcription – working out what might be a title and what belonged to the text, what was an author’s name and what was an epigraph – the whole manuscript was eventually assembled. (We were confined to our homes again at this time.)

            Danny/i fell silent.

            From that moment on, it became an unspeaking prop again. (I’d dressed it in an old suit to make it look like Harry Lime in The Third Man: I thought it might make it more English-speaking.) It would become nothing but a mannequin for my favourite fabrics.

            I emailed translator Jason Argleton,my English language guardian, and asked him to look at the document. All I wanted of him at this stage was to Anglicise my American spelling and give a broad evaluation of Danny/i’s ‘project’.

            We spoke over Zoom and he stunned me. Jason affirmed that this was a poetry anthology I’d written down – and he suggested some changes to lineation and stanza division – and, as dated by transcription, and by quick assessment of style, it seemed to be an anthology from the 1950s.   

            I told him the story, adding the date of 1955 that I’d found stamped on Danny/i.

            ‘That’s about right.’

            Jason asked to talk to Danny/i – and I placed it in front of the laptop camera, and felt (for the first time) suddenly stupid. How could this obdurate, battered, pinky-wood entity have produced such a thing? It said nothing. I was a fraud. I’d made everything up.

            Danny/i was clearly going to give none of its, or my, secrets away. Jason, also embarrassed perhaps with his level of credulity, shyly turned from the screen. I turned Danny/i and his expressionless stare, away, off screen.

            I moved it back to the window, put its paper Napoleon hat back on its head, and it fixed its painted eyes on the apartments opposite. A cat yawned on its cushion. A man wrestled with a bendy plastic curtain rail. A woman leant precipitously from an open window in a vain attempt to clean it.

            The ordinary day brought me back to the ordinary day, but Jason was still there. His voice urged, and I returned to face his on-screen face.

            ‘Do you know what this is?’

            ‘An anthology of poems, of some kind. By different poets, fictional I shouldn’t doubt, given our pedigree!’

            He laughed, but the screen froze, and left him, a stark Francis Bacon face with a laptronica glitch voice. For a moment.

            He returned, as whole as he’d ever be, as the elective ghost of my machine.

            Although I lost a word here and there, Zoom managed to allow him to tell me a detailed story that still doesn’t explain much.

            Argleton showed the manuscript to his ‘mentor’ (I suspect he meant Sheppard), a so-called ‘expert’ on English poetry, who suggested that – despite the situation in which the words were ‘gathered or produced’ – the anthology was a genuine mid-fifties text, and was probably traceable via academic channels and databases. It wasn’t, Jason added.

            In short, this was the ‘real thing’, more than that: it was an anti-anthology to the favoured collection of the era, an anti-voice to the master-voice.

            I’d read a fair amount of English language poetry, but when I examine it – Levertov, Adrienne Rich, Eyleen Myles – they turn out to be American. I’d always thought the British very dull – duller still since Brexit too! – and their showing in the EUOIA, until Shexit, wasn’t particularly impressive.

            So when Argleton began to lecture me on ‘Movement’ poetry (he’d ceased to be friendly Jason as he slipped into role) I was lost.

            ‘A Movement. Are they like the ’49 group in Vienna?’

            ‘Not at all!’ he said, laughing. ‘The opposite!’

            ‘Or the Fiftiers generation in Holland, then?

            ‘No, no, no. Forget “movement” in that sense!’

            Example by example, he led me to an understanding of what his mentor calls ‘The Movement Orthodoxy’, the pervasive stink that infuses and curdles much British poetry to this day. The empirical lyric of social comprehension.

            ‘So Danny/i’s anthology is the Movement’s anti-movement?’

            ‘More like the anti-Movement movement’s anthology.’

            I let this go. ‘When was it published?’

            ‘It wasn’t. That’s the point. This is wholly new, yet distinctly old. It’s not a copy of the “Maverick’s” anthology of a few years later, the official opposition. This one’s not in the historical record, not real.’

            ‘But the poems are,’ I protested.

            ‘The poems are,’ he agreed, ‘but the poets aren’t.’

            ‘We’ve been there before,’ I said.

            ‘Yes.’ He adopted what I supposed was his teaching voice, the one you use to summarise the day’s lecture. ‘By whatever method you’ve made this manuscript appear’ – I didn’t like the inference here – ‘it is a clear response, a re-writing, poem by poem, of the 1956 New Lines anthology. It wittily shows the road not taken in British poetry at that time, by fictively showing that road extremely well-lit and broad. Depending on when it was produced’ – that tone again – ‘it’s either a temporal-spatial transposition or an act of alternative history. Out of the mouths of innocent mannequins comes a truth that is not real, an unfolding that…’

            I stopped listening to him.

            ‘What should I do with it, then?’

            He buffered. Open mouthed, with a circle turning before it, he said nothing for ten minutes. Then I closed him down, checked my emails (none), and slapped the lid shut.

            Danny/i darkened in the grey window against a silver sky. Now the detectives were on the case, it was exercising its right to silence. I knew it would never speak to me again.


Sophie Poppmeier is one of the ‘fictional poets’ of my European Union of Imaginary Authors project, and she appears both in Twitters for a Lark and A Translated Man (both Shearsman book). The EUOIA website which describes both the project as a whole (here: European Union of Imaginary Authors (EUOIA) - Home ( ) and contains a page about her (here: Sophie Poppmeier (1981-) Austria - European Union of Imaginary Authors (EUOIA) ( ). Two relevant posts about her burlesque work may be read here and here. A poem from Book 4 may be read online here. 

I have been writing a notebook to try to write her into the present, as it were, and I’m presenting most of it here, in instalments, like the text itself. There is only one more installment. 

The first installment includes links to all the posts: Pages: A Fictional Poet's Notebook (entry one)(hubpost to other parts) ( Some of these posts have been incorporated into a prose chapter of my 2023 book, Doubly Stolen Fire, which you may read about, and purchase, here: Pages: Doubly Stolen Fire (a new book of hybrid texts) is now OUT (