Friday, December 31, 2021

Happy Dogging New Year via a statement from Go and a transposition of a Wordsworth sonnet

 Happy New Year everybody!

It was in another world – a world we were part of, as it happens – that Go (a character that runs through the ‘English Strain’ project) issued his New Year announcement to the dogging community and to those who practice the dogging lifestyle. The post-Brexit largesse that would allow the newly-liberated populace of Bressex (that’s Britain’s new name) to fuck each other’s brains out in the open air didn’t materialise (as we knew it wouldn’t), and the dogging community and those who practice the dogging lifestyle, particularly in Kent (home of Sir Thomas Wyatt and subject of some of Wordsworth’s most patriotic and idiotic sonnets), have not had a grand time, what with lockdowns and Covid regulations, lorries queuing up, and pesky foreigners arriving on its chalky littoral. So, cast your mind back to the New Year 2018, when Brexit was replete with promise, like a pig’s bladder full of shit, and enjoy Go’s apocryphal statement to that essentially British community (and its lifestyle), apocryphal because, although dogging features in the poems, this document is a separate feature:  Pages: Christmas Message from the Right Hon M. Go, secretary of Rural Affairs, the post-Brexit Dogging Agency ( .

 So, one of those Kentish sonnets by Wordsworth, 'Vanloads of Libertines', ventriloquised by me, transposed into something othery and Brexity, seems like the best way to wish you a happy new year. On this video I read it (past tense).

On this post, you may read the text. (Present tense)

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

But you can also compare it with the original, with which it appeared in International Times:

‘Poems of National Independence – Liberties with Wordsworth’ | IT (

The very last poem of ‘The English Strain’ will be appearing in International Times soon! (Future tense!) Until then, read about Book One of 'The English Strain', The English Strain here .

Book Two, Bad Idea, is talked about here .

You can buy both books so far here: Pages: How to buy The English Strain books one and two together (


Book Three, from which the above poem comes, is called British Standards. Unpublished, it is best described here:

Friday, December 24, 2021

Merry Christmas to you all! (from Miles and me)

I usually have a break from this blog over Christmas, but I don't feel like it this year. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The Yearbook of English Studies for 2021, edited by Samuel Rogers, a quick survey

’Tis the year’s midnight, and I began the day at this desk in darkness, and I will continue to be in darkness in late afternoon and give myself an hour to reflect on The Yearbook of English Studies for 2021, edited by Samuel Rogers, a volume containing fourteen essays exploring a range of poetry from 1980 and the present.


I thought the essays were of a very high standard, and even my own contribution didn’t seem to conspicuously let the side down, my piece on Literary Collaboration. (I write about that here: Pages: My piece on 'Collaboration' is published in The Yearbook of English Studies 2021 ( As I have with other publications I now give myself no more that an hour (plus injury time) to comment on it. 21/12/2021: 16.32.      


I began reading (unusually for me, a cover-to-cover ploughee) in the middle, with Rory Waterman’s entertaining piece on parodies of Philip Larkin, useful for me because one of my (deliberately?) yet teasingly glimpsed new (abandoned?) projects, is to unwrite and overdub New Lines as a fictional poet work. It makes an unlikely appearance here: Pages: A Fictional Poet's Notebook (part 10) ( And I was entertained, clearly. It is interesting just how authoritative Larkin still seems, how recognizable the parodies. (Some of Wayne Pratt’s verses approach Larkin, but my new boy Perceval Lynam takes him on, but isn’t quite parody, since he is a poet of Different Lines.) 

Disinterest drove my inspection of Daniel Hughes’ work on Tony Conran, a poet I must read more of, clearly, of great ambition and scope. Likewise, Devon Campbell-Hall introduced me to the work of Raman Mundair, although I wasn’t particularly excited by the quotations (though they weren’t extensive enough to be properly exciting). I know Yvonne Reddick a little from events in Liverpool and (I think) at Edge Hill, and I enjoyed her work on Karen McCarthy Woolf, particularly for its summary of ecopoetics, and I noted that experimental ecopoetics is a thing (rejected by Reddick here). (That would include Camilla Nelson, one of my ‘collaborator’ subjects.) Peter Mackay dealt with Scottish Gaelic writers new to me, with the exception of Meg Bateman (who appeared in Foil years ago). The arguments over translation and publication seem spirited and worth recording for those outside Scotland (there was a little of that, referring to Wales, in Hughes’ piece).

Bridget Vincent’s piece on late Geoffrey Hill took a long view (and high view) of Hill’s work, and I enjoyed the emphasis on ‘attention’ (which I think should be emphasized in a poetics), but I didn’t warm to Hill’s austere ethical tone (I rather suspect his sense of self-importance, of which I have heard elsewhere: he puts himself at the top table and his admirers – I don’t mean Vincent – serve him whatever he wants). It’s 20 years since I saw a friend flee from one of his readings in terror! I continue to admire some of – what is now – his ‘early work’. Ted Hughes’ late work Birthday Letters (actually, he was writing them over the decades) gets a good reading from James Underwood, who emphasizes that ‘epistolary’ function in the title. How do we read ‘letters’? It got me thinking about that more generally and sent me off to an essay in the Poetic Genres companion that is referred to here. These ‘letters’ are not confessional, but weirdly dialogic: for closure and clarity. Another ‘great’ is Eavan Boland, and Nicholas Taylor-Collins argues why she should have been awarded a Nobel Prize! This is not as daft as it sounds, since Taylor-Collins traces Boland’s reputation against the award’s criteria, and she scores. Sarah Kennedy likewise sounds out Alice Oswald’s reputation and achievement, but focusses on her ‘classical presences’, in a convincing essay that makes me want to follow the work up (though I kept thinking of Simon Perril’s ‘Archilocus’ trilogy; see here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: Simon Perril’s Archilochus on the Moon).

Other contributors (including me) cannot rely on received reputations to argue for their writers, and don’t. There is no ‘This poem won the Blah Blah Prize’, because it didn’t! (This is only occurring to me now, as I survey the whole collection.) Instead, there is more exposition of writers’ associations (with presses and other writers and ‘traditions’, for example). Robert Kiely usefully unravels some references to mathematics in the work of Catherine Walsh, though the work studied, Optic Verve, is a bricolage of other materials (many of them intensely social, documents about a housing estate in Dublin, for example). Ian Davidson writes with an astonishing clarity about the ecologies of language (and of ecology, too!) in Tom Pickard (who we may think we know, but who has published a lot of recent work that has passed me by), Lesley Harrison (who is completely new to me, but looks fascinating, particularly work on Hull trawlers) and Welshman Rhys Trimble (whose book discussed here I possess but have yet to read): the attention on all three on language.

Staying (or straying back to Wales), editor Samuel Rogers writes on Zoe Skoulding (with passing references to Davidson as a poet) and his first few pages are a useful take on the lyric, going for Kate Hamburger’s theories (probably accessed through Jonathan Culler’s Theory of the Lyric). He squares a circle in linguistically innovative poetries by dealing with the lyric I as a function of language: ‘Poetry that actively points to the epistemological uncertainty of reality, as well as the impossibility of clear expression through the medium of language, can nevertheless produce some of the most sustained accounts of embodied experience of environment, landscape, nature, or place, as an “out there” beyond the text.’ (p. 268) So there! All this is negotiated through Skoulding’s early work. (I’m sensing Rogers is moving through the oeuvre. Good; Zoe deserves this exegete.)


Zoe reading

Robert Hampson presents the work of Prudence Chamberlain (as I did: we even use the same quotation!), Nisha Ramayya (I quote her in Pulse: Pages: Robert Sheppard: 'PULSE: All a Rhythm' published in Tentacular 5 (with links)), Alison Gibb, and Karen Sandhu, all of them tutored (for they are all students at Royal Holloway, we are talking here of the entry of innovative writing into the academy) by Redell Olsen, whose work (old and recent) is surveyed: the common denominators are feminist contents and radical expanded forms, extending into performance (which is where Robert’s precise essay collides with mine, which features readings of collaborative performance.)

A great collection, produced under ‘lockdown’ (you can follow my essay’s evolution on this blog, starting here, all links provided: Pages: Robert Sheppard: Thughts on Collaboration 1: Introduction .)

OK: all done in an hour. A glass of water and I’ll tidy it up and post it. 21/12/2021: 17.26.      

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Robert Sheppard: ‘So, now to the poetics’: from a Journal Entry, 22nd December 1983

Just as I completed typing this journal extract up, I decided that I probably wouldn’t include it in the book manuscript of/on poetics that I seem to be assembling at the moment, that I might call (after one of its most authoritative, and even influential, pieces) The Necessity of Poetics. (You can read that here: in one of its versions.) It was written, deliberately, as poetics, not as a theory of poetry. I had just worked out that theory for my PhD – and here I decide to write about some of those ideas (Veronica Forrest-Thomson and some structuralists, and Ricoeur and Marcuse, who I name) without academic gloss, or references. I find the mentions of Auden and the language poets a little odd, but I do like the parts about the uses of the self and the lyric, and particularly the following sentence: ‘I see the desire for a diminished self as a healthy move towards a New Humanism, which accepts than Man is no longer to be thought of as the central, originating presence of the universe (in the place of God).’ This refers, at least in part (and much of this piece combines various traditions of thought) to ‘eco-humanism’, which I was reading at the time, or a little bit earlier. It also is a riposte to certain attacks on the avant-garde for its refusal of identity. The other continuity is the thought of Christopher Middleton (see here: Pages: Christopher Middleton (1926-2015) i.m. ( and Pages: Robert Sheppard: Inaugural Lecture PART 2: Measuring Experience (on Christopher Middleton). His Viking Prow has been churning poetic quietude for decades now. I find this piece more open than slightly later attempts to codify poetic artifice, as in this piece, ‘Flashlight Propositions’, which I also think I am going to omit from the book. What did I call them? Oh yes: ‘operational axioms’! Later notions of poetics loosen these operations and those axioms a lot! (As here, again:

So, now to the poetics.

            The enemy can be defined as The English Poetic Tradition. It has afforded us some of the greatest poets of our language, but in this century, it has spawned midgets and misguided talents, e.g. Larkin and Auden. The text is thought of as forever closed, as an utterance coming from the empirical author. The poem translates thoughts into words and the words then become transparencies behind which we can clearly see the thoughts. This is what is thought to be ‘communication’. The poetry offers us the familiar (England, more often than not) and its details are easily naturalised. The iambic pentameter is a major defining characteristic, yet even this is value-ridden. Not least of all, in its transparent moulding of speech, it reifies the speaking voice and thus the illusion that there is the presence of a transcendental ego behind (and before) the poem. The pervasive self-hood seems to be the aspect of poetry that is definitely in a state of crisis, although the Wayne Pratts of this world might not think so. Historically, the notion of a self-hood in poetry is a recent and, possibly, lamentable development. But the subjectivity of the text should not necessarily be that of the author (empirical or ‘implied’).

            This, then, is The Enemy: The Great I am and the Great Iambic.

            How do I see my own work developing, in the light of this? How has it developed to date?

            I want the Self in my poetry to be indeterminate, relative and – at times – plural. Far from seeing this as an anti-humanistic, alienated poetry, I see the desire for a diminished self as a healthy move towards a New Humanism, which accepts than Man is no longer to be thought of as the central, originating presence of the universe (in the place of God). But the reader is the real person of the text, not the writer, or even the characters, of a poem. The writer is the catalyst of the poem. As far as the reader is concerned, the writer is a self produced by the text. But as far as the writer is concerned, the text is produced by the writer – and if he or she is a truly contemporary writer, he or she will see that the text is completed by the reader. The writer and the reader are both the producers of meaning of the text. The horizons of the poetic world of the writer (in writing the text) fuse with the differing horizons of the readers (in reading the text). This is not what is commonly thought of as communication.

            This is not to argue that ‘I’ cannot appear in a text. It is only to be aware that as soon as I have written ‘I’, I am a reader of that text myself, since the self in not a stable entity (although it undoubtedly has recurring characteristics and is part of a history), but is an effect of consciousness produced in the acts of perception, moment-by-moment in a time continuum. Je est un autre, and this is cause rather for wonder, than for angst and alienation. The writer is free to use one self, or many selves in a text. In reading the text, the readers receive a new self (not the writer’s, I hasten to add. Brain transplants may be theoretically possible, but not via the medium of poetry!).

            American forebears dissolved the egotistical self in the act of perception.

            Iambics are already avoided in my work, and this indeterminacy of the self and the indeterminacy of perception demand some form of indeterminate structure. This can occur at the level of rhythm or at the level of semantics, but it will inevitably happen. Defamiliarisation, for example, is a formal procedure to prolong and frustrate perception. The Russian formalists saw this as an end in itself, but it carries a moral dimension: that of reactivating the reader’s perceptions and destroying habitualised, automatic perception. It is also pleasurable. We must avoid stuffy texts at all costs.

            The point of these modes of openness is existential and – ultimately – political, and they must never become obsolete through overuse, in imagese, or ‘place poetry’, or conventionalised cut-up. (That’s why it is not possible to say what my ‘freedom forms’, as Roy Fisher calls them, will be.)

            Whether my poetry is a poetry that is co-extensive with reality, or whether it is the poetry of a fictive landscape, it still involves defamiliarisation. In defamiliarising the dominant reality, in offering sensuous images from the point of view of a formal autonomy, the poem is operating as an (implicit) critique of that dominant reality. It gives pleasure. Pleasure may excite us, but it might not necessarily move us. To be moved the reader must feel that the poem is opening up for the fusion of horizons. This may be achieved through the category-expansion of metaphor, by the opening up of a world by the entire poem, or sequence of poems. This world is an image of a possible reality, a synopsis for a new mode of Being. (It is at this point that the theories of Ricoeur and Marcuse meet.)

            This is my latest formulation of what I called formalist-humanism. It is obvious that whether or not I indulge in self-disclosure is completely irrelevant to this aspect of poetry. Whatever the terms reality, reality principle or Being signify, then I take it that a poem is intimately involved (as far as the reader is concerned) in what Christopher Middleton has called, in an equally hesitating manner, ‘if not the revelation of being, then … apertures upon being’. (His ‘Notes on a Viking Prow’ become more and more important for me as I explore this whole area.)

            So, what is the writer’s job? To produce language that appears to have coherent origin, the sort of stream-of-wordprocessor writing that the American language poets indulge in? No. That does not give pleasure (or, at least, not much). It certainly cannot move us, if by moving we accept my above definition (as the shock of new significations from out of the old). No, the writer’s job is to attend so attentively to his or her poetic focus that he or she fails to expend energy on the self as a supposedly stable entity. And if the past selves of the writer’s ego happen to be the poetic focus, the self which is the effect of the text will still be another self. And then – but I’m beginning to repeat myself – the reader enters the picture!

Sunday, December 05, 2021

Pete Clarke's new catalogue and our on-going collaborations

Pete Clarke has published an exciting new catalogue, Other Echoes … doubt and distance, featuring work he has been painting at Bluecoat over the last couple of years. It is wide-ranging and includes his ‘doubt and distance … of lost content’, which is now in the Walker Gallery, after it was short-listed for the John Moores Painting Prize in 2017. That's Pete and the painting in The Walker below. You can contact the publisher (Pete at the Bluecoat) at Studio 4, Bluecoat, School Lane, L1 3BX. Pete’s website is

The catalogue includes work based around ‘Arena Area’, a series of (deliberately) short poems that I wrote for/with Pete. We took a walk around Liverpool and found the remains of a ‘car park fire’ down the docks in January 2018. He took photos; I looked (and wrote, later). The text appears in the new catalogue, 12 short poems, for example:


parked in the park forever

a darkness that darkens the lungs

concentrated pitch


with which it starts. Pete has produced a number of small canvases which use these words, sometimes re-ordering them, sometimes focusing in on groups of words (in and across lines). Here are some of those images.


I also read 7 of the sections behind a page of the catalogue on this video. (By chance I begin by reading the words on the canvasses arranged on this page, which are also those quoted above.)


The catalogue refers to our ‘on-going’ collaboration, but we haven’t done anything this side of lockdown. Perhaps this catalogue will spur us on. But we have been going for a long time now. Below are links to other works of ours.

Pages: Pete Clarke and Robert Sheppard: 'Black Panels' in John Lennon School of Art Exhibition


The text ‘Area Arena’ appears both in the catalogue, and in my Red Ceilings volume Micro Event Space. One of Pete’s works from the accompanying sequence formed part of its cover, above. You may read more about that book and its micro-launches (which don’t look so funny post-lockdown post-social distancing!) here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: Micro Event Space launched in a series of micro-readings in micro event spaces

Thursday, December 02, 2021

No need for a fourth book of The English Strain, I've decided

Pages: Should I write a fourth ‘book’ of The English Strain project? ( In that post I tasked myself with writing a fourth book of my ‘English Strain’ project. In this post I shall explain why I don’t think I will be doing that!

Bo bored with The English Strain

I have immersed myself in the poetry of the 1890s, and in the period (via Ellman’s biography of Oscar Wilde, which I have been meaning to read since 1992, when Patricia bought the book). The poetry is not exceptional, though fascinating (I studied it at UEA on the Baudelaire to Eliot module with George Hyde) and I believe that the single one I have written, an overdub of a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem of 1889, is sound. I spent some time looking at candidates, from Scouser Richard le Gallienne to Arthur Symons, to get the sickly flavour of that yellow decade and its decadence. The enervation was attractive and appropriate to our political realities in all sorts of ways. (Johnson is as careless and profligate as Wilde, it struck me.) The Hopkins was chosen as a kind of introduction to the decade.

Bo bored with Bad Idea might have helped with finding other poems to overdub or transpose. The Penguin Poetry of the Nineties anthology (I have had the first edition since 1974, but now have the 1997 second edition, with more women poets and Wilde) would have been central.

But (with Patricia now back at Blue Room) I thought I’d leap in (only 3 days after waking up with the thought of this next book!). I identified 3 poets not in the Penguin anthology who seemed precursors to the real decadents (about whom I’d listened to on a ‘In Our Time’ programme the previous Thursday); there were to be Hopkins, Swinburne, and (most obviously) Wilde. I only got as far as the Hopkins. Here’s the original, one of his last poems and probably the only one of his with somebody having a shit in it! (Of course, you can be assured that my poem took that into account). I also re-read Will Daunt’s book on Hopkins in Lancashire, which came out of some MA work that that fine poet (Daunt I mean) did with me at Edge Hill: Daunt, Will. Gerard Manley Hopkins: The Lydiate Connections. Ormskirk: Ormskirk Imprint, 2019.

The shepherd's brow, fronting forked lightning, owns
The horror and the havoc and the glory
Of it. Angels fall, they are towers, from heaven—a story
Of just, majestical, and giant groans.
But man—we, scaffold of score brittle bones;
Who breathe, from groundlong babyhood to hoary
Age gasp; whose breath is our memento mori—
What bass is our viol for tragic tones?
He! Hand to mouth he lives, and voids with shame;
And, blazoned in however bold the name,
Man Jack the man is, just; his mate a hussy.
And I that die these deaths, that feed this flame,
That … in smooth spoons spy life’s masque mirrored: tame
My tempests there, my fire and fever fussy.

[Note: My version of this poem is now published online by the International Times, and may be read here: ]

The jump from the 1840s to the 1880s is a incongruous one, if I only write this one and place it at the end of British Standards, which is what I currently plan to do. The poem itself foresees the demise of Bo – now openly called Johnson, the shine rubbed off – with the final ‘knife … in whose hand’? (My money’s on Sunak, though I’d like to see the whole avaricious crew go down.)

I enjoyed writing this poem (which you will forgive me for having posted on this blog for only a few days), enjoying my ‘overdub’ method, but I need to ‘end my solo before I’m done’ (as I often quote Miles). (The method could be used to unwrite New Lines (see Pages: A Fictional Poet's Notebook (part 10) (; I might do that, a totally different project!)).

A fourth book of ‘The English Strain’ project? While my poetics often thinks about the reader (though I gesture towards ‘readers’ as the actual plural users of the text) I seldom think about readers as ‘consumers’ in the ‘poetry’ market, as people buying books with limited resources, with ever-diminishing marginal propensities to consume (A Level economics coming back there). I doubt if readers would want to read a fourth book (a third might be pushing it!), and it might be politic to move on. Soon.

Despite liking ‘The shepherd’s brow’ by Hopkins, would not further production be in danger of being merely that, if I were to version some of the sonnets of the period? There are 31 in the 1997 Poetry of the 1890s: Wratislaw, Robinson, Nadeau, Douglas, Henley, Dowson, Johnson, Symons, Gray, etc.. None has – unequivocally – the ‘fruit fly’ quality that Queneau talked about (he had Mallarme, of course). In fact, only Symons interests me much (as I suggest here:  Pages: Should I write a fourth ‘book’ of The English Strain project? ( I possess a 1913 edition of his The Knave of Hearts, a copy once owned by Agnes Bedford, who I discovered (reading Peter Brooker’s book on the London Modernist avant garde) was a friend of either Olivia or Dorothy Shakespeare, Pound’s mother in law and his wife. She had written in pencil the original French of Symon’s translations of Verlaine. There’s something there, I think. (My Verlaine appears early in Book One: see here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: Petrarch 3 published a year ago  but also here, about the book whose cover appears next: Pages: Practice-Led piece on 'Petrarch 3' from The English Strain published in Translating Petrarch's Poetry (Legenda) (

 Update July 2022: A final poem, ending the project at the end of book three, has been published in International Times, an appropriate venue for a finale of these political poems: ‘The final poem of British Standards, the third and final book of the ‘English Strain’ Project’, I announce before its subtitle: ‘Monitoring Adam Mickiewicz’ first Crimean Sonnet: The Ackerman Steppe’. Its actual title is ‘After-Shock’, the last of four ‘After’ poems at the end of the book.

Read it here:

Read about the first two books (now both available); The English Strain here, which features sonnets from Petrarch (via the Symbolists) to EBB, and whose cover (by Patricia Farrell) presents a composite image of the transposed poets, contrasting with the single image of Petrarch above it! :

and Bad Idea which features only versions of the sonnets of Michael Drayton, here:

and about the unpublished third book, British Standards, which features Romantic Era sonnets only: here:

The POETICS of the sequence, may be accessed here: Shifting an Imaginary: Poetics in Anticipation – New Defences of Poetry ( This piece is currently planned for inclusion in British Standards. 

Pages: Should I write a fourth ‘book’ of The English Strain project? ( lays out some of the thinking about book four which I am now rejecting!

Bo bored with British Standards

In essence, two worries: that I might simply go into automatic 'production' mode, AND that the readership (such as it is) will be bored by 'more of the same'. The two are not unrelated.