Saturday, January 29, 2022

'The Shepherd's Brow' (the final poem of British Standards (probably)) appears on International Times

The final poem, an 'Afterword' even, of British Standards – maybe – has been published on International Times (as have quite a few of my shorter poems from ‘the English Strain’ project). Thanks to poetry editor, Rupert Loydell, once again. 

(Police seen here investigating goings on in Number Ten.) 

I say ‘maybe’, not because I think I might write another book, the fourth, but because I wonder if our political moment will drag just one more poem about the body politic (or the Bo Politic) from me. That depends on the Sue Gray report, of course. Until then, this is the last. (See these posts for the ruminations on the fourth book or not: Pages: Should I write a fourth ‘book’ of The English Strain project? ( and Pages: No need for a fourth book of The English Strain, I've decided (

 My poem, ‘The Shepherd’s Brow’, may be read here:

 I read it (with one stumble) on video here:


This poem, a version of a Gerard Manley Hopkins sonnet, which does actually mention having a dump, might have been the first poem of that attempted fourth book, but is currently the last one of the project. I write about it here (and offer Hopkins’ original text): Pages: No need for a fourth book of The English Strain, I've decided (

I like these poems appearing in IT because they often add fine illustrations, as they have today.  

One of my previous appearances in IT was a poem I had transposed from the Earl of Surrey, now part of the Shearsman volume, The English Strain. The transposition is again a political one; this time it was a poem about Trump. The Surrey poem is displayed next to the Sheppard version: Direct Rule: In Peace with Foul Desire | IT (

From HAP: Understudies of Thomas Wyatt’s Petrarch | IT ( will take you to versions of Thomas Wyatt! (Just for balance). 

A number of  sonnets from Bad Idea were published in International Times. Here's a couple: Idea | IT ( And more: Sonnets from Bad Idea | IT ( next ones are described as ‘Overdubs of Michael Drayton in the Voice of Idea, his Muse’, but are in fact the last three poems in the sequence, ‘Idea’s Mirror’ my supplement to ‘Bad Idea’. Together, the two sequences form the manuscript of ‘Bad Idea’, the second ‘book’ of ‘The English Strain’ project.


This showing of just pre- and just post- 2019 Election poems is accompanied by Patricia Farrell’s fine illustration of a Techno-Dogging Site. I write about those three poems here:

I write about ‘Idea’s Mirror’, the whole sequence, here:

 Read about the first two books (now both available) online.  

The English Strain here, which features sonnets from Petrarch (via the Symbolists) to EBB, and whose cover presents a composite image of the transposed poets (see cover above):  :

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. 


Boozy Bo

Here’s another piece from British Standards on IT. As I said, 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 sonnet, and my ‘version’. Here it is: Lift Not the Painted Veil | IT ( I'll read it to you as well, although this is a reading of a slightly earlier version of the poem (recorded the day I wrote it).

There's yet another 'final' poem to the sequence featured here: Pages: Another 'final' poem of the English Strain sonnet project: looking eastwards and to the Ukraine (

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

My 'Tabitha and Thunderer' is published in Blackbox Manifold

I am pleased to say that my ‘Tabitha and Thunderer: Interventions in Mary Robinson’s Sappho and Phaon’ is published in issue 27 (imagine! that many!) of Blackbox Manifold. The magazine site may be found here, and it looks to be a splendid issue. Well done, and thanks, Adam and Alex (again!). Editors Alex Houen and Adam Piette are delighted to announce the launch of the issue of Blackbox Manifold at 

It also features other work by:

Josh Allsop, Iain Britton, Geoffrey Brock translating Sandra Santana, James Coghill, Belinda Cooke translating Marina Tsvetaeva, Katy Evans-Bush, Adam Flint, Charlotte Geater, John Goodby & David Annwn translating Emmy Hennings, Jane Goldman, Clive Gresswell, Dimitra Ioannou, Hannah Levene, Claire Nashar, Burgess Needle, Simon Perril, Barnaby Smith, Adam Strauss and Ruth Wiggins. Adam Piette reviews John Balaban, John Ashbery, Maggie O'Sullivan, Jane Goldman, Ken Edwards.


My verses – the sonnets build to make a poem – may be read here:

Blackbox Manifold - Robert Sheppard (


The first verse-sonnet, beginning

Why when my stare turns Thunderer

into sugar does he melt desire back

into himself why his shadow stains

the warshipped streets…,

 I read on video here:

These verses in Blackbox  Blackbox Manifold - Robert Sheppard ( constitute the first 8 ‘lines’ of a corona of sonnets, leaving the final 6 out of that showing. There is a volta at this point, as with all good sonnets, which represents the intervention in my ‘intervention’ of my own voice, the bit in italics. I publish the rest of the poem here:

Tabitha is thin disguise for my she-voice!

She’s not going to throw herself from

the Leucadian Rock for Thunderer, a rake

lifted from Gillray and dropped over

tight-trousered war-criminal slaver-gambler Tarleton,

because of his one ‘low caprice’! Clockwork logic

ordains multiple faintings and frequent droppings-dead!

Perdita, re-thread the rhymes through this season’s muslin.

I take back control of Sappho’s voice

her lyre in my steady hand tremulous vibration

It holds my sovereign breath

a little trauma to trigger controlled delirium

I take back control of Sappho’s form

the ninth gem in my corona turns its glitter silver



A chorus of gulls caws coronas of pain

above the cliffs towards Beachy Head

(that reads like one of chalky Charlie-Girl’s

props!) Cheer up my cheerleading girls

I take back control of The English Sappho

Androgynous desire made him my neatest explosion

his receding hairline his testosteronic myth

breeding the virus along our ‘haunted beach’

My frown’s wedged over the slits of my eyes

The fateful vessel rocks at Brighton pier

Britain I quit your pebbly Brexscinded shore

sucking itself off like Matthew Arnold

I’ve taken back control of English poetry 

My heroines transfigure into bigger



‘Maid is he’ may be just a typo

but it transports him beyond timid curiosity

He’s rubbing himself on fraying silk

with his beauteous arm in ‘that gay bower’

an ebony cage rigged for saccharine slavery

bent over a Turkish poufeé in pleasure’s torture

and there’s really nothing poetry can do about it

I want to suck his face off like a cartoon

The sweetest bud pines open for the bee O

women let’s take back control of poetic justice

Let’s share his manhole like rats and superheroine

Our practised touch is enough to shrink his balls

It’s not whether to wear the strap on

It’s which shaft I’ll select to shift his excessive joy



Abyssinian Maid follow me from this beach

to where clouds bled blue by thin sky puff your fame

He visualised a seaside dome of pleasure here

with egg nog ale and what the butler saw but

heard your chants warbled like a Fado queen

Follow me out of lockdown and we’ll play again

sweet echoes’ passing resemblance to nothing

He damns poetic language for its lack of control

He bites my tongue I slip it bleeding deep in his mouth

to demusicate ‘debate’ about Brexsanguinated Britain

I take back control of poetic artifice

struggle with its corsetry to achieve strange beauty

Lend me your dulcimer and I’ll pluck its metaphor

to compose one more sonnet about the sonnet that isn’t



Come women from my nine-a-side

scrum down on the bed each crumple

crumples uniquely zig zag round

the aura of Erato her avatar bore this

for several nights as ceremony

we take back the Euro trophy a spray

of princely lilies as stalks flip leaves over

pitted visages the woman who isn’t there

is a labour of light shaped like herself

throwing her shoulder for us to weep on

with slight shudders and stifled moans

the sprinkler on the showerhead droops

and drips pearls that patter the pat

apologies of his vanishing pity. Pity



Dizzy with passion not testing my eyes

eyeballing a smug eagle as it poses

lofty against a final sunset I muse why

would anyone mummify a crocodile

using leaves ripped from my Beauties

To be human is to be dishevelled

Down below I see a stream of living lust

spawned from Poseidon into the waves

he wanks white horses under Bo’s White Cliffs

to put me off perishing from this precipice

He dives seals liars into pelagic lairs I must

take back love’s dread control and plunge into

the pool that masks initial touching

and find the designated place to make love

20th June – 8th August 2020


Let’s hear that last ‘verse’ again, shall we?



‘Tabitha and Thunderer’ forms part of the third volume of ‘The English Strain’ project, of ‘transposed’ poems from the English sonnet tradition. This text is one of the lesser-known works. Sappho and Phaon – 44 sonnets – was the first narrative sonnet sequence since the Renaissance, the work of Mary Robinson, published in 1796. It tells of a heterosexual relationship in Sappho’s life, one that led to her anguished suicide, a fate which I (and my revitalised narrator) have refused to follow!

Why the title ‘Tabitha and Thunderer’? Tabitha Bramble was one of Robinson’s pen names, the ‘English Sappho’ another, to add to her many disreputable nicknames, such as ‘Perdita’, after the role she played on stage (with her lover, Prince George, becoming ‘Florizel’ in the celebrity media of the times). ‘The Thunderer’ was a print by James Gillray (another of his images is referred to above) that features Robinson and her lover, Banastre (posh, but pronounced like a railing down some stairs) Tarleton, the Liverpudlian gambler, warrior and Member of Parliament (or debtor, war criminal and slave owner).

Mary (pictured above) was an abolitionist at the year she died (1800), by which time she had stopped moving in louche company, becoming first a Foxian Whig (and lover of Charles Fox) and eventually mixing in radical and literary circles, knowing both William Godwin and Coleridge, for example. Read my 'Life' of Mary here: Pages: Selecting for a Selected: The Poems of Mary Robinson 2: The Life of Mary Robinson (

I have an extensive post on ‘Tabitha and Thunderer’ and on Mary Robinson here:

Pages: My Transpositions of Mary Robinson's sonnets 'Tabitha and Thunderer' are now complete (hub post) (

which also features more images, videos and links!

Book Three of 'The English Strain', from which ‘Tabitha and Thunderer’ comes, is called British Standards. Unpublished as a book, it is best described here: where you will find links to other magazine appearances of parts of the book, where I transpose sonnets by Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley and others…

Read about Book One of ‘The English Strain’, The English Strain here . Parts of that book appeared in a previous issue of Blackbox Manifold, here; 

This batch of sonnets is from Hap:Understudies of Thomas Wyatt’s Petrarch (though the first, introductory, poem ‘Perhaps a Mishap’ is not a version of Wyatt’s versions of Petrarch). The whole lot also appears as a booklet from Knives, Forks and Spoons. 

Book Two of 'The English Strain', Bad Idea, is talked about here .

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

Saturday, January 22, 2022

One Off Episode: Transient Global Amnesia and the Fictional Poetry Project (EUOIA and all that)

 One Off Episode

{The following writing has become contracted into a short footnote to a new piece which also incorporates the shortened version of the diary of Sophie Poppmeier, which I serialized (almost full) here.


All these entries may be thought of as the working notes towards the third book of my fictional poets project, after A Translated Man and Twitters for a Lark, which has its own website, EUOIAEuropean Union of Imaginary Authors (EUOIA) - Home ( ; this contains a page about Poppmeier too: Sophie Poppmeier (1981-) Austria - European Union of Imaginary Authors (EUOIA) ( ) I have no idea whether this will appear in print as a third book, but I'm working on that assumption. So here's the longer version. I begin with a linking paragraph that sounds now a bit like a clearing of the fictional throat. 

I've cut all the details from the updated piece (and I've cut a few from this version, too), though I retain the outline of events and the deliberately nebulous conclusion.}

Thinking about fictional poets leaves me with me, with all those other mes. You know, ‘Shexit’ Sheppard, at least, a fictional poet sharing my name and perhaps my work, a member of the now-disbanded European Union of Imaginary Authors. That’s two of us, at least. ‘We’ve been here before,’ as Sophie Poppmeier might say.

In lockdown, I began to read my diaries, the emphatically non-literary records that begin in 1965 and continue, quite literally, to this day (which also constitute the raw material of my ‘autrebiographies’, Words Out of Time. (See here: Pages: My REF description of my book Words Out of Time: autrebiographies and unwritings ( )). I have reached 2008 to date, and one minor surprise has been the frequent recurrence of the idea of writing fictional poems, though never using that term, stretching back to the 1970s. First, there was Tom Wyatt, a member of the British Poetry Revival, as we’d say today, a Child of Albion; then there was Eamon McCann, an Irish Revival poet. There arose the notion of writing the works of an unknown Balkan poet, after reading some inscrutable translations for visiting Yugoslav poets at UEA. Remember, the communist zones were completely unknown to us. In 2002, when I visited Prague first, it was like the manifestation of a dream. I had heard the last broadcasts out of Prague in 1968, when I was a DX-er, and this fact is used in my short story ‘Tropp’, which is, in its way, with its snippets of Tropp’s Esperanto poetry, another precursor of the ‘fictional poet’ project. Published by KFS: See here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: The Only Life (book of short stories) Tropp (depicted by Patricia Farrell on the book cover below) nearly appeared in the EUOIA. As McCann may have commented, in a Yeatsian touch, the circus animals have indeed deserted: send in the clown! That’s me, of course, in one of my disguises.

In the lineated prose piece, ‘The End of the Twentieth Century’, written in 1999, in anticipation of the abandonment of my long network of texts, Twentieth Century Blues, I mused, not without self-irony, on yet another precursor of the fictional poet project, but ended up with a curious notion of my own self. Pages: Robert Sheppard: thirty years since Twentieth Century Blues was begun, 20 since it ended, and future plans

I wrote once, half-joking, of wanting to write an entire literature, even drafted an anthology of seven Manx modernists to be refracted through three or four contrasting translators, but lost the plan and lost the impulse, or

to radicalise that potent option of Pessoa, to publish under 5 names, but all of them my own

‘gone fake omniscient’ in the abandoned plan

The author’s homonyms would multiply, consciously consolidating their potential to constellate texts around authorising centres. These author-functions will not have life, lives replete with invented character and caprice. They will not form anti-selves or personae. They will have all written Twentieth Century Blues thus far, until their name refracts, as shown in figure 1, into what lies beyond it

 { NB You'll need to consult the volume to see the diagram properly. It won't reproduce correctly on this blog page, but it looks like the figure below, but, additionally, I presented a beam labelled ‘Robert Sheppard’ fracturing through a prism into the 5 separate projected ‘Sheppards’. Imagine the beam: imagine the resulting prismatic distribution!}

Robert Sheppard1

Robert Sheppard2

Robert Sheppard3

Robert Sheppard                       

Robert Sheppard4

Robert Sheppard5



The scheme looks flat-out derangement, of course (Patricia sees the above figure and says, ‘I think I’ll leave the room now!

The five homonyms, heteronumberings, will be the equivalent of strands in the new writings. They will not, however, communicate, intertextualise. They will not be aware of one another, even fictively. They will need to be read against one another, five possible oeuvres. They will need to deal anew, with the question of what poetry might become, in five different ways…

I abandoned this notion with a fashionable theoretical flourish: ‘I am already, forever, other.’ Yet, even as I progressed this project in recognisably similar ways, only a few years later, I was willing enough to make myself one other ‘Robert Sheppard’ at least, the one who eulogised – who else? – Ern Malley. When I subsequently and conditionally told my readers of his poem for Malley, deliberately echoing one of Borges' famous parables, ‘I could say that I do not know which “Robert Sheppard” has written this piece, but I do’, I left them with a question I cannot answer, ‘And you do too, don’t you?’ (See here: Pages: Ern Malley 1918-1943: Celebrating the centenary in his place of birth Liverpool (set list) (

The narrator in my ‘autrebiography’, Words Out of Time, is another ‘Robert Sheppard’, and is deliberately not coherent and consistent, particularly in part one of ‘The Given’ which is, in one reading, a list of all the things I don’t remember, reversing Joe Brainard’s famous autobiographical list-text: ‘I don’t remember pitching the authority of the text as the subject of itself against the authority of self. I don’t recall being willing to accept obscurity. I don’t remember doubting that Tim’s girlfriend existed’. The conceit of this work will prove relevant to today’s excursion. (I write about the techniques of ‘The Given’ here: Pages: Robert Sheppard : Writing The Given )

Abandonment is becoming the subject of this piece.

Reading my diaries through sequentially, as I am, one day I am going to arrive at the entries for February 2021. (I try to read a month at one sitting.) On 16th February last year, I wrote the central passage of Sophie Poppmeier’s supposed diary ( you can read that bit here: Pages: A Fictional Poet's Notebook (part 10) (, where she discovers that her stage mannequin spouts poetry, like some bore at a party, except she is in lockdown. My diary doesn’t even mention writing this long passage, since I am keener to recall, that on that day, I went up to Edge Hill University, not to see former colleagues, but to get my first jab of the AstraZeneca vaccine. I wrote, ‘It went smoothly, and I was out into a deep scarlet sunset and back on public transport,’ recording the longest journey I had made in months, my first outing not solely on foot. That night I dreamt of being among crowds, and the next morning copies of The English Strain arrived. (See here: Pages: Alan Baker reviews 'The English Strain' and 'Bad Idea' in Litter (

One week later it is a different story.     

On February 22nd the ‘Robert Sheppard’ who progresses through the diaries, who, despite vicissitudes, is a pretty coherent and consistent narrator, disintegrates. I shall treat myself as I treat Sophie Poppmeier, by abridging and tidying up my entry for that day (and adding comments in parentheses).  

Morning working on ‘Edge Poetics’ keynote, trying to turn it into an ‘article’. (See here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: Notes Towards a keynote for EDGE POETICSTesco delivery....

Suddenly ... Patricia found me in a most confused state. I didn’t know what a soft toy was doing in the room (I’d brought him in; he’s a chimp pornographer, or so he says). I said I was confused. I couldn’t remember Tesco being delivered.

I dressed, apparently (but I had been wandering the upstairs rooms, pointing out ‘discrepancies’, what I imagined were recent disturbances: ‘What’s that doing there?’ I asked). I gradually came back to myself, as it were. I do remember going into the front room and declaring that two chairs – one a dining chair, the other an armchair – had exchanged places. I couldn’t understand how that had happened in so short a space of time. In fact, I’d swapped them round a few months before. This is my only memory of being in my condition. (The two chairs seemed to me like they were printed in colour while the rest of the room was in greyscale. I was coming out of it, by then, and observed that the time seemed later than I felt it should be. ‘Have I been asleep?’ I kept asking.)

Lunch. A walk (round Greenbank Park, I remember.) A read of another article in Görtschacher’s and Malcolm’s A Companion to Contemporary British and Irish Poetry, 1960-2015. (Not an easy read, Bartosz Wójcik’s piece on Black British Poetry. See here: Pages: A Rapid Response to A Companion to Contemporary British and Irish Poetry ed. Gortschacher and Malcolm (

It’s odd how we returned to normality, but Patricia was watching me pretty closely.   

I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about, but Patricia made me phone Dr Evans (name changed), and he got me in (to the nearby surgery). I was forwarded with a letter to the Royal and spent the evening and some of the night being examined on suspicion of having had a minor stroke, which is what I thought it had been, at this point. I was repeatedly tested for this, raising first the left, then my right, leg. Apart from high blood pressure, I had no visible symptoms. But they worked on that assumption and sent me home.

(I must record how speedily the NHS, as an integrated system, worked, despite the pandemic and its pressures. I was also tested for the virus.)

Luckily – it was 1.30 and super-quiet – I found a taxi – home to Patricia, who was pondering my symptoms and had concluded they didn’t sound like a stroke’s. We went to bed. To sleep…

In my case, till 11.00. (The diary continues, as one uninterrupted record, into the next day’s entry.) But Patricia woke me to say Dr Blue (name also changed) from the unit had phoned me. I talked to him around noon (notice how precise these timings are, as if reacting against the atemporal confusion of the episode itself) and he amended the diagnosis. I got Patricia to narrate ‘what happened’, which I cannot authentically do. He determined that he was ‘99.99% sure’ that I’d experienced exactly what Patricia had been reading about online:


A harmless condition ... The median age of attack is 63. It is probably caused by unusual breathing patterns, a kind of anti-yoga, caused in turn, in my case, I believe, by sinus polyps, which were ironically detected during a follow-up MRI scan that otherwise showed nothing abnormal. Except my brain. (For 'Polyps' watch: 

Pages: POLYPS (

Dr Blue partly amended my prescription and said I’d hear further. (I did. He informed me, inelegantly, ‘It is usually a one off episode, however recurrent episodes can happen.’)

I haven’t done a lot today. (You can hear a sense of relief in this.) Read an article on Anglo-Jewish poetry (in Görtschacher and Malcolm; another link: Pages: My two pieces (British Poetry Revival & Harwood) & editorial exhibit in CONTEMPORARY BRITISH AND IRISH POETRY, 1960 – 2015 Edited by Görtschacher and Malcolm (

And music and TV in the evening (a lockdown routine; the music was Albert Ayler: just the thing for the occasion, you might think!).

I watched Bo’s press conference, laying out his ‘roadmap’, without too much waffle. But the end of it seemed potentially dangerous. 

For several hours I was no more (and probably less) than those skeletal figures that populate the background of my fictional poetry world, with little more than their names, like Erwin Wertheim in the orbit of the EUOIA. (See Pages: Robert Sheppard: two poems excerpted from Twitters for a LarkI was post-coital panic in an empty human frame. If I’d been presented with the name René Van Valckenborch, would I have remembered him? (See here: Pages: Reflections on A Translated Man (set list) ( Perhaps I would have repeated my alarmed, ‘What’s he doing here?’ Rather than his being absent to me, perhaps I could have been convinced of his reality, a Belgian poet, a friend of mine even. How ‘global’ was my transient global amnesia? I appeared to recognise Patricia. It was pretty ‘transient’, in comparison with other recorded cases, but how ironic that the author of the ‘I don’t remember’ litany in Words Out of Time should have been struck this way.

I don’t remember that I didn’t remember anything that happened during the episode.

It is tempting to imagine that this amnesiac interval was a cleansing hiatus, perhaps opening up a chasm into which the fictional poetry projects could be dumped, down the sides of which all the fictional, autrebiographical, diaristic, ‘Robert Sheppards’ might scuttle towards their own permanent global amnesia. All gone and not gone at the same time. Like the two chairs hanging in their ‘wrong’ positions, lodged but glowing in a warped remembrance. Permanently transient.

6th January 2022

[It seems appropriate to end this post with an unused cover illustration for The English Strain because it shows my face, transposed onto the faces of Petrarch, Wyatt, Surrey, Charlotte Smith and EBB, in homage to its contents. I was one face too many and had to be removed. Permanently transient, maybe.}