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 http://www.manifold.group.shef.ac.uk/ 

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 (sheffield.ac.uk)


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 (sheffield.ac.uk) 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 (robertsheppard.blogspot.com)

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) (robertsheppard.blogspot.com)

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: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2021/04/transpositions-of-hartley-coleridge-end.html 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 (robertsheppard.blogspot.com)