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.}