Friday, April 08, 2022

If The English Strain is finished, what next? (Reflections and Loose Poetics)

It’s quite something to think that the project ‘The English Strain’ is finished. Reading my diaries through (a reading begun in lockdown, but not yet completed) I see that I was working on some poems based on Milton’s sonnets as early as 2011, and some of these found their way into The English Strain as ‘song-nets’ or ‘overdubs from Milton’. (This one: The Fugger of Wonderful Black Words by Robert Sheppard | Poetry at Sangam ( Others didn’t, but may well appear as ‘leftoverdubs’ at some point. This one, for example, ‘Synovial Joint's: from Overdubs | Stride magazine ) That means I spent as long on this ‘project’ (how did I ever adopt this term that I spent so much time trying to avoid throughout my Creative Writing teaching career?) as I did on Twentieth Century Blues. (See here: Pages: Robert Sheppard :Twentieth Century Blues out in paperback )That doesn’t mean (as it did in the case of C20 Blues) that that was the only project of the last ten years. Far from it. But ‘Flight Risk’ or Micro-Event Space, for example, only got mentioned as information, when published (as here: Pages: The Poem ‘Adversarial Stoppage’ from FLIGHT RISK is published in Mercurius ( or finished (as here: Pages: Robert Sheppard's Micro Event Space is published by Red Ceilings Press NOW)  

 ‘The English Strain’, on the other hand, has had an intimate relationship with this blog, from the original work on others’ linguistically innovative Petrarchan versions, which set it off (see here: Pages: Practice-Led piece on 'Petrarch 3' from The English Strain published in Translating Petrarch's Poetry (Legenda) ( to the later practice of posting each new sonnet online for a week, and accumulating text for residual posts at the end of each ‘section’ or book of the project. (See, for example, this one, here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: Four sonnets from Non-Disclosure Agreement published on Stride (links)  

Posting the poems became, in this case, part of the writing of the poems, or at least, the ritual of the writing of the poems, as did the weekly videos, from the start of 2020, when I became able to add short films, short enough for these sonnet variations. (Like this one, one of the Mary Robinson sonnets, eventually a stanza in the poem 'Tabatha and Thunderer see the whole of it here: Pages: My 'Tabitha and Thunderer' is published in Blackbox Manifold ( 


‘The English Strain’ is best described in posts for each of its books:

 Read about Book One of ‘The English Strain’, The English Strain here . That’s the one with the Milton overdubs in it. Book Two, Bad Idea, is talked about here . See covers of the books above.

 ‘British Standards’, unpublished, is described here: where you will find links to other on and off line appearances of parts of the book (and some other videos). I transpose sonnets by Wordsworth, Mary Robinson, Shelley, both male Coleridges, John Clare (as in the video), Hopkins, Arthur Symons, and others, as well as Keats. ‘BS’ (ho ho) has now been ‘completed’ (I feel pretty confident to repeat) with this version of a Mickiewicz sonnet. (See here: )

That last sonnet, of course, pitches the work into another realm. As I was thinking, on Twitter, thinking how to address Graham Mort’s question/musing, ‘I've found the wanton destruction of human life and infrastructure in Ukraine almost overwhelming. Trying to bridge silence with utterance that doesn't seem merely self-serving or futile. How to respond? I wonder how that has been for other writers and artists?’ @grahammort. I tapped out this insufficient answer: ‘I found it impossible to continue my lampooning of Boris Johnson in British Standards, even though that puts me in the company of those withdrawing letters from the 1922 C'mittee. But I had to close it down with a nod to Mickiewiecz, one last poem: here:….’ @microbius. 

Update July 2022: BUT NOW this poem has been also 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:

I have other projects, mostly not mentioned on this platform, but only part of one of those has appeared here, the notes towards the third part of my ‘fictional poet project’, but that too is finished! It’s to be called Doubly Stolen Fire, I think. (See here: Pages: Reflections on Fictional Poetry and Fictional Poets (1 and hubpost for the sequence) ( ) Weirdly that has something to say about Putin.

 All this from the poet of ‘unfinish’, of course.

 Another ‘result’ of reading (I nearly wrote ‘re-reading’, but I don’t think that’s what I’m doing) – another ‘result’ of reading my diaries is to see how I’ve worked on more than one project or non-project at any given time. It feels strange to have finished so many (perhaps this is compounded by having started medical treatment for a serious condition at this time as well)! I have a couple of ideas, which have been floating around for a while.

One is to write a book of poems about music (though the critical book on poetry and jazz will forever elude me: See here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: Poetry and Jazz and approaching Monk (Geraldine, not Thelonious) . This is partly to utilize the poems rescued from the elegant, indeed, lush, production of my ill-fated ‘book’ with Trev Eales, which I explain about here: Pages: Whatever happened to the book Charms and Glitter? ( . But I’d want to add other already extant poems: my ‘Beefheart’ poem (see here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: reading at Doped in Stunned Mirages: poems in response to Captain Beefheart (set list) ), my poem for Philip Jeck (see here: Pages: Philip Jeck 2022 ( ), a poem about Ray Charles 1964, and even the ‘leftoverdub’ I mention and link to above, 'Synovial Joints'. Of course, I’d like to write some more poems for it. A sequence on jazz saxophonists has been mooted in those diaries over the years (I mean decades, if I’m honest), but never achieved! Ekphrastic poems about music I’ve found difficult, though achieved in the one for the Beefheart weekend, and in the case of one for/about Frank Sinatra (that very odd poem even appeared in an anthology of poems all about Sinatra!).

 The diaries also suggest there is more material for a continuation of Words Out of Time, even beyond the ‘Work’ text that I appended to the published book. (See here: Pages: ‘Work’ from Words Out of Time: the 2017 Supplement ( )

Another possible project floats around a famous murder in Brighton, involving a night club owner who lent his pink Chevvy to Jeff Keen the filmmaker, the film Peeping Tom and involving Belle de Jour (both the film and the book). But I’ve not found a way in (yet).

Of course, I maintain my ‘Ark and Archive’ daily writing (which appears in, or results in, a lot of writings, in part or whole). This morning (just now) I wrote on into page 692 of this loose-leaf accumulation of continual lines. (‘Flight Risk’ comes almost entirely from it, as do my prose pieces ‘Weekend of Miracles’, which I am still brooding over.) I am writing through photographs presently. Today’s reads:


I checked out the dispatch

room. The empty bowls

were laid out for the guests

with plates of heaped olives

to entertain them. My two boys

sat filling the ledger.

My husband’s legacy,

I’m afraid. ‘Administration

over ministration,’ was his mantra.

Cooling food. (‘Fooling cood! said the

bad poet, with nothing more

to say.) I threw a towel

over my shoulder

and got stuck in to service

as they scribbled on.   


‘Administration over ministration,’ seems propitious, as a phrase. And the ‘bad poet’ keeps making parenthetical and irrelevant appearances in this ongoing writing practice.

 I’m alert to accidents of opportunity (or opportunities of accident), of course, and that dreadful word ‘project’ doesn’t quite enfold my ways of working. My poetics lie in wait for the material to jump on (see my latest poetics effusion, here: Pages: Playing my Part in the New Defences of Poetry project (the poetics of British Standards: Shifting an Imaginary: Poetics in Anticipation ( . I think I’ve assembled a book of poetics, dating back to the 1980s. But that will have to wait. I’m thinking about what creative works might emerge next. As that poetics piece concludes:

 ‘A listening happens after saying. I cannot say what comes next and I’m saying it now.’

 Exactly that; exactly that!

 PS Some readers will have not paid attention since reading the words ‘medical treatment for a serious condition’, and are wondering what it is. This is prostate cancer, which I have mentioned in my biography on my website, alluded to in poems, but not mentioned on this blog. I have had it monitored for 5 years: it is now time for action. In fact, it’s begun. Yesterday I came upon Beckett’s word ‘texticles’ and that struck me as a possible title for a text about my treatment. But I’m not really that kind of writer, am I? Am I? You’re not really that kind of reader, are you? Are you?

Men, check your risk here: Check your risk in 30 seconds | Prostate Cancer UK