Thursday, September 22, 2022

POEMS IN PROGRESS : a new book of poets' drafts from the British Library (featuring Lee Harwood and Bob Cobbing)

Published today! Alexandra Ault and Larua Walker: Poems in Progress: Drafts from Master Poets, London: British Library, 2002: Bookshop - British Library Online Shop (bl.uk) 

See here: https://shop.bl.uk/collections/bookshop

 


This is an interesting book, which I have received as the literary executor of Lee Harwood’s estate (he’s in it; more of that later). The British Library (for text, sound and video) are undergoing exciting developments, which will involve all kinds of archives going online. They have a copy of my tape cassette magazine 1983 (from the mid-1970s), and have digitalised some of the contents of number two, a whole side of Lee Harwood and even an early multi-tracked studio piece by me, ‘The Lover’. (Yes, I did know how to edit tape back then.) This is good, but it is a shame that nobody can locate the Master Tapes for 1983 which I donated to the National Sound Archive years ago, but are not in the collection now. (They also have a recording of the Allen Fisher Poetry Buzz, which I write about here, and Patricia and I are both on that:  https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2005/07/poetry-buzz-bus-ride-withand-for-allen.html. ) And loads of other stuff!

For now, we have this book. It is fascinating, although not all of the texts are drafts, and are in fact manuscript copies or special editions. Of course, there have been excellent draft-editions before now, notably of Eliot’s The Waste Land. There are ancient texts as well as a few contemporary poets, from Hafiz to Rebecca Goss. The contemporaries (while not always to my taste) show their workings-out in public, which is generous. Manuscript copies of already published poems don’t excite much, but two glimpses of Coleridge’s notebooks, Blake’s scribbles, war poets’ drafts, Eliot’s letters, Sappho’s papyrus, EBB’s sonnets, Lewis Carroll’s original ‘Alice’ book with images, Gascoyne’s translation of Jean Follain, Andrew Salkey’s typescript for a printer, etc, etc, are fascinating enough to make this an entertaining book.

 The two interesting grabs (from my point of view) from the British Library itself concerns Lee Harwood and Bob Cobbing.

 Lee’s collaboration with John Ashbery is going to appear in the New Collected Poems that Kelvin Corcoran and I are currently editing for Shearsman. (See here: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2022/01/lee-harwood-4-poems-and-note-on-them-in.html

This is it, as it will appear in our book. A taster:

 

Train poem – A collaboration

 

dog daisies poppies metal knitting

needles snail eyes backward

and then discord the records-file

prehensile tankers and block

which way the stage perimeter OK

block again greenhill rears upward mutinous

‘back!’ So until January

telegraphs twitching north to so and so

and a handkerchief slowly chopping heaves

‘ne nous fachons pas’ so that the houses

laughing in your eyes nearer the bang

let a forest caress unlace the instant

lovecog – did you really understand what I meant by that?

the farmyard in an uproar of freed peasants’ cough

            drops ah the old dogs at the window

but my love for you outgrew the shed

tools in disorderly heaps and wasps

a beam sagging into twisted visions of nowhere

and at this the small engine appeared from the siding

to inspect the phantoms and slowly disappear. 

 

 


What is different about the draft manuscript version is that we can see who wrote what. (Maybe that wasn’t the intention, because Lee doesn’t even tell us who the collaborator is! Perhaps as in some of my collaborations (about which I write here: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2020/01/robert-sheppard-thoughts-on.html ), Harwood and Ashbery wanted to become the third author without differentiation, or perhaps they didn’t. Indeed, also printed here is a typescript of the poem, with Ashbery's contributions underlined. But to see the manuscript you will have to obtain the book, I’m afraid. The spacing is quite different from the published version. Neither Mr Corcoran nor myself can tell you what a ’lovecog’ is, but I can reveal that that phrase is in Lee’s handwriting!

The Bob Cobbing contribution is his 1951 notebook ‘Two Experiments’, and one is a word list for the now familiar (and oft performed) ‘WORM’, the other a contemporary word-list poem-draft, ‘Snow’. You can hear the eventual sound poem ‘Worm’ from about ten years later on the video below. There follows a fair description of Cobbing’s procedures, and we read the exciting information that the BL has over 300 reel-to-reel recordings of his work (as well as other recordings, such as my edition of 1983 number two which I speak of above). There is a later visual text printed too, which is odd because 'WORM' also exists as a visual poem (again, Cobbing waited for 10 years until duplicator technology enabled overprinting).    


My collaborations with Cobbing are now published by Veer. See here: Pages: COLLABORATIONS (Bob Cobbing - Robert Sheppard) published in a box by Veer - out now.


Thinking of recordings, I have a cassette recording of Verse and Perverse and Bob and I did record a video together of Blatant Blather/ Virulent Whoops, the two texts in Collaborations. That might be in the collection. The cassette tape is destined for my archive, I suppose, unless it gets lost.

 All of the catalogues of the BL collections may be consulted online.

The BL also archives this blog. 

Monday, September 19, 2022

Robert Sheppard: A final final poem for British Standards!

I know I keep saying goodbye to Bo(ris Johnson), last time through the Medium of Jake Thackray’s masterpiece. That’s here: Pages: Goodbye to Bo through the Medium of Jake Thackray’s masterpiece (not a book review) (robertsheppard.blogspot.com)

Before that I said goodbye to Bo here, with a poem:

https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2022/08/final-extra-last-poem-of-english-strain.html

I also keep saying goodbye by writing the next ‘final’ poem of my ‘English Strain’ project, which consists of between 250-300 transpositions of canonical sonnets, about half of which (I guesstimate) mention Bo in one way or another. Three hundred! That’s more than enough. ‘Enough is enough’ as the contemporary campaign against the ‘cost of living crisis’ has it (but which is really the continuation of austerity, The Age of Immiseration as I call it). As you will see, I’ve squeezed one more in, or out, depending on how you think of poetry ‘production’.

The beginning of ‘the English Strain’ is best described here ( http://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2018/04/robert-sheppard-petrarch-sonnet-project.html ) : that’s the first hundred, in the book The English Strain. Then here: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2019/09/on-bad-idea-and-reference-to-earlier.html - that’s Bad Idea, another 80+ sonnets (and another book). You can buy both books together here: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2021/06/how-to-buy-english-strain-books-one-and.html. British Standards, not yet a book, but finished (or so I thought, until today): see here: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2021/04/transpositions-of-hartley-coleridge-end.html. They are all versions of Romantic Era sonnets, Wordsworth to Coleridge.

And then we had the Queen’s Funeral, and the weird cargo cult reactions to it, and the overreaching reactions by our police. So, I had to write another last poem. I couldn’t sleep last night, and it came to me. Why not do another version of Shelley’s ‘England in 1819’? I begin ‘British Standards’ with one, so why not do another version to finish, this time also versioning my previous ‘version’, but trying to avoid it sounding like a refrain to either of those.

 Here's Shelley’s great sonnet: England in 1819

 

An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying King;

Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow

Through public scorn,—mud from a muddy spring;

Rulers who neither see nor feel nor know,

But leechlike to their fainting country cling

Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow.

A people starved and stabbed in th’untilled field;

An army, whom liberticide and prey

Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield;

Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay;

Religion Christless, Godless—a book sealed;

A senate, Time’s worst statute, unrepealed—

Are graves from which a glorious Phantom may

Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.

 

My first version of this famous sonnet has not been published yet, out at a mag I’ve not had a reply from. 

[Update 29/09/2022: The second poem, or a draft of it, After SheppĂ rd After Shelley: England in 2022, was, like many others, posted temporarily on this blog, in this case for what I ironically call 'the Festival of Mourning for our late Empress of Bressex, "of happy memory"', as I shall date the poem (all of these poems are dated, because they trail (if not troll) public events). The poem is removed from here (not for further study, as in the Tom Raworth poem) but for publication. So here are some of its traces, also slightly updated.  

19th September 2022: the poem was written during the funeral itself. Revised a little the day after (and updated here.) A video of me reading it, I discovered, is too big to load up. I don't think it would do to just read it fast! Elegaic toilets and laureate eulogies notwithstanding.

If anyone thinks that the poem is too weird, here are some of the contributory images, (I mean contributory to the writing of the poem, I often use photographic images, as I discuss here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: Talk for the Open Eye Gallery on Poetry and Photography December 2016)), in this case, from the ‘Grieve Watch’ Twitter feed. Elsewhere you will find videos of the hapless rollerblader who dashed into the royal car, and you can still read about people being arrested for hoisting up blank sheets of paper, as I imagine myself doing! There are a few quotes from the draft of the poem between these immensely enjoyable photographs. An anthropologist might find them illuminating about contemporary Britain, although as I write, 29th September 2022, the Royal Fun-for-all seems aeons ago, as the free-market zelaots who have taken over from fun-loving, libertarian-laugh-a-minute-gift that-kept-on-giving-to-my-project Bo, are crashing the economy as their free-market ideology collides with the actual free market, which doesn't like what it sees. Come on British people, stop celebrating Bressex and Boot Them Out, Enough is (more than) Enough!.]


This image goes directly into the line 'Flowers are sprinkled on Holocaust/memorials...' , superbly unthinking bad taste simply described. 


Above and below: 'any bat-faced/effigy propped up on cartoon limbs/beside closed elegiac public loos, shut hospitals...'  I wrote, looking at these and similar representations of Her Majesty. In even Georgian or Regency times, you could have been arrested and transported (or at least jailed, like Leigh Hunt) for sticking this on your fence.  



(That one above is my favourite image of this period of mourning: hard core mourn! as some have called it. Look at those flowers.)


above: 'Thames mud sculpture...' How very odd (and ugly). Weirder for the sheer earnestness of such cargo cultism!



And finally, the inevitable: 'Mannequins in black mourning peer facelessly/ from over-lit sex shop windows...'  (In this last poem I didn't even get round to dogging sites, which appear throughout my poetic representations of post-Brexit Britain (Bressex: who put the sex in Bressex? Michael Go with his National Dogging Sites in Kent.) This is SOOOOO tasteful, isn't it?

As I said on Twitter at the time: 'Why is it that these acts of respect seem so ... well... disrespectful?

[There was even a horrible chance of Bo returning to power in October 2022. I was ready, as you'll see here: Pages: The Horrible Thought that Bo mioght be back: only The Bard could save me now! (robertsheppard.blogspot.com) and am ready, should he ever dare!]

Monday, September 05, 2022

Goodbye to Bo through the Medium of Jake Thackray’s masterpiece (not a book review)

 I keep saying goodbye to Bo(ris Johnson), most recently here:

https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2022/08/final-extra-last-poem-of-english-strain.html

I said goodbye using the final poem of my ‘English Strain’ project, which consists of between 250-300 transpositions of canonical sonnets, about half of which (I guesstimate) mention Bo in one way or another. (Or maybe it’s only in one way, the satirical, except when he was in hospital and I prayed he wouldn’t die and ruin my book.) Three hundred! That’s more than enough. ‘Enough is enough’ as the contemporary campaign against the ‘cost of living crisis’ has it (but which is really the continuation of austerity, The Age of Immiseration as I call it).

The beginning of ‘the English Strain’ is best described here ( http://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2018/04/robert-sheppard-petrarch-sonnet-project.html ) : that’s the first hundred, in the book The English Strain. Then here: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2019/09/on-bad-idea-and-reference-to-earlier.html - that’s Bad Idea, another 80+ sonnets (and another book). You can buy both books together here: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2021/06/how-to-buy-english-strain-books-one-and.html.

 

That leaves God knows how many poems in part three, British Standards, not yet a book, but finished (almost exactly 6 months ago today, as can be seen in the first link above). But also see here: https://robertsheppard.blogspot.com/2021/04/transpositions-of-hartley-coleridge-end.html. They are all versions of Romantic Era sonnets, Wordsworth to Coleridge (Hartley, that is). Hardly, that is.

So how to say goodbye to Bo (if not to Boris Johnson, they are not the same)? It’s tempting to write about his final weeks (telling us to buy a kettle, turning up at police raids, throwing grenades ineptly, not flying an RAF fighter) or about the The Daily Telegraph rumours that, once he’s made some money, he’ll be back at the helm, like Trump). If not that, then I thought that I might just present links (Lord knows, I overdo that already!) to all the online poems that feature Bo, but I think the links I’ve offered above do that pretty well, and I’ll let those of you who are interested follow the clues. In any case, buy the books! But here’s just one link, to stand for all the others, to three poems which are versions of sonnets by John Keats, with videos of me reading the text that is also published there. It’s not from this blog, but from (on) the wonderful online magazine Parmenar: here: https://www.pamenarpress.com/post/robert-sheppard. It’s a trailer for British Standards.

Enough is enough about me. I have been reading Beware of the Bull: The Enigmatic Genius of Jake Thackray by Paul Thompson and John Watterson, a new biography of its subject, a long time interest of mine (though I only have one CD, with another in the post). In this brilliant book (which I don’t have time to review, unless somebody pays me, like they used to at New Statesman or the TLS) they refer, in their very title, and in the text, to Thackray’s masterpiece Beware of the Bull. Patricia and I watched this video on Friday night, into the night, and I declared, ‘This is how I’m going to say goodbye to Johnson!’ I have no need, no desire, to say “Hello” to his shoddy successor, who is just another bull, even if it is nominally a lady bull. WATCH IT:

 


See what I mean? It also tells us to beware the next bull. 'Meet the new bull: same as the old bull,' as The Who didn't sing.

You may buy the book direct (forget Amazon, Jake would have hated it!): here: https://www.scratchingshedpublishing.com/products-page/biography/beware-of-the-bull-the-enigmatic-genius-of-jake-thackray/

This isn’t (as I’ve said already) a review of the book, but I want to record a number of things that occurred to me as I read it. I realised, indeed, how literary a character JT was, from English degree through to losing all his precious books to the taxman, from translating George Brassens (in not a dissimilar way to my ‘transpositions’, it strikes me now), from his own early poems to his late Yorkshire Post columns (worth collecting in book form I would have thought, hint hint). From references to Coleridge in his letters and references to Paul Valery in his unpublished essay on the very literary Brassens. I was left wanting to know more about what he read (other than Adrian Henri, mentioned once) or where a few of his early poems were published in small magazines, but I realise that’s only me. I’m grateful to read three of his poems here.

The book is otherwise rich on the cultural contexts in which JT … I was going to say ‘operated’, but that’s the wrong word; his career was almost accidental. He makes Scott Walker (whose use of Brel is directly parallel to JT’s use of Brassens) look like a socialite, particularly thinking about JT’s later semi-reclusive years. Both fought a battle with drink, of course, and I like the fact these authors call that an ‘illness’. It is. However upbeat they are, and they are, they cannot disguise the decline and demise of their hero. I read the book slowly, staving off that final sheepcounted chapter. But, he was a good, funny, fucked-up, cleareyed, hopeless, brilliant, shy, public, private, Catholic, Socialist, Yorkshire, European, loving, man.

Reading Beware of the Bull simultaneously with the poems of Mary Robinson was an interesting experience. I am editing an edition of her Selected Poems and I found myself more able to take on board her lighter poems in ‘Lyrical Tales’ if I thought of them (and their verse forms) as analogous to JT's narrative songs of lovers, liars, fantasists, diabolists, bus passengers, nuns in disguise, great apes, doggies, cats, and a mythical Jake Thackray and his ‘family’.

See my first encounter with Mary Robinson (part of British Standards) here: Pages: My Transpositions of Mary Robinson's sonnets 'Tabitha and Thunderer' are now complete (hub post) (robertsheppard.blogspot.com)).

A fascinating thing that isn’t explained in the book is how quickly he learnt to play the guitar, in just two years (from bedroom to BBC). In subtlety, he’s on a par with Joao Gilberto (that’s a weird analogy, but it’s one my fellow Lowry enthusiast and Thackray scholar, acknowledged in the book, Mark Goodall would get, I think).

There, that’s not a review, is it? It’s a farewell and good riddance to Bo (and no wishes for his return, when he’s earnt some money, writing his shit book on Shakespeare).

Thanks to Paul and John and Scratching Shed Publishing for this great book on Thackray and the odd things it’s taught me (above the obvious).  

[There was even a horrible chance of Bo returning to power in October 2022. I was ready, as you'll see here: Pages: The Horrible Thought that Bo mioght be back: only The Bard could save me now! (robertsheppard.blogspot.com) and am ready, should he ever dare!]