Sunday, October 30, 2022

The 2022 Lowry Lounge - a few thoughts

Seventy five years since Wirral-born Malcolm Lowry’s acclaimed Under the Volcano was published, and 65 years since his death, this year’s Lounge explored his continuing relevance, with a look across the waters to the Isle of Man (which features in his work).

We started the day with a few quotes from Hear Us O Lord From Heaven Thy Dwelling Place, read by Cian Quayle, Jeremy Lowry (yes, Lowry), and Patricia and myself. I'm still mulling over one of the passages I read, this image of the lighthouse:

Civilization, creator of deathscapes, like a dull-witted fire of ugliness and ferocious stupidity […] had spread all down the opposite bank, blown over the water and crept up upon us from the south along it, murdering the trees and taking down the shacks as it went, but it had become baffled by the Indian reserve, and a law that had not been repealed that forbade building too near a lighthouse, so to the south we were miraculously saved by civilization itself (of which a lighthouse is perhaps always the highest symbol)...

The Lounge comprised of presentations, discussions, films and sound recordings, including an account of the research project Hear Us O Lord From Heaven Thy Dwelling Place, led by artist Alan Dunn that reimagines Lowry through the climate crisis (and semaphore); Cian Quayle also told us about his work based on his home island, too, in relation to Lowry, and with a nod to Chris Killips's work. 

There's a whole website dedicated to the AHRC project: Hear Us O Lord 2020-22 (

Lunch talking to Colin Dilnott and Michael Romer. Catching up. 

A recorded conversation, led by Bryan Biggs and Helen Tookey, with Alberto Rebollo from the annual Malcolm Lowry Colloquium held in Cuernavaca, Mexico, was quite fascinating. His notion that the history of Mexico is a history of betrayal led him to suggest that Under the Volcano is a book of betrayals. He also read from his novel-in-progress 'about' Lowry. 

Poet Helen Tookey’s reflections on Lowry’s ‘last notebook’, written in the Lake District was wonderful, as she engaged with the materiality of this little-seen text, his underlinings about not being at home in the world anywhere (even the Lake District). Helen is the latest to fall ill with Derrida's 'archive fever'!

A Lowry audience Q&A with Michael Romer and Colin Dilnott was a fine ending. 'Which character,' they were asked, 'in The Volcano would you like to be?' I muttered 'The dog!' to Patricia; Colin said 'The Dog! (and Cian thought 'The dog!' he confirmed later.) 

The traditional mescal toast to 'Malcolm' finally followed.  

Patricia and I had a drink and chat (not all Lowry-related!) with Michael and Cian - and a longer one in The Lion with Cian after, which was a nice way to end the day.

Some previous years are accounted for on this blog (not quite in order!) and in different levels of detail:

Pages: The Lowry Lounge 2021, Bluecoat, Liverpool (and my poem 'Circle of the City: following in the steps of Chapter Five') (

Friday, October 28, 2022

SHOP TALK (TO) POETICS: about the forms of writing - presentation to MA Creative Writing, Edge Hill University

SHOP TALK (TO) POETICS: oh yes, 'shop talk' about the forms of writing, some notes for a presentation to the MA Creative Writing, Edge Hill University, on my patented buzzword, 'poetics'. (Oh, yes, this was my 'thing'.) Tonight. These notes (these links) might prove of use beyond the limited context, although it didn't feel 'limited' tonight.

By means of introduction, this is who I am, what I’ve done, what I’m doing, what I hope to do: 

These are some of the texts I used tonight, rapping, in between whatever it is I said:

I used ‘Gathering from the Past’ to introduce the topic, see:

 on the excellent ‘Creative-Critical’ website:

 though ‘Creative-Critical’ does not quite describe the focus of poetics as ‘shop talk about form’.

 Three famous examples of poetics suggest the range of possibilities:

T.S. Eliot, Samuel Beckett and Salman Rushdie each present themselves as writers of poetics.

A dry run for the introduction to Atlantic Drift: An Anthology of Poetry and Poetics is posted here, but, of course, it may be found in its final form in the anthology itself (I thought it quite useful tonight,, though I only referred to it a bit, it's a course text):

This itemises further examples you may read (though they are focussed on poetry; remember: ALL writing has poetics!).

I wanted to talk about what isn’t poetics. (This could be more useful than what it is, we thought!) Two examples:

ONE. Against exegesis: ‘don’t explain’. Poetics doesn’t explain. Explained here, with reference to Malcolm Lowry's famous explication to Jonathan Cape:

TWO. Poetics is not a manifesto (you can find the bit I’m concentrating on in the third paragraph, but poets might want to read on. My first sentence-paragraph is pretty axiomatic to me too: that 'the writings that writers write about writing are curiously misread', though that wasn't my major theme tonight.).

(Though if the word 'manifesto' helps (you), use it!) My litany of definitions of poetics (to suggest its multiple varieties and FORMS) may be read here:

after the introduction ‘Gathering from the Past’. (You’ll find that ‘gathering from the past’ is part of the first definition.) They begin:

Poetics is the product of the process of reflection upon writings, and upon the act of writing, gathering from the past and from others, speculatively casting into the future.

Poetics is a discipline, though a flexible one.

Poetics is a discourse, though an intermittent mercurial one…. [and so on…]

I didn't actually read all of this anaphoric litany, though I'd intended that. Perhaps I should have rehearsed, as I would have for a poetry reading. 

I wanted to make passing reference to the best book I’ve read on Creative Writing, Andrew Cowan’s new (2023!) Against Creative Writing, but in this context I only referred to the part where he (very briefly) makes reference to my notion of poetics and to the pamphlet The Necessity of Poetics, on p 176. He also reflects on the rise of ‘exegesis’ in some Creative Writing commentary, while I recommend a strategy of ‘Don’t explain’! See here:

After discussion of the students’ poetics (I prepared an oral questionnaire for them) I didn't have time to read my own poetics. (I wouldn't dream of mentioning theirs, in any detail, here. Our discussions are not for public consumption.). 

This poetics refers to British Standards, not yet a book, but now a finished project (more or less): see here: The poems in the book are all versions of Romantic Era sonnets, Wordsworth to Hartley Coleridge, including Clare and Mary Robinson. They treat of the twin subjects Brexit and Covid in the ‘twin’ forms of Romantic sonnets and my sonnets! The poetics in full may be read here (but I had a shortened version for the evening, but that didn't find air-time):

It seemed only fair to make my own poetics available to the students. OK : it's now 01.53 - and I'm back at home, a number of (Handyman) drinks on(wards), and I think it's time to let Rory Gallagher (on the CD) yell, 'Let's go home!'


Monday, October 24, 2022

The Horrible Thought that Bo mioght be back: only The Bard could save me now!

 I know I keep saying goodbye to Bo(ris Johnson), once 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) (

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

And then, here, finally, finally finally, here here here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: A final final poem for British Standards!

But yesterday I thought I might have to say HELLO again to him! The horror! The horror! The thought that this wreck of a human being


nursing his hangover, desperately phoning out for supporters, or to Deliveroo for an Alka-Selzer (as one wittily expressed it on Twitter), thumbs-upping us in Trumpian triumphalism, was returning, was a threat of more ego-driven drivel! Even those Union Jacks limply appropriated (from where?) for the occasion in the empty office space (hired by the hour?) express the desperation. The biggest threat, was not the political chaos that would follow (maybe a second royal yacht in case of emergencies) but the threat to ME! (Why can’t I be as big as egotist as him?) The threat that, far from having passed on to a project to write through the Liverpool images of Tricia Porter, or to write 10 poems one line at a time (today’s is ‘as they twirl knowledge in a giddy drop’), or even to finish my ‘novel’ Elle, I would have to return (like Bo himself) to that which I have renounced. Of course, I haven’t been in the Caribbean (though I have been in the Belvedere, The Handyman, and Ye Cracke… No, but I might have to return to the task of transposing sonnets to keep up with Bo’s vaulting ambition (imagine him vaulting!), even though I’ve rejected the decadent sonnets I was looking at some months ago (that’s all in those posts linked to above), Arthur Symons and all that.

No, I decided, I would have to face up to the Big One, Shakespeare’s Sonnets. I’ve avoided them, because others have written through them (Philip Terry, K. Selim Mohammed, Michael Egan, and many others), and because they are curiously disarming in a way that Drayton’s are not (I bagged Drayton's here: : all done, all available). In preparation I read about 35 of them, and also the pages in Jonathan Bate’s very fine book Soul of the Age that I’d already marked, in my initial sonnet-researches eons ago. So, off I would go. I looked at sonnet one. Oh, yes, the imploring voice, it sounded like Zahawi’s quickly deleted email in favour of the blond bombshell Bo. Oh yes, ‘From fairest creatures we’ do ‘desire increase’ – in inflation, interest rates, food costs. Yes, I’m already starting. Bo’s bombastic egoism is perfectly echoed by The Bard in his ’thy light’s flame with self-substantial fuel’! ‘Pity the world… to eat the world’s due!’ – it's all there, all there. Ready to go, if need be.

Then he pulled out, having 100 supporters (sez who?), saying he could have won, if only they’d let him. Pete Best has turned up at Abbey Road to record Revolver!

One of the reasons for picking Shakespeare for this approach (and, remember, part of this post is to keep materials in mind in case he does re-emerge, after he is exonerated by the Commons Committee, Bo is no liar (he assures us)). One reason is that he himself, Bo, is writing a book on Shakespeare. It has a title, The Riddle of Genius, and it is available for preorder on Amazon, here: Shakespeare: The Riddle of Genius: Johnson, Boris: 9780771050831: Books

 It is due for publication in 2035, yes, 2035 (though another Amazon source, Patricia tells me, has 2075!).

 Not a word of it has been written, other than the title and the synopsis, which I shall allow anyone with a smidgeon of literary sensibility to vomit over now:

Four hundred years after his death, William Shakespeare is more popular than ever. Studied by schoolchildren everywhere, performed and interpreted in every conceivable medium and setting, he remains an unparalleled global phenomenon. With characteristic curiosity, verve, and wit, Boris Johnson sets out to determine why and how. He immerses us in the swagger and terror of the Elizabethan era, with its newfound craze for theater and its bold intellectual flowering, under the threat of repression. He explores the timelessly intriguing themes of the plays: the illicit sex and the power struggles; the fratricide and matricide; the confused identities and hormonal teenagers; the racism, jealousy, and political corruption. He explores the psychology of Shakespeare's characters and celebrates the playwright's appreciation for women and the roles he created for them, more fully realized than those Hollywood churns out (had women but been allowed to play them in his day). And above all, he revels in the language -- our language, which that master poet enriched with at least 2,500 new-coined words and a litheness that is an ongoing delight to us all. In this joyful, fascinating book, Johnson reminds us why Shakespeare truly was a genius, a writer not just for his time, but for all time.

If he dares, I am here, sonnets in hand, like grenades, at the ready. (Unless, of course, I choose to do something quite other with the Bard. After all, he’s ‘more popular than ever’!) Oh, and Jonathan Bate has words of advice for Bo: ‘Don’t waste everyone’s time with a sub-par biography based on secondhand research – write a more personal book about what Shakespeare has taught you about the important things in your life such as sex, ambition and betrayal. He has a lot to say about those great themes.’

See for an account of Bo's work in progress and the controversy surrounding its composition: Boris Johnson offered to pay for help writing Shakespeare biography, says scholar | Books | The Guardian

Bo at the theatre, talking his way through a performance of Shakespeare, unmasked during the restrictions!


Locating Robert Sheppard




Follow on Twitter: Robert Sheppard (@microbius) / Twitter

latest blogpost:

Monday, October 17, 2022

I.M. Alan Halsey: some thoughts, links, and a poem dedicated to him.

I am saddened to hear that Alan Halsey has died, and my heart goes out to Geraldine at this time.

 Alan was an important writer, and he’s one who has been important to me for a long time. In the early 1980s we conducted a long correspondence on poetics, after I’d featured his work in my early magazine Rock Drill. In Pages he was one of the 12 featured writers, and his work was accompanied by a long essay by Gavin Selerie on his work up to that time: Pages 397-420 Alan Halsey. (And a response to the work therein by Tim Woods. See here: Pages: Pages (first series) reissued entire with an interview on Jacket 2: Complete Index of all 5 series ( )

 Of course, there was more work, much more work, after that, and the academic tone of the earlier work lightened (though he always remained bookish in the good sense, as befits his main occupation as a book dealer, who was of great use to my own self-education). That is: if satire is ‘lighter’ (which if I weren’t writing this so quickly, is a statement I’d want to stop and examine).


I didn’t really know him very well until he’d married Geraldine Monk and he lived not too far away in Sheffield, and they both stayed with us (once when a double-booking, Geraldine performing with Julie Tippetts, left them without a hotel!) – which was always fun. Much drink given, much taken. Lots of gossip and laughs…

 By this time Alan had branched out into visual poetry (is that the right term?) and music performance (is that the right term?). I remember a launch of Marginalian at the Text Festival in Bury and a performance of Juxtavoices in the Bluecoat (with no bar!). (Here’s a gallery: Alan Halsey (

 He has one piece on this blog, a charming gift for Patricia Farrell’s birthday, which I don’t believe is collected anywhere: See here: Pages: Alan Halsey: Those acrobats A and Z put on a show for Patricia's 60th ( 

Oh, let’s not forget his incredible investigative editing of the three volumes of Bill Griffiths. See here:

I never wrote on his work much, and indeed, only recently so (unless you count 3 poems dedicated to him, a bit on that below). I often found the work difficult, but always witty, even humorous (I adopted one of his techniques that he told my Edge Hill students about on a visit: keeping wordlists: ‘error/terror’; ‘rose/eros’ etc., that I used in Warrant Error – and its title is a blast of Halseyean logopoetry, it strikes me now.) But recently I did write in some detail about his collaborations with Kelvin Corcoran, first in a blogpost in the series about ‘collaboration’,

  Pages: Thoughts on Collaboration or Coauthorship 8: Kelvin Corcoran and Alan Halsey's three books (

 Then in a sharper review of the (then) latest collaboration Winterreisen,

And finally as part of a critical article on collaboration for English Studies that I write about here:

Pages: My piece on 'Collaboration' is published in The Yearbook of English Studies 2021 (

 I think I quote these lines (from Halsey, not Kelvin) in all three pieces:


The poets shuffle out, bloody-eyed,

back to their caves in the anthologies

half a mile north of Neglect,

watched by Eng. Lit. lads on CCTV. (61)


That about sums up Alan’s attitude to the literary world, and to academia! As I say in the review of the book, ‘Those lines are typical of the sardonic humour, which usually jumps out like this, a bolt from the blue, and is one of the pleasures of reading Winterreisen.’ Do, if you haven’t.

 I want to point to one of the poems I wrote for Alan, as my tribute today (one of the others is shared in its dedication, and the third is a dud). Here it is, ‘The Hello Poem’, from my volume Berlin Bursts. 

The Hello Poem

 for Alan Halsey


Hello poem, it’s me again. I’m

the voice that lives upstairs. You


hear me reeling across my floor,

your ceiling, as I dance about my


affairs. And you about yours, not

miming my sound, un-


rhyming your eyes as they rise,

faltering, toward me, from the ground.


Hello poem, it’s me again, the

other side of your world,


speaking long distance



around your curve, racing

like a tycoon’s jet


to overtake the dawn

and possess tomorrow.


Hello poem, it’s me again. You

ran away with yourself to


stage your new self’s forming. I am

the silence that inhabits your zero.



Locating Robert Sheppard



latest blogpost:

Thursday, October 06, 2022

Robert Sheppard: Four new versions of John Clare published in Talking About Strawberries (plus videos and links)

I’m pleased to announce that another four of my ‘transpositions’ of the poems of John Clare (‘Unth(reading) Clare’ I call them) have been published on the Canadian webzine Talking About Strawberries All the Time. What a great title, and it’s an enterprising magazine too, edited by Malcolm Curtis. Thanks, Malcolm, for including these poems. The magazine may be found here:

 My contributions may be found here:

During the third (unpublished) volume of my ‘English Strain’ project I have been re-writing, transposing, unthreading (I have a variety of terms) sonnets from the English Romantic tradition. That’s one way of looking at them. The other is to say they are poems about Brexit and Coronavirus. But in these four poems (and the other ten from the ‘Unth(reading) Clare section) I have been working with John Clare’s sonnets as my raw material. I found these sympathetic, and I had not known Clare’s work well before. I loved the work, actually, and adopted a quieter, more sympathetic, voice for some of my versions. Perhaps only Mary Robinson’s work I knew less, and I’m making up for that by editing a volume of her poems! Compare with Wordsworth here: Pages: The last of my Wordsworth versions in 'British Standards' (Book Three of 'The English Strain') ( Keats here (with more videos) :

 Or indeed, read what I said directly after the writing of these transpositions of Clare:

Pages: The final sonnet transposition from John Clare (thinking about the set of 14) (hub post) (

 Links to another online Clare ‘transposition’ in Beir Bua (with a video) here gives a bit more info:

 Pages: My transposition of a sonnet by John Clare, from British Standards, is published on Beir Bua (

 And so to this four. As I wrote these poems (because of their contemporary nature) I blogged them for a week or so. I also found I could add a video of their drafts. So here are three of the poems in Talking about Strawberries (Clare, I bet, talked about strawberries!) and a link to a fourth already online elsewhere.  

ONE: ‘De Wint! I would not..’ (De Wint was a painter who knew Clare.)


TWO: ‘Black grows the southern sky’ (the titles use the first line of Clare’s poem so readers may find the ‘originals’) is read here:

 THREE: My lo-fi videopoem of ‘What a Night’ I ‘ve already written about here… (It was all an accident, but it looks good.)

'What a night' is also here still, as part of SJ Fowler’s videopoem archive at Kingston University, but also on YouTube:

FOUR: ‘The oddling bush’, which comments on Clare’s odd term ‘oddling’!


 The beginning of ‘the English Strain’ is best described here ( ): that’s the first hundred, in the book The English Strain. Then here: - that’s Bad Idea, another 80+ sonnets (and another book).

 You can buy both books together here:


British Standards, as I said, not yet a book, but finished (or so I kept thinking, see the final link below!): see here: They are all versions of Romantic Era sonnets, Wordsworth to Coleridge, including Clare, of course. I write about the last of them here: