Wednesday, August 23, 2023

The Poems of Mary Robinson 7: anti-slavery poems and Slavery Remembrance Day

Here’s a hubpost to all of those I’m posting now on my Selected Poems of Mary Robinson: Pages: Selecting for a Selected: The Poems of Mary Robinson 1 ( 

About a month ago I paid a visit to the Slavery Museum in Liverpool, as I explain in my email below. I thought I’d post it online, since it outlines ways in which Mary Robinson is travestied, even now. The contemporary scandal and the Victorian revulsion at it never quite rubbed off this remarkable woman. And I thought I’d post it today because it is Slavery Remembrance Day. Here’s what’s on today at the Museum : Slavery Remembrance Day 2023 | National Museums Liverpool ( And here’s what’s happening in London: Slavery Remembrance Day 2023 | National Maritime Museum ( .I haven’t received a reply to my email (yet). They probably think I’m a nutter. (They must get hate mail: a racist group protested outside the Museum last week, with a nice big banner saying ‘White Lives Matter’.) In some schools in the US the 'benefits' of slavery are being taught.

Dear Sir or Madam

(Please forward this email to a curator, please.)

I very much enjoyed my visit to the Slavery Museum yesterday afternoon, distantly some research for a poem I’m writing about blues music. [This is called 'Searching the Desert for the Blues', and I am currently revising it; there's a passage below.] I am also editing the poems of Mary Robinson, and so was interested in your feature on her Liverpool lover, Banastre Tarleton, an enthusiastic pro-slaver, right up to his death on the eve of abolition.

I’m glad he’s there, and I’m glad the feature reports his war career (today he would be classed as a war criminal). However, I was dismayed to see the unsubstantiated claim that he seduced Mary Robinson as a bet, and also that it referred to her by her nickname ‘Perdita’ (the part she played in a version of The Winter’s Tale which attracted the attention of the Prince of Wales, which led to their affair). Never have I seen the locution ‘Perdita Robinson’ (not even in the Gilray cartoons of the time). In fact, Mary was an abolitionist (later she was friends with William Godwin and other radicals). She also wrote about slavery in her poem ‘The Negro Girl’ and in her long political protest poem ‘The Progress of Liberty’. I intend to include both texts in my volume of her poems, and I attach my life of Robinson, [ that's also available here: Pages: Selecting for a Selected: The Poems of Mary Robinson 2: The Life of Mary Robinson ( the texts for your perusal. If such information was added to the display, the complexities, ironies and contradictions of the pro- and anti- slavery positions would be more apparent. In your account, Mary appears as a pawn in Tarleton’s roguery, but in fact their relationship was long-lasting, and Mary was just as able to seduce him.

Yours faithfully

Robert Sheppard

Emeritus Professor of Poetry and Poetics

Edge Hill University

Here's an excerpt from 'The Progress of Liberty': 

Shall the poor AFRICAN, the passive slave,

Born in the bland effulgence of broad day,

Cherish’d by torrid splendours, while around

The plains prolific teem with honey’d stores

Of Afric’s burning soil; shall such a wretch

Sink prematurely to a grave obscure,

No tear to grace his ashes? Or suspire,

To wear submission’s long and goading chain,

To drink the tear, that down his swarthy cheek

Flows fast, to moisten his toil-fever’d lip,

Parch’d by the noontide blaze? Shall he endure

The frequent lash, the agonizing scourge,

The day of labour, and the night of pain;

Expose his naked limbs to burning gales;

Faint in the sun, and wither in the storm;

Traverse hot sands, imbibe the morbid breeze,

Wing’d with contagion, while his blister’d feet,

Scorch’d by the vertical and raging beam,

Pour the swift life-stream? Shall his frenzied eyes,

Oh! worst of mortal miseries! Behold

The darling of his soul, his sable love,

Selected from the trembling, timid throng

By the wan tyrant, whose licentious touch

Seals the dark fiat of the slave’s despair!

And here's a fragment of what I wrote after visiting the museum, from my poem about the blues:

…localities on maps, familiar names on a manifest, a portrait or two in postures of Attic tranquility, pro-saccarites on porcelain sugar bowls, sketches of woolybacks unloading Confederate bales, proclaim the guilty-elect of this city, no step now without a blue note to trip us…

Mary by Reynolds: looking like she knows how she'll be treated by history. Talking of 'treated', I have bought a novel about Robinson, which I've speed-read. It's by Freda Lightfoot and it is entitled Lady of Passion. Despite the title, it's historically accurate (which in a weird way is disappointing). There are three very good modern biographies, as well as Mary's own Memoirs. Listed in the bibliography that appends my life (see the link above). 


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Friday, August 18, 2023

Two online reviews of New Collected Poems by Lee Harwood: links and comments

There have been two online reviews of Lee Harwood's New Collected Poems that Kelvin Corcoran and I edited earlier this year. It’s a big book and, I suspect, it will take most reviewers a long time to complete even their initial readings.


Billy Mills, in his review of New Collected Poems – Lee Harwood (eds. Sheppard and Corcoran).  30th March 2023, was the first off the blocks (as Billy often is; I link to his blog on my blogroll to the right of this post, so you and I can keep pace with him). He tells us straight off:

'This new edition of Lee Harwood’s poems, edited by Kelvin Corcoran and Robert Sheppard, adds a not inconsiderable 200 pages to the 2004 collected edited by the poet himself. In part, this is due to the addition of the poet’s first collection, Title Illegible at the start and an additional 60-odd pages of post 2004 work. The remaining additions are poems excised by Harwood from the earlier book but here restored in their rightful chronological positions.'

In fact, there is one new section of work not collected in commercially-available book form. He notices how much of the book consists of work from the 1960s and he concentrates on this earlier work, while ‘my excuse’ – he does not need one – ‘is that there is a rare sense of consistent continuity about Harwood’s writing, with a kind of blueprint laid out in the work of the first 10 years which the later work builds on.’

Adam Piette, in his review of Lee Harwood New Collected Poems (and Mark Hyatt, with whom Lee's work has been associated before, in Geoffrey Thurley's forgotten critical book The Ironic Harvest) and Emma Bolland), published in Blackbox Manifold 30, - takes a look at the poetry of plain statement and, in a long and detailed essay (it’s more than a review) says, ‘The plainstyle discovered here on the surfaces of the world is closer to post-Romantic practice, and is grounded in a ego-less ‘we’-persona that is constructed as though in touch with the powers of ‘this earth’, and with the ghosts of the dead ‘surrounding us with a tenderness’. Adam is talking about ‘The Long Black Veil’, Harwood’s long plainstyle (cavalier rather than puritan, in Lee’s own terms) notebook poem, a text I keep coming back to. (See here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: HMS Little Fox by Lee Harwood republished (My reading of 'The Long Black Veil') for what is basically an excerpt from my book The Poetry of Saying, which Adam mentions.) Notably, there’s hardly a metaphor in Harwood's piece.

Thanks to both writers for their time and attention to this volume!

Here’s a hub post about our new edition:

Pages: Lee Harwood New Collected Poems: the best audio and video recordings (

You may order New Collected Poems from Shearsman here: Lee Harwood - New Collected Poems (

 My review of the earlier part of the ‘old’ Collected Harwood (2004), as it were,
and a review of the rest of the book,

are to be found at these links.

I will add other reviews here as and when. Or perhaps only the online ones, so you can link to them immediately.



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Friday, August 11, 2023

Two new poems published in Tears In the Fence 78

 Tears in the Fence 78 is now available at 

It features reviews by others as well as poetry, prose poetry, visual poetry, translations and fiction by: Mark Dickinson, Ian Seed, Eliza O’Toole, Lisa Pasold, Lizzi Linklater, Mark Goodwin, Blossom Hibbert, Morag Kiziewicz, Kate Noakes, Kenny Knight, Matthew Carbery, Pratibha Castle, Lesley Burt, David Ball, Toon Tellegen translated by Judith Wilkinson, Chrissie Gittins, Carla Scarano D’Antonio, Si├ón Thomas, PQR Anderson, Elizabeth Wilson Davies, benjamin cusden, Basil King, Janet Hancock, Melissa Buckheit, Benjamin Larner, David Miller, Steve Spence, Amber Rollinson, Beth Davyson, Claire Watt, David Harmer, Sue Johns ,Kathleen McPhilemy, Robin Walter, Michael Henry, Elizabeth Parker, Alice Tarbuck, Joanna Nissel, Sarah Watkinson, Mandy Pannett, Charles Wilkinson, Valerie Bridge, Jane Wheeler, Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana Naoise Gale, and me!

I’ve got two (unrelated) poems there and now my copies have arrived (why does everybody else seem to be tweeting about the issue before I even receive mine; it's the same with Jazzwise too, so it's not to do with the journal itself?) I want to introduce them. 

One is one of the latest ‘Empty Diary’ poems. This is a sequence that formed the backbone of Twentieth Century Blues – and kept on growing after the blues, as it were (as well as appearing in its earlier stages as the Stride book Empty Diaries). Books in print are featured here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: seeing what's in print and what's not! So it runs from 1901-2022 (so far). 

This one is ‘Empty Diary 2021’ , ‘Squeezing the spray’!

Empty Diary 2022 will appear in a masculinity anthology from Broken Sleep early next year. You can find others here:

 Pages: Robert Sheppard: The last two Empty Diary poems are published on Stride

I don’t mean ‘last’, of course, but ‘latest’. The ‘diaries’ for 2019 and 2020. I read both of them on video, and link to the texts (on Stride). I write about the sequence in some detail there and won’t repeat that here, but you can have a look. Additionally, there are further links to ‘Empty Diary’ poems of various kinds.

I am thinking about one for this year. I think I might take on anti-vax piss-drinkers.

The second poem is ‘Turns Return’, which is a poem for Scott Thurston. It’s a nudge for him to make the next move in our ‘collaboration’ Turns – but he hasn’t taken the hint/bait yet. Watch out soon for his Selected Poems from Shearsman.

I say the two poems are unrelated, and they are at the level of content, but they are connected by having been written at the same time, and they are two of a number of poems (the others are oddly in two editions of Junction Box) where I deny myself capital letters at the start of lines and any punctuation at the end of lines. I adopted this convention for a couple of months, I'm not sure why, which I'm sure is why I discontinued it!

I want to thank David Caddy again for publishing poems in Tears in the Fence this year (and in others).

I was last in issue 75 (video here too):

Pages: Two more sonnets from British Standards (from Keats) in Tears in the Fence 75 (

 Before that in issue 73 (video again):

Pages: Two new poems from British Standards published in Tears in the Fence 73 (

 And 68 (a poem in memory of Roy Fisher)

Pages: Robert Sheppard: 'Between' a poem for Roy Fisher published in Tears in the Fence

And 3 poems to the memory of Lee Harwood (now collected in The English Strain; see here: Pages: Search results for The English Strain ( :

Pages: Robet Sheppard: 3 poems to the memory of Lee Harwood in Tears in the Fence (

There are loads of reviews too in issue 78. It’s time to read it now. Feet up: new glasses on, and away we go!


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Friday, August 04, 2023

Remembering Gavin Selerie and his laugh

I have heard that Gavin Selerie died earlier this summer – and I wanted, briefly, to remember him. Much could be written about his poetic work – its serial epic ambitions, and his dedication to the sonnet. I have just found that yesterday Robert Hampson published an obituary of him in The Guardian that outlines these aspects in some detail. Please read that here before moving on:

Gavin was a solid member of the London poetry scene, and was so before I lived there, and long after I’d left, but he and Frances Presley (another old friend) were nearly always there when I appeared for events. He and I must have read at the same gigs, certainly at the same venues. His knowledge and conversation were to be treasured. I liked the way he tossed his head back when he laughed. I want to remember him laughing. I do remember him laughing.

In the 1980s he threw a good party. I remember Patricia and I rather embarrassed ourselves by misbehaving at one of them! He was a model for our own at-home festivities and he was a guest always (and I know he visited us in exile in Esher (his parents lived nearby)). 

He was also a generous witness to our ‘clandestine’ marriage in 1985, and here are pictures of him with the newly-weds and the other witness, Jeff. For their trouble, we dined them royally at an Italian fish restaurant in Islington. (Gavin's on the left, in the pictures above and below; Jeff on the right.)


I also dedicated two poems to Gavin, ‘Fucking Time’, my impressions of the life and works of the Earl of Rochester (I know it was the wrong end of his beloved seventeenth century; Gavin was a Jacobean scholar). It seems inappropriate to quote from that here, though it may be found in Complete Twentieth Century Blues. More appropriate is the poem he was forced to share with Alan Halsey (those who know their Days of 49 will know the justice of this), and those who have recently mourned Alan’s passing will share this grief (see here: Pages: I.M. Alan Halsey: some thoughts, links, and a poem dedicated to him. ( Here’s their joint ‘Burnt Journal’, another birthday poem, for their common year of birth. It got published in Berlin Bursts. And I read it again on video this afternoon:


Burnt Journal 1949


for Gavin Selerie and Alan Halsey at 60

You walk away from the Dakota, its silver fuselage

creaking as it cools. You wave your summer hat

at futurity. A grainy artifice sells the peace,

white-feathered fall into history’s nigrescent ink.


Heads of the crowd glow pin-pricked under Schweppes flashes

on a newsreel besmirched by mist. You sip real wine

under a tilted made-up parasol, an untitled poem

by Wallace Stevens, full of his tropical clickety-click.


You recite crisp leaves from the borders of the Floral Clock.

The Dummy Cowgirl Orchestra fumbles mandolins

with bloated plaster fingers, stares through golf-ball eyes.


Not quite as advertised, they flicker within without

voice. All these lovelies are lost in black.

Your pure ears ring with perfect pitch.


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