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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Robert Sheppard: A Laugh with Lee Harwood

This little talk was delivered at the ‘Wine, Canap├ęs and Laughter’ afternoon to celebrate the life of Lee Harwood, organised by his children Rafe and Rowan, in Brighton on 20th August 2015. There were about 130 people present, an alarming number of them poets. 

Friends of Lee Harwood

I want you to imagine Lee sitting alone at any desk you imagine him sitting at, late at night, a recently poured and quite decent glass of single malt to hand, and his finger poised over the controls of a CD player. When he is ready, perhaps a sip or two in, he releases the sound and sits back to savour the experience.

What do you imagine he will hear? Erik Satie? Thelonious Monk? Some unpronounceable Greek diva foisted on him by Kelvin Corcoran!?

No; it’s an old BBC recording of Listen with Mother. As the programme progresses, Lee smiles, chuckles, and finally is roaring with laughter, at this partly nostalgic, partly camp, but wholly comic, reprise of the radiophonic simplicities (or sublimities) of the 1950s. He will continue laughing long after the CD finishes. Let us leave him there, ‘sitting comfortably’, full of mirth, and perhaps contemplating a second malt.

Lee smiling

Laughter –this afternoon’s elected purpose – runs in the family. The last time I read with Lee was at a Blue Bus reading in London a couple of years ago. Rowan was there. Some way into my reading she started to laugh. In the interval I asked her what she was laughing at. She replied that she suddenly noticed that Lee and I were both wearing what I think she called ‘the poets’ uniform’, since we were – Lee more elegantly than I, of course – in almost identical blue shirts and blue jeans. That’s why I adopted this outlandish motley this afternoon. [Indicates self and points at Rafe Harwood similarly attired, though he with Harwoodian waste-coat.]

I have many memories of Lee as a friend, but most obdurately refuse to come to the surface for rediffusion. They are in denial. So it is best that I turn to my role as a critic of his work, but even this is replete with personal association. In December, I posted this unexpected and complex aside on my blog (from this post):
I had a strange thought working on Lee Harwood's work: during the time I write about him, I kind of feel that I am in communication with the man himself. I mean this literally. In periods of work I don't feel the necessity to phone him or write to him, and it's a surprise to find that I haven't, because I feel it's already happening. Perhaps it's a personal by-product of an effect William Rowe describes in his Three Lyric Poets: 'When Harwood explores intimacies of feeling almost too delicate for the voice to sustain, he deploys the hesitancies and gaps of everyday speech, the places where meaning breaks down into the sheer lapse of lived time.’ (p. 7)

The piece I was writing I call ‘The Gentle Art of Collage’. I’ve been rightly admonished by Peter Robinson for saying that Lee’s poetry forces the reader to co-create it, and my title is my way of atoning for this misattribution of coercion to the poetics of gentle persuasion.

I want to finish by reading a poem that I have often used – and Robert Hampson tells me he’s also used – to demonstrate as many Harwoodian qualities as possible in one poem. Extended in its title, ‘One, Two, Three’ is an invitation to the reader to gently assemble its 3 parts, and in it last line to assemble the elements of each part.

Lee used to refer to this poem as ‘that poem you seem to like’, as though he wasn’t convinced of its qualities (or mine!), but to me it perfectly articulates a unique set of contrasts that Lee himself called his ‘puritan-cavalier routine’. Between intimacy of address and distance from the separated other; between the seductions of artifice and the realities of the life-world; between focussed detail and sudden jumps and gentle juxtapositions; and in particular, in this poem, between historical knowledge and present experience, between horror and delight.

Are you sitting – standing – comfortably? Then I’ll begin….

[then I read 'One, Two, Three', a poem easily found in Selecteds and the Collected
Robert Sheppard 20th August 2015

Tom Raworth was mainly outside the building - I was inside! - but took some photographs: here. And here.

My i.m. with links to other Lee Harwood posts may be read here.

Poems i.m. may be read here.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Robert Sheppard: my research video

I have tried to embed this video before but it's never worked. But here it is for my summer break. (Back in September.) In it, I talk both about my academic research (which today I would call simply criticism), and about my practice-led research (which I prefer to think of once more as poetry), and about poetics (whose name remains the same.) You see my books and some of the collaborations with Pete Clarke.

What you don't see is a smile. But I can smile, but only when I'm standing next to Jeff Hilson, it would seem:

If you can't wait till September try


Tom Jenks' new zimZalla object is Conversational Nuisance, an A3 size directional poster poem with anthropomorphised rabbit insignia by Joanne Ashcroft and Patricia Farrell. More here


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Robert Sheppard: Tom Raworth’s As When

Parenthesis removed for further study from my forthcoming review of Tom Raworth’s As When:

(Poets beware: you cannot imitate intuition!)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Robert Sheppard: For Lee Harwood Burnt Journal 1939 (from Berlin Bursts)

Burnt Journal 1939 

for Lee Harwood at 70

The sergeant under the umbrella splashes Bovril
as he carries a cup to the private on duty.
It’s all part of the service of the services,
it seems, in this dream that you’re marched into.
The Cenotaph crouches under billowing silks
as a new red bus putters up Whitehall.
The colony of Belisha beacons flashes in harmony
lukewarm but welcome like a pie.

Everybody’s aunt assembles by the ambulances,
masks tested for when the city turns to mustard.
Their perforated snouts chorus submarine melodies,
rubbery inhalant hallelujahs! The last pleasure

boat is moored, the boathouse padlocked. Time
is serving time, commandeered for the duration.

26th February 2009

This poem was written (well in advance, it can be seen) for Lee's 70th birthday, and was included in my book Berlin Bursts. In Memoriam here.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Lee Harwood 1939-2015: in memoriam

Lee Harwood died yesterday, Sunday 26th July at 12.10. I'm glad that I saw him on Friday, however briefly, however distressing it was.

Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass
Stains the white radiance of eternity
Until Death tramples it to fragments.

                Shelley (another Sussex poet)

My review of Collected Poems in two parts here and here. On later works here; on recent works here. And an earlier gift to him here. A later 'Laugh' with Lee Harwood may be read here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Storm and Golden Sky at the Caledonia

Storm and Golden Sky at the Caledonia

Up the stairs (at the back of the barroom, above the pub name, above) at the Caledonia pub, Catharine Street, in the Georgian Quarter, Liverpool, £5, 7 pm spot-on start!

August 2015: no reading

Back on September 25th 2015 

Storm is run by Nathan Jones, Eleanor Rees, Michael Egan and Robert Sheppard.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Pause for Thought. Derek Attridge on the Creative Act-Event

Most of the wisdom I derive from the work of Derek Attridge has been of a literary-critical or theoretical nature, (see here and, more recently, here) but just now and then he offers something for the poetics of writing, as when he describes ‘invention’ towards the end of his new book The Work of Literature.

‘The inventive artist is one who is fully in command of the materials and conventions of his art-form, or techne, but rather than simply producing a rearrangement of that material finds a way of making a space for the new, the other, the hitherto unthinkable or unperceivable. The scenario is exactly that of the hospitality of visitation: rather than inviting some already known idea or formal arrangement or quality of feeling into the work in progress, the successful artist finds a way of destabilizing the fixed structures of knowledge, habit, and affect, so as to make a visitation possible, and seeks to welcome the other, the arrivant, in a work that does justice to its singularity. Innumerable accounts by writers, painters, musicians of the way their best achievements happened testify to this process. In ‘I Have a Taste for the Secret’, Derrida uses the notion of hospitality to talk about the writer’s responsibility to future readers – a responsibility not to give the reader something that is wholly and immediately intelligible, but to leave a space open for individual interpretation. (31-2). Most philosophers would no doubt disagree, but most writers of literary works would have no difficulty with this idea.’ (Attridge 2015: 304)

Attridge. Derek. (2015) The Work of Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Access The Meaning of Form project here.