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Thursday, October 30, 2014

25 Edge Hill Poets: Tom Jenks

Tom Jenks

from An Anatomy of Melancholy

If I get too melancholy you can spank me with the riding crop.

Hello darkness. We have our Before Sunrise every night.

A serious post tonight on feelings and states of mind.

I didn't think I'd ever found candy creepy.

Why did the mango go to the therapist?


Guy is player. Guy meets girl. Guy stops being player. Girl leaves forever.

The sublime melancholy nonsense of the Porpoise Song.

Slow, sad, dramatic. An absolutely fabulous marathon.

Weekdays are so utterly mundane.  Classic FM.

Paul McCartney. Banged this in autumn.

Describe your life in one word. It's an art.

A droplet of emotion. I dissolve into a puddle.

Can someone tell me if general anaesthetic causes melancholy?

Is melancholy a price we have to pay to make people happy?

Is there a name for this symptom? Have you tried an exterminator?


Turning anger into vengeance will blind even the brightest of stars.

Missed eagle day. It's all wolves and dragons.

I want a Wes Anderson kitchen and a Tim Burton bathroom. 

I am listening to some very deep music right now.

Every time I think about my ballet girls, I grow all melancholy.

I love my melancholy toast socks. Girls like talking to me.

Island of the sequined love nun. This dog is so melancholy.

I dislike these waves of melancholy that randomly wash over me.

The insufficient things I sought wet my painful cheeks.

This is supposed to be relaxing. Can I go back now?


My Ph. D., which I began at Edge Hill in 2012, is concerned with investigating the ways that digital technology can be used in the area of innovative poetry in general and in relation to conceptualism and the Oulipo in particular.

Computers, in the developed world at least, are so widespread as to be unavoidable. There are good and bad things about this. One thing is for sure is that whether we like it or not, computers are not going away. If King Canute were demonstrating the limits of his power today, he would not order the tide to turn back; he would try and delete himself from Facebook.

I am not a year zero zealot and I do not define my practice solely by the use of technology. In fact, I don’t define in that way at all. I am simply using what lies to hand. I am not interested in the machine per se, or in its undoubted capacity to produce dazzling artefacts. Trying to write a program that passes the Turing test by producing output that is indistinguishable from that of a human is a dead end. Human beings can write like human beings and there are over 7 billion of us. What I am interested in is what happens when technology is used as an adjunct to human practice. The pioneers of computer poetry had to book hours of ruinously expensive processing time on institutional mainframes. Now, we carry in our pockets devices many times more powerful than the machines that helped put people on the moon. Using a computer is no more remarkable than using an iron, a toaster or a lawnmower. The digital has become everyday. Programs and apps can be thought of as tools to be picked up and dropped in the way an artist might a tube of paint or a pair of scissors.

The work presented here, a selection from a 172 stanza re-imagining of Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of  Melancholy,  was created using Twitter. In other works, I have used spreadsheets to cut up texts, database programs to re-configure and transform them and mobile phone technology to generate them. All the software I use is readily commercially available and whilst my skill level is probably above average, it is by no means stratospheric.

Many poets use technology, but more hold it in suspicion. Inherent in this is distrust not just of technology, but also of the value of procedure and process. Incorporating non-human elements into the creative process violates the still prevalent notion of the poet as seer whose proper focus is on the world within. I have no problem with confessional work or self-expression. Rather, it is my belief that self-expression is automatic and unavoidable and so need not be actively pursued like a rare and elusive beast. A musician is not being any less expressive when using a synthesiser than when using a piano or a lute. A poet is not being any less expressive when using an Android app than when using a typewriter or a quill. Poetry must engage with the world as it is in its totality. Digital technology is part of that world.

'The best link for me,' Tom says, 'is, which has links to everywhere else.' And here's an internal link to a piece Tom wrote in 2008, here.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Malcolm Lowry & Iain Sinclair in Liverpool: In Ballast to the White Sea (Lowry Lounge 2014)

The Lowry Lounge

at the Bluecoat

Saturday 25 October 2014

with special guest Iain Sinclair
Iain Sinclair talking about Lowry

The Bluecoat’s annual celebration of Merseyside-born author of Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry (1909-57), featured the European launch of his 'lost' novel In Ballast to the White Sea, on Saturday 25th October. Along with Ailsa Cox, Bryan Biggs, Mark Goodall, Helen Tookey and Colin Dilnot, I am one of the ‘Firminists’ who ‘coordinate’ the event, though the massive lion’s share of organising is carried out by Bryan. TheFirminist is the work of Mark. This year Colin conducted one of his Lowry walks around the sights and sites of the life and fiction, Bryan spoke and played appropriate music, I interviewed Iain Sinclair, Mark launched The Firminist, Helen Tookey read her new ‘Bellevue Sonnets’ and Ailsa interviewed editors Vik Doyen, Colin Dilnot and Patrick McCarthy. (See postings of previous years here and here. And visit Colin's detailed Lowry website The Nineteenth Hole here.)

Sheet music of the famous song in Under the Volcano; one impressive Firminst discovery. A few years ago we all sang it along to a taropatch orchestra. 

The Lowry Lounge 2014 featured Iain Sinclair talking about Lowry in relation to his 2013 book American Smoke. I introduced him thus:

Good afternoon. I’m Robert Sheppard, one of the Liverpool Firminists dedicated to the continuing promotion of the life and works and beverages of Malcolm Lowry.

This afternoon we are pleased to welcome Iain Sinclair to the Lowry Lounge. Iain is one of Britain’s most acclaimed but independent-minded authors. A poet since the 1970s – when I first picked up on his work, via the poetry and prose volume LudHeat, which today would be called a work of psychogeography, but was then the major exemplar of a ‘poetry of place’. After a period as a bookseller (an important fact) he became a novelist, and White Chappel, Scarlet Tracings traces the bloody trail of the Ripper murders and the even bloodier and occult trade of bookdealing. Downriver is a masterly epic take on Thatcher’s London. Other novels and fictions followed, but he set out – in the ambulatory documentaries about London – Lights out for the Territory, London Orbital, and Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire – and about elsewhither locations – John Clare’s East Anglian landscapes in The Edge of Orison and even the Liverpool-Hull trek which threaded through his demolition of Grand Projects in Ghost Milk – to discover (but also perhaps to invent) truths about these places. 

But there is an essential interweaving of genres in these books. Tucked away under the preliminary reiterations of the title of his most recent book American Smoke is its sub-sub-title: ‘A Fiction of Memory’, which suggests that documentary of the kind written by Iain – which consists of not trusting official guides to places and people or received ideas about culture and nature – but of (usually literally) walking out into the territory and finding out for himself, is partly a fictive activity. Writing the thing makes the thing happen. The sponsored strategy has long been the path to avoid. The most doomed is the most attractive; failure is alluring. Some of you will see a parallel with Lowry here. American Smoke is an exploration of the fact that, as Britons, ‘American Smoke infiltrates our cloudy night’, and Iain explores the American continent – as for Lowry that includes Canada and Mexico – hoovering up his poetic heroes – Olson, Burroughs, Bolano, Snyder – but leaving room for English writers such as Alexander Baron and – of course – Malcolm Lowry. While the book frequently has chapters and passages about each of these heroes, any one of them pops up in unlikely contexts with coincidences, correspondences and parallels drawn or –more mysteriously – found. Again, this suggests that Lowry is more than just a subject; he is a guiding spirit in some ways to this project; these ‘journeys to the end of the light’.   

 Ladies and gentlemen, Iain Sinclair.

Iain then spoke freely, making connections between Liverpool and Dublin, bringing in Joyce, Eleanor Philby, and finally Lowry. He read from the opening chapter of Ulysses, the ultimate wandering novel, and noted that the mailboats mentioned were heading to Liverpool. (Having just taught Ulysses I can state that I didn’t get that reference to Liverpool, though the cattle with or without foot and mouth are being shipped to Liverpool, and there are two addresses mentioned, in an obituary in a paper (Canning St.) and the home of the eager hangman, Hunter St. Not enough for a walking tour, like the one conducted by Colin Dilnot on Saturday morning, which I missed, but went on a couple of years ago, here.) Iain read some ‘Lowry’ passages from American Smoke.

After there were questions. These are my notes:

 I’m going to ask a couple of questions and then throw it open to the audience, most of whom are more knowledgeable about Lowry than myself.

1. When I was writing my little book on your work, which begins with the borrowed thesis that ‘all of’ your ‘books are book-length footnotes to’ your ‘other books’, as Nicholas Lezard says – I reached a point where I slammed on the brakes and thought: Malcolm Lowry: ‘The Voyage that Never Ends’, the interconnected nature of the oeuvre! And I paused to look for his presence in the work, and didn’t find it at that point. I know you read Lowry back in your student days in Dublin, but I wonder why it took so long for him to surface consciously. And I wonder what you feel about my suggestion of parallels in terms of scope, style and even attitude between your work and his?

2. You write: ‘I was interested in the cunning ways ML found to lose, burn, scatter his manuscripts, before he had to face the horrors of making a submission, or, worse still, publication.’ I wonder what you think (or possibly can guess what Lowry would have thought) about the efforts of worldwide scholars and local Firminists to find, dampen down, unscatter his manuscripts?

3. Margerie Bonner Lowry is an ambiguous figure in your account, as she is in most. You’ve sold, then bought back, decades later, the same copies of her novels, and you’ve read them. But they seemed to offer you less than you’d expected. Am I right in suspecting that?

I didn’t use question 2. the audience then took over. Iain was engaged and particular in his responses. The impression was of a man who knows there are no coincidences, just correspondences (and there the connection with Lowry runs deepest).

Iain Sinclair signing books

Covers of issues of The Firminist

Copies of The Firminist may be obtained by emailing the editor at After Launch of TheFirminist, edited by Mark Goddall with Helen Tookey reading her poems, In Ballast to the White Sea was launched with the book’s editor Patrick McCarthy, giving a long account of the editing of this incomplete manuscript, followed by Vik Doyen talking about the genesis of Swinging the Maelstrom, which he edited, in conversation with Patrick and Colin Dilnott, and Ailsa chairing. The impressive book is published by the University of Ottawa Press.

Iain Sinclair in convivial mood. Behind him Patrick McCarthy, in the foregound Vik Doyen, top left, Tim Power, whose pictures will be better than these!

After this saga of the state of manuscripts, the meddling of (other, earlier) editors, I walked over to Iain and said, ‘Burn everything!’ (He won’t; it’s already shipped out to Texas.) We chatted about drafts, styles of composition, uses of the computer, etc. This social part (the annual toast to Lowry with mesqual or tequila) was most convivial and the highlight perhaps was talking to The Last of the Lowrys, as I erroneously dubbed him, who was somewhat bemused by our interest in the Black Sheep of his family. He looked like Malcolm so it was oddly moving. (The granddaughter of Lowry’s mentor, Conrad Aiken, was also in attendance.) Then it was off to the Everyman, The Roscoe Head…

In my bag I have three unopened codexes: the novel itself, The Firminist 4, and Iain’s new book, 70X70: Unlicensed Preaching: A Life Unpacked in 70 Films.

Read Iain’s poems about that South Coast boozer Patrick Hamilton here. And my much read (or linked to anyway) account of Lud Heat here. And my little-read review of the novel Dining on Stones, here.

'Syphilis Museum', Paradise Street

Readings at Liverpool University

Friday, October 24, 2014

25 Edge Hill Poets: Scott Thurston

Photo of Scott Thurston reading from his sequence ‘Turning’ at The Knives Forks and Spoons garden party in Newton-le-Willows, 23 April 2011, taken by Phil Davenport

la limite de nos mouvements en désordre dans cet espace étroit déjà renouvelé


Dream of revaluing everything all the time when
everything is all the same. Thinking with the body’s
things as they move. Scared of the death sense
made of the guilt fiery encounters in personal and
public history. Snare the stuck habit, a new feeling

situation did not send my attention this way. Adjust
the symbols as you are pulled through the space: someone
consistent, someone changing. Did I move too fast, too
slow, too high, too low? Consumption of an elastic kind,
just like honey.

What I came to name later, being looked after
by these figures, dreaming the basis of what now realised.
I move the way I write in a moment of a real
loss noticed. A soldier about to shoot the farmer, making
a slow motion crash into an obstacle of wooden panels.

To say something while you move would be movement too.
Something moves me, I did not do it. The reactions are
the movement, dream-like, not material. Counterweight
reflection on fidelity and loyalty, recognising what tensed
against it, the contingency of the same.

The discipline between release in the front, in the back:
the sex of place. Imagining the witness, witnessing
the witness, to destabilise the whole effect. You brought
light in. Have I stood too firm in myself? Am I near or far
from my ego?

I undertook a PhD in Poetics (1997-2002) as the first to do so at what was then Edge Hill College of Higher Education. My supervisor was Robert Sheppard – a quite possibly unique relationship since he had been teaching me ‘A’ Level English in Surrey only some six years previously! I had an amazing, expansive time at Edge Hill, not only as a research student, but also as a regular part-time lecturer – cutting my teeth on teaching TESOL, Creative Writing and English Literature. I felt very much part of the team and still remember fondly the departmental habit of having lunch together, which is so rare as to be practically extinct these days. It was huge fun working alongside Helen Newall and Julie Armstrong-Colton on the first year modules in particular.

In order to support the opening stages of my doctoral work I sat in on the Literary Theory seminars for the MA Creative Writing. There was amazing cohort that year and I’m still in touch with many of them, even working with one of them (Ursula Hurley) in my current job at Salford! Being involved in the (still extant) Edge Hill Poetry and Poetics Research Group was also a special part of my experience – giving and receiving intent and sustained feedback on my writing that has remained unequalled. Robert’s important work on poetics was crucial to my development as a researcher and lecturer in Creative Writing – and I worked with him as a research assistant on a project investigating the use of poetics in teaching for the English Subject Centre. This research was referenced in the NAWE benchmarking statement for Creative Writing – the first for the discipline in Higher Education.

As a PhD student I was extremely fortunate to have the presence of Pam Jackson as my internal examiner for my viva – and still recall her brilliant insights about readerships and writerships which she offered during the two and a half hour (!) examination. I also want to acknowledge the invaluable support of Alastair McCulloch and Julie Proud in the Research Office as it then was.
I still regularly attend poetry readings at the Rose Theatre and fondly remember participating in the annual National Poetry Day readings – on one occasion performing the sound poetry of the late, great Bob Cobbing alongside Robert. My working life has not taken me far away and in fact has recently led me back to Edge Hill as I begin a new research collaboration with colleagues in the Dance department. I look forward to continuing to develop my relationship with Edge Hill well into the next 25 years. 

Scott Thurston

Here are some links also:

Author page at Shearsman
Author page at The Archive of the Now
Interviewed at 3:am Magazine
Poetry recordings at Penn Sound
Co-editor of Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry
Co-organiser of The Other Room
Previously on Pages: Introducing Scott Thurston

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Storm and Golden Sky: Richard Barrett and Sophie Collins


Richard Barrett lives and works in Salford. He is the author of the collections Pig Fervour (Arthur Shilling Press, 2009); Sidings (White Leaf Press, 2010); # (zimZalla, 2011); A Big Apple (KFS, 2011); Free (Blart Books, 2014) and HUGZ (KFS, 2014). Additionally, his work has appeared in numerous anthologies including HOME (TTO, 2008); The Other Room #1, #3 and #6; Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot; The Dark Would and Manchester No Spy Zone. Richard runs the small poetry press Department and is 1/3 of the team who organise the Manchester based reading series Peter Barlow’s Cigarette. Current, ongoing projects of Richard’s include Hi-5 the World; SOUL VOMIT and the book he and Rachel Sills are writing Endless / Nameless. His Archive of the Now page is here:


Sophie Collins is co-founder of tender, an online quarterly promoting work by female-identified writers and artists. Her poems and translations have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, Poetry London and Oxford Poetry.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Robert Sheppard Upcoming Readings November 2014

Events I’m involved with in November

Saturday 1st November: Patricia Farrell, Nikolai Duffy, Chris Stephenson and I will be reading for Peter Barlow’s Cigarette at Waterstones, Deansgate, Manchester at 5.00. (Note that time.) I'm planning to read Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed (from Petrarch) and Something Blue...

Wednesday November 26th: 5pm: I shall be reading at The Centre for New and International Writing in the School of English, Abercromby Square, With Sam Riviere. FREE event followed by wine reception

To RSVP: visit

Friday 28th November: as a short warm up to the Storm and Golden Sky reading by Steve McCaffery and Karen MacCormack, Jo Blowers, Steve Boyland and I will be performing our three voice work ‘Kybarti Junction’. Caledonia pub in the Georgian Quarter, Liverpool: 7.00 sharp.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Peter Barlow's Cigarette, Manchester: Duffy (no, not that one), Farrell, Sheppard, Stephenson

Note the time as well as the date: 5 o'clock until 7 pm! I shall be reading something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

25 Edge Hill Poets: Natasha Borton

Natasha Borton


Ar Lan y Môr

(Down by the Sea)

Seaweed cracks the sand;  an echo of the 'll'

'll' against the shore.

Pressing my fingerprints,

feeling the dry caress against my skin.

In the distance,  

the sky mimics the white tipped tide.

I fold the sea bed around me.

Shards of sea shells; cregyn;

gnaw at knots in my hair.

Quills with shadows of feather lie across my palms dipping into the ink of my wrist

and I

 holding my breath wait -

familiar with the taste of salt on my lips - 

for the sea to take me home


My time at Edge Hill:

There is no doubt in my mind that Edge Hill has made me the writer and person that I am today. It is a space filled with opportunities and encouragement.


There is a blurred line between music and poetry. I use my experience as a singer to explore the musical space in language.