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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Robert Sheppard: Far Language: Utopia Revisited (John Ash)


John Ash: Disbelief, Carcanet.

John Ash has always adopted a particular line in aestheticism.  In his works, the world is present but estranged, not so as to make that strangeness terrifying or alienating, as in Kafka, but to make it delightful and pleasurable, which surely must be a more difficult, if also more necessary, transformation.  It is also a more dangerous one, in that the impedimenta of melodrama, pastoral silliness and campness must be used.  Some poems in Disbelief, Ash’s latest and, in many ways, best volume, repeat the strategies of earlier books.  (See my review of The Goodbyes, PNR 37.)  The operative staginess (‘These are steps we will descend in sleep/like echoes of ourselves, each singing/in our different ways, without dull repetition …’) does, in fact, seem to have been repeated too many times to remain effective; all defamiliarising gestures have an entropy towards the familiar, a danger Ash must be aware of, given the range of this new book.  When not concerned with individual aesthetic consciousness, Ash creates imaginatively playful utopias, which he then describes, images of a possible non-alienating social freedom.  It is precisely the question of description in this project which now disturbs me.  The idea that an image of a possible utopia might be produced by defamiliarising and aestheticising the world alone, by making it fictive - which still seems to me a necessary first step - seems unwittingly complacent.  Lyotard in ‘The Critical Function of the Work of Art’ (in Driftworks) questions art which remains ‘a representation of something to come; this is to remain within the order of representation ….  The system, as it exists, absorbs every consistent discourse; the important thing is not to produce a consistent discourse but rather to produce ‘figures’ within reality.  The poet holds language ‘under suspicion, ie to bring about figures which would never have been produced, that language might not tolerate, and which may never be audible, perceptible, for us’.  To put it another way, Ash often argues, rather insistently, the case for aestheticism: his transformations happen at the level of semantics, often strikingly so: his ‘The Second Lecture: An over-excited man tells us about clouds’ - with its use of synaesthesia and imaginative and metaphoric dissolution - ends ‘We are effaced.  A chrysanthemum of air remains poised to drop its petals into the blue that will reshape them endlessly.’  But at the levels of syntax, rhythm, line, phonology and grammar the conventions are often as intact as they are in the varieties of contemporary poetry that Ash - rightly - has criticised repeatedly.  He tells us of the postmodern condition, but he never enacts this formally:

I regard the world as a TV

on which I change channels at will,

never moving from the bed.

It is, I would contend, only through formal disruption that a desire for change can be activated, involving the reader directly in the construction of the meaning of the poem, something Ash’s insistence makes hard: ‘utopia’ is not a radiant isolated image, but an active education of desire.

Nevertheless, this collection covers new ground, even within his aestheticism.  His ‘urban pastoralism’ is extended dramatically in an embarrassingly whimsical ‘Eclogue’ (for Black American English: ‘Are these the locals honey? / They sure talk funny.’), but in ‘Men, Women and Children’ the effect can be sour: although ‘life is a festive marching to no purpose’, the ‘destination’ may yet turn out to be ‘the oppressive portals of the capital, / the altars still smelling of blood’.  The litany, ‘The sky my husband’, is a kind of printout of possibilities that enacts metaphoricity itself as it cancels the meaning of the repeated word ‘sky’: ‘The sky my galleries my icons / The sky my radio my satellite my video’.  Ash has also turned more expansively to prose, as in ‘Every Story Tells It All’, which is a serial writing in search of its own evasive narrative.  There are ‘translations’ of Li Ho, a found text from Lorca’s letters.  But, particularly towards the end of the book, there is a seriousness of tone, as in ‘The Nine Moons of Austin’, which, when it addresses the poet Christopher Middleton, approximates something of the older poet’s integrity and capacity for wonder:

You are translating from the German,

difficult words: heilignòchterne,

meaning both ‘holy’ and ‘lucid’

like this moment of stillness and clouds

passing, noble as HØlderlin’s swans.

15 August 1987                                                                              PN Review 63, 1988

Link to new 'Introduction' and links to all contents of Far Language here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

robert sheppard & life is short at bluecoat 15th november (set list)

robert sheppard: the tweets of microbius: life is short at bluecoat, liverpool (november 15th 2015):
part of being human: a festival of the humanities

curated by professor ailsa cox

this was a celebration of all things small and perfectly formed, from the hadron to the haiku, the boson to the butterfly. activities include talks, exhibitions and hands-on workshops on how we perceive and capture moments in time; on miniature objects and microscopic creatures; and on the short form in the arts and literature. 

i read the 'tweets of microbius', twittersonnets. the tweet versions of these twittersonnets may be found on microbius’ twitterfeed:

the form was invented by the invented rene van valckenborch and all of his twitterodes (the originals) may be read here. or click onto 2010 to the right of this post and you'll betaken to them all, AND individual posts with photos. worth a look. read them in my (or his) the translated man (shearsman 2013). see here.

this is the last tweet, complete with images! 


hooke's flea
flee from
the flea u
nder the g
lass: furr

y legs and
tufted tu
sks; preci
se menace/

look at ho
oke’s full
stop: scuf

fed flares
, a furred
black sun

hooke's fullstop

hooke's book, toppled over
these sonnets come from a longer sonnet work called 'the song nets'. some of the crap possible titles that have been rejected include 'the big sonnet' or 'total's miscellany' and even the dylanesque 'corona corona'. ouch! (even in lower case). 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Robert Sheppard: History or Sleep, the second review by Ian Brinton

A spectrological reading of the book, by Ian Brinton, may be read on the Tears in the Fence site here (also on my 'list' to the right of these posts). The first review may be accessed here.

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Festschrift for Tony Frazer

A Festschrift for Tony Frazer is now online here

Who he? A Shearsman of sorts! (See here.)

Tony Frazer is one of the great poetry publishers of our time. 'This website,' the editors say, 'is a tribute to him on his 64th birthday. It contains more than 200 contributions from poets whose writing he has published since 1981 under his imprints Shearsman Books and Shearsman Magazine, as well as from friends and well-wishers. Together, these present a unique collective tribute not only to Tony’s achievement as the publisher of more than 300 writers, but as a friend, as a man. In its variety and richness, this unusual anthology bears witness to the far-sightedness, adventurousness, eclecticism and dedication of Tony’s vision for poetry and his tireless pursuit of the new, the original and the excellent.'

Read Richard Berengarten's editorial here

My contribution is a fictional poem by a fictional poet who writes a real homage to a real poet who was translated by Tony Frazer. (He is a good translator, a fact not mentioned in the above, but I’m sure other contributors in this huge labyrinth of praise have noted the fact.)  

So: my (or Sophie Poppmeier’s poem for Lutz Seiler, ‘Book One, Poem Three’) is here.

It will take a long time to read all of this website, but a first surf (nobody uses that metaphor anymore, do they?) reveals a poem by Scott Thurston about generosity, here. Everybody uses that word of Tony. Kelvin Corcoran gets it right, when he says: 

To begin with, it’s very hard to wrest work from his hands despite how busy he might be - surrounded by piles of manuscripts, books to proof, books to post and books to read. Then you discover how quickly he works.  Next you’re floored by the realisation that uniquely for a publisher he does exactly what he says he will do. Tony’s unstinting generosity, good sense and boundless energy shines brightly in a dim world. 

Read the rest of his piece here. As I say: 'We must honour this extraordinary and extraordinarily generous man.' (See all the short tributes here.)
Patricia Farrell’s visual tribute alerts us to the other media (image and video) also represented, here.

It is great to see two wily and incisive poems by Roy Fisher here, and sad but gratifying to read Lee Harwood’s prose tribute, one of the last things he must have written, here.

Robert Sheppard 

PS It must be trhe season of festschrifts. See here

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Robert Sheppard History or Sleep: the first review by Clark Allison

may be read on Stride here. 'The Advert of Itself: Some Notes on Robert Sheppard's History or Sleep'.

More on the book here.(And a second review here.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

An Educated Desire - For Robert Sheppard at Sixty (KFS; published 14th November 2015)

With a book out with this sub-title, I can't deny it. (More here on 60!)

This festschrift, mainly edited by Scott Thurston with the help of Patricia Farrell, and published by Alec Newman's Knives Forks and Spoons Press, is now out. There are 66 contributors, I think, and I am supremely and humbly moved by these editings, productions and contributions. (It's a great anthology of contemporary poetry.) I will contact each individually, of course, but that will take time (I'm very busy). And perhaps I'll respond to the book more fully here.

So a big THANK YOU to all: to Scott, Alec, Patricia, and the contributors.


PS No link to the book yet!

Checking the list of contributors

Monday, November 16, 2015

Sandeep Parmar and Robert Sheppard reading at Storm and Golden Sky Liverpool 27th November 2015

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!

FRIDAY 27th November 2015

Sandeep Parmar and Robert Sheppard

Sandeep Parmar was born in Nottingham in 1979 and was raised in Southern California. She received her PhD in English Literature from University College London in 2008 on the unpublished autobiographies of the modernist poet Mina Loy. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. She is the Reviews Editor of The Wolf magazine and edited The Collected Poems of Hope Mirrlees for Carcanet Press (2011). Her critical book on Loy, Reading Mina Loy's Autobiographies, appeared from Bloomsbury in 2013. She teaches twentieth-century literature and creative writing at the University of Liverpool. Her books are Eidolon and The Marble Orchard, both from Shearsman.



Robert Sheppard is launching two books tonight, his new History or Sleep: Selected Poems, which covers the full range of his work since 1982, and his autrebiographies, Words Out of Time. He lives in Liverpool, is one of the organisers of Storm and Golden Sky, and is also a literary critic of work generally known as ‘linguistically innovative’. He teaches at Edge Hill University.

New Book: Words Out of Time: Autrebiographies and unwritings:

Newer Book: History or Sleep: Selected Poems:

Newest Book on its way!



European Union of Imaginary Authors:







Licensee Laura before the bar

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