Robert Sheppard

Venus and Adonis

Tip of jaunt is special, especially when it’s fractured, butchered and re-carved like any eight line stanza in the universe. Manipulating the insides of other people, she shimmies in, this thing rather than the other. You’d think the ground’s hit her running. Subsequent readings can be felt pulsing through her skein of displacement. Soon all the primates will be muscling in, trying to grasp the little plastic apples, the ripped number-plates. It darkens, even masks, the poem, and the meaning it carries in its arms like a wounded child. The Ghost Poem, the double chimera, the split nutshell on the tumble-dryer. He lathered his face, eyes shut, yelling out of the depth of his pain, worked it through to finality. They can never relax into the hit and miss of the affair. You suspect the way she checks her watch between each rum and coke. Rows of screens on the wall show unpeopled autrebiographies. He harbours the five line stanza for this poem. Unique, it operates like a louche nephew or debauched niece, up against it. A mashup convinced that the two source tracks had once been its own. He’s employed by the gallery to stand in front of Sickert’s Bathers, Dieppe to block our view, dressed in the same stripy bathing suit as the paint. The singles bar only plays singles on its juke box, screens on the wall showing depopulated stairwells and bleak pavements along blind warehouses. Daylight is blight in urban space, a vertical gematria on a solid host text. A congregation of dummies, dimming, as at any other time, in any other dimension between title and shadow poem. She’s the delicate translator of other poets living in solitary confinement in her skull. Adventure regulated by fantasy science, she lets her suede coat drop from her shoulders to her elbows to reveal complete and statuesque immobility. Her small teleutosonic ears, polished eyes, on rustling newsprint. The neophyte manipulates the homunculus with a rose pendant; somewhere here you’ll find your name like a bunch of collapsed dancers. As usual, he’s just one phoneme away from disaster. Ruddy-faced men hang for too long over the chairs of comely loungers. No one cuffs their ears against the contingency of the multiple roaring. The other is a joker too, perhaps a conceptualist prankster. The clock doesn’t quite say. Turn to the graphic novel, your eyes following the irregular frames of frozen action, the speechless bubbles, brushing up an X-ray of a whoosh of blood in the ears. Draw a picture of the word. Hang the dripping chicken over the sink by its legs. Two spots erupt on his cheek, proud with significance. You decline to parse the intersection of an imaginary road, and the real one, a damp street in Ipswich, a screen of smudges from nowhere. The other is ‘in other words’ predictive. There must be no noise in the medium. I can see her moving through the conventions, solving crimes with the bristles that grow out of her chins. Realising the way she cauterises her imagination is repetition. As if responding to his name he magically evaporates in an archipelago blood pool. The other side emanates pure black but still casts shadow. Flecks of flint in the pebbledash crowd. His profile is a secondary mugshot, his whole world framed by too many screens of its parts; they crowd there like admirers, lovers even, horizontals giving a multiple illusion of horizons, to abstract it from qualities of the real into sketch pad cleanliness. Bumper-to-bumper in parallel. In ‘other’ words, equivocation that Brain Pulse Music will one day replace muzak. The Spy Who Came In From The Rain leaves no trace, not even a wet white stain curled on the dark floor. Light smudges twilight, leaves the semi-divine thumbprint of the guilty. This is revolt’s result, the way she forces her G string over her mound of Venus. Even the numbering of the lines down the knotted ladder of her hair, nine in all, won’t deliver gentle riposte. Raindrops on the doormat. After scan paths electronically register their eye-movements, many readers report that reading poems scribbles out all the lines from right to left. In a station of the metronome I sat down and rapped. No global warning so far this century, your little run-around in others’ disputes. The way she resists the pressure on her G spot as grave Adonis mounts her, moulded in metrical abomination. Grey noises emit from white hounds. Nine ragged lines of the friable Vienna Papyrus plagiarise them. Decimal verses are not merely drawn. Somebody hides. One movement – a flick – and poetic measure becomes Pindaric. A vogue for concrete poetry under bent modernist lampposts like van Doesburg diagonals across contiguous twitches. Security clearance absolute. A sprinkle of melody along the rusty twelve tone row. In the state of any metre we face apparently over-crowded politics: red pedals on a black boulevard. A crooked pool of light spreads across cobblestones. See those eleven lines there, two parallel verticals? They’re waiting for you to write them.


Chance, the intelligence in mistakes: patter; chirrups of huddled adolescents; the drone of adults. He sinks into the sound, the signs and songs of the real. His cultural capital. He remembers the rent. Suddenly recalls his employee ID. The expired loyalty card issued by lyric during the last great double-dip. It could be his licence to sing: grumbling motors; asthmatic brakes. Clattering wheels, rattling windows, shivering walls. The tympanic crash of a bicycle shunted off-balance, one half-remembered thing after a half-forgotten thing. Spacejunk misremembering junkspace. A new time slashed across the dial of the old. A face moving, a reflection, behind the words on his laptop. They wriggle like worms, burrow into plasma, dashes little wounded silent mouths, until it’s blank. Type rare.

Excitation for Jo Blowers

1 The Poet Emperor

The Emperor had eaten too much chicken at the midnight feast, which you should never do during the full moon. He awoke at 4 o’clock. A silver circle projected through the curtains onto the embroidered bed-covers.
           He rose, fully awake he thought, and felt his way to his office. On the desk lay two files, the first a personal one, marked ‘Conditions for the Appearance of the Poem’, the other a routine report from the new Head of Imperial Security. He knew their contents, though now he couldn’t see to read them. The second file responded to various imperial crises: a much-loved elder statesman was dangerously ill in hospital; the empire’s champion athlete had slaughtered his bride. Both stories had to be managed and massaged.
           The new Head had only one case marked in red on the weekly agenda: that of a nameless boy from the slums which crouched under the vents of the palace walls, a crucible of atonal musics, liminal voices. The boy was under 24 hour surveillance, of course. He’d been tracked checking into single rooms of luxury hotels mid-afternoon, where he would pull the curtains, settle on the plump pillows of the bed, and disappear – ‘literally disappear’ the report underlined in red – amid the chatter of empire-wide surveillance, glimmers on CCTV monitors, in defiance of everything we think possible. Loyal hoteliers confirmed the findings: musty aromas in vacant rooms. Unsettled bills. He’d disappeared into silence. Only to reappear, hours later, via video stream, on a metro platform in the military quarter – or some such place.
           That there was neither rhyme nor reason for these events made them more frightening. Not just imperial security but ‘the whole fabric of reality’ was at risk, the Head argued, in his tortuous prose. The case was ‘on-going’, a euphemism for the fact they hadn’t caught him, probably wouldn’t. The Emperor listened to silence. Then he opened the other file and made a blind note in the lunar gloaming: ‘The poem will be a form of poesis not a container of the “poetic”.’ The words had appeared out of nowhere.
           The Emperor, his guts still rumbling, his goitre rising at the ghost of chicken fat, tiptoed back to bed, slid beside the Empress who moaned, stirred among the silk sheets. Settling down, he discovered that the moon was now lower in the sky, and blazed where the curtain didn’t quite reach the sill; its button of luminescence bathed his face, burnt into his eyes. Shutting them, he found the moon still there, vivid, like the idea of a moon. He lay, suddenly terrified at the thought that he might disappear for a minute (or more) of his reign: his consciousness blanking, his grip on power loosened, his command of language unravelled; silence.
           The moon sank below the rooftop of the outer fortifications. The curtains dimmed, shadows swelled.
           The Emperor drifted into sleep.
           Or perhaps he woke. Possibly a part of him had all the while, all night, been in bed, dreaming, since refusing a second helping of chicken, and absenting himself early from the moonlit feast with a half-wave to his courtiers.
           With an idea of a poem.

2 Conditions for the Appearance of the Poem

A hand rises to attempt one gesture but makes another, like a terrorist’s knife, an interruption to this broadcast. The poem will be like anything the universe might throw at it, rumours beyond the wood-panelling of the imperial yacht, hives rising from the heads of warriors. Like a scribble out of DaVinci’s notebook, copied in spring sunshine twirling in frenzy on the lawn. The poem will be like a thought – somewhere between Paris and Riga, an idealist seduction of Fiats on boulevards, a slogan. The poem will be like {                                              }, like calorific intensities soaking up the sun, like a Mecanno monster with downcast iron handles. Dexter Gordon’s tenor hangs behind the beat and then sprints ahead like a sopranino hare, an ear whooshing with cataract. A plagiarist spits out somebody else’s bag of badgers, like a gusset dropped from a billowing skirt, like difficult thinking, like silence. The first shadow thrown into a freshly opened vault. Nova ideal pilgrim beauty, lightning slashed horizontally across the Bratislava sky, ectoplasmic glue stretching to breaking point. The poem will be time’s gigolo. Like a bibliography of works unwritten. The poem will be like the memory of a bejewelled midriff, like a sudden bad mood, like First Quarto Hamlet. Non-perfumed butane gas, a scratched patch of air where a man used to be. Poem will be like a pip of nothing, so-called poets peeping out at bomb damage, like a wedding gown of frost, porosity made solid, like three fat men on a hilltop, everybody else’s dream. Will be like an eternal Twitter feed. Will be ‘like’ a funny thing that happened on the way to the grave, a chain of camels smoking across the desert. Sticks blur to steam in their rhythm above the skins. A tick in the no publicity box, the poem will be like three cold monkeys who’ve seen, heard and spoken evil, like the Andrews Sisters, only all of them will be communists. A Malevich found tucked behind a radiator. The poem will be like a crucible of atonal musics, a maelstrom of twists and turns. Like a snowy beast killed with one shot, its eyes dull with death and decomposition, accusing the hunter, who poses, misreading the signs. The poem will be like freaks with expressionist collars on the metro, like notes on the nature of the notes. Strawberries spread across turf. Reindeer buck horny dusts of snow. A secret flutter of futurity, like a lie, orders to a gunner who’s not sure who they’re from, like a new poem. The poem will be a form of poesis not a container of the ‘poetic’. Two trapeze artists miss one another’s arms, passing money on international markets faster than a banker’s broken eye, the weight of water. The poem will be like caesurae creeping across a page. Seeding speech bubbles in dozens, the poem will be unlike a poem. The poem will be like an analogy between the poem and everything else. The poem will be like somebody else’s holiday snaps. The poem will be like equivocal smudges around the eyes, smuggled into official portraits. The poem will be like a simile comparing {                } to {                              
}. An idealist temptation that the world is words of many syllables. Like the radiogram in the attic, the hypnotic choruses of a slow blues. The poem will be like a dance not at all. The poem will be like the idea of a poem. A button of luminescence, a wall, the subtle thinking that surrounds poetry. The poem will be like the braided cap squeezed on the head of the war criminal. Like Small-Scale Lives and Low Alarms, a mashup of mishaps. The poem will be not unlike bread that’s baked on Good Friday, will be like a cyber-attack by anagram machines, a situational constraint, a lost password to the tremolo website. The stone pages of a glyphic novel. Like nervous footfalls on creaking floorboards, like democracy, like a stain on the carcase of language, like a simile comparing a simile to a simile. The poem will be like an X-citation that rubs reality up the wrong way, a realist depiction of carnival. Be like love, a beautiful explosion, like likeness. A stick insect mating with a stick. The poem will be like a Yorkshire squint, a Zip of monotone, an analogy between the poem and nothing else. The poem will be like notes on celebrity cheese. 3D grains grafted onto lo-fi refuting, the image arriving ahead of itself, the first apparition of weightless witnesses cocooned by thermals, or clear winter skies with frosty pinpricks. The poem will be like a braided cap squeezed on the head of a war hero. A boozy trumpeter puts the mouthpiece to her lips, splutters the flat sour flinch of a lemon.


‘Excitation for Jo Blowers’ was first performed, in a performance text version, as a work-in-progress, at the Friends of cris cheek evening at the Bluecoat, Liverpool, 25th June 2013 by Jo Blowers and Mary Prestidge (dance), and Robert Sheppard and Patricia Farrell (voice). It was arranged by Jo Blowers. In the performance version it is possible to use the original sentences/lines of part two – they nearly all began, ‘The poem is like…’ – in any order. It is not possible to use them in no order. It is possible to use all of them or only one. Or to carry on re-using them without end. They have been per-formed into a page version for this showing to enable the performance of reading to be enacted more engagingly by a silent reader. The empty parentheses are to be filled by the reader(s), performer(s) or listeners, or accepted as unfinish.

Robert Sheppard’s most recent work is Liverpool Hugs and Kisses, a collaboration with Robert Hampson. Other books include A Translated Man (more fictional poems) and Berlin Bursts, both from Shearsman Books. Knives, Forks and Spoons are soon to publish his ‘autrebiographies’ Words Out of Time, and he is working on a Selected Poems. He blogs copiously, both creatively and critically, at Pages.
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