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From BAD IDEA: overdubs of the sonnets of Michael Drayton in his 1619 sequence Idea





              The condition of his tenants and of his political party – he was a regular Kentish Tory – lay heavy                 on his mind. He spent hours every day in his study, doing the work of a land agent and a political                 whip, reading piles of reports and newspapers and agricultural treatises; and emerging for lunch                   with piles of letters in his hand, and that odd puzzled look in his good healthy face, that deep gash                 between his eyebrows, which my friend the mad-doctor calls the maniac-frown. 

                                                                                                                                                            Vernon Lee 




Your wind-up Easter bunny taps across my desk,

Nodding as I hammer out my manifesto.

My ribcage rattles as though I were clockwork:

Hate is the fossil fuel of my polluted heart.

I bellow each bellicose belly-slapping belief,

Maundy money doled daily to the deserving riche.

While Labour’s pains never cease, I’ll profit. 

Your moaning passion passes over my bloated pledge!

Leadership, Local, Euro, General – what election is it?

I’ve been up so late voting no to everything

My eyes are scorched with scoring zero. And who 

Are you in bunny ears? Amber? Esther? Cinders? Laura!

            I’ll just scroll through these endless death-threats

            And fling a few inflammatory mots into circulation. 


Maundy Thursday 2019



XLI Love’s Lunacy


Why do I speak of Remain or write of Leave

if every repeated word now fills me with horror,

when Haewei or Putin harvest my spluttered woes

and May’s ministers leak like recycled nappies?

What’s to say, or do, when Brextinction Rebels 

glue themselves to May’s every utterance?

Business as Usual is Death! That’s a no-brainer,

now every loony signs up as Euro-Candidate!

But still distracted to distraction, I rail

against Idea’s materialistic cartographies, 

her postnational Euro-spatiality. First I call  

her an utopian, then an atopian; now I’m lost for words. 

             Only her echo remains; Next I’ll curse her 

             as a traitor; then I’ll bless her little cotton socks!  



XLII The Michael Drayton Companion (1619)



                   When, by thy bright Ideas standing by,

                   I found it pure, and perfect poesy.

                                                                                      Ben Jonson


Some like my multiform methods, 

and commend my social poetics. 

Some say I’m a funny old translator, 

‘expanded’ like a supersized codpiece. 

Some that I excel in explicit vitality. 

But others call this strange ventriloquism

‘unsuccessful and overheated, loud and repetitive.’

Ignore my grudge over the ‘esquire’ thing. Now 

Duffy’s off, poets leave the laureateship alone.

Am I not best remaining bard for Brexit’s long betrayal, 

the ‘better spirit’ that even Shakespeare envied,

before I drank him to death with fat Ben?

             I’ll knock one out for the local elections. Free. 

             Flick through the only Companion I need: you. 







Why should your fair eyes and soothing words

dispense such grace upon every acetic voluptuary,

while I crouch in the darkness of Euro-univeralism

and get no glancing postnational illumination?

No wandering star messes with Mallarmé’s constellations, 

or screams across the face of Gomringer’s icons,

nor unsettles Adorno’s negations of Old Europe’s

fraudulent freedoms. O! Theory, join up the dots.

Oh, why does your beauty suggest a customs-union

as Labour’s only way out of the European Union?

Let’s not be as ignorant as at the last referendum,

but (please!) let the next be the last referendum!

             In this pause to think, I pause to think ill:

             how not to get the blues while singing the blues.


9th May 2019







While my weekly sonnet should eternize Idea,

every daily Brexit debate is Time she won’t get back!

She makes a map of my wrinkled misery, charts 

our disgrace, to navigate the EU elections, the terrain 

they dare to name ‘a consequence-free environment’. 

Tyrannising Time trips May’s world-outwearying 

span. Her fourth defeat shall be her final deal.

Then it’ll be time for a last visa-free Euro recess:

British disdain amongst the scattered hegemonies. 

But then: imagine Green youth returning rejuvenated 

to remain and reform. Or: black age to leave, ruling 

oppressive lines, to reproduce its repression eternally. 

            I’ll keep her, enfleshed in words, from Albion

            and its grave. My name will fuck hers forever!

Robert Sheppard’s collaboration with the photographer Trev Eales, Charms and Glitter, has just appeared from Knives, Forks and Spoons. Before this, from Red Ceilings Books, was a series of micro-poems, Micro Event Space. The pamphlet Hap: Understudies of Sir Thomas Wyatt’s Petrarch, from KFS, is part of ‘The English Strain’ project, as is ‘Bad Idea’, which appears here. Sheppard is rather presumptuously ‘transposing’ the English sonnet tradition, and is currently at work on the Romantics. His selected poems, History or Sleep, was published by Shearsman, as was The Robert Sheppard Companion, edited by James Byrne and Christopher Madden, essays on his work. He lives in Liverpool. Also a critic (The Meaning of Form and other works), he is Emeritus Professor of Poetry and Poetics at Edge Hill University.

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