Stride Magazine - www.stridemagazine.co.uk
|PLATO, THE SCULPTOR
AND THE SYNTACTICAL GUERRILLA
THE LORES by Robert Sheppard, 88pp, £7.50
WIRE SCULPTURES by Lawrence Upton, 44pp, £5.00
(Reality Street Editions, 4 Howard Court, Peckham Rye, London, SE15 3PH)
was Plato who reckoned that all poets, in producing mere imitations
of what are already only representations, should be banished for being
twice removed from reality and, therefore, a threat to the rational
well-being of the common man. Of course, this wasn’t to say that he
didn’t hold Homer in the greatest of respect, just that he saw him
as being too far off the wall for his and everyone else’s own good.
Had he come across Sheppard and Upton he may equally have held them
in great respect, yet perceived them, from his somewhat elitist, reactionary
viewpoint, as not just twice, but even thrice removed from the relativity
of reality. And, given what’s expected of poetry in stimulating the
emotions, this, you may think, is no bad thing. Nor is it.
Sheppard and Upton both address contemporary notions of politics, but aren’t political. Both engage with the ambiguities of social relations, but aren’t populist. Both stretch artistic and linguistic boundaries, but aren’t extremists. Both evoke a raft of dormant emotions, but aren’t sentimental. Both are very much in touch with reality, but aren’t disciples of Plato. Theirs is the reality of Everyman, of Aristotle a down-to-earth reality that demands more than the sterile, po-faced, ultra-safe response to Life and its living Plato would have us make a reality that invites analysis, interpretation and reaction in order to know ourselves fully and understand our relationships to the diversity of guises presented by the human condition. In this respect, being thrice removed is surely preferable.
That Sheppard is cited on the cover notes as being, ‘at the forefront of (the) movement sometimes called linguistically innovative poetry’ is, though a little trite, a seemly description of his style. The Lores, a central part of his eleven year development of a long network of texts, Twentieth Century Blues, sees him use syntactical construction in a way that exposes both ambiguity and the sweep of conceivable interpretation. He is an zealot, a guerrilla fighting a war for linguistic freedom on an interactive level This results in what is virtually consistently a staccato voice: perhaps not a style to float everyone’s boat, if not one that leaves him vulnerable to the dangers of unsettled flow and, after a while, audience-ennui. Yet, it allows him to address his political concerns without appearing dated in the same way as much of the eighties northern realism poetry does now. It allows him to present a poetry that is void of the humdrum that marks much that passes for poetry today. It allows him to demand graft on the part of the reader. Wallpaper it ain’t.
slammed shut in existing conditions newsreels
behind Franco’s sandbags feel good they
enter the old clause of nothing -
no white flags no enterprise basements
falangist dolls take the pluming town
negotiate steps with calculated terror shed
his grief peppery stone virgins safe
in neologism logistics the final frontier -
sweat slides so far from blood
and sperm unloaded pistol going off
[from Book 9]
Which (as though contrived but, honest, it wasn’t) brings me to the fact
that, if politics is Sheppard’s principal concern, then sex and its equipment
come a close second (no pun intended). For some, of course, there is little
else in life worth bothering about beyond these two areas of human endeavour.
Yet, his syntactical excursions to and beyond the boundaries prevent such a
pre-occupation from becoming graphically pornographic. Every reference becomes
simply a part of the broader landscape words in a wider exploration of what
it is to live and to feel.