Stride Magazine -


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)
It 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.

         prejudice among common
         benches lives hot
         in your decision
         now trigger words
         stretch three hooks
         across her back
         popper frisson plays
         passions we lose
         pours subjectivity into
         bodies smouldering connections
         seduced not open
         to discussion a
         strap revealed to
         pin him up

         dewy-eyed sentimentalists
         want a cut
         of the ranting
         shifts the rôles
         want strict negotiations
         to invite the
         other man onto
         seat of Authority
         blocked phallic conduit
         caught entering cuts
         wither meanings tell
         us we’re persons
         singular masks to
         petition honey flesh

                  [from Book 7: Lores and Bye-Lores

Upton, on the other hand, approaches his syntax from a different angle ­ that of a sculptor, though not one of static monoliths, but of kinetic entanglements that course erratically through a minimalism, an economy of triggers that set off chains of thought far beyond the confines of the page. Or, to quote Allen Fisher from the cover notes, ‘Wire Sculptures
proposes a broken raft of narratives as the productions ­ the poems ­ carry the reader from northern Surrey (in London) deeper into the dynamegopolis, into his sensual thought and out…’

Got it yet? If not, there are Alison Croggan’s notes, in which she sees the poems, ‘…bring to their linguistic balancings and imbalancings darker human concerns ­ degraded urban landscapes, politicised critiques, mundane violence, perplexities of perception ­ illuminated by weightless metallic intelligences: contemporary angels.’

But if all this sounds like pseudo-intellectualised bollocks, that’s probably down to the fact that these aren’t the kind of poems that are best described by reviewers, including myself, searching insecurely for something, anything to write about them in a self-serving, self-justifying sort of way. They’re poems that, by their very nature, defy description and, frankly, are better read, quietly or aloud, and simply absorbed into that part of the brain where these things are genuinely understood amongst synapses working on a subconscious, undefining, unpreconceived, indeterminate level; a level at which the bollocks of reviewers’ circumlocutions are utterly unnecessary. So, here’s a taster ­ nothing more, nothing less…

         twisted rusty trim
         songs that bang together
         outlines of shadows twisting together like fuck
         like chains

         noise in the still
         fly in the yoghurt
         crowds of strontium
         bar b q barricades
         an echoing escalator from the bar to the rolling newsprint

         a fat man with a plastic bag and a loaded gun in his pocket

         every item is available from our menu

                  [from Wire sculpture #24]

                  © John Mingay 2003