Deflated Ego 8: Philip Terry on Philip Terry

Shakespeare's Sonnets, Philip Terry (151pp, 9.95, Carcanet)

Everything I have to say about this collection has been said already in an afterword I wrote for the book. Here it is:

This book has a number of sources, but one inspiration came while curating an exhibition of art and concrete poetry at Essex University with Marina Warner and Dawn Ades, in 2008. This exhibition, You Silently: Image-Object-Text, began with a forgotten folder of love poems, written in the early 1960s by the Greek poet and editor Nikos Stangos, and grew to include work by poets and artists from Tom Raworth, Ted Berrigan and Augusto de Campos to Ian Hamilton Finlay, Richard Wentworth and Fiona Banner. In particular, I was struck by the art of Graham Parker, whose text based work unearths found poetry in SPAM, by isolating phrases that have been grabbed at random from books chosen to match the messages' cryptic content - titles such as Persuasion by Jane Austen and The Master Key by L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz. What excited me, here, was both the way Parker found meanings in the generally overlooked white noise of the everyday, and the tantalising suggestion that an already existing book might be remade out of texts found elsewhere, and this inspired me to set about transforming a number of Shakespeare's sonnets using the language of found texts, from newspapers and magazines to novels, phrase books and so on. It's an idea, I soon realised, that had much in common with the work of the Oulipo: the transforming technique which they call the 'chimaera' rewrites an already existing text by allowing the language of another work to interfere with the one being transformed. Very soon, I found myself grappling with all 154 sonnets, and as I proceeded I tried to rework the sonnets in as many different ways as possible. Much of the time I was working by instinct, but with the benefit of hindsight - 'emotion recollected in tranquillity' - I can identify the following transforming techniques:

1) The chimaera, where another text is brought into play alongside the Shakespeare.  In a number of cases this was a newspaper, The Times, The Sun, The Mirror, The Star, The Sport
(The Times was used when the sonnet contained the word 'time', The Sun when the sonnet contained the word 'sun', and so on). 
2) N+7, substitution of nouns, as in Sonnet 18 'Shall I compare thee to a Smirnoff ad?'

3) Subtraction, as in the work of Basil Bunting, who was set the exercise of removing unnecessary rhetoric from the sonnets by Pound.
4) Homophonic translation, as in Sonnet 2 where 'When forty winters besiege thy brow' becomes 'When forty splinters besiege thy prow'.
5) Updating.
6) Substitution, as in the sonnets in quotation marks where critical discourse about the sonnets is substituted for the sonnets themselves.
7) Expansion.

8) Permutations of word order.
9) Removal of letters.
10) Exercises in style, as in the variations on Sonnet 88, a patchwork composed of lines from 14 different Shakespearean sonnets, including number 88.  The variations are all after Raymond Queneau: N+7, spoonerisms, alphabetical, N+7 (again), removal of letters, chimaera, permutations of letters.
11) Monovocalism, where only one vowel is employed.
12) Translexical translation, where the sonnet is recast in another discourse.

This list is far from exhaustive, and often several techniques are used on a single sonnet. All the Shakespearean themes are left intact, but refracted and reflected through the contemporary - the credit crunch, popular culture, gossip, philosophy, consumerism, new technologies, DIY, binge drinking, sex education, feminism. Shakespeare's obsession with fading beauty, for example, finds itself reflected in contemporary obsessions with anti-ageing products; his concerns about posterity, reproduction and death find their echo in fictions of artificial life and vampirism; while his worries about infidelity and scandal are echoed in news stories about the rich and famous which infiltrate the sequence. The bulk of the sonnets were composed between January and June 2008, and it is mostly news stories from this time which find their way into the sequence - inevitably, stories have faded, circumstances changed, people have moved on, or even disappeared from the public eye, but I have resisted the temptation to rewrite and update, preferring to remain true to the moment of composition.

Four books I read constantly while writing Shakespeare's Sonnets were: Raymond Queneau's Exercises in Style, Tim Atkins' Horace, Tony Lopez's False Memory and Ted Berrigan's Collected Poems. I'm still reading All of these books.

If you don't have time to read Shakespeare's Sonnets
below is a 'Reader's Digest' version, taking one line from each sonnet.

Clone Kylie

That Ruby's toes might never drop,

Yet who's the ice-cream for?

The outside lavatory?

What fit tart wouldn't spread 'em for

The bounteous gift of The Ramones,

Sit checked with frost their lust quite spent.

Often the swamp took

From highmost parch,

Ask any microbiologist.

A horse, a horse, my estate for a horse!

                                            my love


'available' 'for the' 'individual' 'bluetit'.


When I consider

Living on Stilton,

Icy winds do freeze the Russian Steppes,

Falling asleep reading Derrida.

Put a sock in it, Will,

Cramp thee,

I love this pinkish tinge,

Do you think love goes on forever?

Wireless speakers     allow you to listen

'in a stilled' 'beginning' 'as separable entities'

To my sightless view

That the crazy valet smashed away,

With his single...

Sure.  Anything to shut you up old man.


The sun goes to the heart of your chart

And spiralling debt: Saudi Arabia

Is now a university teacher

                  blow jobs

I admire the way you move

As I am a cowboy and you imaginary

In a crack of fiendish glee.

'What hadst thou then' 'reading the sonnet' 'a little'

In a jumpsuit.

My seat forbear,

Then I will take my leave.  I'm shagged out.


Receiving naught by elements so slow



Are we at a mortal war

Each trilby under the truest baritone to thrust,

When thy liver, called to audit,

Spends its days on eBay.

The beast that bears me, tired with my whinging, and tired with my pricking and goading of

            his flanks,

                              can seem

Bounty on the hardshoulder,

'willy-nilly' 'his portrait'  'on Helen's cheek',

Beneath the visor


Even in the eye rhymes of all postscripts

            (roughly translated)

In the dormitories, hundreds of dead starfish

Hath been before, how are our brains beguiled.


Like as the wives make towards the pectoral shim

Through the undergrowth,

It is not so great,

Stepping out of a trendy restaurant.

The troublesome hormonal spots,

Firm soil,

                gates of steel

                  underage drinkers

To blush through lively veins

Making no soap.

Goodbye, Will.

The paper is at an end.


O Lester, the world should tax you Tories

Without all bail to carry me away,

M   e  a   n       s  l       o  t

As 'twixt moose and popinjay.

It's not about being beautiful,

Making hazardous applications,

Yet robs

                          my love

'but this' 'noisy reading' 'in print'

Trapped on the London Eye.

Impair, returning from the movies,

Making his style      admired everywhere.

'The Spear-Danes in days gone by...'


Is there anything back on the bottle?

You don't half fancy yourself.

Say that you didst forsake me for some fault,


My gills shall not persuade me I am a fish,

Hen hout, posed might.

The mulatress approached in the hall,

Shut nac my vole cuseex eht wosl effonce,

As we, lifting our crucifixes,

Same day as you saw your brother

Metamorphosed into

                     the counterinsurgents' hands.


In Dunoon,

Begrimed with lofty dust,

'the young' 'wolf' 'appearing' 'an addition'

Our main concern is the welfare of swans;

And yet this time out was summer

                   in odour

And budgets of marmalade, had stol'n thy hake

That feeds on cartilage and Pavarotti

And thus be praised.

My love for you is no less, my lord, if I do not write.

O blame me not if I no more can write,

For they look'd but with mortician's eyes

When she blocked her husband's path,

Where vintage cars and outbound burglars would show it dead.


Never speak with a falsetto voice, or sing sea shanties,

I have, here and there -

Alas, 'tis true, I have gone...hic! and there,

The hamster is happy in my carburettor.

My eye rolls around in the dark,

Sparking fears for children at risk;

It is the stenographer to every wand'ring basilisk,

Lord Strange's men,

'the hypothetical' 'it shuttles to and fro'.

What a bitch it is when true sorrow hits,


Love, otherness and colonisation,

This I do vow, and this shall ever be:

                           a beautiful bathroom.


Taught bore

(O thou my Luddite bracket who in thy power drill)

But I've read Black Beauty and know

I'm isolated from the rest of the world;

Far away hands halt

To toss the caber in inward of thy hand,

As a swallowed bait behind a dream

Or a traffic warden

Snapped in a corset and stockings, with a whip,

The dentist's drill hath a far more pleasing sound.

Thy Jolly Roger is fairest doubloon.

Mondays he comes home with his bag full of girls' knickers;

'Friendly, motherly,' thereby allowing the wording to conform.


So                                   The firestorm

Tie me to the bed,

Hans and Wilma went off to the buffet,

Oh, mockery!  Then thy soul is blind!

Addicted to Barbarella at 22,

Is your wife changed at all - physically?

Ah, my love well knows,

Resolved in tingling,

Sin awards me pain

Whom thine eyes woo,

Now there is a darkness taking her over:

Heave      tell        own,

And my sinful earth dead, there's no more dying then.


'Booth's' 'contrary pulls' 'perhaps' 'alone'

Fighting these kung fu Jedis in capes,

Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,

My Booky Wook, into a movie.

Chilly after a false eye,

On whom frown'st thou the which I do fawn upon, pray?

'the lovers' dyad' 'the extra people'

A mammoth,

But most believe it is politically important,

Rhizomed at thy name,

And to enlighten thee gave eye-liner to blondinette,

And thither hied, a sad guest,

Come there for booze; and this by that I prove:

Lingerie perpetual inflates breeches, Hendrix tickles desire.

    Philip Terry 2010