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The English Strain

Sheppard, Robert
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Shearsman Books
Published: February 26, 2021
ISBN: 9781848617469
136 pages
Country of publication: United Kingdom


‘Enraptured by the versioning bug,’ Robert Sheppard confesses of his virtuosic variations of Petrarch’s third sonnet, ‘I was off on one.’ With comic verve, he deftly refunctions some of the finest sonneteers, Petrarch himself, and those of ‘The English Strain’: Wyatt and Surrey, ‘the first reformers’ of English poetry, and John Milton, exemplary political poet. None is safe from Sheppard’s comedic appropriations of their works and days. Wyatt spies for a British foreign office that fluxes between the Henrician court and Tory high command. Surrey is a chinless wonder of aristocratic chivalry, the marvel of the French killing fields (and Norfolk dogging sites). Mordant humour and irony continue in Sheppard’s ‘trans translations’: of Charlotte Smith, the Petrarch of Petworth, witnessing strange happenings on the Downs, and Barrett Browning, Mistress Elizabeth of her Wimpole Street penthouse and the clued-up ‘mistress’ of a clownish politician. The dominant satirical theme, the national strain surrounding that once novel word ‘Brexit’, is almost picked up casually in the sequence ‘It’s Nothing’, where Sheppard delicately and deliberately fails the attempt to speak in his own voice. He’s more at home in his homemade 100-word sonnets, as he nails Brexit in a neat couplet: ‘they’ve got our country back for us/ and now they want it for themselves’. As you read this book, be warned: between poetic worlds, between sonnet and transposition, big laughs and little truths are lying in wait for you.

Tom Jenks wrote of some of the sequences in this book: ‘Sheppard here expands further the boundaries of translation, the transposition of historical events to contemporary circumstances being not just incidental to the translation process, but an act of translation itself.’

Geraldine Monk in The Robert Sheppard Companion informs us: ‘Sheppard’s writing is rough, rude, quirky, serious, learned, and never afraid to be humorous. In short it is as irreverent as it is relevant.’

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