Complete Twentieth Century Blues is the definitive edition of a long network of interrelated texts that the author wrote and assembled as a time-based project between 1989 and the end of the last century. Many of the texts have appeared before, in both pamphlets and in critically acclaimed full-length volumes, but this edition has been revised throughout. It also includes a previously unpublished book-length text on the paintings of Jack B. Yeats, as well as a number of shorter pieces. All now appear in their intended order, and with their connections to other poems made apparent via an index. At the centre of the book is the sequence The Lores, written according to a strict word count and introducing the politics and poetics of ‘creative linkage’ demonstrated throughout. It focuses upon fascism and resistances to it. Running through the volume are the ‘Empty Diaires’ which offer an alternative history of the twentieth century, told through a series of female narrators. Woven between these are poems on blues music, the first Gulf War, Stalin’s poems, failed utopias, the Earl of Rochester, a sci-fi elegy for the human, a translation from Horace, the ideology of Thatcherism, atheist hymns, a hilarious romp with a very rude Robinson Crusoe, homages to various other artists, and an elegy to Frank Sinatra. The hilarious Wayne Pratt spoofs find their final resting place here too. The prose-poem essay, ‘The End of the Twentieth Century’, brings the project to rest with a celebration of the complexity of our powers of human connection.
‘Twentieth Century Blues offers an entirely new way of thinking through the nightmare intersection of history, ethics and desire. A dizzying array of techniques lays bare its construction – from word-count formalism to female narrators who ‘know’ they are narrated by a man. Production and reproduction are its obsessions: the radio, the microphone, the slogan; its totems. What emerges is nothing short of a re-education of the reader’s desire, constantly turning from the said to the saying. Courageous and unstinting, Sheppard writes with terrifying authority.’ —Scott Thurston
‘Sheppard’s poems bite. A drive and anger, a vivid sexual and erotic violence, a grim Burroughs wit, and at times a marvellously raunchy humour, that is rare and very special.’ —Lee Harwood
‘Reading Twentieth Century Blues in its complete assembly is an experience of a different order from reading the assured sorties of its earlier partial appearances. Sheppard's sustained concern with the technicalities and moralities of language in literary texts is a rigour that here generates freedoms of register, idiom and form. The poem's structure depends in fact on the introspective presence of occasional vortices of its own substance; but it is a cohesive work, outward-looking and rapacious.’ —Roy Fisher