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This book contains by far the largest selection from the project of interconnected texts called Twentieth Century Blues that Robert Sheppard produced between 1989 and 2000. Other parts include Empty Diaries (Stride 1998), which is an alternative history of the twentieth century narrated through a series of female narrators. The Lores (Reality Street, 2003), is a long poem re-negotiating that same history through a poetics of creative linkage, from the ethical imperative that Derrida offers: ‘one must make links with that which makes links with Auschwitz’. Tin Pan Arcadia is a collection of most of the rest of the project, ranging from the ‘Killing Boxes’ sequences dealing with the First Gulf War, to continuations of the ‘Empty Diaries’. The ‘Histories of Sensation’ are a sequence of fragmented narratives that touch on contemporary history; the history of the blues, Victorian photographs and the works of the Earl of Rochester link with one another as parts of overlapping thematic strands. Homages to Frank Sinatra or Miles Davis rub shoulders with those to Lee Harwood or Roy Fisher. The resultant intratext Sheppard once described as a ‘(k)not-network’. While the cumulative effect of this networking makes the book complex, the individual poems may be read separately as studies in the various poetics that are sometimes called ‘linguisticially innovative’. Stylistically, the book demonstrates Sheppard’s journey from tight word-count lyrics and sequences to the lineated prose with which it ends.
‘Robert Sheppard’s “cactus world of barbed tongues,” with its “citizens layered and flayed like old election posters on the blistered walls of post-industrial squares,” is a wonder to behold. Here are the discourses of our moment – political, literary, media, advertising – saturated with echoes of great literature so as to produce a dense weave of language registers that prompt us to truly Joycean “laughtears.” Reading this book is pure pleasure!’ —Marjorie Perloff
‘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