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3 poems by Robert Sheppard

Elegaic Sonnets

overdubs from Charlotte Smith

To the River Adur

Along the river-track, the concrete dug-outs

and flinty Saxon churches tell a walker’s pulse,

while light planes glide to bump the field

and circuit the flats again, full-throttle. Ghosts

of poems haunt the refluent Adur. Lee Harwood

pausing on this bank to lift his ear to catch the skylark’s

witter against the engine drone. By dusk, in his notebook,

the long shadow of a beech stops well short of allegory –

as I step into somebody else’s ‘romantic setting’:

mantled rocks fringe a classic stream of unlikely wild waves,

the meadow a blanket of Sorrow rather than misty-wet clover.

A grisly event took place in Lewes. Bearded men dishing out

self-satisfied shoddy. Robert, promise never to organise

a 1960s conference! Must off to plunge in the briney, Lee

Written in the church-yard at Middleton in Sussex

St Nick’s was washed away about thirty years

after my death, half a century after I perched on its flint wall

in the October moonlight, my feet in the swell,

my face salty with spray, tapping on my Psion –

as soon as they append your town’s name with ‘on-sea’

you’re in trouble; sea levels and longshore drift crumble

the clear edges of England, like French marauders up the Adur

imposing EU Directives by the ghost-bridge at Botolphs –

tapping about bodies tipping out of floating coffins

into the brine, gloomy-Halloweeny-style, wreathed

in weeds, and rising on the bleaching tide to admonish me:

Cheer up Charlie-Girl, you’re only dead once!

No. You’ve escaped the names on your tumbling tombs;

I’m dead over and over, washed over, but never wished away.

The sea view

Big Bo-Beep is having his kip, his flock nibbling

the soft turf where my emigrants once panted

towards the French coast squeezed between sea and sky,

now locked in detention centres, milking the NHS.

He dreams of a pastoral past when ‘trannie’ meant a radio

for Father to listen to the Test Match on these cliffs;

and of future free trade with … No-New-Zea-land-Lamb!

bleats a dream-ram, as a colonial cowboy milks himself

and melts away – no sheep-dogging delight tonight!

He’s jolted awake to matching dark patches, in sky, and on sea.

Are they grey EU gunboats firing on our freighters,

our entrepreneurs smuggling flammable cladding,

the dead and the dying dumped in the English Channel

as France dowses England’s chalk redoubt in cheap cheese? No.


Robert Sheppard’s most recent publications are Micro Event Space from Red Ceilings Press and Twitters for a Lark from Shearsman. The Robert Sheppard Companion (edited by James Byrne and Christopher Madden) is out now from Shearsman. He is currently working his way through the sonnets of Michael Drayton. A treatise on metre, Pulse, is forthcoming. Sheppard lives in Liverpool.


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