Goggle Festival 2011 Review of Robert Sheppard 'Berlin Bursts'

Robert Sheppard Berlin Bursts (£8.95 Shearsman Books 2011 available from http://www.shearsman.com)

Robert Sheppard is a master of poetics and he returns in Berlin Bursts with tense couplets that focus the reader’s attention to give maximum impact, as in Tentatives:

 

Sliced by splintered screen

Of sinking reflections

 

Sheppard sees the world as it is but there is more in his writing than commentary on the world. It would be a disservice to see this poet just as a commentator on the world. Sheppard manages to create startling images that stay with the reader. This ability to stay with the reader can be seen in such poems as The Twin Poem, Rattling the Bones and the title sequence:

 

Of range of binoculars

Glass coffin temples &

 

Ghettos de Luxe

Film escapades point

 

To posterity the shell of the

East & its visionary balconies

 

Sheppard strips back the poem, and it is this ability to pare back that is reminiscent of Carlos Williams but instead of the machine poem there is a musicality flowing under Sheppard’s writing. There is a musician at play. It is as if he has set upon the riff of the world and manages to weave this musicality to his work. Sheppard isn’t just writing a poem, he is conducting a landscape of language and image trying to make sense of it, strip it back, tell its tale and place it within a poetic form. Sheppard can pull jarring images together and make them melodic. This is seen in Dave Cave: Hologram Poet which charts the rise and ruin of a machine poet:

 

Dave has been programmed with

Everything a poet needs

 

There is a real sense of humour at play in this sequence of poems. It is as if Sheppard is warning us of the disadvantages of technology, that poetry cannot be born of a machine mind, cannot just be logic or political spin:

 

He says I can speak for everyone

I point out he can’t after post

 

Finally, Dave’s technology is outmoded, another fad, and a bitter failure as he ends:

 

In The Fictionary of Notional

Bio-Forms and throw away the key

 

This is Sheppard at his best where he weaves couplets and satire, where he weaves modern fads and fears alongside a mocking voice that never oversteps the mark or lectures.

 

Sheppard shows another side to his poetic voice in the deeply personal Burnt Journal and Song, he deals with family, friends, lovers but he is not over sentimental when dealing with the past:

 

Doris takes the wheel of her big red motor.

Thin cherry lips launch into sound though

her bare arms remain untinted as they signal.

A tram clacks before her, a puppet under wires.

(1929 from Burnt Journal)

 

Neither does he become trapped in too much detail in Song, he leaves enough space for the reader to fill the gap and empathise as they tumble through the enjambment:

 

Everything you offer creaks

at my finger, grips the distance I’m

 

too hard. The body must be tended

tenderly, a quiet coming

 

There is real beauty in this poem, of aging love, of aging lovers that still have the same passion that is often associated with youth. It is a poem that all lovers should read and one day attain. This is Sheppard’s song, deftly crafted, beautifully executed and memorable:

 

Now you sink, I look at a blind eye.

It looks back, tight with song.

 

Sheppard is a master of his world but he does with a jazz musician’s flare.

 

Available from http://www.shearsman.com/shop/shop.php?action=full&id=355

 

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