The English Strain (Shearsman Books) by Robert Sheppard & Bad Idea (KFS Press) by Robert Sheppard

Tears in the Fence

This, I’d say, is uniquely charged, recondite poetry that both hovers over and sharply reenvisages the English sonnet in a nearly scholarly way, but is also remarkably engaging, bawdy, risqué and contemporary. The two books are complementary and contribute to a trilogy, full titleEnglish Strain,of which the pendingBritish Standardsmarks the third part.

The effort is marked by interwoven threads, as it were. The roots of the project pertain to the rewriting, dubbing or transposing of sonnets, setting up with Petrarch’s third, reproduced here, but thence moving on to other notables of the English form: Wyatt, Surrey, Milton, Charlotte Smith and Elizabeth Barrett Browning for the Shearsman volume, and Michael Drayton, rather underrated, forBad Idea.

The whole is a highly unusual combination of ribaldry and finesse. It’s also pretty much all in the sonnet form of the Petrarchan variety, which for all its stateliness risks…

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