By Robert Sheppard
From Poems of National Independence: liberties with Wordsworth
O Friend! I know not which way I must look
Parts of Bo want to look away (it wasn’t meant
to be like this!) comfort in the great oppression.
Dressing in a mask is just for show,
like Naomi Campbell’s empty airport hazmat chic!
The wealthiest among us are best protected.
The handyman and the cook have been laid off
below the sick pay threshold, to build up ‘herd
immunity’ in the herd, wheezing at sports events,
coughing in open libraries over closed books. Plain
thinking gives way to the Cum’s behavioural data,
predicting our supposed crisis fatigue, acceptable loss.
Bo prays we must ‘take it on the chin’ for the economy,
chants ‘Buller! Buller! Buller!’ as he rinses his trotters,
huffs back to his breathing, breeding, household.
13th March 2020
Great men have been among us; hands that penned
Now Viral Men have been among us, hands
unwashed, tongues speckled with disease,
I yearn for touchy-feely Drayton, Browning, Smith,
vain Surrey, wicked Wyatt, minatory Milton,
and the moral of their sonnets of selfhood,
environment and socius, transposed (by me!),
before this Age of Self-Isolation and social
distance, Bo’s ‘inalienable free-born right to go
to the pub’, reluctantly, frozen. France,
trussed in transnational infection-data exchange,
perpetual empty boulevards in lockdown, is all virus
and no genius. As Bo says: ‘We live in a land
of liberty, but we rule nothing out.’ Nothing
fills his want of the skilled low paid like nothing.
21st March 2020
One might believe that natural miseries
One might well believe that national misery
only blasted Britain, made it a void land
unfit for labour: rural workers dwell on
sofas, ordinary businessmen tap online.
Bright sun and breeze herd them to the weekend parks,
for their sensual pleasures, soothing flesh, no cares.
Myriads must work – against themselves. ‘No more
Brexit frenzy, no more drunken mirth!’ cries Bo.
The Great Libertarian has switched off the
lights!… This sonnet has been interrupted to
deliver the latest lockdown laughter to
your doorstep. Watch this spot while the Cum spumes: ‘Herd
immunity, protect the economy,
and if that means some pensioners die, too bad.’
25th March 2020
From 14 Standards: overdubs of Romantic sonnets
Overdub of To the River Tweed by William Lisle Bowles
Boss Bo’s wandering hand stirs the spirit
of those stuck in the world with a single pose
watching crumbling profit margins disappear
in a mighty wave plug the ear of pity
for Priti’s faith in the arrival of pre-lockdown
trains under Arriva franchise touches us all
blue ribbon Mersey free fringed with mist
my Muse eyes the bank lone impassive
returning theatre diverts his wandering wave
the soothing calm of presidential disinfectant
thrills in Bo’s nightmare throat he spills
his cleanest mots under his trembling mighty
hand as I sing he speaks of passing peaks of
grit and guts his wonted pride thumbs-up emojis
27th April 2020/13th May 2020
All these poems come from the ‘British Standards’ part of my ‘English Strain’ project. While the poems, which work through the English sonnet tradition, were focussed upon the Brexit decision, the Coronavirus pandemic provided a new theme, and can be read creeping in, as the sequences of the work progressed through the Romantic sonnet. That has given a distinct ‘turn’ to the project.