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My Own Crisis

(after Mark Fisher)

Robert Sheppard

One does not turn aside from angels in order to count dustbins.

                                                                                  - Robert Aickman


Capital has an answer (or it wouldn’t be so pervasive). I need more than satire. You could explore unfinish. Try phoning your GP (if you have one). Now councils collapse as their buildings collapse, as a terror prisoner escapes from an under-staffed (and also crumbling) ‘prison estate’. Multiple permacrises. The rot is literal, in the fabric of our material, and yet a dream of advancement or possession or ‘experience’ is still nurtured like desire itself. Not enough houses built to make homes. Not enough work to constitute employment, let alone a career. Asleep, we work. Awake, we work. At work, we work. Now, in the exhaustion of decline, there are still myths of solid supremacy for the nation-state and fluid uncertainties (‘opportunities’ and dynamic instabilities) for its citizen-workers to be scrupulously maintained. At home, we work, ‘working the work’. (Sheppard 1988: np) The obligation to speak, the trust in speech, or commitment to a counter-language, not a language of counters. A writer (an artist) must both derive and dérive – and both must be unruly. Where we’ve come from (and what we can take with us) almost rhymes with not knowing where we’re going, exactly. Only that we are going: formed and forming in a world of forms. The executive paywall keeps you well outside. Investigative journalism (or poetry) is reduced to asking the wrong questions in the wrong language. ‘The tyranny of fixed systems of meaning that reproduce a fixed world,’ as Veronica Forrest-Thomson says. (Philipps 2023: 134) While taking a selfie of one’s ‘self’, outside the selective ‘automatic’ doors of some Board or Institute or Corporation. Exclusive and elusive legal entities. Management isn’t just the reserve of remote supremacists in the Panopticon of Capital. It’s everywhere. In us, even. The Right has learned the virtues of victimhood and apparent oppression. A ‘protest’ today is as likely to be for some minor adjustments of surface features, civil disobedience to anti-pollution measures perhaps, or – more generally – freedom of speech (which seems to entail rewilding rationality with nonsense), rather than fundamental change. The queue of students with their offerings of broken lives, glass in their bleeding hands. Compare that to the (un)real world of bitcoin negotiations behind plate glass windows. A generation of ‘digital natives’, navigating with ease, or a neurotic hoard, gawping at click-bait, missing out, fearful (only) of missing out? Deeply embedded in the communicative matrix of the internet or passing beyond language into some unstructured kaleidoscopic chaos? Difficulty is not boring, but distraction makes it so. Addiction without memory. Addicted to control so powerful, we’re consumed by it, as we consume reality. The only ‘agency’ is a quango inside each of us. But if we are aware of this, what can we do about it? What can poetry do around and about it? ‘It is only in our resistance to the violence of the present,’ writes David Lloyd, ‘that the afterlives of futures imagined in the past, futures violently denied, can find a way to speak to us of other possible modes of living in common, of living abundantly.’ (Lloyd 2022: 86) For poets, poetry, and poetics, Lloyd tells us, ‘The question that has to be confronted, as a question that is fundamentally and not casually addressed to poetry, is that of how to find forms adequate to the conditions of unfreedom that the neoliberal transformation of society in all its domains has produced.’ (Lloyd 2022: 125) The young are not (now) politically disengaged, but their muted rage is expressed as love for the planet, hatred of governments that – so they see – do nothing. The Human Resources Department at the Countess of Chester Hospital forced consultants to apologise to a mass murderer for the ‘stress’ they ‘caused’ her. There’s one cause, many crises. We now have a ‘mental health crisis’ to rival the climate crisis, and they are real enough, and the connections between them are causal or co-extensive. A brexiteer announces that changes in weather will benefit post-brexit Britain. But this is post-brexit Britain, and the vineyards and fig trees are yet to blossom. All such talk is made plausible, even reasonable, by the chorus of twittering that the ‘weather-people’ are ramping up another wildfire catastrophe with their crisis-actor climate scientists. ‘Timetable alterations’ is a neat privatized railway euphemism for cancellations, not caused by the resilient strikes intermittently affecting service, but the day-to-day last-minute minimum-cost management of the fragile franchises. Ditto the companies that waste clean water, bubbling up under the tarmac, and which pump pure excrement into our rivers and seas. The real, yes, but a dispersible reality. Think the stink: like the atmosphere in the working class streets around the tannery, opposite the brewery, or beside the meat-rending plant. Poisoned air. Inescapable. Remember: they’re nothing to do with us, and yet nothing without us. The Shop Museum has a museum shop and our protest against the first turned into a shopping spree at the second by the end of the day. We could buy small models of the museum itself, which rather charmed us, and dampened our enthusiasm for direct action. We knew that by next week we would be able to buy miniature banners carrying our slogans. We wanted a full set by which to remember our protest. Tolerant self-repression, tolerant of what once we might have called complicity. We understand it, so it is understandable. Permacrisis is performed for us at every glimmer of the spectacle. But so is its opposite, which could have no name. The promotion of abject political fandom. ‘We could exchange statistics all day,’ says the government minister, meaning: I have my reality, but you don’t have yours. Corruption, perversion of legal and constitutional systems, alternative realities, trumped-up culture wars, simple lies, all bleached clean, cleared of questions, like a British beach after the sewage clean-up (or a corporate video trumpeting a promised ‘clean-up’ to come using recycled footage). But the real is also all that is the case and that is the environment. As David Whyte writes: ‘The corporation eradicates the possibility that we can put the protection of the planet before profit.’ That’s the real. Then get real: ‘It is hardly radical to suggest that if something is killing us, we should over-power it and make it stop ... We need to kill the corporation before it kills us.’ (Whyte 2020: 175) Imagine a place where what’s going on is not merely an absorption of previous struggles into the mainstream, but where the history of those desires becomes both visible and invisible as some present flat-screen reality. So that independence is a style-choice, and ‘linguistically innovative poetry’ is simply a choice in a diverse and multiple literary field – or market. But this isn’t the place we’re in now. The postmodern model doesn’t work. Multiply coherent, multiformly unfinished, we’re like a poem that forms as we form it, in our eventful reading. Which doesn’t mean that we aren’t still the ‘colony at the heart of the Empire’, to read myself. (Sheppard 2008: 166) Feed that into AI and it becomes a fact. A mirror image of actual existing history might not be the future, but postmodernism is never going to survive the serial staging of its ‘posts’. It’s not Artificial Intelligence we have to worry about, it’s artificial sentience, with its attendant languid ironies. The last person with nothing new at the end of time is irony personified. She missed the moment when everything perfected itself. But there is belief in belief, and we believe too much, yet know too little. Who says there is nothing new under the sun? Here, on the sunlit uplands of brexit, and of all the diverting promises, what seems new is the same old same old. 


August-September 2023






Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is There no Alternative? Winchester and Washington: Zero Books, 2014.

Lloyd, David. Counterpoetics of Modernity: On Irish Poetry and Modernism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2022.

Philipps, Ben. ‘Nouns and Nerves: Veronica Forrest-Thomson’s Poetry of the Periphery,’ Tears in the Fence 77, Spring 2023: 130-35.

Sheppard, Robert. ‘Working the Work’, First Offense 3, 1988: np.

Sheppard, Robert. Complete Twentieth Century Blues. Cambridge: Salt Publishing, 2008.

Whyte, David. Ecocide: Kill the Corporation Before it Kills Us. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020.


Image: Untitled by Patricia Farrell


Robert Sheppard’s most recent book is Doubly Stolen Fire (Aquifer 2023), an exploration of authorship fictional and real. His transpositions of traditional sonnets (the ‘satire’ referred to in the second sentence of this piece) are published so far as The English Strain (Shearsman 2021) and Bad Idea (KFS 2021). A book length guide to his work, The Robert Sheppard Companion (2018), is published by Shearsman, as is his selected poems, History or Sleep (2015). His essays and take on the discourse of poetics are widely published, and he is Emeritus Professor of Poetry and Poetics at Edge Hill University. He blogs at




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