About James Sheard

James Sheard was born in Cyprus in 1962, and spent his childhood abroad, mainly in Singapore and Germany. As an adult, he spent periods living in Hamburg and Helsinki. He is the author of two full collections of poetry: Scattering Eva (Jonathan Cape, 2005), shortlisted for both the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and the Glenn Dimplex Award for Poetry, and Dammtor (Jonathan Cape, 2010), as well as a pamphlet of poems, Hotel Mastbosch (Mews Press, 2003), which was awarded the Ictus Prize. His forthcoming third collection – The Abandoned Settlements – deals with the literal and metaphorical abandoned places of one’s life. He currently lives in Powys and is Lecturer in Creative Writing at Keele University.

Sean O'Brien has called Sheard “a manifestly European poet working in English”, an assessment supported by Sheard's deep engagement with the recent history of the region, and the many European landscapes evoked throughout his poetry, from the wharves of Hamburg to the port town of Famagusta. Many poems are explicitly preoccupied with geographical, political and personal boundaries, and the intersection of these contexts, as the conclusion of “The Names of Towns” suggests: “We pass towns, cross borders, / occupy one another somehow.” At the points where different people, languages and cultures meet, tension and conflict abound, as well as the possibility of mutual recognition and sympathy. A key poem, “The Translator”, opens with a vivid vision of language as “a wrecking-yard” the poet moves among, its grammar and syntax figured with an industrial materiality: “I stalk and haunt / its strange symmetries, its twisted piles, / its interlocks and parabolas.” From the ruins of such a language, the poet and the translator emerge in an uneasy relation; the poem concludes with this highly ambiguous statement, which could be either an expression of solidarity or a colonialist command:Let your people / be mine.

Such uncertainties are typical of Sheard's elusive, oblique work, which even as it unfolds a narrative seems to double-back on itself, to question the terms in which that narrative is conducted. “Postcard from Famagusta”, a poem about the Cypriot town—parts of which remain cordoned-off following the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974—proceeds partly through the repetition of doubt regarding the accuracy of its own account, wondering in every stanza “if that's the word”, “if that's the term”, “if that's the phrase”, “if that's the point”. Its conclusion offers an example of Sheard's idiosyncratic blend of muscular diction and elusive meaning, creating an atmosphere redolent with menace and intrigue:

The hill-road’s open. The uplands offer

cool relief, if that’s the point

of all this earth-art angled southwards:

Flags and slogans. Threats and taunts.

These careful registrations of uncertainty are reflective of a poet who is scrupulous in his attention to “The Abandoned Settlements”—to employ a title of a recent Sheard poem—of the world and of memory. The care and precision of his reading for the Poetry Archive accentuates the qualities the poems display in abundance on the page.

Dammtor. Jonathan Cape, 2010.

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Scattering Eva. Jonathan Cape, 2005.

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Prizes

Ictus Prize 2003

Forward Prize for Best Collection 2005 (Shortlisted)

Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice 2003

Glenn Dimplex Award for Poetry 2005 (Shortlisted)

Recordings

James Sheard Downloads

1Calls to Prayer

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2Beddgelert

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3The Lost Testimony of R. Catesby

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4The Names of Towns

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5Cargo Cult

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6Saltaire

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7The No-Sayer

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8Dammtor

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9The Translator

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10Was

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11The Strandperle Notebook

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12Postcard from Famagusta

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13Others

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14Beeches

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15Among the Anthologies

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16After the Funeral

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17That Hour

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18The Abandoned Settlements

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19Cardamon

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20Landings

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21Cazzo di Re

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22Quarry Garden

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23Fallen

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24Late

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25Bone Music

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26The Last Poem

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27The Stone in the Head

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Books by James Sheard