David Green

David Green (Books) is the imprint under which I publish booklets of my own poems, or did. There might not be any more to come. We will have to see what happens but, having written The Perfect Book, there might not be anything else to do. Apart from that, the website has become what it is. I hope you find at least some of it worthwhile.

Monday, 17 February 2020

Oh, Babe, What Would You Say

There were a couple of interesting reviews in The Times on Saturday. Seeing a new book on Kraftwerk given a page to itself I landed the odds that my old teenage heroes, Faust, would get a mention and, there it is, in paragraph six. What I didn't anticipate was how much it would make me laugh,
Into this vacuum [of German pop culture] came Krautrock, a colourful musical explosion of experimental music by Can, Faust and Amon Duul, which made Pink Floyd sound like George Formby.
And, ahead of the new Graham Swift novel, Johanna Thomas-Carr is not impressed. Having made further inroads into the Complete Swift recently, Here We Are seemed very promising, on the subject of Brighton end-of-the-pier performers (just like Sickert's Brighton Pierrots) and the possibility it might not feature a corpse but Johanna's not having it so we will see.
These days perhaps I prefer to have a clear run at a book but I will be on the lookout to see if she's got a point because if a writer keeps pulling ofF the same trick one does start to detect how they do it. I'll be letting you know. Not only is prose fiction a very hard thing to do, it is a hard thing to have undisputed favourites in.
Whereas music is the opposite with Johnnie Walker playing Get It On and Let's Stay Together on Sunday. T. Rex and Al Green are among the select few protected by haloes of wonderment, bathed in a glow of 70's light that never dims.
And Ates Orga's book on Beethoven that has been in my possession for decades without me reading it until now, makes a compelling case, alongside the brilliant Kovacevich Hammerklavier I picked up for less than the price of a sandwich last week, with a wonderful Les Adiuex into the bargain. With Chichester next week offering more, I'm having quite a 250th anniversary centenary and why not. At the time I was into Faust, I was very into Beethoven, too. But no matter what he does, or what further glories I find, I can't see him getting past Bach, Mozart and Handel into my Top 3. He does, however, make a case- which isn't mine to make- that there is a Top 4 that no other composer comes anywhere near.

And finally, a word for a film. A film, indeed. I've watched a film. Love is the Devil with Derek Jacobi the very similitude of Francis Bacon. I recorded it off the telly and then found that I had, gladly. What a relief they closed the Colony Club before I found it. I wouldn't have lasted long in there.     

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Quiet Triptych

I am pleased to have put these three pictures together. They are above my usual supine reading position so I gaze up at them from below, the Vermeer furthest away and so getting the least attention.
It's the wordlessness that is most attractive about them, and the rest of their quietness, that makes them such a good alternative to the endless bloody books and records.
Although two of them have figures in them they are not demanding of our attention but absorbed with something else. They have in common geomtrical compositions of rectangles and slanted lines. While the Hammershoi in the centre is resplendent in the frame that suits it so well, it is the richest in its detail, which isn't bad when you're up against Vermeer. Gwen John's is one of a number of the artist's room in Paris, others of which have the window open, letting in a little bit of the outside world as the Hammershoi does and so we move, from left to right, from outside looking in, through inside with a glimpse outside, to a pale, closed interior.
It isn't a triptych, of course. Or wasn't until I made them so.
I should have more to worry about than the shadows made by the table and piano legs going in different directions from apparently the same light source.

The books recently have been Graham Swift back catalogue before the new one arrives. The Light of Day was the usual masterclass and Learning to Swim some early short stories. The title story of the latter was some kind of light relief, being only about marital dysfunction and without a corpse or bereavement. Swift's default setting is to have one or the other as a thematic element that presumably either puts the lives of the living into more precarious relief or points up how in the midst of life we are in death. With Ever After looking equally morbid still to come, as well as the essays in Making an Elephant, we will hope that all the characters in Here We Are make it to the end.
In the meantime, I took my old Beethoven book off the shelf because I can't remember reading it and it is an anniversary this year.

None of which is to suggest that Graham Swift is anything less than a brilliant writer. But they all have their recurring motifs as well as their facility. Julian Barnes, for obvious reasons perhaps, meditates on lost love at greater length sometimes than his stories might require. It's hard to appreciate how good they are at it until you realize how hard it is to do.
Swift is not the first fiction writer to make me think I'd like to have a go. It was William Trevor some thirty-five years ago; it was Yukio Mishima maybe twenty-five years ago, which was where Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto had led me. What one doesn't realize is that they've made it look easy and, actually, you might be better off trying to imitate Dickens or even just Harold Robbins.
The first 1500 words of Flowers for Aunt Daisy had lost all discipline by the time I abandoned the evening's work last week and so I'm left with the choice of feeling defeated or returning to the scene of the mess.
I knew I couldn't do it but I still had to try. It's like wanting to be able to play a musical instrument but having neither the requisite talent or application to do it properly. Poetry surely is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

How could Hammershoi apply paint to canvas delicately enough to capture the effects of the light like that.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

90th Anniversary Edition

I thought I'd better have a go and reverse recent poor form on the occasion of the 90th anniversary. I'm not going to pretend I didn't need Andy's Word Finder.

Thursday, 30 January 2020

David Harsent - Loss

David Harsent, Loss (Faber)

If some poets' work looks a lot like their other work, then so can some reviewers'. I flatter myself that a rehash of things I've said here before constitute a review. Halfway through Loss I wondered whether I could assay the same sort of bad pastiche that I've taken to doing when Paul Muldoon publishes new poems but whereas Muldoon seems unreviewable to me and imitation is some kind of flattery, perhaps I can at least say something about David Harsent before one day accepting that, like music, one can no more review proper poetry than direct people towards it.
I steadfastly remain immune, even antagonistic, towards the idea of the 'poem sequence'. I don't know exactly why. It's perfectly harmless. Actually I do know why but I can't say. If the blurb here, and David, both say that Loss is a sequence then that's what it is but - stop me if you've heard it all before - such things are generally, if not always, either a long poem in sections or a collection of related poems, that is, The Waste Land or the Stratford man's Sonnets.
As my first piece of evidence, I cite the form of Loss, which is XX poems in the same elaborate but consistent form, viz,
14 lines that look like a prose poem but probably aren't;
a longer, often torrential, couple of pages of short-lined free verse - they vary in length but not by much;
four lines, rhymed abab;
and fractured lines in italics, with the protagonist, the sufferer, looking out of a window through the night.

There is so much unity to these 80 pages that it is as 'tight' a poem as something like The Sunlight on the Garden while still allowing David Harsent's facility to extend further and further into his dark theme. It's no wonder that the cover quotes John Burnside, who is the only one at least as good at doing such a thing. But, indeed, they could stand alone, as they have in magazines, because one is like the other except that one feels that the loss of the 'other', towards the end, transmutes into an awareness of the poet/persona/speaker's own mortality.
It appeared, for all the world, that David had lost his partner and that this was an account of his grief, not unlike those by Douglas Dunn, Christopher Reid or Julian Barnes, but more harrowing and nightmarish. But an internet check suggests that Julia Watson, who appeared in Casualty, is alive and hopefully well. I didn't really want to do that and now better appreciate the olde-worlde dogma we were taught at university 1978-81 that the text is all there is and biographical detail are not relevant.
So this is either some other loss or a work of the imagination and we shouldn't underestimate the powers of the imagination. What we might do is evaluate whether we prefer sincerity, or 'truth', over invention in literature. And the answer might be 'neither' because all you have to do is be any good.
Such concentration on the loss of someone else makes Larkin's fear for his own mortality seem very selfish but the difference is reduced as soon as the pity reverts to the one left behind rather than the one gone.

I didn't read David's Salt because it was reportedly made up of short poems. Yet another of my prejudices is against short poems, that include the briefer of Don Paterson's aphorisms and haiku in English. I could begin to feel like poetry's answer to Tommy Robinson, furious about harmless things, were it not for the rationale that in English one needs more than 17 syllables to get from one place to another. It rarely works.
So, while Fire Songs was a fine thing, I'm left alarmed that Night was 2011. Who knows where the time goes. Night ended with pages and pages, battering and battering us with its gin-drenched Elsewhere, and, apart from the fact it is now whisky and wine, Loss is from the same bloodline, blood being one of its leitmotifs, as well as Christianity, sleeplessness, fear, an abyss that is more terrifying for being white rather than black. There's bad going on out there as well as in here and don't we all know it.
One can admire it immensely but I won't ever be sure I 'like it'. I don't think one is supposed to 'like it' and it's not the sort of poem that would care if you did or not.    

Monday, 27 January 2020

Tis too late to be wise

Kitgut Quartet, Tis too late to be wise (Harmonia Mundi)

Of the several reasons for buying a record, having heard some of it on the wireless is one of the best. To see what it's like is one of the worst. That is a gamble with the odds stacked against you.
I heard one piece from this in the radio, and Record Review gave the impression it was by way of exploring the origins of the string quartet, you can never go wrong with Haydn but also I liked the title.
You won't really come away from it with a greater idea of the origins of the string quartet, it's an album with the finished article, a fine example of Haydn, at its centre, with four-part string pieces from 100 years earlier around it..
Purcell and Locke are more complex and shifting in these performances than one might expect. A comparison of the Curtain Tune on a ground from Purcell's Timon of Athens can be instructively set against the 1994 recording by Collegium Musicum/Richard Hickox to reveal the Kitgut Quartet as vibrant, spirited and energetic in comparison with the ceremonial feel of the closing passage of the complete masque.
It's as if C21st interpretations of C17th have been released by something more elemental in C20th music, not that we have any evidence how Purcell expected his music to sound. But the Kitguts use catgut strings, richer and more resonant than more recent innovations and in the Haydn Op. 71, no.2 we have the benefit of both worlds in a measured, ever inventive, nuanced performance that finds plenty and gains further from tremendous clarity in the playing and recording. That remains the highlight, nimble if not quicksilver in the faster tempi and gorgeous in its slower paces. It is the obvious highlight even after a number of hearings when further listening allows Purcell, Locke and John Blow's subdued finale to catch up a bit.
If at first I thought I'd just got an excellent Haydn quartet and would have preferred another, it is an album that works on its own terms and if it isn't quite the last word in wherer the string quartet came from like an equation that explains Purcell Fantasia + Matthew Locke Consort of Four Parts = Haydn Quartet, it is English music played with French panache.
String quartets as such don't take up as much of my time as they might, which is not to say that chamber music as a genre is under-represented, especially after the recent Beethoven and Brahms Trio Festival I've been having. But one day I might have them all to pick from, Shostakovich being already here and investigations revealing that in such editions as Brilliant Classics, one could use less than £500 of one's retirement lump sum on the Complete Bach, Handel, Mozart and Beethoven. And since money is for buying the things you want, why wouldn't I. There would be no excuse for having nothing to do, one would just have to live long enough to play them all.

Coming Up for Air

Having picked up Northanger Abbey after a chance hearing of a small part of it on the radio, given Jane yet another opportunity and still not been quite convinced, I read George Orwell's Coming Up for Air over the weekend.
I impress myself that I can find such things upstairs but, having thought I'd read it over 40 years ago, when George Orwell seemed to be every sixth former's novelist hero, I'm not sure I had. I'm still very much Gordon Comstock from Keep the Aspidistra Flying, or not even that, but I was worried that the common sense, the intelligence we prided ourselves on circa 1977 and the politics would no longer convince after so long, as Orwell is re-assessed by Richard Bradford to see if he stands up to the Trump-Putin-China-silly oik Boris generation of world leaders.
He almost certainly does because, as the point has been made, China is now possibly more like 1984 than Soviet Russia was while God only knows how Western leaders now gormlessly preen about as if they were the point whereas once they only had to worry about the very obvious dangers of girls like the lovely Christine Keeler.
Coming Up for Air is a tremendous read, at fault only for the indulgent space allotted to the joys of teenage boys going fishing. Angling is the only sport that could be put up against car racing and golf as possibly even duller but it isn't really a sport and it might be Orwell's point about teenage boys in those days that they thought it was fascinating.
George Bowling is ordinary but doing well enough in the lower middle class position he's trapped in. His friend, Porteous, knows books and Latin and otherwise but George has a wife he doesn't like much, who doesn't trust him and you can't blame her and, in an England just pre-WW2, he is nostalgic for the world just pre-WW1. In among a few telling leitmotifs, 'stream-lined' is a recurrent adjective that means modern and bad.
He is a precursor of Larkin's Mr. Bleaney, of what Betjeman already was then but became more so, and a couple of generations before what Sean O'Brien echoes now. But George knows that you can't go back. WW2 is going to make sure of that, like WW1 had done, even if one couldn't have done anyway.
Of course he wasn't St. George Orwell any more than Albert Camus is a candidate for beatification but they got closer than most and the way he's carried forward all the way since we first read him at school is impressive.
He made the weekend as good, and glorious, as it was. Regular readers might have noticed that Racetrack Wiseguy disappeared from these pages as anonymously as Jacob Rees-Mogg was airbrushed out of the General Election campaign.
I struggle to tip the winner of a walkover at present but it has always been the great advantage of a diverse range of interests that when one is doing badly, others will compensate.
Having failed at the Saturday Times crossword for two weeks, the chess rating is on the up again but such things are like football clubs, and share prices. They go up and down and, really, it is of no interest if your team are pushing for automatic promotion to the Premiership but get completely done over in the Cup because only an idiot could possibly care.

There's a new book of poems by David Harsent on its way which means it could be a good year for the Old Guard in poetry, with O'Brien due in May. Poets worth having who are clever enough not to be only clever. And, putting the Orwell compendium back upstairs, I lingered over a re-read of The Goldfinch, very unsure that I could finish it before a Graham Swift re-issue arrived ahead of his new title due before you'd know it.

And the complete and utter bliss of getting the Hammershoi on the wall probably outpointed everything else.
It had started well, having found a non-descript print in a charity shop for £2 that was unlucky enough to be in a frame that seemed to be the right size. The episode that followed, which was me putting my beloved print into the frame, was an imaginative re-make of Eric Sykes and Tommy Cooper in The Plank.
One should, of course, do things properly, in a planned way and get it right but I'm not one for that and think I know better. I got the ill-fated, sub-Cezanne watercolour out easily enough but didn't see why I should remove all the nails holding the back of the frame in. First of all I cracked the glass but, having put the glass on the floor, proceeded to stand on it. Hilarious enough until you notice your fingers bleeding and realize you don't want to get blood on the precious Hammershoi after it's come all the way from China, ruining my claim to a minimal carbon footprint in one aesthetic purchase.
So, from then on, I took it seriously and now there it is, the hooks on the back re-aligned and a thing of beauty.   
My own simplistic pop art, Lips & Bananas, can go in the corner where Gwen John's been biding her time for years and she can come out and be alongside Hammershoi, with the Vermeer on the other side, to make a triptych of geometric quietude to satisfy anybody who wants to put down their book for a moment and gaze at them while Andras Schiff takes you through Bach's Partitas.
Tis too late to be wise, that's all there is.
Perhaps art is all there is and might not be enough. 
It's going to need to be.  

Sunday, 19 January 2020

The Way Out of Berkeley Square

Rosemary Tonks, The Way Out of Berkeley Square (Gambit, 1971, first published in Great Britain by Bodley Head, 1970)

Sometimes you really want to like something but it doesn't come up to expectations. One's investment in it is not only financial and time but also emotional. I was playing for high stakes with The Way Out of Berkeley Square. And won. If The Halt During the Chase was good and Businessmen as Lovers had much to like about it but will need another chance to entirely convince, this one is tremendous.

Arabella is 30 and 'stuck' in her life as housekeeper to her wealthy father, with her married suitor and beloved brother who is out in Pakistan, a poet and idealist looking for higher things in his life. It wasn't until some way into the novel that I began to wonder whose fault it is that she enslaves herself to three men and that is surely one question we might ask but not necessarily the main point.

I don't know if I've read a more fiercely intelligent writer than Rosemary Tonks - George Eliot in her time, maybe- and it's more apparent in her novels than it is in her poems. The poems exude louche disillusion. It's an exercise in itself to find the right words to define it precisely. I've tried 'morbid' and 'jaundice' in the poem below but, of course, the answer is the poems themselves, not a description or synopsis. In the novels there is more space to develop her piercing psychological insights and well-read reference points.
One report from someone who knew her mentions her fluency in other languages and how she might transpose into Italian in conversation. It suggests that apposite citings of Boris Godunov, Krapp's Last Tape, Tiepolo, Mandelstam and Heine are not showy name-dropping but things that came readily to a sophisticated mind.
More impressive than that, though, are the way she, as Arabella, unmasks the motivations of her characters. Her assignations with her 'Wolf', the 'happily married', predatory dinner date who is significantly older but physically, if not emotionally, attractive to her, show him to be transparent to her but that doesn't help when she wants him and doesn't want him in equal measure.
She admires her father in a parallel way while being repelled by his controlling nature and her brother, Michael, away in Karachi, is accorded something like saint status while ostensibly indulging himself and has successfully extricated himself from the family home.
Rosemary had pre-empted the vogue for the 'unreliable narrator' by a few years although it had surely existed before it became quite so much the fashion.

The guilt involved in invading the privacy of a writer who determinedly repudiated all her work, and worldly goods, by reading her work quite so avidly is more tangible with Rosemary than even reading the likes of Larkin's letters. In publishing the Letters to Monica, Anthony Thwaite suggested that Larkin knew he was 'writing for posterity' with others than Monica Jones reading over her shoulder. Whether James Booth was in a position to make the same point with the Letters Home is open to more doubt. At least the Rosemary Tonks poems and novels were in print once and Neil Astley's point is that there was no objection in her will and agreement with her estate was eventually achieved.
Exactly how much we can stretch this to infer anything from the work about the life could be difficult but Michael contracts polio in Karachi in the novel, which is the dramatic climax, which is what had happened to Rosemary. To extend that into reading a certain amount of Michael's venture to the East, his poetry writing and interest in high-minded, and international, writing, into something like a version of Rosemary herself is easy to do. In the first pages, he is described as someone who,
You can't force them to be happy if their way of being happy is to be half unhappy.

And that seems to me as good a way into understanding Rosemary and her repudiation of her previous life and work, which she took to fundamentalist lengths, as well as good reason to sympathize with and love her even if she wouldn't have wanted that either. It's possible that plenty of us know what she meant about bourgeois values, the superficiality of the worldliness she understood so well, including that of the literary world she was a bit of a star in but most of us decide to live with it as best we can rather than cut ourselves off so comprehensively.
She had shown she could do it if she wanted but decided she didn't want to.

I usually cover one envelope in notes and page references reading a book like this but The Way Out of Berkeley Square has filled two.

It gets to the point when one can't be bothered to be intelligent, even to oneself.

he indicates that I'm a bestial peasant, at the mercy of the flowing of my blood.

There is the almost subliminal inter-textual mention from another novel of having babies that needs some sort of forensic detection; the description of skating across a cracking frozen lake and glancing into the abyss below; the 'abysmal' jet flight; a brief mention of pop music, which was far better then that it is now, and specifically the highly evocative world of Peter Sarstedt. And that is only the highlights of the first side of the first envelope.
She is the very greatest at accessing the very dread beneath everything but she isn't Franz Kafka, she is witty, sexy and quite clearly capable of being a party animal, not bleak.

If this was the greatest novel in the English language, it would surely be in print and nowhere near as hard to hear about, never mind find, so I will not get carried away on a wave of hero worship. But what is the best novel. Dubliners isn't a novel so it's not that. Middlemarch, some of Hardy's deterministic pessimism, Camus, Gide, Balzac. Some say Tolstoy. More recently, Graham Swift's Mothering Sunday. Julian Barnes. Virginia Woolf. I don't know. It's a list I haven't done. But I do know that I've not enjoyed a novel this much for a long, long time.
Last year I said Ian Bostridge's book about Schubert's Winterreise was the best book I've ever read and so it must be but, like when you've written a poem you like and have to leave it a while before seeing if it's any good, I'll have to have a look back at The Way Out of Berkeley Square in due course and see if it's as close to 10/10 as it seemed on first reading.