David Green

David Green (Books) is the imprint under which I publish booklets of my own poems, when there are sufficient of them. Apart from that, the website has become what it is. I hope you find at least some of it worthwhile.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Richard Williams - Landings

Richard Williams, Landings (Dempsey & Windle)

One great advantage of publishing a first collection in one's fifties is that there is still everything to select from so it comes as no surprise that Richard Williams's first book doesn't look like a debut and hits the ground very sure-footedly. It's a bit hard to believe that it is his first collection but maybe the point is that the point isn't to stack up titles and ISBN numbers in a back catalogue or curriculum vitae and simply write, take part and do it. Richard has for some time been a much-admired contributor to a poetry community in Portsmouth that few similar places have.
That is one way in which we differ. Another is that, not being native to the city, Richard has whole-heartedly adopted it and regards it as his proper home, whereas I'm not able to do that. But, having worked with him on a poetry project a couple of years ago, I know we don't 'differ' as such, only as far as he's a 'top bloke' whereas I'm reluctant to be anything of the sort.
He also has a tremendous, very independent publisher, committed to doing what they believe in and, having met them on Thursday, irrepressible. One is very grateful that such people should be living at this hour.
But, oh, yes, there is some writing to say about. In 56 pages, plus two photographs, Landings covers a lot of ground without ever losing a consistent, recognizable tone or doing the same thing twice.
There are fine 'page' poems but, if anything, having now heard several 'in performance', Richard isn't overly besotted with formal constraints and those that work best are those that work 'live' in what one like me might call the acceptable face of performance poetry.
There are prose poems, which immediately present a difficulty for one whose definition of poetry is 'writing where the author decides where the lines end rather than the typesetter'. But prose poems were originally largely a French thing, thus chic and sophisticated, and anybody who tries to define poetry will sooner rather than later be subverted by work that doesn't comply with their definition. So, it's writing, isn't it, and we should worry less about such arcane niceties because I don't think Richard does.
Early doors we have a gob-stopper as trope or extended metaphor which I'm not aware even John Donne ever did; more intimately,
An argument that can't be undone,
that time has knotted into a scar
as much a tattoo as any ink
are apparently understated but powerful lines that look very natural and could have come easily, which the best lines usually do; You is also tender but it's difficult to decide whether or not the extended meditations, as in the title poem, aren't more successful.
We are taken from the very local to the vastness of space travel, from the grass roots of 'proper' football to a very decent lament for where a series of wrong turnings have led us. Because Richard hasn't lost much of his early political faith.
His reading in the Square Tower on Thursday was a gathering of a variety of what might have once been called 'free thinkers' but by now, circumstances being what they are, with all the 'make-believe authenticity' we are surrounded by, have become almost re-disenfranchised. And what is there to do about it beyond record it meaningfully. I don't know either.
Press on regardless. Don't go away. Keep Hope Alive.

I don't envisage any 'difficult second album' syndrome afflicting Richard Williams, whenever he cares to consider the option.

 

Natalie Clein at Wigmore Hall

Natalie Clain, with Yeol Eum Son, Wigmore Hall, Sept 23

The final event in my bespoke, self-curated September festival was fittingly a favourite artist in the favourite venue with the big name topping the bill of the last two weeks of specially selected gigs. And it will last longest in the memory, good though all the others were.
Natalie has made Bloch something of a personal project, his music being in her own DNA, she says. And maybe, it turns out, mine too.
The Suite from Jewish Life is drenched in the melancholy of that culture, those thousands of years of mournful yearning, whether that be due to the endless wait for the messiah or a character trait born of wandering, rootless after the fall of Jerusalem, through stetl and ghetto, disapora and persecution. But it is moving, deeply felt stuff as long as we don't allow in self-pity on too large a scale.
Natalie's well-thought-out programme possibly began with its high point and receded gradually from it but that was not to be regretted. Bloch's Suite no.1 for solo cello had more dance rhtyhms in it, perhaps recalling the Bach Suites although it is to easy to compare much solo cello music with those cornerstones of the repertoire and it is not to be encouraged.
Yeol Eum Son was back for Vaughan Williams's Six Studies in English Folksong, much more than an accompanist and on occasion rivalling Natalie for our attention. The old maestro of Down Ampney was here as much an elegist for the English pastoral as Bloch is for the Old Testament faith. There was no need to bring pre-conceived ideas of those lost idylls to inform one's listening, with which Vaughan Williams had imbued each piece. Essentially songs without words, some songs are often better like that, music being more versatile without texts to direct our interpretation or offer overly specific meaning.
Frank Bridge's Cello Sonata in D minor was bigger, more expansive and, guessing a bit here, musically more complex and a fine thing but thus not quite as readily placeable as Bloch or Vaughan Williams. It is a bit of a surprise to find that it is the earliest piece of these, and Bridge pre-deceased the other two, but it is the least 'nostalgic' work, too, less backward-looking. If Natalie missed a note or two, I'm not that concerned and always think of Tasmin Little talking about one coherent performance being better than a technical perfect one. The cello is the richest and most gorgeous of musical instruments and never sounded better than in her hands in Fairford Church several years ago.
If she happens to find herself discussed here (some artists do, but she might have more to do than look herself up), I'd be delighted to be reminded of the cellist she made reference to as 'strong', among other things, to put her alongside Rostropovich, Casals, Isserlis, Yo Yo Ma, Tortellier and all in yet another field that one could devote one's whole time to were it not for everything else.

So, it was a visit that exceeded all expectations after I'd waited for a delayed coach at Portsmouth's Ferry Terminal with much foreboding about if the trip was worth it. Of course it was, not just for the concert but for the latest and long overdue use of my friend's ever sympathetic hospitality. I think next time we might need to cover 1974 in more detail, a brief run through the Ablative Absolute and debate which was Medicine Head's best record. And after all that, presumably as a reward for regaling them all evening with some wine-fuelled stories from my wide repertoire, a fine blend of Peter Ustinov, Ken Dodd and Brian Clough, I came away with the spectacular bonus of Jane Glover's new book on Handel in London ahead of my birthday next month. When you've known someone for 47 years, and understood each other very well, one knows a suitable present to buy. I hope he enjoys Mud's Greatest Hits in January.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Portsmouth Lunchtime Live ! with James Lloyd Thomas

James Lloyd Thomas, organ, Portsmouth Cathedral, Sept 20th

On the south coast of England on a windswept afternoon, not far from the agitated sea, a man is playing Pachelbel to a meagre audience in the largely unadorned interior of the cathedral. And it matters that he is.
The stately unfolding of the Ciacona in F, having embroidered itself probably more intricately than its famous sibling, returns to its reflective beginnings. For James Lloyd Thomas's programme is 'A Variety of Variations'
Franck's Choral no.2 varies considerably and its logic is less easy to follow although it bursts into demonstrative action after feeling its way a little uncertainly.
The serene modulations of Jeham Alain's Variations sur un theme de Clement Jannequin explored some of the organ's more delicate resources and one could make out its C16th template, whether Jannequin was responsible for it or not. I'm glad I checked. I thought Jannequin was earlier than that.
Anton Heiller - and we were rewarded with some esoteric names today- provided another collage of effects in Nun komm der Heiden Heiland, woodwind, flute and recorder evoking the cuckoo, amongst other things, in what might have been the BBC Radiophonic workshop rather than woodland, before piling in full bore at the end in a riot of organ pipes. And then Henrik Andriessen's Thema met Variatas rounded us off in portentous style, showing that not all such grannd organ work has to be specifically about God even if organs tend to make music sound as if it is.
It is a shame my two weeks of self-curated festival is coming to an end because one could get used to it although it becomes almost like full-time work.

Before the weekend trip to Wigmore Hall for Natalie Clein, I fitted in an additional event, hearing that Portsmouth poet, Richard Williams, was presenting a new collection in the Square Tower (review of his Landings to follow soon). Supported by several of the great and good of the thriving local poetry community, he put in a good shift with a variety of poems that ranged from 'page' to 'performance', football and local history to politics and lyricism. A big added bonus was a second half of music from Crossing the Line, fine musicians all three (briefly four) of them with their set of C20th Americana.
You sometimes need to know where to look, or be lucky enough to have these things pointed out, but there is plenty going on. Many of these stalwarts want to make the world a better place but they are fragmented whereas the forces for bad are somehow more concerted even if retaining the luxury of indulging their own ambitions at the same time. But they already do make the world far better than it would be without them. 

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Elizabeth Jennings by Dana Greene

Dana Greene, Elizabeth Jennings, The Inward War (Oxford University)

By using her 'gift' she hammered her losses into art.
is how Dana Greene sums up the work of Elizabeth Jennings.
And in her Epilogue she extends this central theme of her biography explaining how Jennings had lived for poetry, which she saw as a sacrament, her purpose, 'necessary for life itself' as a healing agent and a way of resolving, however temporarily sometimes, the 'inward war' she felt between a number of conflicting elements.
Not all of Greene's points are specific to Jennings's case. That she invented an imaginary friend in childhood, felt inferior to her sister and became overly dependent on others early on are not unique and don't on their own explain a nature that Greene reveals as 'needy', a reliance on others for emotional and financial support as well as the spiritual need for her religious faith. It is also news to me to see Edward Thomas listed alongside Sylvia Plath and Hart Crane as suicides. And the point that she was included in Larkin's Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse as one of the women poets that made up only one tenth of the poets in it should not be construed as misogyny on Larkin's part but in line with similar female representation cited elsewhere at that time.
One needs to interpret this life aware that the evidence on offer can be read as one sees fit.

It does, however, provide considerable background that one will inevitably take back to the poems that is likely to shade our reading of them differently. I, for one, was unaware of nearly all of this story and had regarded Elizabeth Jennings as a highly competent, quietly thoughtful and well-organized poet. The fact that she was the only woman included in The Movement of the 1950's, along with any number of other reasons why she didn't fit, and didn't think she fitted, with them is less significant when one considers that none of the others did, either, there was no 'Movement' and it only benefitted some of the lesser lights associated with it for the reflected glory they might have gained.

The 'inward war' consisted of such difficulties as her Roman Catholicism versus the temptations of the flesh, the doubt, the over-wrought sensitivity and, in more worldly terms, money worries that wouldn't have been alleviated by gambling and shopping sprees and an appetite for alcohol that she 'medicated' herself with.
I'm not concerned about her dress sense or social graces and find it admirable in a way that she made few concessions to formality except in her verse, so whether we need to remember her as 'the bag lady of the sonnets' or as one of the most lauded poets, female or not, of her generation might be more indicative of our age in which our attentiuon has been diverted from the words on the page to such biographical detail. It may be time to redress the balance back towards the text.

While able to feel restored to equilibrium and feel fulfilled and, for brief periods, happy, it was her time spent in Rome that made her feel closest to 'whole'. Most of the rest of her life was spent in Oxford but increasingly peripatically and once, trading on a certain literary celebrity status, posted a notice outside Oxford station asking,
Elizabeth Jennings has nowhere to live. Can you help?
although we might see this alongside several times where Dana Greene qualifies some of Jennings's claims to distress with phrases amounting to 'according to her'. Her editor, Michael Schmidt, helped when he could but that wasn't always, but among her other benefactors was her 'pin-up boy', John Gielgud.
Betjeman, Larkin and, most of the time, Anthony Thwaite, were admirers of her work but she was upset by unfavourable reviews when they appeared, which they sometimes did. If the impression I had formed of a consistent high standard in her poems, that was based on a Selected and Collected that feature the best of thousands of poems written in torrents of prolific productivity and, whoever you are, that many poems can't all be outstanding. Michael Schmidt used 86 of the 'more than 1000 poems' she submitted for her book, Growing-Points, and 'in less than two months in spring 1977 she produced 486 poems'. That reminds me of when Stephen Spender first met Auden who asked him how many poems he wrote and Spender said he wrote a poem every day. Auden advised that he should write one a week, which he immediately did, but that's still plenty and far too many for me.
One could see this biography having a similar effect as Andrew Motion's biography of Larkin which was criticized for its frankness and honesty but if that's how it was, so it should be told. An old-fashioned biography of Malcolm Sargent I read a couple of years ago mentioned his divorce in passing and his penchant for parties elsewhere, which wouldn't have been so bad if not compounded by a foreword in which the author said he'd agreed with the dapper conductor it would be 'warts and all'.
We are surely better than that by now and can take it, wherever the biographer wants to set themselves on a scale between hagiography and scandal-monger. Nothing in Dana Greene's account of Elizabeth Jennings detracts from what we already thought of the poems but it adds depth to our understanding of their circumstances and Elizabeth emerges much more human, certainly more vulnerable and probably more admirable than many of us might have otherwise thought.
It is often instructive to look at the first poem in any poet's Selected, and Delay was an early landmark that set a high standard. The Clown is a later poem that Dana Greene makes central to Elizabeth's work.
It will now be interesting to go back to the poems and see what difference knowledge of the biography makes. I don't envisage it detracting from them, I only continue to wonder how much of it is our business. 
        

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

George Fu at Chichester

George Fu, piano, Chichester Cathedral, September 18th

I thought the Brahms Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel had come round again a bit soon. Surely we had that last year, possibly by Ivan Hovorun. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra might rely on the sure foundations of box office bankers for some of their season but we get more varied fare at Chichester. But, no, it wasn't Ivan, he played a Brahms sonata. And it turns out it wasn't last year but four years ago and not in Chichester but at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. How time flies, and it's a good job I've got my own website to look it up on.
George Fu opened with some Debussy Etudes. We know that Debussy wasn't an impressionist by now and that any dreamy palette of light-soaked meditation has something ominous suggested beneath it before long. If he is even thought of as a bridge between C19th Romanticism and C20th Modernism, he is surely more than halfway across that bridge. Number VI, Pour les huit doigts was a spell-binding, quicksilver romp to end the set, underlining, if it really needed to be, how lucky Chichester is to attract such a procession of fine talent to its lunchtime gigs. George Fu was as impressive here as any of the very impressive musicians they get and, having felt very much at home there and more than an occasional visitor, I will look forward to becoming almost a fixture when retirement allows.
But the performance four years ago had resulted in me adding a recording of the Brahms/Handel to the record shelves, great piece that it is. Early-ish for Brahms, at op.24, the baroque Handelian theme soon becomes C19th as Brahms uses the fine excuse of variations for showmanship on the composer's part, never mind the pianist's. George made good use of the bell-like sonorities of Chichester's Yamaha that lent itself particularly well to such music.
Although very much 1860-ish and as ravishing as it feels like being, Brahms also knows his Bach, who is conjured from time to time rather than Handel in the exploration of so many possibilities and the variations flower like some extraordinary floribunda before leaving us on a big flourish, having been so many places on the way from Handel to the very acceptable face of Romantic expression.
It was a tremendous exhibition of musicianship from a number of angles and Chichester shouldn't take these things for granted, which I'm sure they don't, but I have any amount of time for these people, the talent they bring, the time they put in and the end result.

Years and years ago I heard a chess grandmaster describing how he had walked round the middle European spa town one morning where he was playing a tournament, before his game in the afternoon, the cafe he sat in and the chess set he bought (perhaps he thought he'd give the game a try). Sometimes I am reminded of that charming little vignette on such a day as today, grateful for the cool September weather after the summer we suffered, in genteel Chichester.
Although Portsmouth has its share of charity shops- and good on them- it would be unexpected to find the Penguin Book of French Poetry 1820-1950 or the DVD of Depardieu's Jean de Florette in any of them. The St. Wilfrid's Hospice shop is one I'll try again, having added my modest Christmas card requirements and their 2019 diary to my shopping. And all for under ten pounds, you know.

But genteel Chichester. Then somebody spoils it all by doing something stupid.
As the train arrived to take me back to where I live in shabbier gentility, like a character from Maupassant, some juvenile delinquent wreck ran across the track. Much too far ahead of the train to constitute a danger but poor form nonetheless. Except he then ran back with the train only a few yards away. Very much the sort of behaviour which, from the safety of late middle age, makes one advocate bringing back National Service to squarebash some discipline into such errant, malformed nuisances.
Once the train was at the platform, I waited and saw what happened next, which was the miscreant essaying a third crossing, this time pursued by a uniformed officer who I dare say caught him and I hope administered the battering the train was only a moment too late to deliver.
It's a shame the little prat hadn't panicked and tried to escape via the platform where I might have upended him and begun the officer's work for him, having enquired of him how he thought the Brahms variations compared with the Beethoven Diabelli. But I hadn't noticed him in the cathedral.

  

Monday, 17 September 2018

Clarissa and friends

Mrs. Dalloway, now there's one back in the Top 10, re-read on the back of the Pallant House exhibition that made me feel all Bloomsbury again.
It's been a long time. Virginia's place in the top echelon has never been in doubt but they years, as it were, pass while other things get read and I had always thought To the Lighthouse was the masterpiece. Well, it isn't. They simply do not write novels like that any more, however many insist on trying.
Locked into themselves and their various pities, one doesn't even mind their social status and whatever because most of us who can afford the time to be so literary can't really claim to identify with the down-trodden victims of Dickens, Zola, Giles Winterbourne, Esther Waters or Paul Morel. There should be plenty more of a Virginia revival to come this autumn.

And neither must we feel bad about thinking up Top 10's, even if they contain over a hundred titles, because Julian Barnes admits to it in Keeping an Eye Open, his essays on (mainly French) painting, even if it is a pointless, harmless thing to do.

And if you ever felt a bit behind in your work, don't fret. Last week I received an acknowledgement from The British Library for the copy of The Perfect Book I sent them in late May. And now arrives the order for 5 copies for the other copyright libraries. I suppose demand for it must have been overwhelming. Well, it's lucky I can still furnish their order, isn't it.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Portsmouth Lunchtime Live! with Sachin Gunga

Sachin Gunga, Portsmouth Cathedral, Sept 13

There is really only one way to begin a series of concerts that are predominanty organ recitals, and that's with a choice bit of Bach. Sachin Gunga stepped in to cover the unavailable, advertised visitor and provided a thoughtful, mixed programme. A good move on his part, that others might consider following, was to take the microphone with him up to the organ loft to introduce the pieces from upstairs.
The Prelude and Fugue BWV 547, he explained, is known as the 'hickory, dickory dock' and it soon became obvious why although the nursery rhyme echo was no distraction. Lucid and made of Bach's customary intelligence, the fugue flows and weaves, implying the eternity that its finite nature won't quite fill.
No. 3 of Rheinberger's Meditations, Op. 167 is a gentle, lilting composition with childlike innocence that encourages one to look for the others in the opus. Likely to be similar, we might be treated to the others another time.
Sachin then played a sequence of three pieces, linked by the theme of light. The 'general crescendo' of Fiat lux by Dubois represented the coming of light. It is unfortunate when one's mind wanders and a serious piece in undermined by extraneous thoughts and the final bars here brought Reginald Dixon to mind for me, which is my fault but can happen with exuberant organ pieces. Bairstow's Evening Song was naturally more elegiac but flirted with inconsequence in its middle passages so Elgar retrieved the situation with Chanson de Matin, which I thought was Salut d'Amour but seems not to be but it's close.
'Born 1955' is a phrase that rings alarm bells in a composer of organ music and Bob Chilcott's Sun Dance was full of ideas for a short piece but less full of coherence. C20th organ music is a personal blind spot but one must persevere. Because the three hymn preludes by the centenarian Francis Jackson made more sense. Veni Sancte Spiritus suggested Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring and East Acklam was a peaceable joy. The Fantasy on Sine Nomine overelaborates Let All the World in Every Corner Sing in its accessible but Modernist way which was an interesting place to end if gathering a quota for a proper congregation and giving it a traditional full blast would have roused the sleepy September sunshine.
So, we were indebted to Sachin for his imaginative stand-in set and it is to be hoped we hear more from him. On the one hand, he has some esoteric repertoire, on the other, does he know any Buxtehude.