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.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Elizabeth Bishop's Prose

It says Collected Prose on the cover rather than Complete but it would be a desperate pity if these memoir pieces and stories were all there is, the prolific letters notwithstanding. But I'll always take the frugal writer who only produces great writing over those that can't stop churning it out but don't always do it quite so well.
A proper writer is a 'writer' rather than sdpecifically a poet, novelist or dramatist and one wonders if Elizabeth Bishop ought not have given over more time to prose and be as well known for it as she is as a model poet. But the brevity, concentration and lighter demands on one's time of poetry lend themselves to anyone liable to periods of hospitalization after drinking binges or rendered incapable. (The answer to 9 across in this week's TLS crossword, Places around old Republican state De Quincey was often in, is 'stupor').
The memoir here on Marianne Moore is touching and hilarious. The mentor she surpassed is a quaint figure, objecting to such phrases as 'water closet' in a poem by Elizabeth, and the stylish hats she is usually seen in have to be reinterpreted as genuinely old-fashioned rather than the retro chic of the period. Marianne's poems will have to be revisited in the light of Elizabeth's vivid portrait. Her fastidious personality is not apparently an affectation.
The Collected Prose is a paragon example of the sort of book one reads too readily, using up its all too few pages while wanting it to last longer. But what can you do. You use it up too soon because you want more but there is no more. Happily, you don't wear it out because I'm sure it will stand re-reading.
As striking as anything in it, and its hard to think of anything that isn't, is the story Memories of Uncle Neddy. It is hard to believe that this belongs among the fiction and not the first section, Memory, Persons & Places. We always know if we are reading memoir or fiction because we are told, however much fiction might be based on life, but the character is brought to life so convincingly that I couldn't accept it as fiction and thought it must be real. It's a great problem to have and not one that I'm aware of ever having had before in any of the most realistic, plausible literary story telling. It undermines the whole idea of the 'suspension of disbelief'. It was belief that needed suspending.

I feel as if I'm raving like a teenager suddenly in the grip of the latest pop music craze, as if my bedroom walls will be covered with pictures of Elizabeth Bishop. She's no new discovery. The poems have been there and been admired for quite some time but it's not every poet that one has the time or inclination to go this much further into, like almost every word they ever committed to paper. That probably won't be possible. The Selected Letters is a big enough book without yet wanting the whole of everything and that must wait. There are other writers. I wouldn't want to be anything like those I've heard from who say Larkin's the only poet they read because he's the best or the admirable high camp of one who wrote that they only listen to The Magnetic Fields and Handel.
How do they know, then.   
It is, however, great to know that places are still available at the top table for anyone who convinces quite so thoroughly that they are worthy.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Oh, Babe, Until the Twelfth of Never

Always one to favour anxiety over relaxation, satisfaction or any other feeling of well-being, I'm keen to traumatize myself as much as possible for as long as the countdown to retirement takes. It might be two and a half years yet, or a few months, or, if I secured alternative gainful employment, it might be never but I'm determined to worry about it as much as I can.
It appears to be going to be one long dreadful gaze into eternity with only the equally terrifying inevitability that it won't be eternity as consolation. Such an outlook is what one can gain from the rewarding activity of reading books rather than involving oneself in a displacement activity like sport, gardening or holidays. But it's always been Camus, Larkin, two Eliots and their like for me rather than potting begonias, fervent allegiance to a corporate brand of athletic undertaking or cruising the fjords. Honestly, it is much more fun.
But if this week of contractual leisure is anything to go by, retirement would be exhausting. I rather imagined that it would be a matter of taking a full day's bed rest after completing a poem, and perhaps it will be. Not every week could possibly be as action-packed as this has been.

I visited family for Easter to introduce myself to our new arrival. I'm not a close relation and have been amusing myself by working out which of my elderly relatives stood in the same relationship to me as I do to the baby, who remains nameless here. However, since I have previously provided entertainments of various types for those children who are now old enough to be parents themselves, I set about it and added yet another genre to this year's widening realm of artistic creation (novel, 'country' music, poem for corporate refurbishment) by composing a song called Mr. MacGonagall Lost His Hat. Don't be afraid to request a rendition. The great Brian Cant wouldn't have been ashamed of it.
Meanwhile, my father, to who my novel would be dedicated in the unlikely event of it seeing print, was the first to read Time After Time. He was very polite about it and I was gratified that he appreciated it for what it was and that his comments were specific enough to show that he had read it. Having gone to such lengths to write such a thing, it is kind of anybody to read it. An unread novel, sir, is like an untasted recipe, even if it is not of gourmet standard. But I know now what is involved in writing even the most rudimentary of novels in case I ever have an idea worthy of a proper effort and my admiration for the likes of Julian Barnes, Sarah Waters, Ian MacEwan and Banana Yoshimoto is enhanced still further beyond that I have for those dilettante layabouts, poets.
But I was glad to receive an entirely different book about cycling,

Bicycles and Blancmange, The History of Gloucester City Cycling Club by Alastair Goldie and Roy Hook

I don't know how easy it is to get a copy unless you have some affiliation to the club because it's not for sale. I'm not sure that my few seasons of membership and winning the Schoolboy '10' medal in 1973 qualified me for a copy; my father's life membership of the club probably counted for more.
It uses a similar 'blurb' to what I had in mind for my own book, that within its pages is 'woven a love letter to cycling', and it provides an engaging account of the beginnings, stages, successes and continuing good work of the club.
From the Golden Age of early bikes, through the strange custom of 'smoking concerts', intrepid all night rides, through to star competitors, the age of sponsorship and campaigning on cycling issues, it is an impressive history full of humour, characters and 'how much more beautiful -almost utopian- the world seems when experienced on two wheels'.

I returned via Cheltenham, another piece of Gloucestershire's sporting heritage. Small fields in National Hunt racing can be a cause of complaint, not necessarily from me, but the late announcement of non-runners on the day can make it a waste of time doing one's homework the night before. The going was perhaps reported more on the firm side of good, and that might have prompted trainers to withdraw horses but no rain had been forecast so I'm not sure what they were expecting. Morale was low after passing up the opportunity to take odds on about Davy Russell's steering job in the first and then missing with two revised selections.
But nil desperandum and joy was unconfined when the best bet of the day, Doing Fine, from the reliable firm of Mulholland/Fehily, won like it. And the account turned out to be somewhat better off when I got home because I had doubled it up with a non-runner and so had more on it than I remembered.
So, hurray for non-runners.

Today's Lunchtime Live in the cathedral was
Tristan Button (trumpet) and David Price (organ and piano), Portsmouth Cathedral.

In Portsmouth Cathedral, it's often about acoustics. In Murder in the Cathedral a while ago, the actors were miked up and it was still awful. In that part of the building, it is difficult to hear anybody who is trying to tell you anything from the stage whereas you put James Bowman, Tasmin Little or a choir in there and it re-echoes as they fill the place so the brash, proud alarums of a trumpet benefit very well and the music hasn't quite ended when you think it has.
Purcell is an opportunity not to be missed. The opening Sonata in D, with the organ from upstairs, was a glorious foretaste before David Price's performance of Bach's Fantasia BWV 572 was wave upon wave of thematic development that implied forever if sadly not lasting that long.
Purcell's When I am Laid now brings to mind Errolyn Wallen for me, which is a bit hard on Purcell, but the trumpet showed how it can do mournful and made one wonder how Miles Davis would do it using the mute. Button and Price, now piano, conversed amiably through the Haydn Concerto.
After such familiar, or at least known, repertoire, it was brave to finish with a Sonata by Thorvald Hansen (1847-1915) but composers that one's never heard of are always welcome. Tristan has links with Denmark, which presumably explains where he found this piece which was not unenjoyable and one day a Sunday evening television programme about an antique dealer or an eccentric detective could do worse than use the final movement as its theme tune.
There was no encore which meant we were out early. The select few that attend Lunchtime Live need to put more effort into extending their applause.

On the way home through Southsea, I investigated one of the bohemian shops in Albert Road's louche quarter that sells apparel and vinyl to choice cognoscenti. Among the t-shirts I found the relevant Jesus and Mary Chain item in a medium size that probably wouldn't do me any favours  before I asked if they had such a thing but the label encouraged one to ask for other sizes.
No, nothing for anybody of your current proportions, the lady didn't say.
I said I rarely dared go into shops quite as cool as that.
But now you're in, it's not too bad, is it.
No, it was fine. But, when I have time for other anxieties beyond retirement and eternity, I'll retain the right to feel out of my depth in places I don't know if I'm cool enough to be.  
                    

Thursday, 13 April 2017

What Do They Teach Them in Skool These Days

You won't believe this.

Yesterday in work I was asked who sang Come on, Hear the Noise. On such matters, it is much easier for people to ask me rather than look it up because I'm quicker, better and likely to be able to compensate for the fact that the question is wrong in the first place.

The lady who asked is actually 45 years old and so is excused somewhat for not having Nod as an essential element in her formative years but, Good Grief.

There shouldn't be any such problem for future generations who want to clarify the artist responsible for hit records from 2017. Apparently all but one of the Top 20 were by the same singer the other week. So he's obviously far better than Lennon-McCartney and the Motown hit factory put together. 

 

Elizabeth Bishop

I realize that in reviewing Simon Armitage's excellent recent book, I listed the great consecutive figures of C20th British poetry as Eliot, Auden, Larkin and Heaney and have been tormented ever since by the worry that none of them are female.
A few years ago, more than one poetry magazine would publish justifications of their selection process by analysying the statistics of the male/female ratio as if there were now some quota system in place to ensure equal representation. They need not have. I'm not concerned if my poems appear anywhere that has only 33% of their poems by male poets. I'd be glad if, whatever the distribution was, it made for a satisfying collection and especially if Julia Copus, Judy Brown, Katy Evans-Bush, Kathleen Jamie, Caitriona O'Reilly, Sasha Dugdale, Helen Farish, Helen Mort, and the list goes on, were some of the others.
It certainly is difficult to think of any female author beyond Harper Lee that was a set text for literature courses at school in the 1970's but some parity has been achieved by now and, as remains the case with holders of high political office, positions in business, sport, successful University Challenge teams or -most outlandishly- golf clubs, I do wonder if women haven't got better things to do.
Poor old Eric Monkman didn't even win University Challenge but surely it wasn't only women who eventually began to roll their eyes at his obsessional competitive quiz technique and speculate on whether encyclopedic knowledge, instant recall and an instinct for anticipating the question were really desirable aspects of a well-balanced personality. And his peremptory buzzing in cost his team dearly in the final.
In literature, or poetry in particular, the gender of the author has never been a concern for me. I led an evening on the difference between poetry by men and by women at Portsmouth Poetry Society a few years ago and was glad that our findings were vague if not inconclusive. It's the words we are looking at and I can't see that it makes too much difference how the genitalia of the poet were arranged to a sentence like,
Snow fell, undated.  

But, grieving as I am about any possible macho-centric bias in my pantheon of Eliot, Auden, Larkin and Heaney - who surely aren't overbearingly masculine compared to an alternative list of Pound, Dylan Thomas, Ted Hughes- I have looked to America in their time of need and found compensation in their equivalent list which, beyond Richard Wilbur, is dominated by Sylvia Plath and Elizabeth Bishop, the first of which we know plenty about and who I've long been convined was outdoing her husband by 1963.
But the more one looks at Elizabeth Bishop, the more her example gathers momentum as a model of what represented the most admirable of poetry in the language. As such, over a busy Easter and well beyond, I have the Collected Prose and One Art, the Selected Letters, which was too big to get through most post box, in which to immerse myself luxuriously. Not because I feel the need to perform some kind of penance in the face of a male-run world but because she is a candidate to be considered among the best of the lot irrespective of culturally imposed sections.
Art, if not business or politics, is one place where we should naturally fly by those nets and none of what I take from those books is going to be modified by the knowledge that she was a woman, any more than Beryl Burton's record for 12 Hours of riding a bike was for a while ahead of the men's record. She was simply tougher and better than the men so why wouldn't it be.
All of which leads to the small amount of shelf space still left for a few books in the 'pride of place' position in the front room among the classical CD's, Shakespeare biographical books and DVD's, rarely referred to but close to the DVD player, soon being given over to Elizabeth Bishop. After a couple of years there, it is George Eliot's novels that give way and will have to be found a position, probably upstairs.   

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Moshi Moshi


Taking photographs of oneself might seem like a new idea but I took one with my first camera, a Kodak Instamatic, with my first roll of black and white film circa 1969. It's only in recent years that such narcissism has become mainstream and apparently acceptable.
The point of the exercise this time was to send a picture to Japan. I've been a keen reader of Banana Yoshimoto since finding Kitchen in a feature on cult fiction in which it was the only title, among the likes of The Naked Lunch, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the like to be awarded every available icon that denoted horror, drugs, sex to each book as they qualified for those categories.
I was soon to be disappointed to discover that her real name was Mahoko rather than Banana but the short stories in Lizard were immensely satisfying until I started to wonder if subsequent books weren't just serving up this brand of intense, confessional fiction with deceptive facility.
Eventually I found myself at a conference in Oxford at dinner, sitting next to an academic whose specialism was Japanese literature so I disingenuously asked whether Banana Yoshimoto was really 'chick-lit'. I'm afraid I demur at any such neologism that has been invented since I learnt the language, which is why I didn't say 'selfie' earlier, but sometimes there's no alternative.
The lady's reply was, 'one minute you're talking to him about the football results and now you want to know if Banana Yoshimoto is 'chick-lit'.
Yes.
But I didn't get an answer, not even as much as that it was a stupid question, which was the impression I was left with.
So I still don't know.
MoshiMoshi is an American edition, published in 2016 by Counterpoint, Berkeley, and translated into that language by Asa Yoneda but first appeared in Japanese in 2010. Although I haven't seen new Banana books in English for some time, there appears to have been no shortage of Japanese titles so perhaps not everything is being translated which is more reason to wonder if she isn't more than a purveyor of a Mills & Boon-type genre fiction but in ultra-cool contemporary Japanese terms.
Food is always a sensual experience. Characters are at once private but capable of profound attachments and take themselves seriously in a touchingly unironic way,
the awareness of someone's presence in a space - that was what family meant.
The narrator's father, who somehow inevitably was a musician, in a band called Sprout (and Paddy McAloon is mentioned), has died in a suicide pact with a mysterious woman who has apparently unsuccessfully tried to lure previous men into the same demise. Her mother is incorrigibly fashionable despite her years and the neighbourhood of Shimokitazawa is suitably bohemian, like the low-key, conversational idiom of the language.
It is immensely readable and even more likeable than most of the Banana books I've read, with deep if precious thoughts like,
that day is etched into the time within my body, but also into the town itself. That memory will last forever, because the town was a witness.
But I can't see Virginia Woolf or James Joyce writing anything quite so New Age.
Having embarked on a tentative relationship with a regular in the cafe where she works, the inecitable consequence is quite laudibly that, firstly,
I'd never experienced anything like it
but immediately that,
Even so, somewhere inside, I knew we didn't have much of a future together.

I knew they wouldn't because I've read enough of her books before but that's what I like about them.
Getting married, having two kids and living happily ever after wouldn't be much of a story to put in a book.
I still have 40 pages to go but doubt if the ending will matter much, although I may be wrong. There's been enough to enjoy already and I remain a big admirer, of some things Japanese even if I still don't know if Banana Yoshimoto is likely to beat Murakami to the Nobel Prize or if she's writing stories that belong in teenage girls' magazines. That is the glamour and fascination of the cultural divide. I once read Bonjour Tristesse in French and enjoyed it because it was French.
I'm going to lend this to a mate that has read Murakami and ask what he thinks and the point of sending the photo to Japan is to ask my friend there what she thinks. Perhaps then I'll get the sort of useful answer that a conference at Oxford University was unwilling to provide. 
         

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

30 Year Memoir

A small celebration is in order this evening as I reach the milestone of thirty years with ostensibly the same employer. While it is fashionable to bemoan pay, conditions and all things down to the colour of the carpet, I have much to be grateful for. I don't know how else I would have survived since 1987. It is to them that I owe where I am now, which might not be anywhere very much but it could have been worse.
I will sound like the wistful John Lennon on In My Life if I set off on a ramble about people and places I've known but a large organisation provides a wide-ranging menu to select your friends from and some are gone but not forgotten while I'm glad to retain those that tolerate the increasingly curmudgeonly aesthete. If I'd have thought thirty years ago that this is where it would lead, I'd have gladly accepted it.
Enough might be enough by now and if there was a viable option to do something else, it would be the top option but I don't really want to write for money and neither do I know anyone who would pay me. I probably have as much chance of earning significant royalties from writing pop songs as the two longest odds horses in the Grand National finishing first and second but we'll see and returning to the best job I ever had, my paper round, would mean negotiating the daily challenge of getting up rather earlier than I can face it. So it looks as if one hangs on in there for as long as possible, turning a deaf ear to the corporate rhetoric and hoping that one's contribution is having a worthwhile effect somewhere.
Meanwhile, I'll raise a tin to the hilarity, the top people, the hilarity and weirdness, the cricket team (and, yes, some of these categories overlap), the unfailing and sufficient monthly wages and the organisation that, somehow well-meaning, brought me here. 

Monday, 3 April 2017

Oh, Babe, What Would You Say

April Fool's Day was inevitably a bit of a let down. Anybody who was looking forward to a selection of hilarious hoax stories must realize that the very specific industry of making those up is one of the first casualties of last year's news. Having woken last year to find that Donald Trump was president of the USA, the UK had voted to leave Europe, that Leicester City were football champions or Boris Johnson was Foreign Secretary, anybody would be more than happy to believe that spaghetti grew on trees.
Never mind hoax news, or fake news, fiction has never been as good as fact and real news is weirder than stuff you can make up. It is the fundamental problem with science fiction. I'm sorry but that is just more man-made stories set in space; space itself, not being man-made, is far more interesting.
But there is something fake or even hoax about all news. There are far more reports about the events of Jesus Christ's life but Matthew, Mark, Luke and John told it the way the early church wanted it told and so theirs are the versions given precedence and selected for the anthology of books put into The Bible.
But, there we are, All Fool's Day is all but over.
--
The Chichester Canal makes for a fine walk on a temperate afternoon like it was today. Start at Dell Quay and then the best plan is to have some mates who know the area, are experienced walkers and are happy to follow the instructions, and go with them. In exchange, one can regale them with tales of intrepid adventures from the front line of the poetry world or summarize one's late-burgeoning songwriting career to which they listen politely. Then come home to find your horse won so there's still some ammunition to aim at Aintree and the trip to Cheltenham.
I backed Just a Par at 40/1 after its last run, thinking that the other trial race on the same day had attracted all the attention and this was under the radar. But it still is. I don't quite know why you can still get 50/1 for looking. So, in a race that I used to do very well at until a decade's worth of under-the-radar types have made it a bookies' banquet again, it is well overdue that one of the favourites should win. I understand the case against most of them more than I can recommend any with confidence but the one I can side with more than any other is Cause of Causes. But it's not in bold because it's not a tip. There will be more sensible investment opportunities in other races on the day and if Finian's Oscar is over the setback that kept him away from Cheltenham, he'll be the one in the novice hurdle at 2.25.
 But there's not much more photogenic than an old church surrounded by the long forgotten dead and this industrious coot was putting in an admirable shift, fetching one suitable addition to the nest building project under the bush at a time and I'm sure he'll be satisfied with a good day's work and a job well done when it's finished.