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, 19 May 2017

Ironically canonical

Firstly, quite beside the point, Hat's Off and Congratulations to Her Majesty as her horse wins the Yorkshire Cup. It must have been exciting with the distances being a neck, a neck and a short head but it makes for a pleasant afternoon and the prize money should cover a suitable retirement gift for His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh. More importantly, though, the 4/1 I availed myself of last night restores my turf account to the very comfortable position it was ten days ago and thoughts turn towards the 72 disc set of Complete Bach Cantatas. We will see.

But, mainly, in  my role as honarary consultant to anybody doing a course I can help with, I've been considering 'the canon' which is apparently the subject of an essay for the Open University.
A list of those sine qua non names without which no genre can apparently be defined. It seems to have come from the selection of painters made by Vasari and developed from there, so it's hard luck for anybody that slipped his mind.
In Western classical music, it would begin with Bach-Mozart-Beethoven but where does it stop. Surely then Schubert and Brahms and, if them, then Haydn, Mendelssohn and I'm sure, looking at Wikipedia, Dieterich Buxtehude would be thrilled to have been included once the canon was expanded. But is one inducted as if into a Hall of Fame and can one be demoted out of it if fashion changes and one is no longer de rigeur. What would Telemann have to say about that.
But the point being made by the course in question doesn't appear to be who should be in or out or whether it's a daft idea with no definitive answer. It sets up the canon only to denounce it for not including many women or black people.
And, yes, it is dominated by German men in wigs and my records include nothing by Clara Schumann or Fanny Mendelssohn or Mozart's sister, only Hildegaard of Bingen, Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Sofia Gubaidalina and Errolyn Wallen.
But I'm not off to Jamaica to ask why UB40 aren't considered an essential part of the reggae canon alongside Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown, Lee Perry, etc.
Although everyone has their own idea of the great and good, it is not a list that is officially written down anywhere. It has been set up just so that it can be knocked down for apparently fashionable purposes.
The canon of academic correctness currently includes a critique of the idea of the canon but in 1979, when I was being introduced to the then current fashion, it was the 'intentional fallacy' that was the object of derision, in favour of the text as the object of study. Oh, Death of the Author, Where are you now.
I don't know if Sofia Gubaidalina or Errolyn Wallen are canonical, neither do I care and I very much doubt if they do, either. It is a shame to have to cite things that have effectively become no longer relevant in order to signal one's virtue in ways that weren't germane to the issue in the first place. Still, if that's what you need to do to pass the exam and become a graduate, I suppose you do it. It was ever the way.    

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Murakami - Men Without Women

Haruki Murakami, Men Without Women (Harvill Secker)

Murakami is proving himself time and again as one who is improving with maturity. One might not have expected that of a writer who might at first have been perceived as something of a novelty act.
The strangeness is increasingly assimilated into stories ostensibly more rooted in idenitifiable ordinariness. The one piece that works less well here almost acknowledges the fact as, in Samsa in Love, the first person narrator wakes to find he has turned into Gregor Samsa. The literary joke might be good enough for others but we usually expect Murakami's off-kilter reality to be a bit more subtle.
Otherwise, these seven stories provided a marvellous weekend, that unfortunate sort of book that is so enjoyable you both want it to last longer but you want to read it at once, too.
The title wrongfoots the reader's expectations. In all of the pieces, men are very much not without women but they are usuaally in temporary, unofficial relationships rather than 'steady' or married ones. It is at the core of all Muraakami, and apparently much contemporary Japaanese literature, that to be human is to be solitary but capable of intense, if non-permanent, attachments.
Both Kino and the final story, Men Without Women, - oh, now I get it - end with sustained elegiac passages that vaguely bring to mind Joyce's The Dead without any suggestion of anything quite so magnificent but we are by now way beyond regarding Murakami as some vogue, cult or exercise in cool. These pieces work like poems with their leitmotifs, restraint and elegance rather than narrative impetus. If there is a compulsion or intensity about their accounts of love, it is with an acknowledgement that it is not a fixed, stable condition but mutable and, like music, moves on.
It is a quiet book, for the most part, not undramatic but distanced by the narrative devices of looking back or putting a story within a story. Its effect accumulates from a relaxed, unintrusive prose style, that one understands the two American translators have succeeded in capturing from the Japanese. The best prose is often the most transparent, that one doesn't notice until one has appreciated that one hasn't noticed it.
Having been in on the Murakami story for so many years now, and wondering at times in the early stages quite where it was leading, it is very satisfying to have been led this far, to Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and now this. There is no conceivable reason why there shouldn't be plenty more to come.     

Haydn - The Seasons

Haydn, The Seasons 1801, Paul McCreesh, Gabrieli Consort, Wroclaw Baroque Orchestra, and soloists (NFM)

Haydn's late oratorio, The Seasons, is here presented in a nowadays rare large-scale performance as it was first heard. Another rare thing for a British audience is that its luxury book-style packaging comes not with parallel English-German-French text but with English and Polish. That is not a sign of the times to horrify UKIP but because it was recorded in Poland, with Polish choir and orchestra and financed by the Eurpoean Capital of Culture 2016, Wroclaw.
Carolyn Sampson takes the soprano part, which was never going to be likely to put me off buying it.

If, as the explanatory notes say, The Seasons has suffered in comparison with The Creation in the same way that Haydn has suffered for not having been Mozart, it's not as if either of them suffered that much. The Seasons, not unlike Vivaldi's version of events, is a cycle of nature but in Haydn there is the sub-text of progress and renewal in which nature is also God. None of that is likely to deflect our jocular maestro from quoting himself, the Surprise symphony in the Spring, and Mozart later.
Mozart never let a profound subject prevent him from exuberant invention and, if anything, Haydn is even less likely to.
While one of the most memorable passages comes in the onset of bleak midwinter, the merry-making after the harvest is a time for full-blooded roistering and Carolyn sings,

You mincing dandies, stay away!
Here your airs and graces count for nothing,
and smooth talk does no good:
no-one will listen to you.
One knows not to come to Haydn for too much introspection and long, dark nights of the soul. Even if he wanted to do that, and he doesn't look as if he did, it wasn't what he was mostly employed to do. The string quartet setting of the Seven Last Words from the Cross, so beloved here in the release by Cuarteto Casals, doesn't take us through the agonies and ecstacies that James MacMillan does but it makes for a gorgeous piece of music. But The Seasons is something of a mature schwanengesang and blends tender moments, duets and choruses into a beguiling, shifting experience that, of course, ends in celebratory fashion with us asking that we,
shall ascend into the glorious heav'nly realm.

For the purposes of the suspension of disbelief, it is best not to ask if that isn't right here, right now with a continuing supply of wonderful music or if there is somewhere better.       

Acis & Galatea, poem

Acis & Galatea

It seems strange now that I was wrapped
up in the poetry of love,
but I was only human, trapped
with only such that humans have
of world and time and marvelled at
the infinite that made me weep.
What will survive will not be that.
I followed her like a lost sheep.

If love is cruel, the glimpse I had
of happiness was just as brief  
for violence is all we know
for sure. But as a river god,
transformed now, I’ve taken my leave,
teem, dense with amazed fish, and flow.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Oh, Babe, What Would You Show Off

When I saw that President Trump had accused someone of being a show-off and grandstanding, I assumed his use of the internet had extended to reading me. Fair enough, I thought, it does seem a bit jejune to be posting crossword solutions. But then I realized he'd sacked somebody else and it was them he was growling about.
But we will see. I dare say he is saving his humility for when it's his turn to be thrown out, which can't be far away now.
But it was a thrill to finish that TLS crossword, which looked impossible at first. The main reason for beginning it was that there wasn't much else of interest in the comic this week. But the crossword seems to be constructed as an educational aid, leading you to things you never knew if you care to investigate, like Edmund Spenser's poem on the death of his daughter, Daphnaida. Although whether I read it or not remains to be seen.
The flowing, surging Romanticism of the first two Schumann symphonies accompanied the early inroads, Schumann having been judged worthy of further investigation as the favourite composer of Stephen Isserlis and the first instalment of last weekend's windfall from the turf accountant. But, pleasant though Schumann may be, it was instructive to move to Handel's Acis & Galatea, second hand at £0.01 +  £1.28 p&p, can't argue with that, for the vital finishing touches and be reminded quite spectacularly of how much better Handel is than almost anything else.
The simple story of love torn apart by the murder of Acis by the jealous baddie, Polyphemus, and then in a typically Ovid metamporphosis, turned into a stream, is the sort of thing that happens round here all the time and likely to happen even more often once the Liberal Democrats have legalized cannabis. But it is a masterpiece. And tonight, we begin with Simon Rattle's Brahms 1 from his cycle that last week's treble also paid for.
It is magical the way that sensible study of horse racing can be turned into a record library and I'm sure that all those who warn against gambling, as well as the school music teacher who knew I couldn't play the glockenspiel and so expected no more of me than to suggest corrections to his spelling of Dvorak, would appreciate the ongoing project.
The other arrival today is Murakami's Men without Women, so the question is whether to continue louchely with Jean Rhys' fine Collected Stories or break from them temporarily to freewheel my way through Murakami's latest over the weekend.
If only I knew which my faithful audience wanted to know about first. It's Murakami, isn't it.
Okay then.  
A further happy outcome of not much going on elsewhere was the other night when Radio 5 was droning on about football, Radio 3's often studiously eclectic Late Junction was offering some especially dreary jazz, Radio 4 had some of its so-called 'comedy' on and so I turned to Radio 2 and found Suzi Quatro's Quatrophonic, where she was playing an impressive list of doo-wop records which she was saying was what she grew up with. Good for her. Some people insist on becoming successful and don't care how they do it - who knows what sort of poet might belatedly sell a few records as a Country songwriter- and Devil's Gate Drive didn't cause me to swoon over Suzi when, aged about 13, I had a poster of Beethoven on my bedroom wall. But If You Can't Give Me Love soon comes to mind on You Tube excursions these days.
And so, with the compulsiveness not of a fool soon parted from his money but like a judicious magpie that knows what he wants when he sees it, it's a Doo-wop box-set for me and I have a postman who has no idea what treasure he is delivering and how grateful I am to him. Such service should not be demeaned by the profit-motive and, in line with a dreamy Labour party manifesto, it should be nationalized so that we can all enjoy it for what it is.  

Thursday, 11 May 2017

This Week's TLS Crossword Solution

By Jove, missus, I impress myself sometimes.
Some use of the interweb, by all means, but very educational it was.
With a couple of Schumann symphonies followed by Acis & Galatea, that is what I call an evening well spent.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Neil Powell - Was and Is

Neil Powell, Was and Is (Carcanet) 

One needs the Collected Powell over and above the Selected to give him a fair hearing, some of the best poems come in the section that have been written since those in the selection. As well as the way any selection will omit poems that some readers prefer to those included and a Collected, rather than the sometimes overly complete Complete, is really the only way to see anybody's work.
Neil Powell's poetry is pared down to the most pared-down definition of poetry, much favoured by me, that poetry is writing where the author and not the printer decides where the lines end. It is largely free of extended metaphor, metaphysical argument, challenging allusiveness or any other difficulty that other poetry might be admired for. While never being culpable of the charge that it is 'chopped-up prose', it observes many of the principles attributed to 1950's Movement poetry, like the avoidance of grand gestures, a refusal to be flashy or unnecessarily literary and doing only what it needs to do. There's much to like about that and it can come as a welcome relief if one has been struggling with the likes of Craig Raine or Paul Muldoon. But then the thirty pages of The Journal of Lily Lloyd, presumably a memoir of his mother, can be read as prose. It defies any high-flown ideas of poetry as something sublime, intense or finely-wrought through its thoughgoing understatedness as poetry.
One wouldn't immediately think of calling Powell an extremist but he takes his undemonstrative method to an extreme. It's likeable, one appreciates the even temper but the Collected Poems lacks, as far as I can see, even the layers of qualifying irony of An Arundel Tomb, the sustained build of The Whitsun Weddings or the rigour of Thom Gunn's metrical verse. Larkin and Gunn are Powell's primary exemplars and yet he declines to be even as showy as them.
In The Picture of the Mind, as circumspect and well-made as any twelve lines, he says,
      half-disclosing is what poems do,

and, yes, I like those that do that but Powell discloses, explains and doesn't leave very much mystery to wonder about. It would - thankfully- be a difficult body of work to set questions about because there is precious little interpretation left to ask of the reader. That can be something to be grateful for and one can appreciate the thought, the clarity with which it has been set out and empathize entirely with the sentiment expressed but, appreciation apart, no much else is asked of the reader.
Thev Lunatics' Compartment is one of many poems of anecdote, friendship and sincerity and its ordinariness generates something gently extraordinary, or at least of value.
Shell is memorable for being quietly ahead of its time in the light of books now appearing on the subject of life in a certain type of school for boys of Powell's generation and, I'm sure, before and since. It implies considerably more than it says but we know now even if the culture of the time inhibited revelations then.
Powell likes his music but sometimes tells rather than shows. For Music looks a bit like an exercise in name-dropping that any record collector might indulge in.
Without checking the dates, I'm sure that Outing is a reply to an Anthony Thwaite poem about the abundance of contemporary poets, and lists the perceived preponderance of male homosexuals in C20th culture. So, what,
That wasn't too exciting, was it?

are Powell's words, not mine. They could, for many, sum up the whole book but I think Neil Powell can be credited with being better than that. There is a time and place for gentility and while a new generation of creative writing graduates strain to find their next stunning, imaginative way of stretching the language, he is comfortable in what might look like a bygone style that nevertheless is less likely to become quite so quickly completely unfashionable.
I once heard Anthony Thwaite, in his characteristic way, throwing out the remark that Larkin was a Great Minor Poet (and I apologize if that is not verbatim but it was twenty years ago) and that may or may not be true. I think he compared Larkin to George Herbert in terms of 'status'. I wonder where that leaves so many others.
Being 'minor' is no offence. There is plenty to enjoy and maybe not all of us ever thought for one moment we would be the poet of our generation. Neil Powell offers a Collected Poems that is entirely coherent, lucid and sustained, that happily doesn't aspire to be anything it isn't and is the better for it compared to many that do.