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, 22 June 2018

The Tallis Scholars

The Tallis Scholars, Portsmouth Cathedral, June 26th


I attended Evensong this evening, admittedly mainly to fill in the time but also in search of some sort of enduring tradition, something like cricket that has to be done for its own reasons. I heard about Lazarus and some stern words about my enemies who want to smite me down. But there was some interesting singing and some organ music even if we didn't get chance to sing ourselves.
Across the road for a pint in The Dolphin with my esoteric music mate and then we were back in the cathedral for the main feature. A lively opening by Byrd was followed by two Hosannas (Gibbons and Weekes) with students from the Portsmouth Grammar School who didn't let the side down at all and can now say they did the choral equivalent of play with Real Madrid.
Tavener's Funeral Ikos features an impressive low note in the bass that it eventually ends on which was carried forward subliminally to the sustained bass note in Song for Athene, which is always welcome with its flights of angels and sense of disorientation, something to do with harmonics, that our generations will all our days remember as the sombrest moment of Diana's funeral. Arvo Part's sepulchral Nunc dimittis ended the first half but one had to suspect the second half would go up a gear and after Magnificats by Gibbons and Part, it was back to William Byrd for his Mass for Four Voices, here for ten voices, for the big picture. Notwithstanding that they regularly venture very successfully into contemporary music, this is the Tallis Scholars' real territory and what they are for. Amid the encircling gloom that made the previously unnecessary lights seem brighter, and perhaps they could try it with less lighting, there was more of a sense of stillness, of timelessness and, beyond that, all the dark reasons why Byrd wrote masses for such reduced forces in the first place. Thus it provided in good measure that which Evensong didn't really provide for me. Our light rapidly dimming...to a richer, desperate whisper, as it says somewhere.
The benefits or need for perfection, or not, have been pondered here before so I'm over that now. It doesn't get much better if you like that sort of thing and if you like that sort of thing, the Tallis professor, Peter Phillips, is halfway through explaining it in an enlightening series late on Sunday nights on Radio 3.
To those who don't know about cricket, all cricket must look the same, but it isn't - or wasn't until things like the Big Bash- and the same goes for Renaissance polyphony. And Peter's the man to tell us why.
Nearly thirty years ago, it must have been, I fretted about the Tallis Scholars being on in Southampton and I didn't think I could get to see them, and worried I might miss my only chance. I need not have worried. It's four times now so they have gone ahead of The Magnetic Fields, and in Just a Minute terms are one point behind Andrew Motion who in turn is a long way behind the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. I can hardly let them come to Portsmouth and not be there.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

They Deepen Like Some Front Room Shelves

For some months now I have been wondering where the CD's go next. I haven't got seventeen different versions of the same Sibelius symphony like someone I know, certainly don't need house room for the likes of Wagner, Bruckner or even much Mahler but one day there might be a box of the Complete Bach Cantatas here and they all need space. I'll be the last to have it all on i-pod or kindle. there is only me and Danny Baker left who won't have a 'mobile phone' although I daresay when we were kids, we'd have loved to have had a walkie-talkie and that's what they are.
I had wondered about the cost effectiveness of having four more shelves cut to size to add in to the bookcases I already have. It might only be a bit of wood but it needs to be the right bit of wood and be sawed exactly in the right place. I might like to think of myself as a dab hand at enjambment but sawing planks of wood isn't the same thing.
So I've been waiting for the crisis to become an emergency. I learnt that from watching what governments do. Then, eventually, I thought, no, never mind the bookcase in the back room, let's bring one shelf out of that and put it in the front room because that is the priority.
And that was when I found out that the holes aren't in the right place to accommodate two more shelves in each bookcase. In fact, there's not much to be had from even having one more shelf.
So, now, as you can see, there is room for another year or two, or maybe more's accumulation of classical CD's because the space temporarily occupied by Elizabeth Bishop will be annexed by them and she will be found space elsewhere. She might just fit on the Thom Gunn shelf and they would both like that.
One day even the Shakespeare biography books might have to go upstairs. One day Francois Couperin and Charpentier might be more important even than them.
The pop music is strewn about the lower reaches, and some of it out of picture. The imperative to order more old Joni Mitchell albums is not as strong as whatever was on the wireless last weekend, anything else Errollyn Wallen puts out or things reviewed in Gramophone, although it must be said that the future of such a subscription is always in jeopardy because, for example, however wonderfully a new recording of the Bach Partitas is said to be, there's Rachel Podger up there, a few places to the right of the Complete Buxtehude. How many versions do I need.
I have a sense that there isn't that much of the future remaining and that this brilliant tactical maneouvre delays the need for any further immediate action and will get us through much of it. I don't care where the 2030 World Cup will be held. I'm not particularly bothered where the current one is.
Heaven knows, I've almost got carte blanche to go on a spree. If anybody knows how much shelf space the Complete Haydn String Quartets take up, please let me know. I might have to buy next door after all.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Sean O'Brien - Quartier Perdu

Sean O'Brien, Quartier Perdu (Comma)

While some poets write only poetry, others move into other genres, too. Sophie Hannah is now a crime fiction writer, which is presumably more lucrative than poems; Tony Harrison's films and theatre work are as well-known as his poems; David Harsent and Michael Symmons-Roberts have written libretti for composers amongst other things and Glyn Maxwell is a playwright. Although Sean O'Brien has published two novels, this is his second book of short stories, as well as plays for radio, translations and criticism, he is, like Auden, still primarily known for his poetry. Quartier Perdu deserves to put that glib assumption up for re-assessment.
By all means, these pieces, like his other fiction, fill out more detail from the world view available in his poetry, the surrealism and gothic horror coming straight out of an early-ish poem like Thrillers and Cheese, but if at first one is reminded of the way that a Murakami novel can rapidly develop from laid-back domesticity into a nightmarish adventure that is only the other side of a wall or lurking under a fragile surface of a recognizably ordinary life, one can't ever forget O'Brien quoting Douglas Dunn's poem, The River Through The City, as a major influence. O'Brien is forever in its debt.
But he is a literary writer, never knowingly avoiding any allusion that suggests itself. Having produced a version of Dante's Inferno, that is in evidence here, alongside The Odyssey, poets such as Tennyson, Marvell and Larkin and any amount of knowing nods and quotation from past literature, not least T.S. Eliot who most notably made his books from bits of other people's. But like Eliot, whose work is very much his own, O'Brien has by now created an idiosyncracy of which his is the only likeness. If you think you've spotted an intertextual reference, you probably have and at the bottom of page 1,
Her smug prettiness was all that was the case with her.
if you weren't sure if Wittgenstein was being subliminally hinted at quite so early doors then one can look back and assume he was.
If we are chronically on the brink of subterranean nether worlds, whether being rowed by faceless boatman to unknown places, undergoing a change of consciousness via the moly drug of Circe or encountering ghosts or the suggestion of them, we soon get used to it but O'Brien's prose writing here is often a gentler thing than the characteristically uncompromising realpolitik of much of the poetry. Despite the literariness and the genre mannerism demanded by tales of mystery and imagination, this is fine writing with an entirely convincing naturalness. Only perhaps in Change for Low Rixham does the action become a bit more comic book than necessary.
If it would be an understatement to say the stories share a sense of dislocation, it is no exaggeration to say that O'Brien has a bottomless stock of telling expressions of ennui,
the watery crepuscular light of this town with its air of perpetual valediction.

That is from the title story, an epistolary account of a girl who goes into mitteleuropa to research the papers of a bad poet, gets no replies to her increasingly anxious letters home and is never seen again.
Although one becomes aware that something unsettling is bound to happen once the pattern has been established it is perhaps only in Lovely that the first date is going so apparently well that the macabre ending is totally to be expected but if one is led into thinking that you've sussed it, the formula has been outed and motifs are recurring with ominous regularity, the rest of the book is going to be more of the same, no, the best pieces are actually still to come.
Ex Libris has turned into an encounter with Dr. Johnson and Boswell that uncomfortably brings in avatars but becomes a meditation on literature and the novelists' revenge on critics whereas Revanant makes no effort to disguise the figure of Maurice Ashover, the biographical subject of his surrogate as a poet, Macklin, as being based not very loosely on Larkin. Macklin might have all but given up on poetry but is invited to contribute to a radio programme and hasn't been able to escape the way his subject took over his own life. He disappears into someone else's poems and the story is shudderingly more worrying for its understatedness.
That masterpiece follows close upon A Cold Spot, which is a calmly beautiful ghost story but political themes are not forgotten for long. There is clearly going to be more to come from Certain Measures than the cut-price crowd doing their Christmas shopping in Oxford Street so disarmingly seen, in some vintage O'Brien, for what they are, the diagnosis of a 'cure for capitalism...downsized God' and erasure of 'me from myself' having come only a few pages earlier. When it does come, and civil disturbance is orchestrated by the Police, the news item presented as further high street horror we all need to be protected from, one might ask of O'Brien whether or not he is siding with conspiracy theorists and whether or not he appreciates living in a country that, imperfect though it may be, employs security services to allow him to write and publish as he sees fit. It's a pertinent piece but suggests to me more questions about the defence of liberalism than the sinister forces of perceived tyranny.  
And, in A Green Shade, the 'monetarization' of university resources is lampooned and the purpose of universities, nowadays ostensibly 'positioning themselves in world terms', considered in the light of whether Lord Pybus's Ground, an area made over for contemplation, reading and sometimes performance, should be 'developed'. The issue is settled, non-acimably but fittingly, in the masque peformed there, in most literary fashion.
And then, presumably significantly as the last story, is The Aspen Grove, by no means the first to use the idea of having finished doing what one used to do (Macklin, above, had done that) but Morgan has given up his university post, book reviewing and poetry readings and gone back to his novel, so far seven years in the making,
Morgan had given up women as well as everything else. It didn't occur to him that this renunciation might be reciprocal.
But the poem is about a statue, and perhaps he is infatuated with it and just in case we hadn't been sated with enough literary allusion, it is an inversion of Orpheus and Eurydice and, as we probably always knew we were due to be, we are left,
turned to stone and the stone would burn forever.

Being a tremendous admirer of Sean O'Brien at his best, and finding any thoughts of a correspondance with the Ashover/Macklin axis in Revanant harrowing and to be vigorously contested, I adored this book and read it not in one sitting but really only with breaks to look at e-mail and be delayed by a chess habit for which no cure has yet been found.
It might not rival the short fiction of James Joyce, George Moore, Katherine Mansfield or William Trevor, if they might be thought of as paragon examples, as some of the best in the language, not least because some knowledge of poetry, a subscription to the TLS and a bookish mindset might be required to appreciate it for what it is. But it might stand alongside Sean O'Brien's best poems as his most memorable work. It's rare for me to be still up gone 10.30 on a Sunday night, fuelled by Merlot, only because I wanted to get on and do it rather than wait until tomorrow night.
Quartier Perdu is a book to relish, sometimes sentence by sentence, for its dark humour, layers of irony, untrustworthy beauty and unashamed panache, never apologetic about being what it most obviously is, a book for book people, the brooding machismo still there somewhere and the nightmares only one more sleep away but we are a played-out generation, us, and the exquisite account of that trauma is what we have left to enjoy.     
   

The Agony and the Ecstasy





Michael Broadwith End to End

I was quite moved by Ronaldo's 88th minute free kick to salvage the draw for Portugal v. Spain.

Then I could hear the relentless hysteria of Radio 5's commentator who seemed to think that every moment of France v. Australia was more sensational than the last. That was a painful racket chuntering on in the kitchen and was soon exchanged for the calmer waters of Record Review talking about Bruckner.

But, of a completely different order and incomprehensible to ordinary mortal long distance cyclists who were full of themselves for doing 217.888 miles in 12 Hours, in the early hours of the morning, Michael Broadwith arrived at John O'Groats 43 hours 25 minutes and 13 seconds after leaving Land's End, thus taking about half an hour off the long-standing record.
I've never found Twitter more useful and it was a compelling way to watch sport, the updates telling of how the Scottish weather in June did all it could to defend the old record by providing downpours of biblical proportions to make a ride that was never going to be comfortable considerably less so.
Nobody made him do it, of course, and it's up to him and there is some irony in waiting for weeks to go when the weather forecast looks favourable and then get caught in that. However, it is heroic by any sporting standards and the next time we see a millionaire footballer with tattoos and a silly hairstyle pretending he's been tripped up perhaps our thoughts will turn to some less publicized efforts more worthy of our admiration.

Top marks to Michael and I hope they don't mind me using one of their photos.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Oh, Babe, What Would You Say

Fine work last night by Wigmore Hall streaming the concert by Jakob Jozef Orlinski, countertenor, so that I could see who was sitting in my seat. It is home from home for me by now, having been as many as three times, and I wish they would bring it nearer.  The highlight, as it would be on any programme, was Reynaldo Hahn's A Chloris which is not to underestimate any of the Handel or Schubert he did. While not everything they make available thus will be quite as much up my street, I'll look forward to their next kind e-mail telling me what they'll do next.

Meanwhile Thursday is always TLS day so that's to be expected but today is a bumper post - they come not single spies but in battalions - with Matthew Klam's Sam the Cat and Sean O'Brien's short stories in the long awaited Quartier Perdu.
Having had the latter on order for as long as I can remember, Amazon eventually e-mailed to say they couldn't get it and cancelled the order. How surprised was I then to find it was out and about and had been for a while. Sean shares the distinction of longest awaited book with the ongoing anticipation of the re-issue of Patrick Hamilton's Monday Morning. His essays The De-regulated Muse were more than three years from being announced to actually arriving. Quartier Perdu hasn't quite achieved that, Monday Morning is putting in a strong challenge and I now see that the biography of Charlotte Mew by Julia Copus isn't due until 2020 so there's a book that sets its stall out early.
But all are safely gathered in in due course with the likely exception of the biography of Thom Gunn that I understood to be in the making but that was so long ago now I'm sure it must have been abandoned. And now that some have arrived, it should be a worthwhile weekend, certainly without any sport on telly as a distraction.

 

Monday, 11 June 2018

Door Revisited

I have no idea where to go after The Perfect Book. It doesn't even occur to me to write a poem at the moment. If that wasn't some sort of statement, post-ironic, intertextual, embracing cliché, literary to a giddy aunt's satisfaction, I make the point further by dishing out copies to anybody who will take one and sending out no review copies and doing no promoting whatsoever. It's very much like being a vegetarian, not trying to take a moral stand, just trying to do the right thing if one can but still guilty of an interminable list of things some people things are offences.
Like showing off by writing poems at all.
Well, they can deal with things like that. But I can't think of any possible way that Pink Floyd are better than Cliff Richard and so I retain the moral high ground as far as I'm concerned..
But one can't give everything all up at once. Horse racing's gone. I can't turn back the tide any more than King Canute could. I've given them plenty back but can keep the Complete Works of Buxtehude, the suit now shabby, the painting and a few other trophies from the winning years. But I can't quite give up writing poems even if they are only 'derived from the derivative'.



Door Revisited

Last Friday I had a new back door.
I should have had one long before
But I’m not quick on the uptake,
Don’t do such things for their own sake

So waited til it fell to bits,
Became urgent and that’s why it’s
Much more loved than it might have been.
I painted it myself. You’ve seen,

Above, the piece I quote. I can’t
Pretend it’s something by Rembrandt
Or one by Michelangelo.
It’s White Chess Set, Yoko Ono. 

Footnote. 
Unlike William Empson and T.S. Eliot, I prefer it if poems can survive on their own terms without large amounts of addenda. But this is Yoko's White Chess Set, a powerful, if flawed, anti-racist 
polemic, just in case you are not aware of it.

Yoko is much maligned for her role in bringing The Beatles to an early end. But I'm on her side. The Beatles might have been even better if she'd turned up sooner. 
 

Revising Reviews

There is a temptation, whatever the point is in writing about books here, to post reviews of new books asap. I like to get there early if I can.
I quite often say that the book, or record, isn't going to be filed away immediately and will continue to be read or listened to, either because it demands as much or because there must be more to find. Heaven knows, I'll never get to the bottom of the Silesian Quartet's Bacewicz String Quartets so I'm certainly not ready yet for the follow up that came in short order.

But Sean O'Brien's Europa was given relatively short shrift from me, as someone who adores the best of his poems to a fault. I didn't say I didn't like it and I didn't say it was no good but perhaps I  implied it might be Beethoven 4 or 8, that are less lauded than 3, 5, 6, 7 or 9 and perhaps even 1 and 2.

But it wasn't put away, has been regularly re-read, and Goddess, first among others, is revealed as a masterpiece. It may or may not be a companion piece to Julia, I'm not the maestro's biographer, I wouldn't know. But I do want to be as soon as I can in amending any underwhelming verdict heretofore offered.

The shortlists towards Best Collection and Best Poem of the Year, nearly halfway through already, at least now have one entry on them. I don't know who else has books due this year but they would be worthy winners even without opposition put in front of them.