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.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

View from the Boundary

Marc Bolan was one of the specialist subjects on Mastermind last night. I didn't treat it like an exam by doing any revision, I just turned up to see how I could do. He wouldn't exactly be my 'specialist subject'- Stuart Maconie has already narrowly beaten me at C20th British Poetry on a Celebrity Mastermind - but it's a subject I'm not too bad on.
In the event I lost 8-6 to the contestant, who was well off the pace and sadly came fourth out of four. But how agonizing is it to know exactly where your copy of Bolan's book of poems is on your shelf but you can't quite remember what it's called and, to be honest, you haven't looked at it for years. But it's called Warlock of Love. I won't ever forget that again but it has to be said that the words to his songs like Hot Love and Get It On are far better than his poems anyway.
I named Herbie Flowers as the 'legendary' ('legendary'?) bass player in the late incarnation of T. Rex when yer man offered Dino Dines but what I didn't know- and perhaps you do learn something new everyday and I definitely did yesterday- was that Marc played on three tracks by ELO, including the single Ma Ma Ma Belle. And now that I know that, I'm that much happier.
But in the end I wonder how much value there is in knowing stuff, if instant recall of arcane information is anything to be admired and what is the worth of winning a quiz. It becomes more pertinent as one was once regarded as something of a lion of the quiz game (if only, realistically, the arts questions) but then those brain cells that contained the information about what order The Human League's singles were released in and what chart position they achieved might have died off.
Is it more important to know when, where or why Bach wrote The Well-Tempered Klavier or just enjoy listening to it.


Later last night I was listening to Radio 5, as habit dictates until it becomes necessary to see if Radio 3 are playing any Buxtehude, when Stephen Nolan announced that his 11.30 interview was to be with Maddy Paxman.
I know who Maddy Paxman is. And so I stayed with R5 almost as faithfully as if His Majesty the Rt. Hon. D. Baker had arrived to talk fairly aimlessly with Pat Nevin.
Stephen Nolan is a broadcaster of some bombast. He is not a Shock Jock but he does relish some suffering, the opportunity to leave the airwaves silent for a few moments while someone bereaved or perhaps with a terminal illness struggles to come to terms with his quietly sensitive but intrusive interviewing technique. It's a mixture of The National Enquirer, Jeremy Kyle and Esther Rantzen.
Maddy Paxman has written an account of bereavement ten years after the loss of her extraordinary husband, who was only 50 years old at the time. We heard some first-hand reportage of her husband's sudden and untimely demise but all you knew, if you didn't know any better, was that he was a poet, he was called Michael and Maddy first saw him when he was playing tin whistle in a folk band and he looked like trouble, and she married him and he was trouble. But he was Michael Donaghy, just about the greatest poet of his generation and either Stephen Nolan didn't know that or he is so much taken up with the issue of grief that it doesn't matter who you are grieving over, ten years after.
It was remarkable to stumble across such an item. I wonder if the deceased had been, say, George Best, and the memoir writer been one of his partners, if George would have been referred to as 'someone who was prominent in his field' or 'he could be difficult but, then again, he was unforgettable' (and those are not verbatim quotations) but the parallels between Best as a footballer and Donaghy as a poet are not entirely forlorn. They were, in their discrete sullen arts, the spectacular superstars of their age.
Maddy Paxman wasn't remotely phased by Stephen Nolan's interest in the grief. No, it was awful to lose Michael at such an age when the son was only 8. But she wasn't going to give him the sought-for moments of radio drama where he will wait until the interviewee can gather themselves for further insights into their loss. No, Maddy is up for it. Yes, she could love again. Mind you, she is hard to please and anyone taking the place of Michael Donaghy has a tough act to follow so if you are, for example, Stephen Nolan, then it might be best not to apply.
It was quite some time ago that I ventured into wine reviewing as a one-off and singular event here.
I was sceptical about Chateau David, a Bordeaux Superieur, but said it was just about alright.
The 2012 seems fine to me. At six pounds and fifty pence of her majesty's coinage for each bottle that you take away from Mr. Sainsbury's local grocery shop, I'd say you could do far worse.

Maggi Hambling - Walls of Water

Maggi Hambling, Walls of Water, National Gallery, Nov 29th and to Feb 15th.

These days I'm not quite the honorary Londoner I almost became a few years ago with my quite regular visits, my own Oyster card and my belief that I knew where I was and knew where I was going (until I got lost). It can be a trial for the visitor of advancing years who is more accustomed to the sedate provinces and so it needs to be something worth coming for to entice me into the maelstrom of activity. Vibrant it might be but the enjoyment is entirely in arriving at one's destination and not in getting there. But new paintings by Maggi Hambling are an event worth investigating, with her being such a star in my firmament.
One might say it's more of the same after the sea paintings and waterfalls but these 'walls' might be fountains, some of them, and they are mostly the frayed edges of jostling water rather than the walls of the long, narrower canvasses of the waterfalls. (In fact they are the spray as waves hit the sea wall which explains the lines near the bottom of them). There is more or less white canvas in each of them, with no attempt to put in the skies that informed the sea paintings with the possibility of a moon. These are only the water and if one thinks to mention Jackson Pollock it might be best to think again because whereas Jack was about the paint and some 'energy' in his abstraction, these are figurative paintings.
They are the tops of waves, perhaps the tops of fountains where we get not only the surging power of water caught in different ranges of tone but the loose threads of spray where water fades into air. And, as with Maggi's previous such exhibitions, a lot of time looking at them is spent finding the animals, faces and figures that have occurred. I noted druids, shrouded figures, eyes, crying faces, pelican, serpent, razorbill (or cormorant or some such sea bird), seals, orchids and ghosts without trying too hard and I'm no ornithologist. But this is only a game suggested as you stare into the paint when the overall effect is surely of frantic power and coruscating nature, if you want to use words like 'coruscating'.
The paintings are dated 2011 and move into 2012 and are numbered and exhibited in roughly that order. Some reds, maroon, pink and orange come into the later pictures where the earlier had more blue/grey, black and any amount of hints of other shades on closer inspection. But whereas the titles are simply Wall of water plus a roman numeral and one finds in them almost whatever one wants to find, there is the smaller canvas entitled Wall of water, Amy Winehouse (above) in which you might find Amy represented a number of times or not at all. Or you might Russell Brand. Oh, yes, that is certainly a black bee-hive hairdo, there's a face, there's a profile and there might be a leg and possibly even some blood but, there again, there might not be. The last thing you should ever do is actually say anything definitive about art, you just suggest things, like the art does, if you feel like it. There is nothing to be gained from making such wooden observations as that Love is a Losing Game and here is the bleary, smeared, dripping evidence. I don't think it means that at all. Not even that Amy is a ghost lost in the savage, overwhelming forces of unrelenting despair. No, honestly, it isn't that either.
Downstairs in the Espresso Bar (oh, no, I don't think I've ever been in an espresso bar before) are the monotypes, 'zinc plates covered in black printing ink' that Maggi removed with fingers, brushes, solvent,
drawing with light into dark,
she says and that's fine but Maggi herself has said in my hearing that a painting is finished 'when it is sold'; I heard Peter Phillips (The Tallis Scholars) in the summer speaking about the economic necessities - rather than niceties- of touring Renaissance choral music and so it's a shame but professional artists have their bills to pay like we do and work like this, one regrets even thinking, is done to sell to those who can't afford an oil painting but want a Hambling. Well, I want a Hambling all of my own (Broken Moon, to be specific) but I wouldn't buy one of these. And neither, really, would I want the responsibility of looking after one or the guilt of depriving the public of it by having it on my front room wall. The monotypes are quite brilliantly done when you consider how they have been produced- it's just that they are nowhere near as interesting to look at as the 'real thing'.
And so I used the rest of my time paying homage to the Vermeer, to Carel Fabritius, and very much enjoyed coming across Two Tax Gatherers, probably 1540's, Workshop of Marinus van Reymerswale. To think that the genius who produced that is only remembered thus.
And then, I happened to be passing a betting office and noticed that it was time for the Hennessey Gold Cup to be finishing and so I saw the last mile (with absolutely no sight of Rocky Creek) but checked and found that Irving had won the Fighting Fifth hurdle at Newcastle and so, whatever else happened, I had made a few bob while I'd been absent from my enormously comfortable settee.


Friday, 28 November 2014

The Saturday Nap

Irving was probably going to win at Wincanton when he fell at the last but his impressive run before Cheltenham earlier this year will begin to fade from the memory if he doesn't win at Newcastle tomorrow.
The Fighting Fifth Hurdle has been somewhat undermined by the introduction of new Grade 1 hurdle races in November and so if Irving is to live up to his promise it needs to be soon but I missed the 7/4 available earlier in the week and so, at 5/6, he plays the holding role in a couple of yankees that include things like Chelsea winning 2-0 at Sunderland.
I suggested Rocky Creek for the Hennessey at 12/1 last week and even though he is still available at 11/1, I won't desert him. I guess that the ground has dried out and so perhaps the money for him has too. But our long descent into penury was stalled last week with three out of four of our modest yankee obliging. I should have had more confidence in Silvianiaco Conti but when one's confidence is out, nothing seems obvious. If only Katkeau had been able to get properly involved in the finish, we might have been in dreamland with four out of four. However, if the doubles and trebles don't get our level stake quite into profit at the starting prices, they would do at the prices I took the night before which was 7/2, 11/4 and 15/8 compared to 10/3, 5/2 and 11/10. So, always, always take a price (especially with Paddy's Best Price Guarantee) because I reckon the money comes for a winner and it doesn't matter if the SP is better if you don't win.
And I forgot to say last week how Sam Twiston-Davies had been so entirely convincing on Sam Winner and astonishing winner Caid du Berlais at Cheltenham previously. I had been a bit of a doubter but am more than happy to sing his praises where they are due.
And so, I won't actually be stretched out on the settee with the paper, the crossword, a book and the racing on Saturday afternoon. It will seem such a waste of a weekend.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Next General Election

The next General Election, due in the Spring, is the most open and unpredictable certainly in my lifetime and almost of all time, one might imagine.
Sadly this is not because the British public are going to be spoilt for choice among so many attractive candidates but, as last time, it will be decided on who does the least badly and it's quite likely that nobody will win this time either.
Last time, the Conservatives should have thrashed Gordon Brown out of sight but they weren't convincing enough to win outright. Labour look like a similarly ill-prepared opposition this time. But whereas once the two major parties gained 98% of the popular vote, that figure is now struggling in the 65% area.
So, what impact will UKIP have on a General Election rather than a couple of convenient By Elections. Still quite a bit, one would think, but not necessarily turning that into a large wedge of seats. And Labour look set to collapse in Scotland on which they depend if they are to form a Westminster government, the referendum having done the SNP a whole lot of good apart from delivering the one thing that they stand for.
The Lib Dem vote is due to be wiped off the result board in all but a few constituencies. All those years building up seats since the six we, I mean they, had in the 1960's will be set back to the level of those dark days when they were the radical alternative and not briefly a party of government. I'm afraid it was inevitable, taking the blame for going in with Cameron but what else could they do.  Even with Labour there weren't really enough seats to form an administration and there wasn't a will. Gordon didn't even look like someone who wanted to go on. But we should be more grateful to the Lib Dems for seeing out five years and surely acting as some restraint on a Conservative government that would have got away with far worse without them. It seems most unreasonable to me to berate them for not delivering manifesto promises when they were only awarded very junior partner status in the government that the election put in place
I can see a Conservative majority government being returned in six months' time and the next move, apart from some English devolution which could provide an almost permanent Conservative majority in England, will be the succession to follow Cameron which might be a gory Boris v. Osborne bout which will make many of us look back on the Cameron-Clegg era as a much-missed and undervalued Golden Age.
In Portsmouth North here, there is only Labour to vote for as an alternative to the Splashing Penny Mordaunt and one is hardly convinced by Ed. Andy Burnham is the leftist choice but what, exactly, can he be expected to achieve. And so, there might be a Green to vote for but I might just turn up and vote Lib Dem because there's not much I like more than underdogs, lost causes and long-held affinities.
But what does Paddy Power think. He makes a good living out of the fact that the likes of me don't know what will happen in horse races, football matches and even politics.

On the subject of the Government after the Next Election, he goes,
7/2 Labour majority
9/2 Con/Lib Dem
9/2 Conservative majority
9/2 Lab/Lib Dem
6/1 Conservative minority
13/2 Labour minority

and selected others include-
Coalition involving SNP 10/1 (how ironic),
Coalition involving UKIP 10/1
Lab/SNP 12/1
Con/Lib Dem/Green 66/1
Con/Lib/UKIP 100/1 (I can't see that but I did see Norton's Coin win the Gold Cup at that price)
UKIP 150/1

Whereas the odds on 'Prime Minister after Cameron' make most entertaining reading,
Evens, Ed Miliband
7/1 Boris
8 Andy Burnham
14 Theresa May
16 Yvette Cooper
20 Osborne

and selected other include-
Michael Gove 25/1 ( !!!!!)
Nigel Farage 50/1
Nick Clegg 66/1, which is the worst value 66/1 bet I have ever seen.

It is intriguing as a spectacle if not as a political debate. We know by now that principles and the good of the people are nowhere among most of these participants' motives and that their careers are what matter to them. As I heard said, 90% of what David Cameron wanted to do as Prime Minister was achieved when he first went through the door of no. 10.
I think the 9/2 about a Conservative majority government is worth a few bob at this stage and the tip for the next Prime Minister could be found when there is both enough of a Stop Boris campaign combined with a Stop Osborne campaign and Theresa May wins it in the same way that very few favourites have won Conservative leadership elections in recent decades.
One could hope that there will be sufficient further defections from Conservative to UKIP to make enough pro-European Conservatives re-align with whatever they can find among the remains of an old centre and we could go through the process of the Roy Jenkins SDP from the 1970's again. But what did become of that. And we have hoped in vain before.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Best Poem and Best Collection Shortlists 2014

It is time for the shortlists for my Best Poem and Best Collection of 2014. These awards, which are worthless and bring with them no prize, should really be re-named something like The Year in Review since some other categories have crept in since their inception when the website was intended to be poetry-based.
As has been explained previously, the qualification process is a rigorous one because any work first of all needs to be something I've been aware of and then decided to read/listen to/attend. I'm not a committee, there is only me and it's me that decides (which, I think, is a good thing) but there are, of course, sometimes things that I'm not aware of or don't see until later.
It is time for the shortlists- and the winners will be announced here in mid-December- but in a year packed with wonderful things, there are still more things to come.
I'm not expecting any further poetry titles to be candidates but in the Best Event category, Maggi Hambling's Walls of Water exhibition in the National Gallery might be added after Saturday's visit there. And there are two discs on their way here, either or both of which one always hopes might come into contention. One would hardly have been ordering them otherwise. And it has to be noted that Ton Koopman's boxed set of Buxtehude's Opera Omnia would be a massive favourite had I been sufficiently profligate to spend 300 pounds on it and find the required 60 hours to play it all but, as yet, I haven't.
Some categories are more competitive than others. Best Novel would be a longer list if The Goldfinch had been published in 2014, and, by the same token, I suppose, Middlemarch.
The best two poetry books of the year, for me, were not of new poems and so are similarly inadmissable. I can't set up a whole new category for them. Perhaps I could but I'm not going to. But Neil Astley's edition of the Collected Poems of Rosemary Tonks and Don Paterson's exemplary commentary on Michael Donaghy, in Smith, are both worthy of glorious mentions without portfolio.
But it is the Best Event shortlist that could easily be twice as long, with a number of great concerts left out in the process of making a first step towards deciding which was actually 'best' (which is when one really begins to wonder if and why it matters). It might even have included the Portsmouth Poetry's Society's National Poetry Day reading but it would have to had to come with a salutory 'apart from me' in brackets and one can hardly nominate something that one had a hand in organizing and took part in.
And so, with all those provisos in mind, the shortlists as they stand, are-

Best Poem 

Colette Bryce, Your Grandmother’s House
David Harsent, Fire: a song for Mistress Askew
Michael Longley, Amelia’s Poem
Roddy Lumsden, For Charlotte 

Best Collection 

Colette Bryce, The Whole and Rain-domed Universe (Picador)
John Burnside, All One Breath (Cape)
Roddy Lumsden, Not All Honey (Bloodaxe) 

Best Novel 

Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (Harvill Secker)
Sarah Waters, The Paying Guests (Virago)

Best Event 

Florilegium, Portsmouth Third Floor Arts Centre
Alexander Romanovsky/BSO, Shostakovich Piano Concerto no. 2, Portsmouth Guildhall
Southern Countertenors, Portsmouth Cathedral
The Tallis Scholars, Portsmouth Cathedral 

Best CD 

Cappella Amsterdam/Reuss, Carolyn Sampson, Poulenc, Stabat Mater (Harmonia Mundi)
Cuarteto Casals, Haydn, Seven Last Words from the Cross (Harmonia Mundi)
The Sixteen, Handel, Jephtha (Coro)

Friday, 21 November 2014

The Saturday Nap

It is tempting to give Silviniaco Conti the opportunity to get me back the money he owes me from a few weeks ago but with so many great horses against in the race, any of them could run well and finish fourth and so even an each way bet is by no means a conservative option.
Faugheen at Ascot and The New One at Haydock will be earning prize money to pay the vet's bills on their way to meeting in the Champion Hurdle in March but neither, at odds like 2/7, are realistic betting propositions. I would like to see The New One jump better and if either are going to get beaten before Cheltenham, it might be tomorrow but unless Melodic Rendezvous gets a lucky break or runs a lifetime best, one can't see what by.
The Amlin Chase at Ascot is another competitive affair that would be hard to pick from except to notice that Ruby Walsh is not presumably coming over specifically to ride in the bumper. So Al Ferof must be worth a thought.
I think today we will play with what small change we have and try a yankee on Fletchers Flyer (Ascot 12.25), Al Ferof (2.30), Katkeau, (Haydock 2.25, where we inevitably dread Big Easy from last week) and Silvinaco Conti (3.00).
The right horse at the wrong time is a theme that recurs too often and Garde La Victoire, tipped here and an unlucky loser last month, won at 10/1 last week.
But while there is 12/1 available about Rocky Creek for next week's Hennessey, let's have some of that in advance because that is likely to be the word then.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

View from the Boundary

I was writing a piece on last weekend's telly programme, It was Alright in the 1970's, the other night. I couldn't let it stand, though, because one has difficulty saying much without it looking as if you are either trying to defend the sexism and racism the period was accused of or sounding like the same pious ponitificators who came on as talking heads to say how shocking it all was, in hindsight.
But, yes, it was alright in the 1970's, especially as one's teenage years are inevitably more interesting than being in your 50's and the 70's contributed the work of Bowie, Bolan, Roxy Music and Lou Reed, for examples, whose gender ambiguity and bohemian chic was a coherent alternative to Les Dawson, Miss World and Bernard Manning.
In twenty years time there might well be a show revealing that,
In 2014 there were a lot of television programmes made on the cheap by stringing together old clips and inviting dull commentators to say a few bland words about them which were supposed to be astute observations by those who knew better than , and for the benefit of, a gullible public.
Well, there is no need to wait twenty years, there it is, I've done it now.
Derek Mahon's recent book,  Red Sails, arrived this week. Perhaps I should be more careful. I opened it to find a page of prose, turned to another page and that was prose, too. It is a book of essays. I was expecting a book of poems and was disappointed at first but, reading a few, it is perhaps a good thing I didn't know that because I might not have ordered it if I had and it looks very worthwhile indeed.
The final paragraph of the book includes this,
'Postmodernism' is or was the literary and artistic face of that induced chaos in its repletion and vacuity, its deceitful appropriation of the 'counter-cultural' idea.
It is a long paragraph and a magnificent one and I look forward to arriving at it having read the rest of the essay that leads up to it. The above quoted sentence is very much the sort of sentence I like to find in books. Postmodernism, the whole of Postmodernism, was, and presumably still is, apparently a relativist tool for the dumbing down of the highbrow and noble elitism for the benefit of marketing strategies and even the TLS is implicated.
It might turn out to be an even better book than a book of Mahon's poetry and he remains hugely admired in this house.
And I'm looking out for a wildlife photography competition to enter so that I can sweep up the prize money with my study of a barn owl taken in Southwick, Hants, on a recent walk. Here it is, both the original panoramic shot and the close up detail. It is rare, I understand, to see such as thing and so I feel privileged to have caught it digitally in all its glory. I was a bit slow on the uptake, actually, I didn't realize soon enough what had gained the attention of my friends. Otherwise, I might have got an even better picture. It was right over this side of the field when it was first spotted.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Donaghy's Hazard

Don Paterson's book on Michael Donaghy continues to be a joy. Donaghy was a poet of rare quality and Paterson is the consummate guide to his work. The book is an essential contribution to contemporary poetry and likely to remain the main place to go for readers of Donaghy for as long as he is read.
There are more compelling poems than Hazard discussed, and there are none that are not worthy of our attention, but Paterson's commentary on Hazard is as much as one needs to know on the subject at issue very succinctly put. Not only that but it condenses so much of what I return here to say about the 'avant garde' from time to time that I may not feel the need to so often in future once I've endorsed all of what it says.
I'm glad to note, firstly, that,
In the ten years since his death, things have become considerably less tribal, mainly owing to the wider influence of a younger generation who just can't see or care what we were all fighting about.

And thank heavens for that. It was the case that the avant garde wanted to flaunt their novelty, revolutionary instincts and unconventional approach and the rest of us who had lost interest. They would write difficult, obtuse and supposedly elitist poems so that only their mates could understand them and then complain when others didn't. I am perfectly happy with such a broad 'mainstream' that everything is included, difficult or easy, rhymed, unrhymed, allusive, literal, lower case, upper case and whether it said 'and' or used the ampersand. Of course there will be innovation or else all poetry in English would still be like Caedmon but this self-regarding little sideshow of puny newfangledness was never going anywhere. As Paterson notes, attributing to Auden, Valery or A.N. Other,
everything changes but the avant garde.

And Donaghy, by no means a conservative poet, provides four stanzas of satire on the subject, elucidated for us quite authoritatively by Paterson.
The first stanza is a retelling of the story of the king's new clothes and that is familiar enough, while acknowledging also that some who consider themselves less deceived by such confidence tricks might not be quite so smart either.
There is then reference to the fable of dancing monkeys who immediately return to their monkey state when thrown some nuts and a favourite avant device of transposing a sentence by replacing every content word with the next word in the OED. Potentially amusing the first time one does it, if you're lucky, but the 'harmless fun' would soon wear off for most of us.
Next, Donaghy takes his text from Acts 2, in which,
and they began to speak with other tongues
in order to confound the multitude.

rather than enlighten them. And the poem finishes with,
Which part of Noh did you not understand?

Poets as distinguished as Geoffrey Hill have said that poetry should not be easy and many of us appreciate all the help we can get with Paul Muldoon, but there is more to them than obscurity or the contrived method being the only point. Such art is necessarily still-born, especially compared to the rich poetry of Donaghy, to which one can return endlessly. As Paterson says,
A flash new suit of novel strategies maybe, but with no poem inside.

All that this sort of poem does is advertise the poet's vanity, their attention-seeking neediness and their hollowness and redundancy. The medium is the message, the message is that there is no other message and it doesn't come any more recondite than that. And so we just should leave them to it, welcome whatever they do that is worthwhile but otherwise there is no need to accept that there is a divide between 'mainstream' and 'other', only between good, bad and indifferent. We are all in a minority of one, no group can usefullly set themselves up as outsiders and then claim outsider status and deride everybody else for not being.
The message of the whole poem, however, is a defiant 'You can keep it.'

It just sounds better coming from Michael Donaghy than it does from me.

And then I seem to remember something and I go and look it up. Yes, here it is. Ahren Warner's poem in the Salt Best British Poetry 2011 was called Hasard. a chance observation, with some random element to it, one might think. Warner's is a highly allusive piece in need of considerable elucidation for most of us. He was presumably aware of Donaghy's poem because he is an erudite and well-read man and so, was he consciously referring to Donaghy, is hazard just such an ultra-modern concept that is a recurrent theme for them or is it 'merely a coincidence'. Well, I don't believe in coincidences and so here we go again.
Or perhaps not. One can have enough of such arcane splendidness.


Too Late

Too Late 

We knew ourselves by a few different names.
You once called yourself mistress and explained
why it was neither an affair or fling
but where the future lay, I never knew.
You were better at playing grown-up games
whereas I thought it was teen age regained
-it meant so much, didn’t mean anything
like the pop records I would play to you. 

But now it is too late for all of that
and all there is is what you left behind.
If there were any need to make amends
(something we didn’t need to be good at),
we can’t, except to say, if you don’t mind,
that what we really were was such good friends.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

The Saturday Nap

is Big Easy (Cheltenham 3.00).

It is hard to believe that after nearly two years of holding my own against the bookmakers, it all fell apart so badly over the last couple of months.
But it's worse than that. Having launched such ill-advised money at such abject losers as Silviniaco Conti, I did, on Sunday and Monday, have a sequence of five consecutive winners. I couldn't look at a card without picking them out with a gimlet eye but when your confidence is shot to pieces, you just play with small change and even landing a treble on Monday only thus paid out larger amounts of change.
But one doesn't completely surrender. It's a tough game. I wouldn't like it if it was easy. Which reminds me how little I had on Big Easy when he won the Cesarewich. It would be awful if Katkeau were to win tomorrow because I did follow him with some faith to no effect over his last three races a couple of years ago.
As Amy Winehouse sang, most poignantly, Love is a Losing Game. And, yes, gambling can be, too. But the inglorious wonder of the decadent slide into self-pity can feel almost as glamorous and, heaven knows, one day we might get it right. 

Friday, 14 November 2014


Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Kuerti/Alexander Romanovsky, piano, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Portsmouth Guildhall, November 14th.

I don't know if there is a new way for an orchestra to tune up but the BSO spent several minutes fingering and plucking at their instruments before beginning tonight. It's probably a new warm-up routine instigated by a mad svengali. Have none of it. Look what Felix Magath did to Fulham.
The one who most needed to warm his fingers up was Alexander Romanovsky, in preparation for his launch into Shostakovich. Bryan Ferry isn't due in the Guildhall until next June but I think they sent Alexander on ahead to get an idea of what it will look like.
Borodin's Prince Igor Overture was a pleasant enough opener but, as we know, the overture is what happens before the music starts. And then it most certainly did.
The Shostakovich Concerto no.2 is the one with the lush middle, slow movement, not the one with the trumpet part. The slow movement was what some of us mainly went in anticipation of and if the opening phrase sounded almost lifted from Richard Clayderman then it soon raised itself to finer raptures and greater emotional range in music more clean-lined and untroubled than any other Shostakvich I know of. But, as often happens, what one goes in anticipation of and what one comes away with can be two different things. The first movement (rather undersold as Allegro) was a magnificent bombardment of ideas and bravura playing. It was always likely to be better in the concert hall than coming through the inevitably reductive medium of stereo speakers, but nonetheless, with a view of Romanovsky's enormous span negotiating the keyboard so energetically and not always only powerfully, it was a stunning piece. It thus comes as some surprise to find that his three discs released so far cover Schumann, Brahms and Rachmanninov but not this except, of course, Shos Pno Conc 2 might not be a work to begin one's recording career with and I'm sure it is something that will come and is to be anticipated with some relish.
The third movement returns to Allegro to similar effect, with some of the most ecstatic passages the immensely versatile Dmitri ever wrote. And then Alexander wasn't given much option but to return for an encore, which was a picturesque Chopin Etude, very different in mood but also very much to be treasured.
And what was Tchaikovsky going to do about that in the second half. How many times has the soloist in a concerto left the symphony with too much of a challenge to follow. Quite a few, I'd say. Tchai 5 put up a good show, particularly in the immense Andante Cantabile, the horn in a beautifully phrased first appearance quite serenely introducing the theme before it is passed on to other parts of the orchestra. Some might say there is something akin to Sibelius going on in Tchaikovsky like this but, apparently, others wouldn't. There are plenty of great moments in Tchaikovsky, who represents a fair proportion of the acceptable face of Late Romanticism and on other evenings this performance would have made for a genuinely worthwhile show.
Romanovsky was born in 1984 and so there should be an enormous amount to look forward to from him. Shostakovich died in 1975 and even though I think I know a fair amount about him, I reckon there will always be lots more to find out about.
Thanks, as ever, to the BSO for keeping Portsmouth on their itinerary. It has been for as long as I can remember. I hope it stays like that while I'm still here. It is much appreciated.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Martha Argerich/Daniel Barenboim Piano Duos

Martha Argerich, Daniel Barenboim, Piano Duos (Deutsche Grammophon)

Yes, there are a few spare moments remaining in between my devotions to the music from, say, 1720 to 1740, when I venture outside of that comfort zone and, of course, listen to Monteverdi, Buxtehude or even Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. It makes me shudder sometimes at such unwary boldness but one has to give it a go from time to time.
Mozart was my first love and, to misquote the worst pop record of all time, will be among my last. It was an LP of Daniel Barenboim playing two concertos that I spent so much time on in those days. I would have loved to be the sort of person who could buy whatever DG recordings they wanted then. And now, a few decades later, I suppose I am. And let me say straight away, I'm very pleased to be. One can see such a thing as this reviewed and it is soon on its way here. If it had been like that from day one, I might not appreciate it so much now.
Proper afficiandos will have known, but I didn't, that Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim knew each other as children in Buenos Aires, first meeting in 1949. Not because they lived round the corner from each other but because their parents took them to the musical evenings held by Ernesto Rosenthal, 'a Viennese Jewish refugee businessman and amateur violinist'. And perhaps it is nearly time for me to stop merely copying out the notes from the booklet. Their careers haven't crossed paths as often as they might in the 60-odd years between then and now but, both now with reputations only just visible from the stratosphere, here is an occasion to put at least on a par with the Argerich recording with Claudio Abbado from earlier this year.
So, what would Mozart have made of the dexterity, expression and sheer bravura of the playing in the K.448. The only problem I have with it is the fact it is on CD here and not DVD. You can't see who is doing what. They play the Mozart on two pianos but then Martha plays the lower part on the Schubert D 813, and Barenboim says that she is a fine accompanist, as if Bobby Charlton or Denis Law could say that George Best was 'quite helpful' to play alongside. In both Mozart and Schubert it is a matter of gentleness and exuberant lyricism. There is no need to be torn between who is doing what or even who composed it, music is quite surprisingly more often a team effort than the product of one genius and the sum is more than the contributing parts.
The real 'clincher' to this partnership, however, was, it says, when Martha learnt the part for the piano duo arrangement that Stravinsky had made of Le Sacre du Printemps, 'The Rite of Spring'. I don't know what I was expecting from that. I have very long been more of a fan of Mussorgsky's piano original of Pictures at an Exhibition than Ravel's orchestration notwithstanding how great the Bournemouth's rendition of the full score was last year. And I also owe it to the BSO how much I enjoyed the Firebird, and I am sincerely not anti-Modernist in the way that Larkin stated his anathema to Pound, Parker and Picasso, not necessarily in that order. But, however much our teacher at school impressed on us the revolutionary energy of Stravinsky's time signatures, the primal energy and mould-breaking significance of The Rite, I'm afraid I'm old enough now to be able to admit that I don't, or no longer, get it. There are any number of great technical achievements going on, I'm sure, but, as with so much jazz, it is not much use to me if I'm not enjoying it. It will be the whole point of the disc to those who appreciate it and the Mozart and Schubert, for them, will have been perhaps no more than introductory exercises. There are marvellous moments in this performance but this is one bit of Stravinsky that, unfortunately, when Ton Koopman is just about to give the world his Opera Omnia of Dietrich Buxtehude, I'm not convinced I have enough time for and I know that is my fault.
I feel like Kenneth Williams or Julian Clary trapped in Pan's People's dressing room. I just don't know what it is I'm supposed to be appreciating.
It is still clearly tremendous, if you like that sort of thing, but the Mozart and Schubert are worth the price for me, as well as the historic duet partnership.

John Cleese - So, Anyway

John Cleese, So, Anyway (Random House)

John Cleese's memoir is an eminently sensible book. Perhaps one needs to be very sensible underneath to be very funny on the surface. His method is to recount tales from childhood, through school, Cambridge and the early part of his TV, radio, writing, acting and stage career and extrapolate from them some general truths in a series of intermittent digressions.
School and schoolmasters are an inevitable source of some fascination and public school stories are all the more exotic for those of us who didn't go and JC is soon back at Clifton College teaching, and wily enough to pick up some essential tricks of the trade very quickly.
In the same way that Danny Baker's career just seemed to be one enormous stroke of luck after another, Cleese is rarely far from the next job offer but whereas the devil-may-care Baker rides the crest of any wave so jauntily, Cleese doubts himself regularly and appears to work much harder at it. Who would think that a day's writing would produce only four minutes worth of screenplay time and yet one could thus write a film in six weeks. But the main point, for those of us who don't quite have it, is that it is natural talent in abundance that causes these opportunities to arise, not mere flukes of good fortune.
Bankers and The Daily Mail are inevitable targets whenever a comparison for some evil-doing is required but, by and large, Cleese sees the best in most people. He has great admiration for Ronnie Corbett and Tim Brooke-Taylor, whose careers went on to be equally as successful as his without earning quite so much critical acclaim; David Frost is an enormous benefactor, a busy and generous sponsor of the early work but my favourite sub-plot is the emergence of Marty Feldman, surely the under-rated and too easily overlooked genius of the period. But nobody gets a better report than Harry Secombe, a hugely bottomless source of bonhomie, kindness and intelligence.
There is no denying that the creative friction in Monty Python was between John and Terry Jones but there is no malice in it. The one figure singled out for a few pages of well-directed spleen is actually...the late Ned Sherrin. But apart from that, Cleese is an amiable raconteur. Of course, there are plenty of observations of various absurdities but they are not the most abiding memories one comes away from the book with.
We are told about the origins of the classic Python sketches and how they evolved into the timeless texts that have now passed into the language and no apology is quite specifically made for filling a few pages with the scripts from some favourite sketches as Cleese aims towards 45000 words for the book.
And presumably a second volume is being written now so that Christmas 2015 becomes another pay day when we all want to read about the full Python story, Fawlty Towers, the films, divorces and subsequent marriages. This volume jumps from the inception of Python to some feelgood reflections on the recent live shows at O2. Perhaps the end came sooner than he thought, just like it did in many of his sketches.
Having seen Patrick Moore bowling in a brief clip on Brian Cox's programme last night, all we could really ask for is old footage of the Cleese leg break with an off break action. Apparently, he was a footballer and a very respectable cricketer in his day.   

Friday, 7 November 2014

Paterson on Donaghy

Don Paterson, Smith, A Reader's Guide to the Poetry of Michael Donaghy (Picador)

It is ten years since the death of Michael Donaghy at the age of 50. He was already regarded as a star of his generation, the darling of those who know, a practitioner and commentator widely admired and only due to be more so. Don Paterson was a friend as well as one of those contemporary admirers and, as a proven critic, is the ideal author for this first full-length study. The book he has produced might serve to deter many others from trying to add more to it.
After an introduction of personal memoir, biographical detail and a summary of the poems themselves, Paterson takes 50 poems from Donaghy's four published volumes and provides essays on each, full of interpretation, relevant connections to Donaghy's life and thought to fill in many of the gaps in our appreciation we might come away from the poems with. Donaghy was clearly a fine poet and wrote poems that were easy to like but many of us perhaps suspected that there was more to it than we thought. One is grateful for Paterson's guide through them and the poems are further enhanced for the greater insight it offers.
The poems have a sureness of touch, and linguistic facility, that can almost disguise the predominantly dark themes. He could be called 'metaphysical' in his treatment of ideas, use of conceits and the shifting, elusive way he engages with the fallen, debased world and, it has to be said, in the best poems and throughout, mortality is a recurrent theme never too far from the surface.
In The Tuning,
The angel of death came in the form of a moth
And landed on the lute I was repairing.

He leaves his workshop with the angel who turns from a moth into a woman and sings,
               inhuman intervals through her human throat,
The notes at impossible angles justified.

The lute man realizes that, having heard such music, he can't go back and, as Paterson explains, 'all human sound is ruined for him', and commits suicide by bashing himself repeatedly over the head with a rock and becomes 'safe', because,
For Donaghy, 'alive' implied a zone of pain and of constant threat.

Paterson's introduction explains how Michael Donaghy was so immediately liked by everyone he met, with a charm that was almost irresistible, but possibly this was by a sustained, conscious effort. (Only last week, I was talking to someone who met Donaghy, years ago, not knowing who he was at first, and he didn't disagree with that). He returns regularly to Donaghy's image of 'white noise' and radio interference as a symbol of the beyond. In 'Smith', which Paterson has made the title poem of this annotated selection,
The poet believes that who we are to one another is far more important than who we are to ourselves.

All of these examples look like attempts to escape from the real, deceptions to evade something worse. Smith is, of course, the standard name that a couple might use to sign into a hotel if their presence together there is best left untraced. It sounds like 'myth', and Donaghy explores the profound necessity of the lie, the false signature and Smith forges a thing 'unalterable as iron'. But, furthermore, Paterson once asked Donaghy if the poem was true and was told,
' For Chrissake- of course it wasn't!'

Paterson's method in this book, taking a poem at a time in the same way that his book on Shakespeare's Sonnets does, is that used by Paul Muldoon, Tom Paulin and Ruth Padel twice, to name only four very successful books of commentary. Where once it might have been thought preferable to take the opposite view and bring poems together in thematic essays, taking a bit from one and then from another, or trawl through them chronologically, this attention to one poem at a time is surely how the reading of poems works and, in the hands of an expert or even merely competent critic, the themes emerge quite naturally anyway.
In a more than ideal world, every book of poems could be published complete with a pundit's annotation but not so many poets are worthy of it and it isn't always worth doing. We can do it for ourselves most of the time. It is only when work is established and complex enough to warrant such treatment that a book like this justifiable.
Privacy is a rare enough poem in which Paterson unearths a political edge in Donaghy where he considers the grandiose burial sites of some affluent Victorians, and from other ages. Some had a bell fitted in the coffin so that if, as did happen, some were buried before being completely brain dead they could ring for attention and be dug up again if they happened to wake up, but,
Sadly, these have snapped.

as has any connection with the impressively but disregarded long dead, any sympathy with the death penalty (for the poet) and, Paterson suggests, the credibility of the old Conservative 'Back to Basics' campaign which we all saw all too quickly go back to the basics of politicians themselves being corrupt and hypocritical.
There is a double advantage in this book in having some wonderful poems with the added insight of a sympathetic, and brilliant, interpreter. As soon as I saw it was due, it became longingly awaited and luckily that wasn't for too long. It has delivered much already, up to and beyond expectations, and there is plenty more to find and re-read. It will be hard to follow in the area of Donaghy Studies but there are enough poems left for Paterson or anybody else who feels up to it to work on. Among poetry books of the last few decades, not many are as essential as this.

The Saturday Nap

There has been one tremendous success so far this jumping season. A couple of weeks ago on the quiz show, Pointless, one of the categories for the final round was 'Cheltenham Gold Cup winners', since 1964, I think. And with my treble of Norton's Coin, Charter Party and Garrison Savannah, I landed a clean sweep of pointless answers.
A similar treble at 100/1 and two at about 10/1 is roughly what is required to set 2014 back on track. In the space of a disastrous few weeks, nearly all my profit from 2013 has been given back and The Saturday Nap is four-nil down.
I'm not really selling this week's tip, am I. But it is hard to believe I can make it to Boxing Day without stumbling across a winner and so each loser makes the next selection more of a certainty. See if you can find a flaw in that logic.
I'll be happy to oppose ex-Champion Hurdle winner, Rock On Ruby, every time he runs whether over hurdles or fences, I'm sure he was flattered by his immediate proximity to The New One at Aintree but at Wincanton tomorrow, I'm not sure what to oppose him with.
I'm going to back Benvolio (Wincanton, 2.40) and, although I usually go for the outright win myself, at 9/1 or even 10/1 the tip will have to be each way so that we can try to retrieve the parlous position of The Saturday Nap's current exchange rate.
I can see Le Vent D'Antan screaming to be backed at Naas at 2.10. But when one's confidence is a thing one has precious little memory of, then staking large amounts on horse races is suddenly not as good a prospect as when, earlier this year, I had 7 winners out of 8 runners for pointlessly, absolutely pointlessly, small money. Oh, how I wish I was back there again.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Lumsden's For Charlotte

It will soon be time to review the year and decide on the shortlists for my own personal, private awards for Best Poem and Best Collection of 2014. These are monumentally insignificant awards, with no actual prize, but I like to do it to give me something to think about.
But there are a few other categories that have grown up around them, like Best Event, Best New Novel and Best New CD, and there are still at least the BSO doing Shostakovich and Maggi Hambling's new paintings at the National Gallery to come, so the shortlists will probably be here in the first week of December.
There is a theme emerging in the Best Poem category already as I look back through the (nowhere near as many as there ought to be) new volumes of poems I read this year. Several are dedicated to, addressed to or on the subject of female figures - of all ages it has to be said.
The more one looks at Roddy Lumsden's Not All Honey, the more the love poems emerge as somehow thematic and thus the chronic ambivalences, the elusive phrases and The Bells of Hope become more telling. There is no telling if this was one relationship or more. That is hardly relevant since this is not autobiography and I don't believe that John Donne, for example, was quite the ladies' man that his poems would have us believe.
But although Lumsden devotes a few pages to Bella, it is For Charlotte that I have returned to more often, which almost catches the Lumsden linguistic jamboree with its guard down, in a minor key and touchingly tender.
Some might say that for all Picasso's swagger and bravado, it was still in the pink and blue periods that he did much of his best work. The difficulty with clever work, or things that stretch the parameters of their genre, is that the cleverness can often outweigh the emotional charge. We can admire Paul Muldoon without him moving us enough to make us love him but then he writes perhaps the most devastasting poem of his generation in Incantata.
Those of us from the early 1970's admire David Bowie as if pop music might as well not have bothered without him but plenty of us love Marc Bolan more. And so it sometimes is with Lumsden.
The very best of his poems are those that aren't quite so demanding and show that he can relax into a gentler way and is, of course, brilliant at it.
I don't know if For Charlotte means to echo Marvell in its references to running or Auden where,
      I'll be elsewhere, others will be darning, caroling,
hanging washing.

(Does anybody still do darning.)
At first I didn't think the insistently short sentences amounted to much but I'm soon over that.
The poem is so convincing, from its 'uncunningly beautiful' addressee, a phrase worthy of an essay of 'close reading' implications all of its own, through the meditation on unknowing and back to the 'pitchy day', the hopes of potential to be fulfilled and the poet's regret that he might not be there to see it, which may or may not be a little bit more or less ingenuous than it might be..
Or, that is at least some of where I think I am with this poem at present. It wouldn't be the first time if I was massively impressed by something only to find later that it really means something else entirely. Not that it has to mean anything at all.
Another poem in the book, Women in Paintings, was given a similar, brief eulogy here last year after I read it in a magazine- it's not often I take the time to do such things- and it went on to be last year's Best Poem. And so, For Charlotte is clearly the one to beat this year but there is a month of looking and looking again to go yet.