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.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Why I Like Northern Soul

Originally, the subject of this piece was going to be Why I Like Pop Music but that is not a very good theme since everybody likes pop music, don't they. The only question is which pop music, tellingly whether one means Queen or The Velvet Underground. 
It is more a matter of which genre. I could have picked reggae, Motown or glam rock but I'd most like to write about Northern Soul, how I was deprived of the Wigan Casino and how, at this late stage, I like to think I belatedly keep the faith.
At our school, among a troupe of sullen 14 year olds, it had dawned on me that the rock music orthodoxy was not the right answer. I realized that I didn't care if Deep Purple were the loudest, Judas Priest the most satanic or who was credited with the longest scream. I simply didn't know who was the best guitarist and as we dutifully sloped off to see Led Zeppelin's film, The Song Remains the Same, I knew deep down inside that the other kids who bought Motown Chartbusters albums, watched Colour My Soul with Jimmy Helms and knew about Bob Marley before we did had it right. I thus spent the year of the third form listening almost exclusively, it seems to me, to Beethoven and Shostakovich, before re-emerging to buy Al Green cassettes, Soul Motion and a few Motown compilations.
I can't claim to have been any part of a Northern Soul scene, which is probably a mercy because that dour 14 year old, wrapperd up in his Shostakovich String Quartets while reading Alexander Solzhenitsyn wouldn't have been fit for the flamboyant exuberance of the back flip or any other of the requisite dance floor maneouevres. At that stage, I was aware of Donnie Elbert, Tami Lynn's I'm Gonna Run Away From You, and Archie Bell & the Drell's Here I Go Again from the UK hit parade but obscurity being the point of northern soul classics, one wasn't supposed to know about Frank Wilson's Do I Love You (Indeed I do), now widely regarded as the most sought after masterpiece, and thus one didn't. But I'm glad we do now.
I have long cherished the search for the rare, non mainstream classic whether it was in progressive rock, folk, baroque or any other genre. To list among your all-time favourites a few things that nobody else has ever heard of has traditionally been an especially recherche type of oneupmanship but in northern soul the discovery of rare 1960's Detroit records was the whole enterprise. These are heartfelt expression of love, but more commonly heartbreak, that were once a hidden cache of pop music treasure and the northern soul movement made it its business to find them. A quick check on just how good they were can be made by comparing Doris Troy's I'll Do Anything (He Wants Me To Do) with the cover version by Lenny Gamble. Lenny Gamble was Tony Blackburn and the point often made that a cover version needs to add something to the earlier version was rarely better made.
Northern Soul was a tribe and we all needed a tribe to belong to in those days even if it was only the tribe of maverick outsiders and so one can only admire it from the outside and in hindsight. There was nothing the least bit pretentious about the music because it had all been and gone and been forgotten once. It wasn't being produced with its new audience in mind. Many of the singers couldn't be traced for 'where are they now' purposes. It was dance for dance's sake, a celebration of the music and artists who, rather than traverse the USA in their own jet aeroplane to bore stadiumsful to a standstill with their status, antics and dull, self-indulgent doodlings, had simply turned up and done a turn before returning to their day jobs. Why would anyone buy a Coldplay album when you have Linda Grinder's Goodbye Cruel Love. We will only find that out when someone cares to write about Why I Buy Records Even Though I'm not Interested in Music.
Because for all the energy and athleticism of the dancing, and not all the songs were about the boy-girl relationship in crisis, the main theme for me was dancing on your own spectacularly 'breaking down the walls of heartache', because what else would you do, the greatest of them all being Timi Yuro's show-stopping It'll Never Be Over For Me. 

Monday, 26 January 2015

View from the Boundary

It was beginning to get a bit tiresome not being able to add pictures to pieces here. One is used to any number of problems with the computers at work, one takes that for granted. But you don't want to come home and start it all over again. So, having gone to the trouble of investigating on the internet, it says use Google Chrome, so I did, and pictures of the Jeremy Thorpe book and Handel have now been added.
But why does everything have to be difficult.
Anyway, now we know.
---
With 100 days to go now until the General Election, it might be a regular subject here. Not because it makes much difference to how the country will be run, the UK economy is as flotsam and jetsam on the wider, surging tides of the world, but as an unfathomable event where the outcome is genuinely unknowable and, I think, unanalyzable.
I did move closer to deciding my own voting intentions over the weekend as the Green Party made the naive error of announcing some policies. They ought to know better than that. I'm not sure about the de-criminalisation of drugs and prostitution, and how that makes any difference from, say, legalization. But I'm not going to vote for the abolition of the monarchy while HM The Queen is the incumbent because she's my favourite one.
The Green Party are said to be a watermelon, which is green on the outside and red on the inside. That is fine, surely green is always left and no economic growth would be a good thing, unthinkable though it is to world capitalism. But I'd like to think we could, and might, have a green, leftist queen. I don't imagine The Queen being very sympathetic to the sort of oiks the Conservative Party has been sending to the palace in recent decades, including Blair.
And so unless the Green Party can mend their ways then I'll happily support the lost Liberal cause.
--
I'm always looking for an opportunity to not review a new book of poems while saying something pertinent about it. I have in mind a time several years ago when Danny Kelly was 'commentating' on an African football match but rather than excitedly remark upon how ironic it was that Mali had their third throw in of the second half from a very similar place to the previous two, or involve himself in any of the routine hysteria of the usual football commentator, he discoursed widely on the general topic of African football, breaking off to point out when somebody had been sent off, or a penalty was awarded or a goal was scored.
So, there was less of the nonsense about how important the next goal would be - of course it will be important, it will change the score- and we heard something rather more diverting.
But to review a book of poems thus might be seen as a bit disrespectful to whichever book was ostensibly under consideration.
So, when the new Paul Muldoon book arrived, the opportunity presented itself because there was no point in rehearsing all the things I've said about his poetry before because I don't have anything very profound to add to the general accumulation of critique on the subject and so, by doing a bad impersonation of the great man, I treated myself to an enjoyable foray into linguistic dressing up. And, yes, it felt like I'd put on a yellow suit rather than the more sober tones I'd usually wear.
At present, neither the Muldoon or the Lavinia Greenlaw have been put into my notebook on the shortlist for Best Collection of 2015 but there is a long way to go yet, with Sean O'Brien due in March with his Beautiful Librarians before in the Autumn he takes us into his Quartier Perdu with a collection of short fiction.
--
And, finally, to Wolf Hall, the televisual talking point of the day.
It is dark in the fashion of so much drama on telly these days but if contemporary drama needs must be dark because we do seem to be living in dark times, then presumably so must this, when it probably was quite dark, too, except for the colourful clothes that the aristocracy wore.
But in among a top drawer cast, it is about Mark Rylance, isn't it. Staring out of windows or staring into any available space was much the fashion in Ingmar Bergman films but Rylance has brought it straight back as a substitute for doing much other acting. Thomas Cromwell has every right to stare into space after his family all die suddenly. But I take against Mark Rylance, you see, and for me he has to come back from 2-0 down, firstly on account of the three-handed Tempest he gave at The Globe, representing the storm and shipwreck by standing centre stage doing all the parts while jiggling a chessboard about and secondly holding conferences at The Globe in which he gave yet more space to the oddball ideas about Shakespeare not having written the plays that have his name on them. Well, really, I ask you.
No, he didn't write all of all of them. But if he didn't write most of most of them, then Mark Rylance needs to provide evidence that somebody else did and a coherent argument as to why Shakespeare might not have. Which are only the first two vast, gaping holes in his half-baked manifesto. And liking an actor or not can depend on such personal affinities.
My favourite Hamlet was Fran Lewis for Southsea Shakespeare Actors for all of her androgyne, impish darting about; my favourite actor will always be Gerard Depardieu however much he is cast as big, useless layabouts in films and plays a recalcitrant oaf in real life because it is in his eyes and his expression and he evokes a great sympathy, and my favourite actress will always be Emmanuel Beart, who was quite prepared to keep her clothes on if the part demanded it, but learnt to play the viola, or possibly violin, for Un Coeur en Hiver and has gone beyond the call of duty in support of political refugees in France.
So, Mark Rylance has some ground to make up. Otherwise, the only problem I have with Wolf Hall is the permanent difficulty we must all have about knowing which bits are history and which bits are made up. Like, which version of Anne Boleyn are we supposed to believe and, to be fair to the much-married Henry, he was married to Catherine of Aragon for twenty years.    

Friday, 23 January 2015

Why I Like Horse Racing

For many of us 'of a certain age', our interest in and first knowledge of sport came from Grandstand on Saturday afternoons. This might have been more of a boy thing then than a girl thing, too, but however much progress has been made in women's sport of all kinds (and I have seen more live women's football than men's in the last few years), there weren't many girls who played football then but hats off to Rosamund Lane in Nottingham and Caroline Cresswell in Gloucester.
Grandstand made it seem normal to be watching motor-cross, the indoor athletics from RAF Cosford featuring the great Ray Smedley, or a mudbath entitled Rugby League which was usually Featherstone Rovers versus Wakefield Trinity but you couldn't tell which was which.
It was the horse racing, however, that most grabbed my imagination, included then among mainstream sport rather than the esoteric specialist subject it has been hived off into since. It was the numbers shown on the screen before each race that in some mysterious way were portents of what was going to happen that was first so beguiling. I liked numbers in those days, I was a mathematician before I was ever interested in words. One horse would have changed from 3/1, through 5/2 and then be 9/4 whereas another had started out at 7/2, briefly been 100/30 but then gone back to being 7/2, and Bar had changed from 25/1 to 16/1 but there were two fewer horses listed.
My grandpa, who liked horse racing, explained to me about Bar but I didn't quite get it. And it was he who took me to my first race meeting, at Stratford circa 1974. I slipped away to have a few shillings on a race, unsure if I would get told off or if the bookie would take the bet. I backed two because I wasn't sure. They were called Seldom Daunted and Straitjacket and at the second last hurdle, I think it was, one of them in second place fell and brought the other one down. That wasn't enough to put me off and over the next 40 years, more of my money became bookmaker's money. We lived next door to a bookie at the time. He had a Jag and we had a Hillman Hunter. I never quite took the point. It is an article of faith and as long as it doesn't become a ruinous addiction, it is a pastime that can sometimes pay you to do it. It is a good feeling to see your horse is going ominously well, the jockeys on the others starting to get more agitated, then you put in a good jump at the last and you can start working out how much you are due as the gap between yours and the rest stretches out into a satisfied feeling. There is nobody more smug than them that said what would happen and then it did, and you are a meaningless amount of money better off.
Because, increasingly, it has been the winter game that I like, the novice hurdlers spotted in the Autumn that will make their way to Cheltenham in March, and we will see which of them will mature into the top hurdlers of their generation and which were only really doing their apprenticeship towards a career over fences. There are goodies and baddies, which is a shame because I'm sure that all the horses I take against are wonderful animals to know. But sentiment mustn't overide science and just because you want The New One to win the Champion Hurdle, one can't jeopardize this year's profit so far when Faugheen has until now looked nothing less than a machine.
The louche, dodgy side of the industry is part of its dark glamour. Just because Barney Curley is not so much in evidence that doesn't mean there aren't plots being hatched. There is money involved and it's a professional sport so there is no point imagining that it is all Corinthian, healthy and good for you. And since I am against hunting, shooting and fishing and later this evening will add another animal charity to my direct debits, yes, in an absolutely perfect world, we might not make horses race against each other. But, without wanting to veer off into a moral debate, those horses are bred for racing and most are well cared for. I have nothing at all to do with the industry that breeds animals for eating. As a vegetarian for twenty years, I no longer understand how one can put a fellow animal in one's mouth, chew it up and swallow it. I'd rather eat my own foot. But I don't know how that could be explained to a carnivore, like a lion, for instance.
No, virtually all other sport has fallen off my agenda since I stopped being a footballer, a cricketer, a runner, a cyclist or a pool player in some low grade of amateur involvement. If I go to the cricket, it's the crossword that really needs looking at; I didn't even know Fulham were playing Forest this week until I saw the result; if Ronnie gets knocked out of the snooker I lose interest very quickly and I try to keep up with the cycling partly in case anybody asks me about it. But horse racing is a different matter. Not much gets in between me and the telly of a Saturday afternoon from October to April these days and with tomorrow's Cheltenham meeting due to show us where some top candidates for the festival are, it should be better than usual.
If Peace & Co gets beaten in the first then I will be temporarily distraught but when the odds shrink to the likes of 4/9, it's not about the money. I only want to see his price for the festival contract further because I have a good value ticket for the Triumph Hurdle in my account. Surely, Dynaste  (1.50) must win tomorrow. Heaven knows, he deserves to.

Lavinia Greenlaw - A Double Sorrow

Lavinia Greenlaw, A Double Sorrow, Troilus and Criseyde (Faber)

Lavinia Greenlaw's poems will be the subject of discussion at a forthcoming meeting of the Portsmouth Poetry Society and so I availed myself a copy of Minsk in order that I might shed some light on the subject. I'm afraid it won't be much light, though, because I didn't find a great deal that did much for me (which, in cases like this, is always attributable to a failing in me and not the poet). So I was glad to be given a timely second chance when finding her version of Trolius & Criseyde was imminent.
The story from the seige of Troy has been retold a number of times and it was Chaucer's version that persuaded me that there was more to Chaucer than a disappointing A level result. Lavinia's new re-telling is, it says, 'an imaginative reconstruction'. In a book of seven-line tableaux, she threads through the story in an accumulating set of moments, sometimes narrative but mostly lyrical pieces that do various things with the stanza form taken from Chaucer. Boccaccio is the other source acknowledged with a note on each page of exactly which lines we are at. It is easily read at one sitting, which for most of us the Chaucer isn't, and that is the best way to approach it. I rarely read a book of poems in order from beginning to end but pick pieces from one place and another but that doesn't work with this, for obvious reasons but also that the poems thus gather more power which few of them have if read in isolation. It is a long poem in many parts, not a collection of poems and I resolutely try to deny anything the status of 'sequence' whenever I can because I have an aversion to the term that there is apparently no treatment for.
The seventh line of the seven line stanzas is often the memorable one,

For love to be for more than love's sake.

or

She says she is now more his than her own.   

or

I still don't know how to unlove her.

I waited with some anticipation for my favourite passage from Chaucer, possibly one of my most memorable passages in English Literature,  Book 5, Stanzas 80-83, in which Troilus rides past the places that bring back memories of his time with Criseyde,
And yonder have I heard full lustily
My dear herte laugh; and yonder pleye
Saw I her ones eke full blissfully;
And yonder ones to me gan she saye,
'Now, goode sweete, love me well I praye'

but the moment passes a little underwhelmingly and Lavinia makes more of Troilus's despair than his nostalgia,
                                       He knows
what they say: he's in the grip of the most
Tremendous hope and dread.
It looks to them like delusion.
He hides his subject in verse.
Long songs he sings to no one.

It was never to be expected that a contemporary poet was going to produce a version of this poem to immediately rival Chaucer's, with its 600 years in the canon. Poetry perhaps isn't like that anymore, for better and for worse. But it has psychological depth and one feels Lavinia's empathy with the characters, as well as the wily Pandarus. The stanza form is put through any number of variations and one is unlikely to read a 200 page poem quite so quickly.
And, most of all, I'm glad I will have some generous things to say about Lavinia Greenlaw when she comes under discussion by our little group of poetry admirers.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Paul Muldoon, One Thousand Things Worth Knowing
















Paul Muldoon, One Thousand Things Worth Knowing (Faber) 

Before Christmas I was reading Clair Wills’ Reading
Paul Muldoon, which goes as far as Hay,
in 1999,
treading upon a thousand things you might think
worth knowing of loose associations and abstruse
hallucination. I can’t compete with that. 

Heaven knows how in those amazing days
I won a prize, reviewing Hay,
in Acumen. My secret, as dark as bitumen,
was to pay attention only to the poems I thought
I saw something in, and not mention,
for heaven’s sake, anything opaque.

And now it’s fifteen years later, we’ve had the romance
of the century, and there could be a thousand things
worth saying about each of the thousands of things
useful to know, to reflect
upon, or genuflect in bleak admiration
of Paul Muldoon’s 45 years as an overnight sensation. 

His in memoriam for Seamus Heaney
is an amalgam, seemingly begun
where it started from, with Cuthbert,
that cuddy-wifter, and otterdom
and Lindisfearna, as Hughes’ Raincharm
had once been about Devon rain but became

the first laureate poem of his tenure,
on the birth of William. While in Cuba the half-rhymes
on vowels are esoteric parlour games
opening alleyways into diasporas of themes.
It’s hard to fall in love with cool
that doesn’t look you in the eye,

is always one more step ahead and fugitive
from one’s embrace. I fear that I might drop
the thread and it is never lucrative
to try to be hip instead.
The penalties are punitive.
So, all the febrile rank and file, 

the lads in the academies, will welcome
new Muldoon, as I do,
and all that I say, I say here
in a pastiche like a pistaccio
cracked open by Pinnochio
that sounds like an unfinished arpeggio.  

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Michael Bloch - Jeremy Thorpe


Michael Bloch, Jeremy Thorpe (Little, Brown)

One of Michael Bloch's other biographies is of Ribbentrop. It seemed worth investigating how a great Liberal could be bracketed loosely together with a Nazi leader but perhaps they can. Ribbentrop, it seems, enjoyed life in rarified social circles, was credited with some knowledge of foreign affairs, accused of some superficiality in his expertise and his influence waned after a brief period in the limelight. So, there are parallels after all.
Bloch does an excellent job in putting together the detail of the rise, rise and fall of Jeremy Thorpe, hindsight allowing him to point out whenever small mistakes and then increasingly larger ones were going to be significant in the denouement of his story. One has the feeling quite often that one has read such a story before, it is familar from The Mayor of Casterbridge but Michael Henchard, having committed his first major error of judgement, doesn't continue to flirt with danger as he becomes more and more successful.
Jeremy Thorpe was a political hero of mine in a period when, unlike now, the world seemed to be improvable. Despite the reputation of the 1970's as a time of the three-day week, power cuts and unburied dead, it seemed as if progress was being made and many things we take for granted now were being achieved then. Thorpe was a progressive politician, internationalist in outlook and with genuinely moral ideas on social justice. He was also, however, a showman and self-promoter on a scale comparable with, if not surpassing, Boris Johnson, although with an elegance and style that the blond buffoon can't hope to emulate.
His ancestors included the remarkable overseas adventurer, Empire Jack, and an early ill-advised associate was the 'conspicuous and colourful' Henry Upton,
the gigantic and scandalous heir to Viscount Templeton (who had) fascinated him with his outrageous hedonism.
Among his many achievements, Upton is credited by Bloch with,
encouraging (Jeremy) to regard sex as an act of crude domination, and instilling a play-acting interest in violent fantasies

Thorpe, however, was not only a show-off but highly charismatic, who could appear to be a magician or conjurer, a flamboyant violin-player, whose diabolic good looks seem to suggest Paganini, and capable of charming and influencing many of those he needed to while there were from his earliest days at Oxford always some who were less impressed.
Having been President of the Oxford Union, he makes his way rapidly through the ranks of a Liberal Party in a parlous state in the 1960's to become leader at the age of 37 although his leadership election is a close run thing. In a bad advertisement for the Transferable Vote electoral system, he wins 6 votes from the 12 Liberal MP's, the other 6 being divided equally between the two other candidates whose votes all transferred to each other. It is only when those two pragmatically withdraw that Jeremy is elected.
The Liberal Party then was not so much a party but a motley collection of independents, with some right-wing 'liberals' (with Cyril Smith still to come), a devout Methodist and absentee MP's who spent most of their time working as barristers and there is much mention of 'taking silk' and being 'called to the bar' and so the book reads even more louchely when this coded language is added to the stories of Jeremy's consorting with all strata of society in pursuit of cheap thrills.
He enjoys bringing the Liberal Party to the brink of government in 1974 but the glamour and his place in the news headlines is always being undermined by having a difficult set of renegades to lead. He might only have 14 seats but he does have 6 million votes and the protracted discussions with Ted Heath end in an impasse that can't be squared with both Heath and the Liberal MP's.
Harold Wilson is a friend but not one for a political deal and after 1974, despite Jeremy's continued popularity in his constituency and the country, his main chance has effectively gone. And in retrospect, his failure to make a deal with Heath is blamed in no small part for the eventual succession of Margaret Thatcher.
But, all the time, Norman Josiffe (later known as Scott) is a volatile, petulant ne'er-do-well who won't go away after an alleged, and all but 100% established, affair with Jeremy from the early 1960's. The stable lad and male model is an unstable man and not a model of propriety who is being paid retainers by Jeremy's side but one who never makes a success of any number of jobs, opportunities and missions abroad. For Jeremy, it is a long sequence of reliefs that he has been dispensed with followed by the horror that he is back again in need of more money. Fantasy and reality begin to get tangled up with each other as it occurs to Jeremy that Scott might be made to vanish more permanently with no prospect of return, which is what of course later becomes a real if hideously bungled plan.
Bloch brilliantly describes the growing threat to Jeremy's public position, the accumulating pieces of evidence stored in various places, the desperation that leads to an absurd cast of self-seeking characters and how Jeremy's situation disintegrates bit by bit while he soldiers on with a succession of carefully-worded statements and often a still confident piblic demeanour.
At the trial, his erstwhile ally, Peter Bessell has a contract for his story with the Daily Telegraph that will be worth twice as much if Thorpe is convicted. George Carman takes the brief for the defence, who was to become the legal superstar of his day, for a fee much below anything he could have asked because he knows the case can make his name. That being a name that now brings with it asssociations that he,
as emerged after his death in 2001, was a drunkard, a wife beater and an addicted gambler.

But the judge at Thorpe's trial, Sir Joseph Cantley, is well-disposed to the establishment figure and disparaging to prosecution witnesses at every opportunity. The judge's name, as if from a novel, suggests he can't lie and he might not quite lie but, as Peter Cook was to remark at the time, he does direct the jury to go away to consider their verdict of 'not guilty'. Some aspects of the law relating to such trials were changed as a result of this seminal case.
After his acqittal, Thorpe loses his seat at the General Election that comes all too soon afterwards but he takes some persuading to give up on attempts to maintain a position in public life. He has seen the re-alignment of the centre that he could have been a part of, having had to step down as party leader, take place under Roy Jenkins, David Owen and David Steel and he eventually lives to see the Liberal Democrats achieve a place in government three decades later although it is not recorded what he thought of that.
Bloch's account is a tremendous, clear-sighted telling of a true story of human ambition and frailty, of its devious and unreliable nature, shifting stories and, as tellingly as any of the many threads in it, it is seen how Thorpe's attack on Harold Macmillan, when he attempts to save his own govenment, that,
Greater love hath no man than this, that he will should lay down his friends for his life

is duly quoted back with reference to Jeremy after he sells his old mates down the river during the trial.
It is a story worthy of Literature, whether Greek Tragedy, Shakespeare or Joe Orton and, as happens, if you were an admirer of Jeremy Thorpe, you still can't quite take against him. Late in life, struggling with Parkinson's Disease, he is warmly received back at Liberal meetings, his heroic second wife, Marion, with a musical pedigree going back to Schonberg, still beside him. Time is apparently a great healer and for all of the shabby double-dealing and cavalier machinations, Jeremy Thorpe had stood for hope, vitality and one still hears the Karelia Suite introducing a Liberal Party Political Broadcast from 1974 as if it was yesterday, as if anything was still possible.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Why I Like Handel

Several years ago, if asked (and I rarely was), I would have said that if 'classical' music was the Derby then Bach is the winner by 5 lengths, with Handel just ahead of the rest of the field. I don't think much is going to affect my idea of the winner but perhaps the winning margin has narrowed a bit.
This set of New Year discourses is not meant to be about my favourite things but things I like. Of course I like Bach, and admire him beyond just about anything else but, in the same way that one perhaps admired David Bowie but loved Marc Bolan, you can feel something different for Handel without questioning Bach's towering superiority.
They sound very similar, don't they, but whereas Bach is more profoundly Protestant, German and flawless, Handel is brighter, shinier and more glamorous and I think that is because he spent some formative years in Italy, brought Italian operatic style to England and was writing music for the box office more than the church.
Bach appears to have been capable of falling out with other musicians but Handel probably just outdoes him on anecdotes relating to their respective reputations for difficultness and repartee.
Auditioning one singer, presumably in the rehearsal room in the house in Brook Street, Handel's dissatisfaction reached such a level that the singer threatened to trample all over the great man's harpsichord, to which he replied, 'well, at least it will make a better sound than your singing'.
A man of gargantuan appetite, the record showing no trace of vegetarianism, modern biography inevitably has to mention that there is no trace of romantic involvement whatsoever. None of the lady singers he regularly employed and none of the men either are ever suggested as candidates for intimacy, which is unusual. That presumably leads many to assume some carefully guarded, clandestine homosexuality but I believe Isaac Newton was genuinely not interested in such diversions either and the fact that Handel was not possessed of the angelic good looks of Vivaldi doesn't mean he wouldn't have had the chance because Bach was no oil painting either(although he was, actually) and he produced nearly as many children as he did Cello Suites, Violin Sonatas and Partitas put together.
But Handel made fortunes and lost them, abandoning opera in favour of oratorio when the fashion changed, recycled a useful tune from an old work when he needed it for a new one and even managed to fall out with the librettist of Messiah long before Lennon & McCartney, Fleetwood Mac or the Everly Brothers ever thought of it.
Why I like Handel, however, is for his confidence, the dignity and the elegance that comes from that Age of Enlightenment (for those who could afford it), for the inventiveness of the interplay in the duets in the operas. I don't know if there is something English about it- he was as German as the king really, but I don't mind if, for once, my scepticism about patriotism is compromised if it is. I like standing up for the Hallelujah Chorus, which sounds fine coming from me who, forty years ago at school, dared not to stand for the National Anthem hoping against hope that the headmaster wouldn't notice a boy not standing in the fifth row back in the third form.
I don't know that my redeemer liveth and doubt if I have one but that doesn't detract from the aria and one really needs to go to a Messiah once in a while to be reminded what a ready-made album of Greatest Hits it was.
And Handel is one of a few things I like to think I share with or inherited from my mother. It seemed to be something one knew about when she was young, or it was for her, but I'm not sure it is quite so much an essential part of the culture now. That is something to be regretted.

View from the Boundary

I need to finish the biography of Jeremy Thorpe because already waiting at the Post Office are new books by Paul Muldoon and Lavinia Greenlaw. 2015 starts on the b of the bang for poetry books, and that doesn't always happen.
--
The Thorpe book brings back memories of the Liberal Party in the 1970's, those days of great inspiration despite what a motley crew in retrospect they turned out to be, and then invite some comparison with their only dreamt of position in Parliament now - or for the next few months.
I was in search of a device to calculate how percentages of the vote in the forthcoming General Election would translate into seats, notwithstanding that this year, more than any time previously, regional and local trends might make any national swing less useful in predicting the composition of the next House of Commons.
I still can't help thinking that the Conservatives will somehow hold on, due to the unconvincing demeanour of the current Labour leadership. The projections I found, though, don't seem to agree with me. One recent extrapolation put Labour 5 seats short of an overall majority, but the the Liberals retaining as many as 19 seats. That would presumably mean Ed Milliband talking to both the Liberal leader, whoever that might be by then, presumably still Clegg, or Alex Salmond. One can't see the much expanded Westminster SNP doing business with a reduced David Cameron but the prospect of a Lib-Lab coalition always has behind it the other possibility of a Lab-SNP government and Alex Salmond was given a 2/1 chance of being Deputy Prime Minister which makes Paddy Power's current offer of 12/1 about a Lab-SNP government look worth a few bob.
Somehow, it seems to odd to contemplate that the SNP could be in power at Westminster, having failed to win their own referendum but the upsurge in support for them in Scotland as a result of that campaign could have the surprising collateral effect of gaining power in the Parliament they wanted to separate from.
--
And, equally on the subject of statistics highlighting striking anamolies and apparent value in the bookmakers' odds, Chelsea to win 2-0 at home has long been a theme of mine, even since the last time Mourinho was manager there.
Last Saturday was quite a pay day as the three horses in my four trebles had gone in and everything depended on the Chelsea-Newcastle result. At 2-0 with twenty minutes to go, one has every hope and likelihood that it will stay that way but you do need confirmation of the final whistle. But eventually one was able to establish that since Christmas, I had recovered all of the losses sustained in 2014.
So I have looked at Chelsea's home record, which is Played 10, Won 10, 21 goals against 3. And that 6 out of those 10 wins were 2-0.
I hadn't been aware quite how glaring the opportunity I had noticed was. Here is an ostensibly odds-on chance being offered at 5/1. And so, although it doesn't apply to away games and possibly not to home against Man City, it is an option to be considered every week for the time that Mourinho is in charge there.
--
A forthcoming meeting of the Portsmouth Poetry Society is on 'A poet’s partner speaks', but since I know who most of my favourite poets' partners were, I didn't want to speak for any of them so I produced the following, which continues our recent discussion of line-endings. I will say that the poem barely deserves to be typed out but we do enjoy an anarchic bit of a joke,

Mrs. David Green 

You told me you wrote poems when we met.
It’s something I’m unlikely to forget.
I was expecting at least a sonnet
A week from you but, what is it I get?
An each way tip for a horse at Market
Rasen or a copy of a booklet
Of poems, I might say, by an as yet
Not the least bit famous, scruffy poet
Once in a blue moon. It’s my fault I set
My eyes on you and, possibly, peut etre,
I sometimes do think I could have done bet-
ter. But, though we aren’t rich, we’re not in debt
either and when we have a tĂȘte a tĂȘte,
the fact I don’t exist I don’t regret.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Nathalie Stutzmann - Handel Arias

Handel, Heroes from the Shadows, Nathalie Stutzmann, Orfeo 55 (Erato)

Nathalie Stutzmann's disc of Bach Cantatas is as gorgeous and essential as any I've heard. A few years ago, a friend said she had the CD cover but had lost the disc and second hand copies cost over a hundred pounds. I said that doesn't sound right, came home and checked and she was right, they did. But the reward for continued vigilance on the issue was that a while later the recording became available as a download for less than a tenner and so that's what we did and I was as glad of it as she was.
The premise for this disc of arias by minor characters in Handel operas is to 'bring to light the repertoire of secondary or even tertiary characters- those characters the audience forgets about at the end of the evening, but who, for a few minutes during the course of the opera, completely bowl them over with some stunning aria'.
One or two sound a bit familar. Track 4 is listed as Dardano's Pena tiranna from Amadigi di Gaula but Handel often recycled tunes from less successful works when casting round for inspiration a new one and I think something similar crops up in Rinaldo or Ariodante. That doesn't detract from it at all, it would have been a shame to see a good thing go to waste.
It is in the slower, more largo, time signatures that Nathalie is best but perhaps so is Handel. She is dextrous, if not almost acrobatic, when required in the quicker pieces that demand it but the contralto voice lends itself more naturally to the stately and imperious but she can be sensitive as well. And if nothing here is quite as breath-taking as the opening phrases of the Bach disc then that is neither Nathalie or Handel's fault because there are precious few discs that have anything to compare with that.
Irene's Par che mi nasca in seno from Tamerlano is another plaintive highlight in which a ray of light brings hope to her agitated heart and Handel does as much as Mozart often does with his delicate orchestration.
Nathalie directs the ensemble as well as singing, which must be something of a challenge and more than that undertaken by first violins who conduct with their eyes while playing. Perhaps it doesn't mean quite that but while I can see that it is an actor's ambition to direct plays or films, and there is no reason why a musician shouldn't want to take charge as well as perform, I just wonder if directing a Messiah, as she is shortly to do in London, isn't a bit like a football manager being better than the players he is trying to get to perform like he can.
Later on the disc are a couple of novelties, like the Senti, bell'idol mio, a straightforward expression of devotion, in which the accompaniment is by a plucked theorbo, and thus is of a quietness I've never heard in Handel before. And that isn't surprising because the notes say there is no evidence that the opera, Silla, was actually staged at all. And then one might hear something like Rule Britannia, written in 1740, in the aria from Partenope, from 1730, in the 'braying horns' and Nathalie's performance - in which she shares echoes with those horns- at the end of which one might imagine her unfurling a big union flag from the skirts of a voluminous frock.
This is a superb collection, a great idea, bringing to light some lesser known treasures from the seemingly endless vault of Handel's music, and showing Nathalie in a wide variety of roles that she clearly enjoyed enormously. I don't know if she danced to the little jig finale, but you imagine she might have.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Why I like Vermeer

You make your way through the streets of London, making sure you are not lost yet and know where you are going, finding a way not only from one place to the next but also through the crowds. This is a tourist and commercial place, that's why it's here, and the people who aren't there to be farmed for the cash in their pockets are those that are out to get it. These are still the streets of Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair but they are no longer the cartoon mountebanks, charlatans and cutpurses but mostly less colourful, downgraded but nonetheless real, and in your way.
You can't really appreciate the architecture or the history you might be walking through because when you need to cross roads, they are nearly as dangerous as the pavement and so you check the cycle lane, the flow of traffic and any traffic lights are just about to change. So, you can get to Trafalgar Square which is forever full of teeming humanity which is why it is a favourite place for street performers and drama students who perform their statue acts in exchange for what I imagine is a lucrative payday, the latest acts being to apparently hang in mid-air held up only by a walking stick. There might be steel drums or a reggae backing track just beyond a violin student doing Bach partita and good luck to them.
In The National Gallery, you still need to pick a path through aimlessly wandering gatherers of cultural highlights, make sure you don't step into anyone absorbed in a Poussin and wait your turn if you want to read about what it is you are looking at. You might not want to see Van Gogh's swirling mental distress, roomsful of portraits of proud C17th dignitaries or all those dark Romantic landscapes of mountains, seas and moonlight. Deep inside the National Gallery is a small room with some also small C17th Dutch paintings by De Hooch, or attributed to Carel Fabritius or by their contemporaries and the greatest of them is Johannes Vermeer van Delft. It is usually quiet in there, the still, calm centre of a busy, noisy city and the serenity comes out of the paintings as much as the fact that not so many find their way this far in. At last, time can wait. It doesn't matter any more. The light comes from one side of the room, and spreads both illumination and shadow across it, and a girl is standing, or indeed sitting at a keyboard instrument. The texture of the fabric of her clothes or the upholstery on the chair are sublime and notice the spectacular detail of the silver tacks against the dark blue on the side of that sensational chair. It's not just that, though, because you know those paintings on the wall and on the virginal are hinting at a narrative and there will be a bit more to it than solitary leisure indoors on a bright, Spring day.
At the exhibition in 2013, Vermeer and Music: the art of Love and Leisure, there were only five Vermeers in the show but on entering the room they were in they immediately stood out. They were perhaps in one's eye-line anyway but they weren't given preferential lighting. Their exceptional radiance is due to a layering of paint (apparently) and the sort of painstaking work that makes the best things special, not least for the knowledge that the artist went to that trouble possibly for your sake.
In the 1990's, the most canvasses that could possibly be brought together from the mere 35, is it, acknowledged Vermeers were as close as The Netherlands and considerable thought was given to going there for the event. It was clearly at least a 'once in a lifetime' opportunity if not one never to be repeated. I didn't go and still sometimes wonder if I should have, the consolation being that I don't really know much about painting (as some might say applies to literature and music, too), I'm just one that 'knows what I like'.
It isn't some version of a New Age cure against tension and distress. I'm not convinced that art alone could prevent neurosis, anxiety or madness but if art plays a significant role in one's life then the very best of it takes on some magnificent status because most of the time one is looking at, listening to or reading things that aren't quite as good. And here is a girl who quite rightly is wondering why someone wants to paint her while she practises her sonata by Sweelinck,
pale and beautiful, at once
balancing calm and distress
as if played by Emma Thompson.
(There is no prize but a special mention could be made of the first person e-mailing in that identifies that misquotation)
Most of Vermeer's paintings are of quiet interiors, one with an artist sitting with his back to the other painter sitting behind him, whose painting we are looking at, and one with a possible reflection of the artist's face, that have the possibility of some self-reference in this most unknowable of artists, about who genuinely almost nothing is known. However, the cheap print that has been on my front room wall for all the 17 years I've been at this address, is the less representative House in Delft that still manages to include a woman indoors doing her needlework and one involved with less glamorous domestic chores but the architecture and brickwork makes a geometric pattern and you glimpse the life inside. It is very ordinary, and immacuately ordinary, somehow a bit like my own modest, terraced house except that not much needlework gets done in here and not many domestic chores either.
No, I don't know much about painting. I might be having a look at Whistler shortly having seen something to follow up recently but any list of my favourites would be an incoherent jumble that added up to no meaningful aesthetic but, at its best, not only for the silence (also available in Hammershoi's even quieter interiors, but also sometimes for the movement, the energy and the colour, it can be better than the relative clatter of music or words. But it is the equanimity, the understatement and the radiance that makes Vermeer the greatest painter, and, yes, then there's the torrential power of Maggi Hambling. But that is a different story.  


 

Thursday, 8 January 2015

The Sixteen - Spirit, Strength and Sorrow

The Sixteen/Harry Christophers, Spirit, Strength and Sorrow (Coro)

I'd have called the disc Stabat Mater if I'd been him. This title is somehow resonant of a bereavement card available in the High Street or a book of comforting verses by Patience Strong. The project was to commission new settings of the desolate poetry once set to best effect by Pergolesi. It must have been quite an accolade to be asked. The text isn't quite the same for each setting, although the opening lines must be adhered to or you might not be able to call it a Stabat Mater.
Alissa Firsova finds an austerity that it is to be admired. I can't get involved in Tonu Korvits on third or fourth hearing but Claudio Casciolini brings something more hymnal, harmonic and flowing with a responsary structure and perhaps a nod to the Renaissance masters like Josquin in his line that makes his version the preference for me and then I look and find his dates are 1697-1760 and so he can't be the one I pick from the contemporary composers to praise for his retro chic. And so it is Matthew Martin (born 1976) whose setting has something of James MacMillan about it, not quite such a distant reference point but still a fine one, and one isn't too surprised to see that Jimmy was one of the small committee that issued the invitations to contribute.
Matthew Martin is organist at the Brompton Oratory, somewhere on a long list of places in London I really ought to make the effort to go to, and so perhaps I ought to be investigating when he is going to be playing and how to get there.
But, inevitably really, although one surely buys the disc to hear the new music and what can still be done with the text, it is the Domenico Scarlatti finale, occupying 23.24 of the 68.45 of it that is the piece that will be played more than all the others put together. I don't think it is that one feels safe with Scarlatti and challenged by the more recent interpretations. It is just better, not only because it is warmer, more intricate and gorgeous but it is raised by those things to a more poignant sadness- and it is 'poignant' that the Stabat Mater is about. There are flights of angels in the singing here.
We do seem to be living in dark times, comfortable though many of us are. And D. Scarlatti 'had the status of a courtier' in Madrid and presumably wasn't hard up in Rome when he wrote this, either. Apparently, it was a 'backward-looking' thing at the time, which is probably why you might hear Monteverdi in it. But, if music has struggled through the pains of modernism and emerged fitter, more knowing and the wiser for it, it is only just a bit regrettable that, despite the attempt, it wasn't possible to find some more inventive, less inhibited or perhaps academic new music to offer up against Domenico to show that we are still up to the challenge because Domenico only seems to have done this sort of thing as a sideline. It was that vast collection of keyboard sonatas that he was famous for.
Whenever Radio 3 had a space to fill in the 1970's, they would give us a couple of D. Scarlatti harpsichord sonatas, complete with their Kirkpatrick catalogue number. But, in his spare time, he was laying down a small legacy of choral music fit to kick the latest generation off stage. We can either worry about that or, more likely, just prefer to listen to C18th music.  

Monday, 5 January 2015

Sunday Feature: Thom Gunn

Thom Gunn: Appropriate Measures, R3, 4/1/2015

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04wmhbc

The radio highlight of the year came early with Colm Toibin introducing this 45 minutes on the life and work of Thom Gunn. For the first time in many years, I sat and took notes although the introduction here on the Radio 3 website provides a good synopsis.
There are enough of Gunn's friends and associates still around to provide first hand accounts (Mike Kitay, August Kleinzahler, Clive Wilmer and the others listed at R3) but one small improvement might have been if recordings of Thom reading the poems could have been used in preference to his friends because nobody produces the cadences or the accent of Thom's reading like the original. It's possible, of course, that someone owns the copyright (like Faber) and didn't allow it but I hope that wouldn't be so.
The main theme emerging from the programme, which was new to me, was the idea that all his poetry in some way came from the trauma of his mother's suicide when he was a teenager. While not explicitly writing about it until his final book, Boss Cupid, the suggestion was that the experience lay beneath all that came after. Neither had I known that he was named William and adopted Thomson as a first name, which was his mother's maiden name. So, why had I thought there was some connection between Thom being called Thomson and his brother, Ander, Anderson.
The tension between his rigour as a poet, influenced by F.R. Leavis at Cambridge in the early 1950's, and his 'wilder' subject matter was examined from different angles. He used strict metre to express desire, violence and, later, the fugitive experience of LSD. It might also be seen as a 'guard against subjectivity' and, at a time when it was fashionable for poets to be prominently present in their own poems, Thom is allegedly noticeably absent from his. Thus, form for him was 'cognitive and generative' but, as long as you are not working on a Ph. D., phrases like that are some you can manage without..
August Kleinzahler followed up his insights from the introduction to his Gunn Selected Poems, in which he regarded the first two books, Fighting Terms and The Sense of Movement as juvenilia with the observation that he offered Gunn that 'he was no good until he took LSD', but after that he put something that was not precise in a precise way. But those first two books, that include Tamer and Hawk and a number of other early masterpieces, are quite some 'juvenilia'. I'm sure that legions of poets would be happy to have poems of that calibre listed among their finest.
Moly, both the poem and the book it gives its title to, are regarded by August and others, as the coming of age, with some aggression against the father, some stamping on the ground and where Gunn comes into his mature period whereas, we were told, some British critics of the time deplored the move to California, the free verse and saw the whole enterprise as the waste of a great talent.
I don't see the need to downgrade either part of his work to that time. An artist benefits from a restlessness that makes them move on and throughout his career, there are surely tremendous poems (as well as a few less tremendous) in each new book. All of them are worthwhile and, by the same token, none are to be regarded as secondary to the others. It is the way that, having worked towards free verse, Gunn could move between that and strict metre which makes him such a virtuoso and could, as the well-chosen title of this programme suggests, take the 'appropriate measures'.
Among other biographical detail, we heard from the proprietor of the Hole in the Wall bar in San Francisco, which was a favourite of Thom's and that he slept on a board in a room without decoration. Also that he regarded Lament, from The Man with Night Sweats, as his own best poem. All such things seem so valuable to know but quite how Thom reached that verdict will have to remain a mystery. Not that it's not a great poem- but there are a lot of other worthy candidates.

But the reports of his last days are quite harrowing to hear. His poems, his essays and what I took to be confident demeanour (having only met him briefly for an autograph once and not been confident enough to take up the conversational gambit he offered), had seemed to me to present someone very much in control, knowing, cool and not in the least traumatized. I perhaps even thought that his poems took us above and away from our own bad dreams. But it seems that might have been what they did for Thom, too. His disguise and early interest in 'pose' had more beneath them than some of us were to know.
It was said he 'went off the rails' after retirement and giving up teaching. That he had never given up on the 1960's style drug habit came as no surprise and neither did the interest in 'rough trade' and (their words, not mine) 'low life', apart from the extent of it. But his speech could be slurred after a weekend on speed and a 'deep unhappiness' resurfaced, possibly after the compartmentalised life that the discipline of work and a separate other life had offered. For one who had previously, and is, the subject of many anecdotes of being good company, with a great laugh and sense of humour, as well as such obvious great erudition, he became 'difficult' in his behaviour. So difficult that his housemates were reluctant to disturb him when he was apparently staying in his room all day with the TV on until Mike, was it, eventually decided it was time to go and see if he was okay and found he was dead and had been for some time, the homeless man with whom he had been having a 'heroine-fuelled tryst' having disappeared into the night.
More than one witness was not prepared to accept that it was any kind of suicide but there was some consensus that he wasn't worried about allowing himself to get close to death, that the possibility of dying didn't frighten him.
From some other source, I remember hearing a story in which he found 'disinterested' defined in a dictionary as 'not interested' and he didn't really want to live in a world where that had happened, which is a story I prefer.
The autopsy put the cause of death down to heroine and speed.
On a more literary note, it was pointed out that the last lines of the last poem, Dancing David,  in his last book, 'leap past some existential barrier',
The ultimate moment of the improvisation,
A brief bow following on the final leap.

and perhaps they do but it is not as if many other lines in many previous poems didn't do something similar.

The programme is an excellent contribution to the available work on Thom Gunn. If it said Thom wasn't exactly 'sex and drugs and rock'n'roll, he was just sex and drugs', I'd prefer to play up the idea that he was the C20th's John Donne, a poet who was both specifically of his own time but also, more than any of his contemporaries, consciously a part of a much longer tradition that was based in English Literature and inevitably became more American. But who would want to be bound by any such national or literary definitions when the poems are there to speak so eloquently for themselves.

It almost seemed if this was as much as is required and a 'last word' but it isn't and won't be. I look on Amazon regularly to see if Clive Wilmer's annotated edition of the poems is due any time soon. I see that the Hagstrom Bibliography has been updated to an edition that covers up to 2004. I did ask of August K a few years ago if any biography would be written and he said someone was talking to all the relevant sources and working on such a thing but there is no sign of it yet. My question about any poems written after Boss Cupid has received two slightly different answers but the one that said Thom had 'dried up' and there are none seems inceasingly likely to be right.
I don't think there is any point in me trying to make any sense out of the first draft of the short book I wrote circa 1999/2000. There are plenty of people better placed and with the time to produce much more worthy volumes than that calamitously dreary and mistake-strewn mess.
So, thanks to Colm Toibin and all those who contributed to this treasure. It was much appreciated.
 

Saturday, 3 January 2015

'Never', yet again

There were three poems called Twilight that were thought about for The Perfect Murder and it seemed for a while that it might become one of those dreadful things where you get I, II and III. Or, for heaven's sake, surely not a 'sequence'.
Luckily, two of them missed the cut.

So, now, without a better title, here's a second poem called Never to add to the first and the only other painting I ever did apart from Lips & Bananas.
But it is a long, long time until I have any further booklet of poems planned and so I expect one or the other of the poems called Never will have fallen out of favour by then, if not both.


Never 

And that’s a long, long time.
                      ‘The Twelfth of Never’ 

The ocean doesn’t care for you tonight.
It rolls back into itself shamelessly.
The Shipping Forecast says somewhere in Wight
a low is losing its identity. 

History changes its mind all the time
and one day might deny that you were here.
It could easily try to redefine
the meaning of a word like ‘disappear’. 

You can argue until the cows come home
but every premise that you begin from
is as fragile as cold, December rain.
And nothing is as foolish as wisdom
or what we ever thought we might become.
What’s been round one time might come round again. 

View from the Boundary

Unioniste put in a convincing performance in the last at Sandown today to make it a good day down here. It prompted me to look up his subsequent price for the Grand National and I took a modest share of the 25/1. It is by no means a tip with Triolo d'Alene also very encouraging and Rocky Creek, who I'm sure will eventually win a big race, in opposition at this early stage.
But there is nothing like having landed the nap to make everything safe and then a double and a treble come to fruition with a well-backed favourite and the great Noel Fehily on board.
--
I don't know what time the postman came today, it's a Saturday, isn't it, but when I just had to slip out to the shop, there were two promising packages in the porch. The Staple Singers and The Sixteen's recent set of settings of the Stabat Mater.
One can hardly have enough music but it's hard to get around to playing all of them. Today, before the racing started, I gave a rare outing to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's Wintereisse, to see if I was interested enough in it to order Ian Bostridge's book on the subject.
No, I'm not. It is a fine thing but perhaps not quite the template for the archetypal poet that ought to be encouraged by now.
--
Whereas Clive James' recently arrived Poetry Notebook 2006-2014 is admirably stringent and forthright in providing an example of what a 'critic' could be like if we weren't all so nice and polite so much of the time.
There might have been a time, in the 1960's and 70's, when a prototype of political correctness made it unthinkable to question modernism, the avant-garde, Beat poets and anything else that aspired to revolutionary intent. I can see why, then, in artistic terms if not all of them in politics, Ezra Pound, Allen Ginsberg, Pierre Boulez, concrete poetry and jazz might have been regarded as left-wing whereas Georgian poetry, Hardy, Larkin and any work that respected a tradition was seen as staid, right-wing and thus to be disrepected, Daddy-O.
It took a while for such assumptions to be revealed for the fashionable aberrations that they were but they were arguably right-wing aberrations and what had always been there was more genuinely leftist. Just because something is paraded as new doesn't make it 'progressive'. Clive re-assesses his reassessment of Pound only to find that the 19 year old Clive was in thrall to an empty appearance of grandeur and, yes, his loss of faith in him was perfectly in order.
He is also a resilient defender of Frost, whose perceived folksy wisdom was attacked by those who,
had a vested interest in the oblique and wanted poetry to be taught rather than remembered.

If I remain to be convinced about Clive James as a poet himself, there is no doubting his stout credentials as a commentator but mainly as someone who cares enough to find poetry 'electrifying' and the most important thing there is, which is gratifying to read when I so often doubt it myself.
But, of Pound's 'juxtapositions', he can say,
a fancy way of claiming weight for the practice of bringing incongruous objects together and waiting for a compound meaning to emerge: the hope and faith of every crackpot who creates elaborate wall charts with fragments of evidence joined together by string.
While he is in fine form throughout with such disdainful put downs (and let us remember what an admirer of Pound Thom Gunn was), Clive is best at letting others provide the comment when he feels he can't do any better, which is something he credits Michael Donaghy with.
Thus, it is no less pertinent for being fourth-hand when something I've quoted before only at third-hand, if I quote James quoting Donaghy quoting Auden saying that 'the only thing that doesn't change is the avant-garde'.
I'm not leaving much to say in a review of this book once I've read it, so I might as well go for broke.
The Cantos is,
or are- or perhaps was or were- a nut-job blog before the fact.
And, quoting Donaghy quoting Dana Gioia,
ideas in the poetry of Ashbery are 'like the melodies in some jazz improvisation where the musicians have left out the original tune to avoid paying royalties'.
And so it seems to go on, page after invigorating page, which I'm sure some beatniks, old-timers from the 1970's and playful post-modernists would be piously offended by because here, surely, is a cantankerous old bull having one last thrust at the tricksy matadors that have tormented him.
The finale is entitled Trumpets at Sunset, which I haven't read yet but anticipate being a grandstand farewell and celebration of all that Clive loved in poetry. I dare say there will be more to say after reading that.

   

Friday, 2 January 2015

Why I Like...James Joyce

James Joyce's fiction takes us from the 'realism' of George Moore or Turgenev, through the modenist revolution of circa 1911 ('On or about December 1910 human character changed', Virginia Woolf), to new frontiers of his own making and finally to a limit from which there was nowhere else to go. It is a passage of literary history that would in most circumstances have taken three writers to achieve but he did it all by himself. One might say as much for Shakespeare or Beethoven but not for many others.
The James Joyce that I admire is that of Dubliners and Portrait of an Artist, the exile, the singer and the prodigious drinker. We were advised not to attempt to write about Ulysses or Finnegans Wake on the C20th Literature course at Lancaster in 1980/81 but that was probably for our own protection rather than from any lack of ambition. The course only put on a lecture on Joyce due to popular demand. But later Joyce, at least, was too dangerous for undergraduates.
The trajectory of Joyce's fiction is that of a stream becoming a river that becomes a flood and then an ocean. Even with Dubliners, it begins with The Sisters, less than 8 pages long, and the stories develop in length and depth before reaching its great consummation in the final pages of The Dead, which itself has grown from ordinary beginnings and through the heart-breaking story of how Gabriel can never compete for Gretta's love with Michael Furey, the young boy who had died for her.
A manuscript in the British Library shows Joyce's dense handwiting pouring out (possibly) Finnegans Wake and then writing across the text in the opposite direction, suggesting a ferocious creativity not only having the work fully formed in his mind but able to get it all down. However, had he lived, it was his intention to return to something more recognizably 'traditional', having taken the adventure as far as it could go. Like Picasso's blue and pink periods, it is not necssearily in the most ground-breaking work that Joyce is best.
Because, for all the complexity and scale of his monumental avant-garde prose, it is in the understatement, the ironic distance, done with such knowing lucidity that Joyce writes the best prose fiction in the language.
Lily, the caretaker's daughter, was literally run off her feet.
and
It was well for her that she had not to attend to the ladies also.
are not ambitious narrative sentences but see the character from the outside in words she would use herself. The Dead continues towards its luminous ending, accumulating power through writing where gentleness is more powerful than muscular, strenuous prose,
He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover's eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.
Because, as well as this immense tenderness, Joyce, in his highbrow diffcultness and grand overall designs, is more than anything a comic writer, thoroughly Irish but expatriate and in Stephen Dedalus, Leopold and Molly Bloom, character is subtly painted, in its imperfection, its naturalness and, most of all, with sympathy.
One never feels with Joyce that one is being served up a theory, a doctrine or being educated. It is convincingly the life, the songs, the dreams and the jokes that his work is made from. He is, for want of a less portentous phrase, the consummate artist, and prose fiction is unlikely to have anybody quite so good as that again.

Royal Mail Dog Awareness

I saw this in the Post Office.
Where will it all end.

Top tips for dog owners 

Here are some ideas to help your postmen and women deliver your mail in safety:

Ensure your dog is out of the way before the postman or woman arrives. Place your pet in the back garden or a faraway room.

 If you have a back garden, please close off the access, in case your dog could get round to the front when the postman calls. Dog attacks can happen when you’ve opened the door to sign for an item.

Please keep your dog in another room before answering the door and make sure children don’t open the door, as dogs can push by them and attack.

Give your dog some food or a toy to occupy them while your mail is being delivered.

Wait 10 minutes after your mail has arrived to let your pet back into your hallway.

Keep everything as calm and low-key as possible.

If your dog likes to attack your mail consider installing a wire letter receptacle. It will protect your post, and your postman’s fingers.

If it’s not practical for you to keep your dog away from a postman delivering your mail, please consider fitting a secure mailbox on the edge of your property.

- See more at: http://www.royalmailgroup.com/customers/customer-commitment/preventing-dog-attacks#sthash.GnldYEfh.dpuf