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.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Private Dancer

The time since one last wrote a poem drags by. It often becomes months. You think you ought to write something, it becomes a bit more urgent and eventually you have to.
It reminds me of the year I spent at University in the college darts team. I got 'dartitis', the 'Yips', when you can't let go.  I was in good company, I think Eric Bristow got it, too. All one could do in the end was throw the bloody thing anyway and just stop worrying about it. Maybe it's the same with poems. It might not be any good but let's see what happens.
Many years ago, I showed a new poem to a friend and they clearly didn't think it was up to standard and so, as kindly as they could, said it was better to be writing any poem than not write one at all. I'm not sure I entirely agree with that but, if that's the best that can be said, I should have been grateful.

So I perhaps shouldn't be putting shoddy goods in front of my faithful readers. On the other hand, it shows I'm still trying and sometimes one might not be convinced about a piece and somebody else can convince you. And maybe it won't look quite as facile when I look back at it later.
Private Dancer was one of the ideas I had for the elusive novel. It went to two chapters before being abandoned. My big effort this time last year was the office comedy, Midtagspause, but comedy fails when it can't do any better than real life and thus what chance did I ever have.
I would much prefer to be a novelist than a poet but that is only like wishing I could have been good at snooker when I was only ever any good at pool.
I'm not exactly selling it, am I.

Private Dancer

Though this might be the last chapter
in a novel never written
as she looks down through lace curtains

at the quiet street below, rain
is still not falling (though by now
it had been forecast) like in books

it almost certainly would be.
There’s nobody about except
the man who walks his dog from pub

to betting shop and back early
each afternoon. It’s rare for her
to notice the framed photographs

around her of the shows she once
was part of in provincial rep
in things like Thoroughly Modern

Millie, Kiss Me Kate or Showboat
with someone who said they had danced
with Fred Astaire. And some believed

it. But the devil may care now.
What’s really the difference between
a story that is true and one

that isn’t. It’s time for sherry,
nearly, and that is near enough
and, although it’s cheap, it’s Spanish,

the day has no horizon yet,
she’s no longer a character,
no longer has to act or dance.  

Friday, 27 March 2015

Shakespeare's names

There must be a book somewhere on the subject of Shakespeare's choice of names for his characters. The fact that I can't immediately find one isn't enough to establish that this is an area left untouched by academics There are dictionaries of characters and glossaries saying who they are but it's hard to believe that stretching the investigation to book length is an idea that has so far eluded every scholar in search of a theme.
Perhaps it simply doesn't stretch to book length but that doesn't usually stop them filling it up with arcane background research. It seems to me that Shakespeare couldn't bear to have a minor character in a play fulfilling some necessary function without at least giving them a fitting name, like a painter who needs to fill every corner of a vast canvas with detail.
The constabulary are an unfortunate target of ribald naming in Love's Labour's Lost and Henry IV part 2, with Dull, Fang and Snare. Mouldy and Wart also appear in Henry IV, 2, suggesting that it was in earlier plays that Shakespeare enjoyed himself the most with names because A Midsummer Night's Dream is among the early plays where Bottom most famously appears. Froth is in Measure for Measure. Speed  is a 'slow-witted servant' in Two Gentlemen of Verona. 
I don't know if Elizabethan third-formers would have found Gobbo as amusing as we did in 1975 in The Merchant of Venice but I hope contemporary audiences enjoyed the names of Richard II's favourites, Bushy, Bagot and Green as much as we did in the sixth form. One wonders how long Shakespeare sat considering what names to give them. But how well he chose. Green, what a funny name to put alongside Bushy and Bagot.
So, is it because Timon of Athens is unfinished that Poet and Painter aren't given names. Had he not come up with suitable names by the time he abandoned it, if it was abandoned, or are they left as such because they are ciphers not worthy of personalities of their own. Or perhaps Middleton wrote those characters and over-ruled Shakespeare's wish to call them Waffle and Daub, or perhaps frivolous, joke names weren't thought becoming in such a dark play and perhaps by 1606, Shakespeare had lost all the mirth he had once found in such diversions. You see, you could make a book out of endless speculation and textual reference if you really needed a book to bolster your academic career. Many such have been written on less convincing arguments. For instance, it would not do to extrapolate from the large number of Italian names used in Italian settings that the plays were written by Marlowe after he had been secretly taken off to Italy after another corpse had been provided as evidence that he had been murdered in Deptford. It is more likely that Marlowe was murdered in Deptford.
But there might be more hidden resonances to be found than that Othello includes the word 'hell' and Desdemona has in it 'demon'. It is hard to believe that happened by accident in the work of a writer who clearly enjoyed giving names to his characters.
I love Imogen, the innocent wife in Cymbeline and am disconcerted to find its origin cited on the interweb as being the result of the printer's mis-reading of the Celtic name, Innogen, in that very play. So Shakespeare can't really be credited with inventing it but, as ever, it is the printer's fault and not because the author had bad handwriting. So there's another chapter for the book.
But my favourite name, in not my favourite play, is Moth, the irreverent page in LLL. And it looks as if Shakespeare liked it, too, because he used it in MND as well. As far as I can tell, that is Seroca Davis as Moth on the right of the picture above.
There must be a book about all this if one looks hard enough for it. If not, it looks as if it might need doing and, if nobody else will do it, I might have to. I have been wondering how I might spend the flat season once I don't go to work any more. I could call it Green, and other amusing names that Shakespeare gave his characters.

Monday, 23 March 2015

View from the Boundary

'I notice when people are married the husband is not so much with his wife as when they are engaged. But perhaps I shall like that better too.'
She laughed charmingly.
'You should have whatever you like,' said Grandcourt.
'And nothing that I don't like? - please say that; because I think I dislike what I don't like more than I like what I like,' said Gwendolen, finding herself in the woman's paradise where all her nonsense is adorable. ('Daniel Deronda').

George Eliot continues to impress and the weight of her books is not the least daunting. It's not just for the constant stream of brilliant character observation and generalities, so many of which are as good now as they were 150 years ago, but it is the colossal design of the novel, the 'Tolstoyan' depth and the propriety more authentic than Jane Austen without the over dependence on coincidence and fate in Thomas Hardy. Halfway through Deronda one is still only being properly introduced to characters essential to the tangled web but the most crucial dramas are surely still to come. But when they are over, there is plenty more George Eliot to look forward to.
Books like this were, or would have been, completely wasted on the 19 year old student of Victorian Literature. Whereas in Medicine, Law and any other vocational education, it is useful to study the subject before embarking on a career, in Humanities subjects, it would be preferable for potential students to gain a university place then go out to work for 20 or 30 years and return to their subject at an age when they can appreciate it. Except, of course, times have changed and it's not paid for by a grant any more but by a tautologically repayable loan. I doubt if I'd even go to university now if I thought I was going to have to pay for it so I'm glad that I went when I did even if it was nowhere near as good as it should have been.
Two television programmes were of interest over the weekend, not including the documentary on the Dexy's Midnight Runners renaissance, which I enjoyed a lot.
I didn't catch all of Written by Mrs. Bach but it was gripping stuff. Anybody whose manifesto is hiding an intention to abolish the BBC needs to explain where such programmes would be seen if all our broadcasting were commercial and dictated entirely by ratings.
On the basis of some manuscripts and graphological analysis, it is shown that some pieces, like an autograph score of the Goldberg Variations are in the hand of Anna Magdalena. She is known to have been an accomplished musician and it was the Cello Suites, not apparently foremost among the pieces attributed to J.S., that one side of the academic argument were keen to attribute to Mrs. Bach.
A J.S.Bach signature from 1748, not very long before he died, is in far too clear a hand to have been written by one who was by then virtually blind. And then, there needed to be conspiracy theories about missing letters and a portrait of Anna Magdalena that we no longer have and thus, it was suggested, might have been deliberately destroyed as she is systematically removed from history by subsequent Bach's.
I wouldn't want to deny Anna Magdalena any credit she deserves and I don't think J.S. would have either as it seems to have been a happy marriage. But I'm not convinced the Bachs would have anywhere near as interested in authorship issues as we are, either.
Being pre-Romantic, they were less concerned about any cult of the artist, researching biographical detail and relating it to a body of work. For them, it might have mattered less whether a painting was by Caravaggio and thus worth several million pounds but after an expert, some 400 years later, analyses the canvas and brushwork and decides it is only 'school of' Caravaggio and only worth tens of thousands.
They were workmanlike, professional and knew, a bit ahead of their time, that all music, literature and art was there already, it is only a matter of who found it and put their name to it first.
And so, by all means, Anna Magdalena provided some input, quite possibly the 'aria' or main theme for the Goldberg Variations which J.S. then made variations upon, perhaps. But one dreads a whole new industry being set up alongside the Shakespeare authorship debate, which has become a bit of a waste of time, not least because the programme ended with the tantalising suggestion that the work of many other male composers (and I'm afraid most of the repertoire is thought to have been written by men), was really by Mrs. Composer.
Well, okay then, that's 41 symphonies, the operas, concertos and all by Constanza Mozart; The Hebrides Overture, Violin Concerto, 4 symphonies and Elijah by Fanny Mendelssohn, the sister. But Handel never married and there is no record of any romantic attachment for him anywhere. So we need to look harder to re-attribute Messiah.
My sister has no interest in laying claim to any of my poems and, apart from ideas I occasionally took from them, neither did any girlfriend. But you can hardly blame them for that.
And then last night I was persuaded by Clemency Burton-Hill's enthusiasm for an exhibition of Stradivarius violins at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Blimey, she said she doesn't play the violin 'seriously' any more but she made a convincing job of being allowed to play a 3 million quid Strad. I didn't realize you had to be that talented to get a show on Radio 3.
The 'Messiah' Strad was only on loan to the Ashmolean on the understanding that it would not be played. It was the one violin that Stradivari kept for himself and never sold. But, as was pointed out to me today, how odd that the best-sounding violin in the world is the one that cannot be played. Surely that one should be played and it's the cheap one in the charity shop that should never be played.
But anyway, I thought I could go and see this rare coming together of so many expensive instruments and looked up the Ashmolean's website. There was no trace of it there and so I searched for 'Ashmolean Stradivarius' and found that the exhibition had been in 2013, the programme was a repeat and there's no point going to Oxford at all.
Danny Baker has been in America for his Saturday morning Radio 5 show these last two weeks, borrowing a studio to link up with the BBC from, saying he's there on the making of a film about his life. That can't be true, can it. Such a film wouldn't be made in America. No. But these days I struggle to tell fact from fiction and joke from news item. Googling 'film about Danny Baker's life' does actually bring up a result about a BBC work-in-progress. Let us hope the lily isn't going to be gilded.
But the boy can still produce the goods on occasions. Recently, on the subject of disappointments or let downs, he said, (something like) 'you might have been promised Noel Coward. Hang around a bit, he'll be here soon...
'and then in walks Charlie Drake.'

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Portsmouith Baroque Choir

Portsmouth Baroque Choir, All Saints' Church, Portsea, Sat, 21 March

The programme was not as baroque as the poster I noticed advertising the concert might have led me to think. In fact, it wasn't baroque at all but we needn't let that concern us.
Josef Rheinberger (1839-1901) is the first composer I've heard of from Liechtenstein, 'principally remembered for his organ works', but there's no need to go for his mainstream, populist stuff. The choir here gave his Stabat Mater and Requiem, to great effect. In two balanced halves, they began with some Tallis Lamentations, their warm sound giving loving dignity to the sorrowful texts of the stricken and dispossessed, imploring Jerusalem 'to return to the Lord Thy God'. Tallis is a big hero and these opening pieces were a highlight were it not also for the happy discovery of Rheinberger.
Each half also featured a French piece and an organ piece, also French as it happened, played by Oliver Hancock. Faure's Messe Basse somewhat misleadingly was for the sopranos and altos and was introspective and pleasant without being as memorable as his Requiem, but the tenors and basses perhaps had the worse part of the deal by having Durufle to make sense of. Durufle didn't get beyond opus 11 due to his perfectionism and reluctance to publish but the Messe 'Cum Jubilo', presumably carrying its author\'s intentions, wandered in search of meaning to no great effect. Except, of course, that might be its meaning.
As with the organ pieces, where such C19th and C20th repertoire is a closed book to me. Boellemann and Langlais weren't familiar names to me before and are not likely to become much more so now. As with the organ music of Vierne and the like, it only communicates to me a loss of direction, a desolate search in a barren wilderness compared to the confidence of the religious music of, well, Bach and Handel for a start.
But one can't be an admirer of everything one is served with and I'd be very suspicious, and soon become very tired, of anyone who was.
But these were only interludes between otherwise fine performances by the choir who were best with their full forces combined, the sopranos given the chance to reach some fine moments in the Rheinberger pieces, most notably, I thought, in the lines 'Quando corpus morietur' in which the composer best realized his belief that 'music is basically an outpouring of joy and even in pain knows no pessimism' and I'm glad to now know about his Stabat Mater, flowing lucidly among the other many settings of those words.
The Portsmouth Baroque Choir deserve a bigger audience than they had this evening but the one person I mentioned the concert to, who I thought might be interested, said that The Voice was on on Saturday night, wasn't I watching that. No, I'm not.
So what can you do apart from be grateful that such choirs get enough pleasure out of rehearsing and performing and are prepared to share it with any who want to listen.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

View from the Boundary

Election Watch, George Osborne struck a major blow for the Conservatives in the General Election campaign in his budget that took one penny off beer duty.
That should really help beer drinkers and persuade them to vote him back into power. To the average drinker who has 10 pints a night, it is worth ten pence an evening and thus 70p a week.
But George is sadly apparently not a reader of this website. The singular of pence is 'penny' and thus it is 'one penny' he has taken off the duty, not 'one pence', as he said in his speech. I'm sure I've mentioned that before. After all his wildly expensive education, George still can't get the singular of 'pence'.
It is the same difference as between one denarius and numerous denarii in Latin and it would have been woe betide us if we had got that wrong at our school.
On similarly fiscal matters, apologies for the Cheltenham Preview which failed to highlight much apart from Peace & Co, which was marked up as the best bet of the week. But I have been adding up my prospects of taking my pension early and retiring at 56.
Can I seriously survive on a reduced pension, reduced from what isn't going to be much even if I stay on to 60. No, I can't. Existing might be viable but emergency requirements like replacing the hot water heater or those essential luxuries like concerts, books and records would have to become rare treats rather than a staple diet. But next week should be better and thus I should make it to the next target, which is Easter.
And in an unprecedented food review here, I must say how great it was to be able to have Linda McCartney Deep-Filled Country Pies last night, my first for several years.
The oven on my old cooker stopped working a long time ago but I make do as best I can and did so without using that. But the one thing I missed were those wonderful pies.
But last week I took delivery of a new cooker, from a wonderfully helpful man from Curry's who fitted it. And the first thing I looked for in Sainsbury's were those pies and, guess what, the fridge was empty of them. But they were there the next time and so I bought four and had two of them as soon as I got home, to celebrate the occasion. I think the recommended dose is probably one.
They have lost nothing in those intervening years that I now regard as the Lost Years, in fact they are exactly the same. They are succulent and gorgeous and include their own gravy and have the great advantage over a meat pie in that they don't taste of death and the ludicrous sacrifice of one of our mammal cousins.
Linda may or may not have been the most talented one in Wings but she certainly found a good recipe for a pie.
The only downside to them is that they take 40 mins at Gas Mark 7 and that contravenes one of my culinary principles, which is that I don't like my dinner to take longer to cook than it takes to eat.
I didn't make it to PPS last night, the meeting of the Portsmouth Poetry Society, on the subject of mondegreens, those misheard words.
But I must make use of my small contribution here, which is three pop records that I am mentioned in.
Which are The Monkees, Dave Green Believer,
Cheer up, Sleepy Jean.
Oh, what can it mean
to a Dave Green Believer
and a Homecoming Queen ;

The Lovin Spoonful, What a Day for a Dave Green, and David Cassidy's,

I'm just a Dave Green, I'm
just walking in the rain,
chasing  after rainbows
I may never find again.

And that is one of the many reasons I like The Monkees and David Cassidy rather than John Coltrane, Frank Zappa or Demis Roussos, or any of those ultra-cool acts. None of them wrote any songs about me.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Sean O'Brien - The Beautiful Librarians

Sean O'Brien, The Beautiful Librarians (Picador)

One opens a new book of poems by Sean O'Brien with some trepidation. What am I guilty of this time. Have I committed a stray bourgeois thought, an ideological non-sequitur or am I not from far enough north. And if any of those charges are not proven, we all remain guilty of being ourselves through no fault of our own.
Somebody has piqued O'Brien with the phrase, Earlier Stuff, which leads him into a familiar journey through England's desolate heartland. But some poets, like Yeats, have earlier and later 'stuff' and there is a need to differentiate between them in the 'life of the mind' of some who shall remain nameless. But perhaps in O'Brien, as it might be said of Larkin, there are only shades and slight gradations of difference from, say HMS Glasshouse, in 1991, and now. And The Frighteners still haunt The Indoor Park. It is almost a comfort to find ourselves in territory we know already. O'Brien's work overlaps with itself and 'Never Can Say Goodbye' recurs, The Lost of England is a sequel to Somebody Else and the title poem owes something to Latinists. The Lost of England is a train journey that has Larkin's famous ride in the back of its mind with its cooling towers and its,
                                                    we seemed
to slow continually inside the rainy summer heat  

likely to trigger thoughts of 'an arrow shower sent out of sight'.
In War Graves, it does seem an unworthy tribute to the war dead that the 'trap of elegy', is
                                       to find ourselves composed

Entirely of literature.

But some of us, less heroically and later, almost are.
Many of these poems are between one thing and another. Lights are coming on because it is getting dark; there are several Thirteen O'Clocks and, in Audiology, we become aware of 'the world behind this world'; and, yes, we might also be
                   witness to the marriage of the real

And the imagined, the irrevocable state that none
Has yet returned to speak about.          
                                                 (The Lost of England, again)

But this state of limbo might be preferable to any escape from it because this chronic ennui is apparently where we wait between the dead who seem to be more alive than the living who seem to be all but dead.
Larkin's empiricism took a reluctant, sceptical attitude but he was capable of finding consolation. O'Brien finds less than that and only celebrates, if celebrate he does, this purgatory. There is no safety net, no redemption to be had. In Nobody's Uncle,
                            when you step aboard
The shore will slip behind 
So swiftly you'll be there before you know.

and The Actuary is, of course, one who deals with financial risk and uncertainty, which for many means assessing how much money he can make out of gambling on when they will die.
And so, in the light of all that, the continuance of the O'Brien theme satirizing and descrying the horrors of residential writing courses is a bit beneath anybody's dignity and needs must be put down as a mere occupational hazard. Either that or simply forego the lucrative fee.
But this is still an excellent book, as good as any since the seminal Ghost Train from the earlier stuff. I'm looking forward soon to a long awaited book by Caitriona O'Reilly but otherwise, I don't know what else will be enjoyed more this year. Because The Beautiful Librarians itself is a word-perfect paragon of love poetry that will stand any amount of re-reading, which is one good way of identifying a great poem. Any poet would surely give much beyond what they could afford to be the author of such a poem done with such apparent facility. There is no gap between the idea and its realization. Some poems look so natural as a result of numerous drafts and much hard work but this looks as if it came in one glorious sweep of composition, which can happen if you're lucky.
I may be wrong. I'm often guilty of that. But I don't close this book feeling as guilty as I thought I might despite needing to say that the best Sean O'Brien, like most of the best poetry, is that which transcends ideology. We do know about that and we share the shame of our inability to do much about it.
The poem that might be even better than the title poem is Cafe de l'imprimerie, which is a kind of reduced villanelle or sestina with its repeated lines keeping us in the same place as we wait with the poet for the liaison who we know is not going to show up,

Your absence is beautiful and wry
And this late summer evening never ends,

Nor does the intolerable
Music, where the truth is cut
With sentiment and surely fatal.

The poem stakes a lot on that 'wry'. But if the whole book is to lead us to any salvation, it must be to the 'untraceable address / Where we will stay forever.'
I can be too 'brand loyal' sometimes with my weighty collection of Gregory Isaacs LP's - not all of which are any good- my thoroughgoing but by no means completist stacks of Thom Gunn, The Magnetic Fields, Maggi Hambling and Philip Larkin but The Beautiful Librarians would be essential even if I didn't have a similarly not quite authoritative cache of Sean O'Brien, for those two last mentioned poems alone.
It is for the sake of reading poems like those that I read poetry at all.


Thursday, 12 March 2015

Which is it

In the interests of balance, and not wanting to be accused of any partisan bias,

the subject of a recent Portsmouth Poetry Society meeting was to write about a current political figure,

which inevitably, among poets, turned out to be somewhat anti-Conservative,

because poets are traditionally feckless, bohemian and largely non-industrious,

and I don't regard the 17 syllable haiku as viable in the English language,

but still thought it necessary to ask,

Which is it

New Labour said We
don't do God. And then Blair said
God would be his judge. .

View from the Boundary

Perhaps one of the most astonishing things I've seen in sport for many years was the fall of Annie Power at the last in the Mares race at Cheltenham on Tuesday. Willie Mullins had four hot favourites in the first five races and the received wisdom was that surely they wouldn't all win but after Douvan, Un de Sceaux and Faugheen had all won impressively and then Annie Power scooted clear before the last, it looked all over.
There was a strange noise that came out of me to see such an outcome but that must have been nothing compared to the gasp of 64000 people at the track. But that's racing. And Mullins won the race anyway because Glen's Melody, second favourite at 6/1, was trained by him and held on for what would otherwise have been a close-run second place.
It would have been an awful week for me had I got involved but I decided to see how the ante-post investments got on and had very few further bets, preferring to maintain my big 'plus' situation for 2015 so far. And so, despite my lowly position in the Paddy Power tipster competition, I can go into Friday still with chances, those chances being Peace & Co and Beltor in the Triumph Hurdle and the 8/1 I so enthusiastically advised before Christmas about Silviniaco Conti for the Gold Cup. So let's hope for some rain.
Reading books has been far more productive this week. I began Vic Reeves' Me Moir but at first found the surrealist narrative a bit unconvincing so switched to Vicky Coren's For Richer, For Poorer. Despite the unedifying subject matter of her rise and rise in poker tournaments, Vicky's story is highly readable and although I haven't played poker for 25 years or more, by the end of it I felt as if I was starting to understand Holdem. However, nothing would make me want to take belated part in the boom of this 'sport' with its desolate machismo and dreary obsessiveness. Many thousands of pounds, or dollars, depend on whether the next card to be dealt 'on the river' is a Jack or a nine. I can't get interested in that.
Of course, like many things, it has gone from a disreputable  seediness that even I couldn't see as glamorous to a corporate industry studied by maths graduates. But any subject can be made interesting by a good writer and Vicky Coren is certainly that. She is intelligent and compassionate while modest enough about her tremendous success in a grimly masculine world.

And so by the time I returned to the early years of Vic Reeves in Darlington, I was in a much better mood and that was helped by reaching the years of the young Roderick Moir's interest in pop music. He is a similar age to me but the chronology of his references don't line up quite with mine. He has a much bigger gap between Monkey Spanner and The Faust Tapes. But I was gladdened when Meet me on the Corner got a special mention. I was also fascinated to read that it was possible to practice bass guitar without an amplifier by pushing the machine head up against a suitable sounding box which in his case was a wardrobe.
But much of the territory was easily recognisable as the divide between 'hairies' and Northern Soul became apparent and then everything punk became essential, seeming to wipe away all that went before it except, yes, in private (even, I think, the Slits) were still listening to old stuff but never said so in public.
I devoured those two books with great enjoyment in less than two days each.
And now, on perhaps a slightly more exalted level, it is on to Daniel Deronda. And what a wonderful writer George Eliot is. This is gloriously mature, insightful and chic. Whoever else has been heralded as the epitome of that dubious, shifting, ultimately meaningless accolade of 'cool', and I suggest Miles Davis and Lou Reed are two major candidates, then George Eliot is the real A.P. McCoy.
At an early encounter, Gwendolen (who fancies herself to bits) hears from the detached, aloof Grandcourt, apparently the only man on the planet reserved, dry and sophisticated enough to pique her interest, his assertion that he has 'left off shooting', and replies with,
Oh, then, you are a formidable person. People who have done things once and left them off make one feel very contemptible, as if one were using cast-off fashions. I hope you have not left off all follies, because I practise a great many.

Isn't that wonderful. I dare say that this relationship is due to be problematic because the novel is 700 pages long and the two of them are highly self-regarding and far too superior for their own good. And while they might not be aware of anyone else worthy of their attention, Eliot has already planted some likely distractions. But this looks like being a sensational book and I'm glad I nominated George Eliot in that Top 5 last week.
Whereas the Collected William Empson is a stilted, desiccated, unwholesomely academic enterprise and a massive disappointment.
I expected so much because what I knew of Empson, and I thought I knew enough, I thought I liked. As a model for the Movement's downbeat, unheroic, empirical poetry, determined to eschew grand gestures and undermine the wordy, allegedly incoherent Dylan Thomas, Empson provided a rigorous template and backed it up with some high-minded theoretical tracts but unless I find the secret to this dull, arcane verse very soon it will be consigned to the shelves with gratitude only for its brevity, Empson's Collected being one of the few such shorter than my own would be.
And a similar fate might soon befall Jules Laforgue, whose poems were such an important precursor to T.S. Eliot's. It might be better if I had them in a translation not by Peter Dale, whose ingenuity in rhyming his versions of Villon seemed to detract from the original. The same seems to be happening here and so I might have to see what I make of the French ahead of Dale's unintended 'reductio ad doggerel' but in translation at least, Baudelaire looks like the preferred option ahead of Laforgue, which is a shame.
Perhaps I need the Sean O'Brien edition. It is, of course, a big part of the advertisement for Laforgue that Prof. O'Brien is a devotee. But, never mind, with The Beautiful Librarians by Sean on its way, the cavalry can be seen coming over the horizon, coming to save poetry just in time.
And as our Election Watch leads up to the campaign proper, I wonder if any debate will take place once it gets underway. So far, it has already become far too personal but the choice seems to be between Ed Miliband's promise to pass a law about televised debates and David Cameron's belief that Jeremy Clarkson is talented.
I'm sure General Elections were once fought on more important issues than those.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

What? No Joyce?

I received an e-mail from the Book Depository just now, a place from which a number of 'new and used' books have been ordered from. Their latest advertising gambit to get us interested is their list of 50 Best Authors Ever, in which 'author' reasonably enough means 'novelist'.
I don't know if their list goes 1-50 in order of merit - Dickens is no.1- but I scanned it up and down a few times and didn't see James Joyce. But they ask you to nominate your own five to contribute to their survey and, to be fair, they aren't phoning you up to ask if you've ever worked in a noisy environment, tell you that they're in your area because they've just fitted some windows in a house just round the corner or ask who is supplying your gas and electricity.
It looked as if you could vote for writers already on their list and so I went Joyce, Patrick Hamilton, Thomas Hardy, Camus and George Eliot. I demurred a bit over Salinger and thought of several others but that will do, except it means I really ought to read Daniel Deronda or something else on top of Middlemarch because that was all that the vote for Eliot was based on.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

View from the Boundary

Look, it's March already. How does a routine make the weeks go by. I can, of course, explain why time appears to go quicker. It is because at age 50, a year represents only 2% of one's experience of time whereas at 5 it represented 20%, and there is also the equivalent of the income tax threshold at the base of this, about three years for many of us, of which one remembers little, and so the effect is further exaggerated. But it's going by so fast now that I wonder if it's more than that, if the work of Stephen Hawking and Einstein needs revising in the light of our empirical evidence of it. If time isn't speeding up then perhaps the things it measures are getting smaller.
And so, it is nearly time for Cheltenham and a week off to watch it. I might not be immediately piling in with more much ready cash over and above seeing how my ante-post investments go. If Qewy overturns the Irish banker in the first race then we could be on for a good week. But having napped Peace & Co in the Triumph Hurdle next Friday, I then heard about quite a gamble on Beltor, which his win on that Saturday endorsed, he came down from 33/1 to 8/1 and is still shortening up. So, I have taken out some insurance on him and can only pass on the news. But it looks as if the secret's not a secret anymore.
But, it is a dangerous game. I usually survive intact but the background to the gambling industry presented in Nick Townsend's book The Sure Thing, the story of the indomitable trainer/gambler, Barney Curley, was a timely reminder of what a heavily one-sided game it is between punter and bookmaker. And so I'm happy to stay ahead and relish the situation for as long as I can rather than go in vainglorious pursuit of more. 'I play my enemies like a game of chess', it says on The Score by The Fugees but I don't even see Paddy Power as an enemy, which is, no doubt part of his trick.
But what a much more preferable read that book was to Prof. Crawford's book on Eliot. I don't like to be overly critical here and it's a worthy biography but it was just so joyless, which is surely due to Eliot rather than Crawford. There is no reason to assume that great poetry comes from great people but Crawford's book's had enough in it to again raise the question of to what extent Eliot was a poet and how much made a scrapbook of extracts to reflect his own frail mental state. Eliot's reputation has always been enormous, has sometimes wavered a bit with me without ever denying his colossal significance but now I'm wondering all over again.
But it is time to think about what to read next and the name of Zwingli came hurtling back recently, someone I hadn't thought about for some decades. Looking at Amazon, it is profoundly to be regretted how few books are available on him. He wrote a poem, Pestlied, in which he said,

mich nüt befilt.

(nothing can be too severe for me)

and held talks with Martin Luther at the Marburg Colloquy in which they agreed on most things apart from the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (I'm using Wikipedia for this in-depth research). It must have been a thrilling chat. But he seems like a candidate for some light holiday reading. Otherwise, there are plenty of copies of the biography of controversial jockey, Graham Bradley, going cheap so it might be illuminating to read his version of what it says in the Barney Curley book.
Another candidate could be Me: Moir, the memoir of Jim Moir, Vic Reeves, whose masterpiece, House of Fools, reached new heights last week. And I didn't even mind that it wasn't on this week because I have also so far enjoyed Let's Play Darts for Comic Relief which a cast of highly likeable Pro-Celeb players including Bob Mortimer, Bobby George, Deta Hedman, Richard Osman and Lisa Tarbuck. It's certainly more fun watching Lisa play darts than seeing Tarby Snr. playing golf with Brucie and Ronnie Corbett.
And if you know of any magazine that is looking for a columnist who can mention Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Zwingli, Barney Curley, Graham Bradley, The Fugees, Vic Reeves, Bobby George, T.S. Eliot and Bruce Forsyth in such a lucidly concatenated piece, then please put me in touch with them. I could ideally do with a few more years of paid employment different to that I have now.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Wendy Klein et al, Havant.

Wendy Klein, Dorothy Yamamoto et al, Spring Arts Centre, Havant, Feb 27

Some might think it’s a great shame that poetry is such a minority interest that an event like this could be moved to a smaller room and accommodate the 14, was it, that attended rather than feel a bit lost in a larger one. I don't know so much. The best things come in small packages, one cliche says. There's a lot to be said for a bit of intimacy, the audience and performers being closer together and this was an event with a real sense of community within the wider, sometimes divided, world of poetry. I understand that The X Factor and other such programmes attract a much bigger audience than The Proms but I don't think that means they are better. 
The premise of the show was that Wendy Klein was reading in Havant as the winner of the Havant Festival's competition last year but she also has a shared act with Dorothy Yamamoto, their common theme being differently mixed cultural inheritances, Wendy being USA-Jewish and Dorothy English-Japanese. They are both superb, well-practiced performers and captivating readers of their work. Dorothy brings memories of her father's origami and a poem in which we were challenged to guess the animal and I was happy enough to be thinking it was a lizard when the answer was actually a chameleon. For me, the most memorable line of the evening came from Wendy with her 'velcro of memory', velcro being something that some things stick to but others don't.
Tim Dawes did a fine job of hosting in relaxed fashion, introducing an undercard of local poets who were all of great interest and, it was noted, possibly of a calibre higher than is generally guaranteed at an 'open mic'. I'm never convinced that includes me. How can one tell. I'm glad to get on and off again without taking up more than five minutes of other people's lives but in a small room, the applause hits you so gratifyingly that one can only think, blimey, they are so kind, it looks as if I've got away with it again.
Denise Bennett read from her forthcoming book, Parachute Silks, as calmly and authoritatively as ever and I dare say there will be more to say about those poems sometime soon here.
I'm so glad I went. Standing on Havant station waiting for a delayed train to take me the few miles to Cosham, from where it might not be so easy to get a taxi home as one might think, I could have been the young Paul Simon on Widnes station, thinking of writing Homeward Bound. I wasn't that but the more I thought about the evening- and it often takes some time to think about- the more I realized how much I'd enjoyed it.
Wendy and Dorothy are in Guildford in March and Cheltenham in April. Get there if you can.

Young Eliot - Robert Crawford

Robert Crawford, Young Eliot (Jonathan Cape)

Robert Crawford makes clear in his introduction why he calls T.S. Eliot 'Tom' throughout this first volume of biography. It is,
a way of reminding people that T.S. Eliot was a human being, rather than a remote historic monument ,

he wants to,
circumvent assumptions about his often defensive persona  
but it seems over-familiar, like addressing the headmaster as 'Jack' in what is not, after all, an official biography. It is a minor point and hardly relevant to the scholarship and work involved in such a big book but it recurs so often, won't go away and so puts one almost on the look-out for anything else incongruous. By the end of page 2, Eliot's catalogue of eminent ancestors have been listed and it is remarked that,
Few squealing infants have had quite so much to live up to.
I've got off to a bad start with Prof. Crawford, who I've seen a couple of times and know to be a highly respectable and well-mannered man, and I'm already quite unreasonably asking where is the academic evidence for the implication that the baby Eliot 'squealed'. From then on, I was fault-finding, even if only sub-consciously.
Crawford is admirably thorough in examining the detail of Eliot's early life, the St. Louis upbringing, his education, reading and associations. Eliot is not the easiest project for an easy read because if Auden, Larkin, even Ted Hughes and certainly Betjeman can be comic characters at times, there really isn't much funny about Eliot. If Crawford's objective is to save Eliot from any previously attributed reputation or assumptions, it was probably too big an ambition to aim at. The fact that the student Tom wrote ribald doggerel for Harvard magazines or private circulation among more outgoing peers, he would hardly have been the only one ever to do that.
It isn't reasonable to being the commonplace assumptions of 2015 to bear on attitudes of a hundred years ago. 'Networking' hadn't been invented then in such a term and so it's a bit unfair to say Eliot was doing it but, perhaps more significantly, if we identify various prevalent cultural attitudes as 'racist', or otherwise, in hindsight then we need to be able to plead guilty to anything that subsequent generations might make of our own current wotld view.
Neither is it unusual for a celebrated poet not to have been an outstanding student although Eliot does more in his later student career to improve his grade than, say, Auden or Betjeman ever did.
Prof. Crawford takes considerable pains over detailing Eliot's teenage reading, nearly all of which in this account seems to end up recycled into his own poetry. That might be the case but, equally, he must have read other books that made less of an impression and so this list looks a bit pre-determined by its later significance.
But it is instructive to see how the poetry of Laforgue, probably more than Baudelaire, the psycho-analytic writing of Bergson as well as his wide reading in earlier English poetry all feed in to make Eliot's poems, most memorably when edited by Ezra Pound. And this biography is in some ways a biography of the genesis of The Waste Land, which is where the book finishes and thus appears to have been leading us to all the time..
Eliot's shyness, sexual inexperience and medical conditions that make him unfit for the most masculine athletic activities are a part of a nervy, anxious, withdrawn character and his eventual marriage to Vivien, much more outgoing but equally fraught, is a bad idea. It isn't necessarily a good thing that Bertrand Russell is available to help, the dastardly advocate of free love who thus is almost duty-bound to take an undue interest in Vivien. With a friend like that, a friend like Pound is a relatively good one to have and Ezra emerges on the evidence of this story as well as anyone where John Middleton Murry is not quite as badly reviewed as Katherine Mansfield, who is described by Eliot as,
one of the most persistent and thick-skinned toadies and one of the vulgarest women Lady R(otherrmere) has ever met and is also a sentimental crank
and so nobody ever did have reason to assume that because great writers produce wonderful literature they must also be wonderful people, either on their own account or in those of each other.
The Eliots are always either individually or collectively ill or tired, but 'tired' is usually upgraded to 'exhausted' and if they're not, they are just about to be. (You imagine that the baby T.S. 'squealed' quite a lot but there's still no documentary evidence provided).
Not all of that is by any means Robert Crawford's fault but the book, 424 pages of fairly close print, amounted to that. It does little to retrieve any perception of Eliot from the image I brought of him from Peter Ackroyd's biography many years ago, that he was one who applied powder to his face to, possibly, make himself look even less healthy and that anecdote is included here in due course.
By the time of the publication of The Waste Land, Eliot is a major figure in English poetry, with his carefully managed small number of perfectly formed poems but, by that stage, Crawford isn't telling us how he rates the achievement but neither does he have to. In the introduction, he describes his devotion to the poems since his first encounter with them, and many of us have been through that. But having shown us quite what a collage of other things the poetry is (and surely all poems are in some measure made from previous material), we might like to know quite where Eliot stands now. The Waste Land is a ground-breaking assemblage of fragments, an objective correlative of both Eliot's mental condition and Europe after World War 1 but how much was he a composer and how much a curator because it was Pound that sorted it out for him into the poem we have now.
No, it was not a pleasant book. The next volume is not due for several years because, as we are told, some of the papers required for it are still under embargo. There is very little to admire in the troubled young man or the view of the emergence of Modernism that one gets seen from this perspective. If that is how it was then Robert Crawford has done a marvellous job describing it. It couldn't have been easy writing it because it wasn't very easy reading it. For that, he deserves some admiration, symapthy and respect.