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.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Sickert in Dieppe

Sickert in Dieppe, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, Sept 29th.

Only until October 4th, I'm afraid. I was a bit late getting to see this exhibition but thought it could wait to be visited along with the concert below. In all the years I've lived here, I'd never been to the Pallant House Gallery before, hidden just off the main streets of Chichester's city centre. Who would have thought that it would be quite so comfortably busy towards the end of an exhibition's run but there was a lecture going on for those intent on bettering themselves, the cafe doing some brisk trade and more of the well-heeled, leisured classes interested in the bohemian painter than one might imagine.
The main room in the gallery is a collection of eminently forgettable pop art by Peter Blake, Patrick Caulfield, Colin Self and others. It has to be somewhere, having been significant in its time but I'm not sure it is lasting very convincingly and these are by no means the finest examples of it. The Sickert exhibition is in a humber of rooms off the central one, organized by period and thus also by theme.
Although Sickert is primarily associated with Whistler, it is Degas that is most brought to mind by these paintings, produced while Sickert was based in Dieppe from 1898 to 1905. The church of St. Jacques is captured repeatedly from the same perspective and the architecture of shops, the hotel and churches is a substantial record of the place and time. More compelling, though, are the pictures of theatre and vaudeville. My favourite Sickert, Brighton Pierrots, is in the Ashmolean in Oxford and doesn't qualify for this selection but there are several that recall that atmosphere of louche showmanship.
Paintings of gamblers at baccarat never show the faces of the players, for purposes of discretion but also suggesting the clandestine nature of the entertainment and the dangers seen in the ironically entitled The System, a study in despair similar to that in Ennui, where the old man's gambling strategy has clearly not worked. That the same despair can be induced by gambling addiction here and by domestic circumstances in Ennui is a telling parallel in two paintings.
Dieppe Races (pictured) looks like Goodwood with the countryside set out panoramically but fixed behind the flashing, impressionistic colours of the passing race in the foreground. The sky has a feel of possibly oppressive heat, a different oppression to some of the closed-in worlds captured in other of these pictures. Again, of course, Degas painted a racehorse or two as he did theatre performers and one could wonder if while in France Sickert was doing what French artists did. While some of the brushwork is sketchy, deliberately so but still sketchy, the best of these paintings are an impressively perceptive and compelling account of Walter Sickert, who, with Alfred Sisley, represents the English contribution to Impressionism, which was a significant one if never to be the headline act of the movement.
And that, coming home in that choicest of weather, early Autumn sunshine, brings to a close my days off for the season, a bit of a rehearsal for retirement, one might think. But now it's late September and I really should be back at school.

Fujita Piano Trio

Fujita Piano Trio, Chichester Cathedral, Sept 29th.

My brief early Autumn tour of lunchtime cathedral concerts ended today at Chichester. The Fujita sisters are widely travelled since being formed into a trio in the 1990's. It looked to me as if the eldest is the pianist, the middle one the violin and so I wondered when it was that the youngest realized she would be the cello. However, it is not third choice in my book because the cello is just about my favourite instrument.
Their programme of Mozart and Smetana offered an obvious contrast in styles, Mozart being the more popular choice, one might think, but it was the Smetana that was most memorable here.
The Mozart Trio in C, K 548 begins with all the Allegro playfulness expected of the boy wonder but was more affecting in its limpid slow second movement with the trio in close concentration on each other's playing, without scores. The difference between the two composers is of course in Mozart's decorum and perfectly formed classicism, which was given superb expression here, compared to the more impassioned and changeable temper of the Smetana.The Trio in G minor, Op. 15 begins with great urgency before moving into lyrical passages of some tenderness and the piece continues to alternate between the two regularly with some pizzicato phrasing shared by the stringed instuments. Perhaps the Smetana favoured the strings more, with the cello given the main theme at times whereas the Mozart featured the piano more prominently but the point of a trio is for all three players to take a significant role, otherwise it would be a sonata.
The Smetana was a great success, rousing and emotional, the notes on the CD telling us it refers to the loss of a daughter to the composer, aged 4. Gladly, and perhaps not surprisingly in the circumstances, it is ffeatured on one of the discs they had for sale, which I didn't need any persuading to buy, especially when the trio were on hand to sign a copy. I hope the marker pen doesn't wear off.
Last year in Chichester I arrived about half an hour before the concert started and was a dozen or so rows back. It looked to me that the long, narrow space might mean late arrivals sitting near the back might not get much of a view or hear too well. So I was in place earlier this time although perhaps didn't need to be, but the seats were filled a long way back by the time the music began. So, you can't be too sure but I wouldn't advise leaving it too late before taking a seat here because the enjoyment was enhanced by being on the second row.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Not Quite a Revelation

One can't go knocking out Letters to the Editor every time something dubious appears in the paper. I've had to stop reading Oliver Kamm's column on grammar in The Times on Saturdays because his relentless discovery and debunking of the grammatical pedant is just as pedantic as theirs. It only needs saying once, yes, language is as it is used and not a matter for textbooks on usage. If, indeed, 'decimate' now means 'obliterate' then so be it, it no longer means 'reduce by one tenth'. And, a big favourite in our office, 'literally' is by now simply an intensifier and doesn't any longer mean 'actually', as in,
he has literally just disappeared 
(Serena Brocks, Portsmouth, circa 2003)

That was fine although my friend Alan and I didn't think so at the time. But once Prof. Terry Eagleton had explained it was an intensifier and, in this case, the person only had to have gone elsewhere very recently, we were disabused and eventually relented from our literal linguistic interpretation. Thank heavens for that.

I did e-mail in to The Observer when their television reviewer said that Christopher Jefferies, in The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, was listening to a Bach concerto in his flat. No, it was one of the cello suites. But I realize that nobody likes a smartarse and nobody's grateful, it's not big and it's not clever.
So I restrained myself this week when Robert McCrum credited James Shapiro, in the new Shakespeare book, 1606, The Year of Lear, with the 'revelation' that,
the age-old thespian fuss about 'the Scottish play' was actually a Victorian invention, the work of the incomparable Max Beerbohm.

So, what is a revelation, then. Is it when something is revealed to the world or is it when something is revealed to Robert McCrum.
A few years ago, a lady in our office asked me where all the superstition came from and I explained there were a number of stories of deaths among cast members during productions of Macbeth, that The Globe had been burned down during a production of Henry VIII, that it was a play about witchcraft and that a certain sort of camp, theatrical type thrives on this kind of old baloney but I wasn't sure it had any real foundation. And then, only a couple of weeks later, an edition of QI devoted to questions on Shakespeare revealed that which James Shapiro now reveals again, which is apparently news to Robert McCrum.
So, then, of course, I had to scuttle round to the other side of the office the next day, 'Oh, Veronica, your little lad that's doing Macbeth at school, can you tell him.....'  
  

Witnessing the Genesis of a Book

I wonder if anybody was there when Geoffrey Chaucer sat back from his desk, stood up to stretch his legs, looked out of the window to see an April shower piercing the drought of March to the root and said,'Yes, I know, I'll do a set of stories told by different characters on a pilgrimage to St. Albans.'
Obviously not all great works turn out as they were originally conceived.
Or perhaps someone was with John Donne when he batted off a fly and remarked that the next person it landed on might be one of his many girlfriends.
I don't know if I've ever been anywhere nearby when the idea for a major work has occured to an author. Perhaps an idea was suggested to Sean O'Brien, Anthony Thwaite or one of the other luminaries when I was on the same train as them coming out of Hull in 1997 but in Oxford in 2006, I might have witnessed the very first inklings of a major book that is now due out shortly.
At the first British and Irish Poetry Conference, held at St. Anne's College, one of the big lectures was Prof. Jonathan Bate's at the end of which he took questions. One of the questions made reference to Ted Hughes. Prof. Bate moved thoughtfully about the stage, remarked that he had never written on Hughes but mused upon the possibility and seemed to think it was not out of the question. And now, next week, Ted Hughes:The Unauthorized Life is published in all its glory. So that's how long it takes for such a book to grow from the merest passing thought to a big, fat 672 page book.
Hughes is already well served by Elaine Feinstein's excellent life and the generous helping of letters, which are as entertaining as they are grim. There is something about the tragic, dour Yorkshire shaman that is a little bit comic, perhaps mostly to those of us who take Larkin's side in any debate about gentility, but much of the ribaldry is in the letters where we see his endless money-making projects and obsession with horoscopes and all kinds of superstition. But it's probably not going to be possible to not read Prof. Bate's account.
Amazon's blurb - I don't know if the publishers have had the nerve to put it on the book- says,
A magisterial life of Ted Hughes – identified recently as the only English poet since the First World War with a claim to true greatness
It's a big claim, and somewhat arbitrary. I wonder who did the identifying.
But perhaps this book is required to balance the account in the biography department because Larkin's already had three. 

Friday, 25 September 2015

Oh Babe, What Would You Say

In the corner of Mr. Huddlestone's classroom where we did our 'A' level English was a cabinet in which he kept some poetry books for the furtherance of our appreciation. I don't remember much now of what I found in there but I will always think of a Louis Simpson poem which said that 'if poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all'.
I was very taken with the thought, aged 16 or 17, not knowing any better than that literature was an almost divine thing, a gift from the gods that ordinary mortals weren't really capable of. That was possibly due to the way we wrote essays, always thinking that if something was by Shakespeare or Thomas Hardy it must be brilliant and it was thus our job to find reasons why. It seemed sacreligious when Mr. Bradford said that he thought Milton was something you cleaned your teeth with but Mr. Bradford was diabolical anyway.
But eventually I came to realize that I didn't think poetry necessarily came naturally and Oscar might have had more of a point when he said it was nearly all perspiration and not much inspiration. And so here's another scale on which to place poets, and then any other genre of creative artist. To what extent does the work pour out of them in a natural flow or how much is it a painstaking process. And when we say 'painstaking', does that mean 'taking pains' os 'staking pain'.
I'm sure it varies from poem to poem rather than from poet to poet. It's possibly best when a generous helping of a poem has arrived spontaneously but perhaps only the author can be sure how it happened. If you choose a rhyme scheme and a metre it's very unlikely that you think in iambic pentameter and an ABAB CDCD EFEFGG rhyming pattern and so some engineering is going to be necessary. But some poems looked too forced and if the syntax and prosody suffer for being mangled into a tight-fitting form, it may not look so clever.
My ongoing attempt to write The Perfect Book, a poem to give the title to my next booklet (provisionally due for publication on October 17, 2019), is coming not as naturally as getting blood out of a stone. When it finally becomes clear that nothing you can do will ever make these awkward lines look graceful, it is time to abandon it. But then, it struck me that two abandoned poems might be merged in some miraculous nuclear fusion to make a satisfactory one. No, it had to be admitted, they couldn't. But if you wait long enough, one day an idea comes along that looks as if it's in the right area. Oh, I see, perhaps I don't want to write about the perfect book but a much less than perfect book and then.... well, there's four years to go before it needs to be in print but there are few things more exciting than having a stanza and a bit to go with and see what happens. It might be a magnum opus or I might be back at square one before we know.
--
Although this year's Best Poem and Best Collection awards look like producing almost the most competitive shortlists since I began this most insignificant of prizes, the Best TV award must have been settled in favour of Cradle to Grave in its earliest stages. It is a treasure for anyone who was more or less formed by the 1970's. This week, though, stretched it a bit. Although hugely entertaining and beautifully done, I'm not sure I believed it verbatim in the same way that I had taken the rest of the series thus far as a precise re-enactment of the Baker teenage years.
Of course, others have lived more remarkable lives than I and Danny Baker would be one of them, who accepts in the book that things just happened to him, always for the best, and all he had to do was take advantage. Perhaps it would be like that for all of us if only we had the capacity to take every opportunity that is offered. I'm sure the majority are too dull to even notice an opportunity when it presents itself.
But Danny's school football team, of which he was captain, get to the final of the cup. In pouring rain, many are calling for the game to be called off but it continues, the referee gets injured, the anything-but-impartial coach of Dan's team takes over as substitute ref, knocks in an extra time header himself, then awards the goal and blows up for time.
But winning the cup is nothing compared to what happens to Danny next. Having been angling to get into the dark room with the somewhat nubile teacher who runs the photography club, he subsequently does. There might be legal reasons for wondering if such a story could be broadcast if it were true. I had at first thought the programme was misdescribed as 'sitcom' when it looked to me more like autobiographical drama, but perhaps we are safer with 'sitcom'.
--
Just the briefest word for pop-pickers on the new album by The Libertines, Anthem for Doomed Youth. It remains to be seen if this reunion album contains many things set to join the admirable top bracket of their repertoire but the gigs were tremendous, there are a couple of songs worth attention in You're My Waterloo and Gunga Din. Like Morrissey, the Kinks, Squeeze, Blur and I'm sure many other English pop acts, Doherty loves his retro English culture which includes the way that he assimilates so much of the classic elements of punk with the white boy's reggae references and delivers such laddish bonhomie, sometimes, it must be said, in memory of some of those who didn't last as long as he has managed to. It works on stage, it works on record and he is genuinely one who can be appreciated by an age group who might have thought such records were behind them by now. This is one act that would always have found an audience through talent alone, as could happen in the 70's. Just how much that still happens is another question.
--
And the highlight of this week, and last, was luckily, accidentally but joyfully finding that SKY Arts are showing some Buster Keaton films. I know that 'luckily, accidentaly and joyfully' = serendipitously but having just written, above,
Doherty loves his retro English culture which includes the way that he assimilates so much of the classic elements of punk with the white boy's reggae references,

I don't want to overstate my claim for a place in Pseud's Corner.
I don't know how much trick photography was available in Keaton's day but the choreography of the visual jokes in these films is sensational. I don't imagine I'm the first to have noticed that. But, isn't it remarkable how, as soon as something is invented, like moving film pictures, there just happens to be someone in place to realize more potential in it than could ever have been thought.
I don't know if my tiny but very choice collection of DVD's should be without Buster Keaton for much longer.

 

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

How to Win Betting on Horse Racing

The last few weeks have seen a steady flow of cash from the bookmaker to me. I've rarely had such a good time of it and I've certainly never been this far ahead in a calendar year. Roadie Joe won at Warwick today, including the gift of a starting price of 9/4 when I'd happily taken 7/4 last night but Guaranteed Best Price is a wonderful thing as the turf accountants fall over each other in pursuit of the mug punter's business.
This is not making me rich, you understand. Gone are the bad old days of trying to make it through to pay day, and often failing, with some would-be shrewd maneouvres. Nowadays it is okay to have a few modest investments, where it doesn't matter if they lose but becomes an interest that pays interest if they win often enough.
Of course, all good runs come to an end and it is dangerous to let light in on magic but I thought I might see if I can demonstrate how it's done by looking through tomorrow's racing and see what we can find.

Tomorrow there are flat meetings at Goodwood and Redcar, jumping at Perth, flat in Ireland at Naas and then an evening all-weather meeting at Kempton. I am mainly interested in jump racing so look at Perth first. And we start by looking at the novice, juvenile and beginners races, the hurdles followed by the chases. As a general rule, these races are more likely to be won by the best horses on the day and are easier to assess. We might have a look at the handicaps later but those are much more difficult, more likely to be bookmakers' benefits and we will bet on what we want to bet on, not be lured into a race with lots of angles to it just because we can have a much bigger price but then get beat.
The 2.20 at Perth is a Novice Hurdle. Miss Dinamic (pictured) will be a short price but she has proved herself, might not have much to beat even though she must give them a stone in weight and whereas, for as long as one could remember, the booking of A.P. McCoy to ride such a horse was significant, he's retired  and so Richard Johnson is the most significant now. There is too much to like about Miss Dinamic not to back her, she's coming over from Ireland for this little race.
We need to think about the 4.40 a bit more. Trainer John Ferguson and jockey Aidan Coleman have dominated the summer jump racing with their classy ex-flat horses in this sort of race. There is no need to do your own homework with the form book, Oddschecker provides two summaries of each race as well as the latest prices, indicating which horses are shortening up in the market and which being offered at bigger prices than previously. You don't take the verdict of the tipsters at face value but read between the lines a bit. One of them isn't that impressed with Hadfield's debut win at Worcester and, having won, has to give 7lb to Impulsive American, trained by Pipe and ridden by Scudamore. It doesn't seem that long since that meant Martin Pipe and Peter Scudamore but horse racing is as dynastic as any sport and now it's David Pipe and Tom Scudamore.
But I notice that Hadfield is a Sea the Stars gelding, who would have been the superstar horse of a decade or more had the freakish Frankel not showed up a year or two later and outdone everything in living memory. Impulsive American is marked up at 11/4 in the early evening, with Hadfield generously 5/2 with Bet365. Persiflage appears to be coming over just to keep Miss Dinamic company in the horse box but is only 4/1 so obviously somebody thinks better of her than the bare form of her first run. We'll watch the market on this race to see what further hints we might get.
The best race at Goodwood is the listed event over just about 1m 2f. Basem, trained by Saeed Bin Saroor and ridden by James Doyle, is the clear favourite and one reason given for opposing him with Battalion is not as good as it looks,
BATTALION has won over 1m2f and further,

Yes, but Goodwood is downhill all the way for the last few furlongs and not one where stamina is an obvious advantage. There is plenty of blue showing up alongside Basem as his price is already contracting. He could be a solid bet.
The first two races at Goodwood are maiden races, in some ways the equivalent of novice races over jumps but the back-end of the season is not the best time to be getting involved. Good Run, in the 2.35 is a stablemate of Basem but a Godolphin horse that was sent to Carlisle for its debut might not be one of their best so I'll be happy to swerve the odds-on about that and read through the handicaps to see if we can put together a combination of three or four horses for a small stakes speculation which won't matter to us either way as long as the main selection goes in.
Notarised (Goodwood 4.20) rings a bell from somewhere in the past, has shortened in price to 11/2 and comes down from Mark Johnson's Yorkshire stable.
In the 3.30 at Perth, I'll take the point that Bouggietopieces hasn't won over more than 2m 4f and side with Bar A Mine, sent all that way to the furthest north racecourse on these islands from near Cheltenham.
In the 5.45, although a short price, one has to think Epic Warrior is making an even longer trip full of potential, having only been sent as far north as Southwell last time. It's only people who live as far south as Portsmouth that would even think of Southwell as being 'north'.
So, we must make Miss Dinamic the banker bet but we don't have to depend on her completely. Basem and Epic Warrior in a double for half that stake, or a more ambitious yankee including Notarised and Bar A Mine would make another moderate pay day if everything went right for us. That's not very likely, so we don't go overboard and give away cash needlessly on a whim. There will be better days to lump onto horses like Emotionless when we want a proper bet. It's not compulsory and I sometimes feel as if I've won when I don't have a bet and the horses I had been looking at get beaten. Not losing a few quid is, in the end, just as good as winning a few quid.
Now that Paddy's got round to pricing up the Perth meeting, Miss Dinamic is all of 8/11 but what can you do.  The Saturday Nap is due to return on October 10th.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Oh Babe, What Would You Say

Since I like to get reviews on here as soon as possible after any new release, I can hardly do any sort of job on a disc that came out in 1995 but neither can I omit mention of Utopia Triumphans by the Huelgas Ensemble. Its subtitle is The Great Polyphony of the Renaissance and it can't be put any better than that.
I got myself a copy having heard Josquin's Qui Habitat on the radio a couple of weeks ago. Why I wasn't aware of that already I don't know but, unlike ignorance of the many arcane laws of the country, it is not something I can be found culpable of.
So this, if you come to this website either in fear of or in search of yet more wordage on the subject of Renaissance polyphony, is the record you want. It begins with a gorgeous and immaculately clear account of Spem in Alium, almost the best I've heard but I couldn't possibly say it's better than the 1965 King's College, Cambridge recording under David Willcocks only the day after the announcement of his death. If it sounds any better in some ways then perhaps that is due to being thirty years further down the line but it captures the same restlessness and turbulence of this sea of sound, surely one of the greatest achievements of the English Renaissance and a piece of music almost in a category of its own.
It is only incidental that I gain one more version of Spem, though, because the Josquin was the point. Qui Habitat is from a generation or two before, a similarly magnificent edifice, if less than six minutes long. It immediately muscles its way onto the very select shortlist of masterpieces from this broad period of pre-baroque music once labelled 'Early' but increasingly unfolding into an essential part of a much longer historic view of music that 40 years ago, we didn't seem to have. It belongs alongside other such unputdownable icons as Josquin's Deploration on the death of Ockeghem, Wylkynson's Jesu Autem Transiens...and the list goes on at intervals throughout the several years of this website.
The Huelgas Ensemble, it might also be said, deserve to be mentioned in any same breath as the Tallis Scholars as I notice they appear on my shelves with accounts of the Eton Choirbook and Cipriano de Rore.
So, forgive me whenever I'm next diverted into an inane discussion of why Queen were rubbish. I'm honestly not trying to be an intellectual snob- I can do that without trying- it's just that there are better things to talk about that must have come from several planets further away than all that loud, camp, pompous posturing.
Everything else on this disc is well worth having, including the Striggio Ecce beatem lucem. I thought for a moment that the Huelgas had known about the Striggio 40-part motet that Tallis took up as his model but, obviously not. Great musicological discoveries don't happen here, I'm merely a devoted fan.
--
 It's a long time since I had as much as two weeks out of the office. Although the last few days have been a joy, I'm not convinced I could keep that up forever.
On first reading Larkin's Toads Revisted, a few decades ago, I barely comprehended the argument that one could be grateful of work. But when the endless days of retirement seem to be foreshortened by routine, if one is not careful, I have suddenly understood why the dreary fight against corporate process can actually be satisfying. Surely there are better ways of filling up one's time. But sadly September doesn't last forever and it's a bit of a wait until it comes round again. The season of lists of books and mellow horse racing is a fine thing but, having begun to enjoy it, who is to say I won't enjoy going back to work to turn the edicts and announcements from senior management and ask, Doddy-like,
What a beautiful day. What a beautiful day to increase your performance by 10%. Okay, then, let's give it a go. But what are you going to do? Are you going to hold 10% more meetings or are you going to do 10% more non-productive talking in the same number of meetings.
--
The Saturday Nap, our Autumn foray into horse racing journalism, will probably return in time for the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket if our new hero, Emotionless, is due to run. Horses are the best sporting heroes because, although certainly they can surely be frustrating, at least they don't give interviews and deliver the same old, 'listen...', 'look....' or transparently pathetic excuses that human sportspersons do.
It's been a good summer on the turf, a gentle roller coaster on which one goes up and down a bit but doesn't end up any worse off than when one started. So far, I have avoided the disastrous spell I had through last year's late summer/early autumn.
John Ferguson, taking good quality flat horses from his friends at Godolphin and re-inventing them as hurdlers, has achieved an impressive strike rate but I'm not sure how clever that is or if I've won enough out of them to compensate for the catastrophes. I mean, I could win the local Sunday league football if I could sign Scholesy, Le Tissier, Giggsy and somebody else who apparently retired a few years ago, like Berbatov.
But Penglai Pavilion and Maputo were far too good to be put in the races they won so I'll be very interested in seeing if they can be more than 'flat track bullies' when the proper jumping begins.

 

South 52

Jeremy Page dominates the latest edition of South as one of the selectors of the poems, the featured poet (not, of course, of his own choosing) and with a new collection, Closing Time, reviewed by Joan McGavin among the reviews. This is a good thing. Jeremy's poems are both easily accessible on first reading but intelligent and enjoyable which is what one hopes for from South at its best.
Joan's review identifies 'transience' as a theme in Jeremy's poems and that is in evidence in the featured poems here, too. The Avenue recalls the paper round he did as a boy. The best job I ever had was the paper round I did in the early 1970's and so I can appreciate some of what he describes but, rather than reading the racing page of the Mirror like I did, Jeremy took more interest in his customers,
And the curtains are drawn
where Harold Butterworth lived -
he took the 'Soviet Weekly'
and wore a Khruschev hat,
but everyone agreed
he was too mad to be bad.

It remains great compensation for the fact that South otherwise mostly only use one poem from each contributor that you get a substantial few pages from the featured poet and so when it's a good quality selection like this, it helps make a successful issue.
Being selected by different editors each time, there is likely to be less of a house style or presiding taste in the poems from one number to the next but regular names recur and here are Wendy Klein, Denise Bennett, several more familiar ones, and me.
The opinion column, like the reviews that are limited to 300 words, would benefit from more space to express itself. I can see how South tries to include as many poets as it can by tight constraints on words in its other features but Erato probably needs more than one such page for her critique of Post-Structuralism. Don't get her started, she says, on the ways a structure of meaning in one field can have a structure in another so that ...(a poem) about an airport terminal or dentist's waiting room (is really) about purgatory.
Well, why not. Isn't it a good thing if poems can work on more than one, literal level. Perhaps this is not the magazine for such a brief glance at Roland Barthes and cultural theory but, credit where it is due, it's a brave attempt.
Noteworthy among several good, likeable pieces here are Annie Fisher's For Terry Who Asked if I was a Contender or an Also-Ran and Richard Williams' prose, possibly prose poem, Romeo. It is not for me to dispense advice or wisdom like a tutor on a writing course but I think there might be a scale on which poetry can suffer which lies between excess cleverness, valuing the poet's intellectual ability too highly, and excess preciousness, that values the poet's feeling too highly. I might say that, of the two, the poems in South are closer to the latter but that at least makes a change. Good writing perhaps happens when both excesses are avoided but South remains a worthy, and worthwhile, vehicle for some admirable work by poets by no means big names in the industry but good at what they do.
     

Cheeky Monkey in Portsmouth Cathedral

Martin Penrose, Lunchtime Live,  Portsmouth Cathedral, Sept 17th

I wonder if you can spot the cheeky monkey in Portsmouth Cathedral. I'd never noticed it before despite the number of times I've looked straight at it. Another feature to be aware of, when the sun is in the right place, is how the colours from the stained glass windows slant onto the wall and cast blue and yellow onto the stonework. But neither of these distractions took anything away from Martin Penrose's excellent set of organ pieces yesterday. If it's Thursday, it is Portsmouth Cathedral for lunchtime music.
Beginning with a fine BWV 582, Fantasia in G by Bach, the pipes were warmed up with grand German flourishes before two lighter Sonatas, Kp 287 and 288 by Domenico Scarlatti, with echoes in the theme and answers illustrating a different temper in the baroque, a geographical and cultural difference rather than a historic one as this Scarlatti was another composer born in 1685. It wasn't only Bach and Handel.
Moving closer to us in time and place, the Wesley Andante was a less imperious and demanding but quite charming piece using softer effects in the stops to good effect, as was the Allegretto, Op.17 no.2 by William Wolstenholme (1865-1931), a new name to me but a welcome one. Martin Penrose said that as a student he was made fun of for his liking for the composer, presumably due to his unfashionable status or quaintness compared to more respected names. But, well done, sir, and stick to your own tastes. There's nothing quite as chic as not being chic.
The set was completed by two French composers, Salome and Guilmant, both born in the 1830's that Martin said contrasted with the chromatic, more discordant Vierne. That was good to hear, and so was the music. The Salome was gentler and harmonious while the Guilmant left us with a rousing finale March in D.
It was a very pleasant way to spend the middle of a day which proved to be all that a September day should be, relaxed, free of anxiety and which proved to have more good things still to come.
But before leaving the cathedral I went to buy the above postcard to confirm my sighting of the monkey. As I was there, Martin came by and I pointed it out to him. I can hardly believe I'm the first to spot it after so many years but if you can't see it in the picture above, have a closer look at the organ pipes.







Thursday, 17 September 2015

Oh Babe, What Would You Say

Last Thursday I had at least 10 phone calls from call centres. There might have been more but I was out for an hour or two. Two wanted to talk about mortgages, one about loans, one loft insulation, one was a consumer survey and one was specifically about wine. I didn't necessarily wait to find out what they all wanted.
I know I'm not the only one who suffers this gratuitous abuse from the commercial sector and I thought Mr. Cameron had said he was going to do something about it but perhaps that was before the General Election.
My latest strategy has been to immediately take the initiative and ask them the questions. Right, then, give me the name of your company, the address you are phoning from and the name of the managing director. Why? Because I'm compiling a list of all the people like you that phone me.
One caller from India assured me that I didn't need to know where they were calling from.
No, I'll decide what I need to know.
It can be amusing but at other times when one is being lulled into a lunchtime stupor by one of George Eliot's less enthralling pages without paragraph breaks, you don't want to be disturbed and can hardly raise the will to take them on.
Today, I watched as Jeremy Corbyn asked Mr. Cameron some pointed questions about housing which I'm sure the Prime Minister was grateful for, for all their decorum and lack of follow-up. I don't remember the hard left being quite so gentle in olden days and I realize that my specific complaint here is not on the same level as the new Labour, as opposed to the New Labour, leader's chosen queries.
But I don't believe that Alexander Graham Bell quite foresaw the monster he was inventing and, anyway, the government presumably think it's a good use of the national telephony network to employ legions of low paid callers to phone us up and read from their script because never mind how much time and bother is wasted on 99% of those calls, if one of them does some business then the economy is going forwards, enterprise is on the move and some gullible innocent is going to be convinced into signing up for something they didn't want.
--
I wonder how the great Brian Close would have dealt with them.
I have recently been looking at some old newspapers and among the fascinating snapshots of moments in time, like what was on the telly, what passing trivia was deemed newsworthy or how much a motor car cost, there are the cricket scores and racing results.
There was also a report of a postal strike in Fareham in 1964. One blackleg had been 'sent to Coventry' by the union members but the postman interviewed by the Portsmouth News couldn't add much to the story because although he had some sympathy for one side or the other, he wasn't talking to them.
But Yorkshire were in the process of thrashing Nottinghamshire, which routinely happened twice each summer in those days. The Yorkshire team included Boycott, Illingworth, Trueman and Brian Close. That must have been a dour dressing room.
Fred Trueman does get into my Best XI as part of a three-pronged fast bowling attack with Harold Larwood and Michael Holding ( I have Mike Procter in the all-rounders, too) but it is Brian Close that leaves me, and now all of us, with the best memories and ultimate respect.
At the age of 80, I heard on Test Match Special, he was still doing public speaking engagements, his idea of a speech being to unwrap a packet of 20 B&H, light one, start talking and stop once he'd finished them. Obituaries confirmed another such story that he didn't so much drive a car as 'aim' it along the road.
The four catches that he took in the 1964 match v. Notts were all presumably taken in Silly positions because the carefree use of the word 'robust' nowadays make it inadmissable as a way to describe Brian Close.  Anybody with any knowledge of cricket will know what's coming.
The Old Trafford test match in which John Edrich and Close were recalled, Close aged 45, as England's last hope of playing the West Indies' fearsome battery of fast bowlers. The episode was brutal, cruel really, and the laws of the game were subsequently changed because it simply wasn't right to ask anybody to face bowling like that. Not in just a shirt with no helmet and four or five short-pitched deliveries directed at your head, anyway.
No problem with Michael Holding, an intelligent athlete playing a hard game within the laws as they stood, or with Clive Lloyd or any of the rest of my favourite cricket team of all time. It's just that West Indian batsmen didn't have to face West Indian bowlers in test matches. But Brian Close did and you can't help but think he relished it.
I don't know if I liked facing fast bowling. I faced some bowling nowhere near as quick as Holding's and didn't see it so I can't say if I liked it or not.
--
And just in case it is more than a week since I've praised the BBC for being exactly what it should be, in Reithian terms,
I hope everybody is enjoying the fabulous Baker boy's Cradle to Grave, the adaptation of Danny's first book of autobiography with, I think, a few new stories added in. I had my doubts for about the first two minutes but from then it was virtually perfect. It's a sign of our times that 1970's nostalgia is now so highbrow that it is on BBC2. Such downmarket, working class skullduggery would have been on ITV in those days but now that it's recalled in a well-written, beautifully-done period piece, it's suddenly almost 'art house'.
And, after the regular Thursday nights of solo Bach from the Proms, again quite selfishly, I'd like Mr. Corbyn to ask Mr. Cameron for assurances that the Conservative plan for the BBC will guarantee coverage of such recitals as those by Andras Schiff, Alina Ibragimova and Yo Yo Ma. Does the government understand that a show that sends a few camp old Queens out to buy antiques and then try to flog them for profit does not constitute quality arts broadcasting.
Why does nobody phone me up in the middle of the day to ask me about that.


Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Dreamtime

The A.G.M. of the Portsmouth Poetry Society is tomorrow night. It includes that annual jamboree that is the announcement of the winner of the poetry competition and the passing over of the little trophy, if indeed it needs to be passed over.
The decision will have been made some weeks ago and so it will in no way prejudice the judge if I share my entry here now.
Quite honestly, I had all but given up on the chosen theme of 'Dreamtime'. All I could think was to do some sort of pastiche of loose, psychedelic, 1960's culture and one wouldn't want to accidentally win the cup ahead of genuine entries with anything quite so insincere.
Eventually, I realized that the theme lent itself to the 'ripple poem', mentioned here a number of times in the past, that form invented by Roddy Lumsden, as much as an exercise for his students as anything else, perhaps, but it sometimes works. I've done it enough times to know that it doesn't always.

I'm not proud of this, it is an unlikely winner but at least I took part. I hope and I'm sure the judge will have found greater depths in a poem with some emotional engagement ahead of this technical exercise. It's not a good thing when the necessary notes and explanations are as long as the poem itself and that was mainly a disease of Modernism in the hands of William Empson and, not completely his fault, T.S. Eliot.
So, if it's possible to enter a competition with the intention of being a misunderstood also-ran, that's what I've done.



Dreamtime

a ‘ripple poem’ in which the five consonants
in the title are the last five consonants, in any order,
of each line

Sometimes I wonder, if I had more time
spent elsewhere in limited R.E.M.,
I might imagine I’m a matador
or an apache with a tom tom drum.

But then one awakes from a mad trauma
or another sinister medium,
a Banana Yoshimoto drama
which I escape with a soft tread I mime.   


Note.
Banana Yoshimoto (born 1964), novelist and author of Kitchen.
Yoshimoto claims that her two main themes are “the exhaustion of young Japanese in contemporary Japan” and “the way in which terrible experiences shape a person’s life”.
 

Index Cantorum - Angels

Index Cantorum, Angels, Winchester Cathedral, Sept 15th.

It's great to know that up and down the country, cathedrals are put to use for lunchtime concerts while some fondly imagine that evgeryone is at work. There are plenty of retired, students and tourists to fill an exquisite space with an audience for fine music.
I wouldn't take Winchester's advertisement that their concerts are free with a retiring collection quite at face value because I don't think you can get into the building without a seven pound fifty ticket but, having been to St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Chichester and Portsmouth Cathedrals, I haven't yet heard anything better than Index Cantorum and so it was well worth it on this occasion.
I'm not sure how much the group are a regular choir or if they are brought together only for specific performances under Director Mark Williams. They could be a scratch Tallis Scholars, a few more in number but making a similarly wonderful sound.
On the theme of Angels, the programme was ostensibly half Renaissance/baroque and half Romantic/modern. If it seemed as if two items each from Tomas Luis de Victoria and Juan de Esquival Barahona, 1560-c1625 and new to me, I think) had set a sufficiently high standard, all beautifully clear and as nearly intricate in their filigree as the magnificent architecture they were in front of, then that was before the tenors, keyboard and chittarone (not a theorbo) of the Duo Seraphim from the Monteverdi 1610 Vespers. Simon Lillystone and Peter McGreary, augmented by Mark Williams himself, gave a memorable account of this ethereal, trembling masterpiece, one of many seismic pieces in Monteverdi's seminal magnum opus.
Through Brahms and Tchaikovsky, they arrived at James MacMillan's A Child's Prayer, written for the victims of the Dunblane school massacre. As such, it belongs with John Tavener's Song for Athene as a deeply moving elegy and here Karen Williams (yes, apparently, some relation - daughter) and another soprano whose name I can't deduce from the personnel listing, extended into sublime reaches to produce a thrilling performance. If one doesn't need to be in work then a lunchtime treat of Monteverdi and MacMillan is exactly where I'd want to be, and I was glad that's where I was.
Only three rows from the choir, I wasn't far from being almost inside the music and no recording of whatever quality could reproduce the sound, which also bears witness to the wonderful individual voices within the overall balance of the performance.

I was probably lucky to be able to visit this week because I can't believe it's this good every time. Whereas the audience at Chichester are in place long before the start and one needs to get there early, this was merely comfortably full and arriving 15 minutes before the 1 p.m. start should be fine. Your entrance money to the cathedral lasts a year and so if you are local you will get more than your money's worth. I had mine in just this one concert. 

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Don Paterson, 40 Sonnets

Don Paterson, 40 Sonnets (Faber)

There were a few minutes on first looking into Paterson's Sonnets that I thought I might be reading the best book of poems I'd ever read.
Here begins,
I must quit sleeping in the afternoon,
I do it for my heart, but all too soon
my heart has called it off. It does not love me.
If it downed tools then there'd be nothing of me.
Its hammer-beat says 'you are', not 'I am'.
It prints me off here like a telegram.

Once in a blue moon one reads a poem one would have given something very precious (right arm or left leg) to have written and this poem would be one of them if poetry was that important. It doesn't stop there, as this meditation on alienation from self, expands into alienation from life itself and, ultimately, the mother he sprang from. The dour Dundonian disdains to debauch himself with any trace of sentimentality and yet does it so beautifully that not giving an inch to indulgence, providing every excuse not to dance is reason to dance in itself.
Of course, one might say that is too self-indulgent, being so un-Romantic that it must be trying too hard but not only does it read authentically but other poems, later in the book, show Paterson more than capable of deep emotional ties, engagement with 'other modes of being' or examining the world from a variety of points of view. That can't be done without sympathy, empathy or any of those things. It's the self that he doubts and if it doesn't look as lush as Keats then perhaps it shares some kindred 'negative capability'.

It's unlikely that a book of 40 pieces is going to sustain the impact of quite such a first poem. It's a good idea to start with some of the stronger ones but it might be best to put the very best later on. I don't always begin reading collections of poems at page 1, but this time I did.
Shakespeare had his way of writing sonnets, as did Petrarch. Paterson uses a wide variety of sonnet forms without extending it beyond the definition of 14 lines, except for one. Different rhyme schemes, different line lengths and, among the 40 pieces, one is two and a half pages of prose, just to show that a sonnet can be whatever it wants to be just as much as a poem is a poem if it says it is.
Yes, yes, okay. There's Seance, possibly making contact with the spirit of Bob Cobbing and proving that concrete poetry can still be done. I'll happily take the point if I ever get to hear Paterson read the poem so that I can hear what it sounds like but why, when there are a dozen or more immaculate poems in the book, would one want to take refuge in the recondite methods of olde worlde avant gardistes when it is obvious that one is one of the most accomplished living poets in the language.
We don't even need the critique of Tony Blair in The Big Listener. Poetry is better than politics and demeans itself a little bit when getting this much involved. It's a fine poem, as are many of his colleague, Sean O'Brien's, but now we have Jeremy Corbyn in place we can surely leave all that to the Labour party.
No, once you discount the few misses that any great collection or tremendous album must be allowed (and we can include the Velvet Underground in that), 40 Sonnets is a great book, demonstrating how good poetry can still be, from the natural inheritor of the legacy of the late, lamented Michael Donaghy.
There are no rules about how it should be done and, if there were, precious few could produce poems like some of these by the fearsome Don. There are many here that warrant glorious mention, analysis and deeper enjoyment but,
                                      Will it all 
come to nothing, if nothing came to this?
('The Air')

 

Havant Literary Festival Poetry Lunch

Poetry Lunch, Havant Literary Festival, Sept 12

Autumn comes in, it is sometimes said, with the last horse in the St. Leger and so the last event of the summer was the Poetry Lunch as part of a day of poetry events in this year's Havant Literary Festival.
The weather forecast had threatened to make it an indoor affair but, as it happened, conditions were ideal for a garden event comfortably attended by about 25 and it was remarked that it's always a good sign when the audience at a poetry reading outnumber the readers.
In the back yard of the Green Party, I paid tribute to their support for minorities and commitment to diversity as the token bloke among the four readers. And why not.
I was lucky in my risk-taking gambit of arriving not knowing what I was going to read that the open selection process picked a successful poem to begin with. I asked one table to pick one of my booklets from the colour of its cover and they picked the blue one, Walking on Water. Then another part of the audience picked a number between 1 and 12, the number of poems in that book, and they chose number 6, which is Herbstregen, the hypnotic attempt at a sestina I wrote gazing abstractedly out of the office window several years ago. Then, in line with what I was once told as a sixth-form student of poetry, that 'poets like to read their most recent stuff' (Linden Huddlestone on Ted Hughes at Cheltenham circa 1977), I read my very latest little masterpiece, The Singing Typewriter, which is proving something of a success in its own little way.
Denise Bennett read three poems from her highly-acclaimed (by others as well as me), recent book, Parachute Silks, which is always a pleasure and a guaranteed success. This was no open-mic of randomly assembled parvenus who fancy having a go. The readers were proper ones (I won't deride them by saying 'professional') who could do it in the open air and the audience were kind enough to listen attentively rather than involve themselves only with their 'light vegetarian lunch'
One great advantage of a vegetarian buffet is that you can help yourself to a bit of everything without having to ask or follow a known vegetarian round the table only taking some of what they take. And, just as important as the applause for the poets, was the applause for Mrs. Dawes, whose art in producing the food was at least as admirable.
Joan McGavin, the soon-to-be outgoing Hampshire laureate, provided some radiant and luminous poetry in what I took to be a voice that originally came from somewhere near Edinburgh. I'm no accentologist but, having once heard Stephen Fry's quick repertoire of Scottish accents on an edition of QI , I like to think I know when I hear echoes of Morningside but, wherever it came from, it added a subtle music to her poems not always available from one born in Nottingham, schooled in Gloucester who finally washed up in Portsmouth.
One of the great things about poetry is that is simply to be enjoyed and it isn't competitive, even if competitions do constitute a significant part of the poetry world. This quartet offered slightly differing perspectives in their civilised, accomplished ways and, yes, even I wasn't bad at all by my own casual standards. But you can tell a natural performer when one shows up and Stella Bahin was that, doing everything from memory, animated, striking and impressive. She did a period of Poet-in-Residence that involved going into schools, for heaven's sake. You can't be a faint-hearted shrinking violet if you are strong enough to do that. And she also tried out new work to see how it worked, which I can quote in full,
Corbyn
Got in.
Certainly the shortest poem I've ever heard recited live. What did we think.
Well, Stella, I don't know how long it will remain topical. Was it Ezra Pound who defined literature as 'news that remains news'.

But, what a marvellous, friendly event and tremendous success it was.

Poets are supposed to have vices, it's almost the law. On the way from the Lunch to the presentation, Dylan Thomas would have sneaked into the pub for a couple of quick ones but I nipped into a well-known turf accountants to check the racing results. I have rarely been more confident in a horse than today's best bet, Emotionless, and I'd gladly have had ten times as much on it but there is no such thing as a certainty. Not only had it won to make the whole day a profitable one but I'm also now the happy owner of a 16/1 ticket on the new 6/1 favourite for next year's 2000 Guineas.
What a tremendous name for a horse. I've found a new hero.

At the Competition Reading, David Attwooll - that's double T, W, double O, double L- read the competition winner, The Greengrocer's Apostrophe, as here, http://www.havantlitfest.org.uk/competitions.php as the climax to a fine selection of runners-up and commendeds, judged by Joan. I'll gladly admit that I wouldn't have gone to that without a complimentary ticket because I wouldn't expect such an event to be brilliant. Competition winners aren't always wonderful but these were all genuine, engaging, thoughtful poets who had written more than one poem each worth hearing so I'm tempted to think that Joan did a good job of sorting it out properly.
Top marks to the Havant Festival, a low-key affair this year in the circumstances (like the organizer standing for 'higher office'). There ought to be more of it except that it has to be organized, paid for and find enough interested in doing it. And if it happened every month, it would no longer be an occasion, so Long Live Our Gracious Festival.
And let's see if Tim is prepared to stand up when we sing that one.

   

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Boggle 2015

The 2015 World Bag Boggling Championship was held at South View on Sunday under the auspices of the World Bag Boggling Association. Groundsman Ron cut a strip with all the precision of a Lords wicket and measured out the course to a precise 15 ft. on either side of the brick, which now become the official specifications of a Championship playing area.
As anticipated, it was the most keenly contested event in the history of the sport. Reigning champion, Chris, had been ante-post favourite but drifted slightly in the market after Saturday's practice session, still being sent off as 11/10 favourite. Following last year's promising debut, Ollie, was made favourite for the handicap event, receiving a 2 point start from me, which is exactly how much he won the final by, which gave an early indication that anybody who had taken the 7/2 about him taking the championship title had found some value.
And so it proved. There were some improved performances as my dad scored three outright boggles (worth two points), knocking the brick over and Ron defied the whitewash against me by gaining a bag (one point) and a worthy 10-1 result in defeat.
However, three into two won't go and the final could not accommodate the world's three best players. The draw gave Ollie a comfortable passage to the final while Chris and I had to play a semi-final to see who played him. Having beaten him in the first round of the handicap, both off scratch, I had every reason to believe I could put last year's defeat behind me but the champion had possibly been foxing and he took advantage of early inroads to prevail 10-7.
Thus, the final saw the young guns of the new generation of Bag Boggling herald a new age in the sport, that is, the first ever final without me in it. And it proved to be the best Bag Boggling match ever seen. It could have gone either way, a draw would have been a fair result but draws aren't possible under the way the tournament is devised. And so it was Ollie that found the vital last point with the score at 9-9 and he became the new World Champion, adding this title to that of the South West England Spoofing Champion.
So, suddenly the sport is blown wide open with three closely-matched players almost inseparable at the top of the rankings, three different champions in the last three years, compared to the previous state of affairs where there had only ever been one world champion in any such recognized event.
So, if 2015 marks a high point in the history of the sport so far, it can only suggest that next year, which will also carry the Olympic title with it, could be greater yet.


Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Oh Babe, What Would You Say

A further, but quite significant, point in the ongoing theme of leaving the BBC exactly as it is, thank you very much, was made at the weekend when Radio 4 Extra saved me the purchase of a book. I noticed on Sunday that an omnibus edition of Francis Bacon in Your Blood by Michael Peppiat was broadcast at 9 a.m. so I had to be up, out, papers bought and breakfasted to be ready for it. I had made a note of the book to buy when it came out as it would make a suitable shelf companion for Breakfast with Lucian by Geordie Greig. However, an hour and then some of Bacon memoir was very enjoyable and will suffice because there is only so much gratuitous debauchery I can take at my age and so, top marks to the BBC and that's one book at least I don't need to buy.
(The value the BBC provides is extraordinary, blah, blah, blah. Yes, there are numerous bits of it I could do without but presumably they cater for others whose taste differs from mine and it's not all about what I want. Otherwise, there'd be no jazz on Radio 3.)
The Autumn has its usual parade of exciting new titles lined up which this year include new poetry by Don Paterson and Roddy Lumsden and James Shapiro's 1606, the Year of Lear. I've been looking forward to the Paterson ever since he read some of the poems that I anticipate will be among his 40 Sonnets at Cheltenham a few years ago, a new Lumsden is always unmissable and this one has a potentially interesting angle to it and if Shapiro does for the year of Lear what he did for the year of Hamlet then that will be essential, too.
Meanwhile, back on the George Eliot trail, the Bank Holiday weekend was enough to read Jenny Uglow's biography, missing out the chapters on Felix Holt and Romola because I haven't read those yet. It is not overly detailed on the biography but outlines the significant events of her life, with some contemporary accounts of her character and others, effectively as an introduction to excellent readings of each novel. It is an invaluable volume to have alongside the main works with well-judged analyses of the themes and methods of each.
At first it might have seemed as if it might be going to be an entirely feminist approach to a feminist icon who was sensibly, by her own example, but not vociferously a feminist Victorian female. While our contemporary attitude is almost a legal requirement of correctness to all things gender, race, belief or sexuality-related, it immediately diminishes any great artist to read them as a representative of any single issue when an artist needs to go well beyond any such thing in order to be great.  And George Eliot was well ahead of any radical agenda, as Jenny Uglow explains,
Part of George Eliot's aim...is to celebrate diversity, to pick out the cygnet among the ducks, and deny the existence of a norm.
Which is still all that diversity needs to do, if only its adherents would do it. Some boys are a bit like girls and some girls are a bit like boys. Ray Davies, in Lola, was not breaking any new ground in pointing it out. It's only that George Eliot is much too clever to deal in stereotypes and was much cleverer, by all accounts, than I can even imagine.
But one disquieting aspect of reading these commentaries on Daniel Deronda and other books I read only a few months ago was how much of them I've already forgotten, or contained themes that entirely passed me. They mention significant minor characters that I barely remember, find much more profound motivations and meanings than ever occurred to me and I worry that I can't carry quite so many books in my head at one time to write my own account one day.
I have been previously impressed by academics who can immediately say something useful about, it seems, any given writer one cares to mention and I know I could never do that without reference to some secret cache of notes. On the other hand, once talking to a major poet who I knew had made mention of the poet in their journalism, I asked if they had read Wislawa Symborska (because I had some profound point to make on the subject), but, no, they hadn't.
But it would be a scary old prospect, having to write some all encompassing but concise summary of George Eliot for my own satisfaction and for something to put on here. I'm thinking that if I can do 1000 words or so, based on the broad themes I have, backed up by some of the apposite quotes I have made note of along the way, I might get away with it.