David Green

David Green (Books) is the imprint under which I publish booklets of my own poems, when there are sufficient of them. Apart from that, the website has become what it is. I hope you find at least some of it worthwhile.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Oh Babe, What Would You Say

Usually, reading Jonathan Bate's Ted Hughes, An Unauthorized Life would be amazing enough. It could be time to review it this time next week, all being well. I have noted many page references as I go; I have spent too much time in my life forlornly looking through books for the bit I want to quote thinking,
Surely it was in this chapter, around about here, halfway down the left hand side. 
But it never is.
So now I have to remember to insert a sheet of paper in any book I might want to write about to avoid that debacle. An elementary piece of the book reviewer's methodology, one might have thought, but I've learnt the hard way.
We will wait until then for some thoughts on Bate's Ted which would be amazing enough were I not also reading another book, more slowly, less highbrow and for some louche relief at bedtime, which is Graham Lord's Just the One, The Wives and Times of Jeffrey Bernard. Oh, My Giddy Aunt. It would make anybody with bohemian aspirations feel completely outclassed. It makes even Ted look as if he wasn't even trying to attract women. It makes Dylan Thomas look like a discerning wine-taster. Each page has more delinquency and vagabond ruin than any other book can muster in its entirety. I can't recommend it highly enough except to say that its monumental decadence is magnificent beyond all imagining until you realize quite how sad it is. He surely makes Baudelaire look lke Freddie Bartholomew. I can think of no higher tribute.
But tune in next week for the Hughes as well as, either on Thursday night or Friday (who's to say these days), the Saturday Nap as Bookiebasher goes for the hat-trick.
Not spending much time in betting shops now in the internet age, I've found the magic one, Betfred in Cosham, on whose telly my horses never lose. Traditions are quickly established and, slipping out for a late lunch from the office, the highlight of a Friday is now going there to see the selection win as easy as you like, as Onefitzall did today. And if Betfred is The Bonus King, the bonus is where you have another tenner just to establish one's bona fides and not get thrown out as a vagrant.
Let's get carried away on a temporary wave of tipping success while we can on the day that Peter O'Sullevan was remembered. This is what the Saturday Nap was supposed to be like, not a litany of excuses but a page in my notebook where the results column says WW, for 'won, won' and genuinely thinks we can extend it to W Six Times, the old formbook comment  that is shorthand for 'waited with will win when wanted'. You see, there is poetry everywhere, even in the formbook.
It's not good news that Stephen Fry is standing down from the chair of QI but I think he might return as a guest one day and then we'll see. Sandi Toskvig, of the Women's Party, will take the show into the second half of the alphabet while, I dare say, Stephen does something More Interesting instead. Like, whatever happened to that film about Handel he was supposed to be making. Get on with it, lad.
But we must give Sandi her chance. She had a good story on an old episode I saw this week in which she was to make a programme about sailing round the coast of Britain and had to go to be measured for a life-jacket. She still has the business card from the life-jacket expert who measured her for it at the prestigious life-jacket company. And his name was Will Drowne.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

The Saturday Nap

It's quite possible the Saturday Nap could become the Friday Nap. It is a truth universally acknowledged by me that Saturday's racing is the hardest, with more competitive, big races easier to get wrong than the weekday races when only the racing people are watching. It has often been the case that one can win money throughout the week only to give it all back on Saturday and the last few weeks have been a case in point.
Friday seems a good compromise, where some good races are often available in a two-day meeting where the biggest races happen on Saturday when the bookmakers pick the pocket of the weekend mug punter.
I can't see what will win the Charlie Hall at Wetherby or the tricksy hurdle race but I do like a few tomorrow.
I'll point out that to a level ten pound stake, the Saturday Nap is now 7.50 up and so I'd suggest a treble of 2.50 of that goes on
Onefitzall, Uttoxeter 1.15
Hadfield, Wetherby 1.40
Leoncavallo, Wetherby 2.50

and a fiver goes on the nap, Onefitzall.
But that's the one that counts.

Donned Impersonality

There is a commonly held assumption that poetry is about finer feelings, the personal expression of profound emotion and even that, perhaps somehow, poets have finer feelings than most and that is why they express them. It is presumably a Romantic invention, from when the artist was released from the rigours of discipline to swoon and indulge themselves in sweeping gestures and melodramas of heightened awareness.
While we owe much to them, we also still suffer from the hangover of their excesses.
Geoffrey Hill assured us a few years ago that 'poetry was not expression'. But, thankfully, we are not all as austere as he is. On the other hand, someone else's love, grief, rapture or anxiety is often a lot like our own or anybody else's and not necessarily of interest to us. We know about it already and it is somewhat presumptuous of a poet to think that we might be interested in theirs. We can be just as self-centred as them and only take from them those things they say that correspond to our own experience.
There is no reason to believe that a poet's personality is any more captivating than a reader's and I'm sure in many cases it might be less so. So although I'd always want to swerve the temptation to suggest any manifesto for poetry, I would like to speak up for the modernist idea of impersonality. Although the poet is welcome to be present in their own poetry should they see fit, there are many advantages to be had by not being present, or at least removing oneself as far as possible from one's poems. It may not be an impersonal poem at all and so 'impersonality' can be 'donned' in Thom Gunn's phrase in On the Move. The least you can do is pretend not to be there.
What poetry is about is the words. Painting is about the paint and Music is about the music. It may or may not mean anything but what it means is not the most important thing, not what makes it potentially of interest and not where the 'poetry' is. Poets who think that their poetry is all about them are likely to be the first to come unstuck. 

Monday, 26 October 2015

Keith picks Gregory

It was an excellent selection of records by Keith Richards on Desert Island Discs yesterday.
The Etta James, the Doo-Wop, the Vivaldi but, most outstandingly, the Gregory Isaacs.
And then, he went further and chose to save Gregory when all the others got washed away.

I don't listen to my very favourite music often enough. I sometimes think I could survive forever with just Bach, and maybe I could survive with just reggae, too. But one doesn't have to.

So, here's Extra Classic, quite surprisingly a track I don't have among the 30-dd LP's and half dozen CD's of Gregory. It's reassuring to know one keeps such bad company.
There is a story in these parts that some local church people went round knocking the doors of their local community in the Witterings/Selsey area, collecting for their church roof fund. Keith answered the door, listened and then asked how much they needed.
Thirty-five thousand pounds.
Hold on a minute. And he went and got his cheque book and wrote them a cheque for that.
And I understand his new album is good, too.
It's funny how one can suddenly take to people on the merest whim.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Where on Earth is Everybody Going

I moved offices three weeks ago now. Rather than a 20 minute walk through downtown Portsmouth, mainly through sidestreets, to one of those buildings that looks like the one in The Office, I now have a 35-40 minute walk up the leafy Copnor Road that ends with an inevitable encounter with traffic to which there is no obvious answer.
If I still drove a car it would be a bit pathetic to drive it two miles there and back each day. Yesterday I tried the bus which was great to get there but awful coming back. Getting back on a bike would be more dangerous than walking.
So it looks like I'll be walking 20 miles a week which should at least please the blood pressure lady. It will either cure me or finish me off.
But, from this 'new' building, I can, if I care to, glimpse through a distant window the traffic on the M27 above that on the Hilsea roundabout below. It is mindlessly hypnotic and endless. White van, grey car, grey car, bus, lorry, bus, white van, grey car. This is on the outskirts of a not particularly big, or significant, city on the south coast of England. It's not Spaghetti Junction, Manchester, Glasgow or London.
And that's just our tiny island. It's not the rest of Europe, Mumbai, Asia, all those vast Chinese cities you've never heard of. I once took a boat ride and saw how far Istanbul sprawls. It's not Mexico City, Sao Paolo, Tokyo, or even Los Angeles and I understand that there is more to the USA than that.
So, how much petrol is there left in the world, then. I thought it was running out as quickly as the fish are being drained from the oceans. Apparently not, apparently there are several gallons still left.
We look back at how things used to be- outside toilets, belief in witchcraft, rationing, pardoners, slavery, Tony Blair and things like that- and wonder how it could ever have been so but we don't notice the things that informed future readers of classic texts of our time, like Jeremy Clarkson's thought-provoking dissertations, are likely to question. They might speculate on where all those motor vehicles were going and how we ever arrived at a time when it was no longer required for somebody to walk in front of each of them waving a flag. Because they might have arrived at a time in which nearly everybody can stay where they are and do everything they need to do there. Of course, it might be necessary for a few trips to be made from Gloucester to Cheltenham, Inverness to Elgin or Liverpool to Manchester but it should be possible to do that safely even though the countryside in between is wild with wolves and bears, hawks, jaguars and lots of other things in Ted Hughes poems.
But, as usual, it's my fault in some way. Every book I buy these days, every record and several other things, need to be delivered and there's not much chance I can find very many of the ones I want in Waterstones or a record shop, if the High Street still has any of those. Somewhere in one of those vans are books coming to my house, the inappropriately described 'walking shoes' from Cotton Traders that don't look like they're going to stand up to very much walking, or one day, when I land a proper gamble, the Opera Omnia, the Complete Works of Buxtehude. But apart from that, it's like those films set to Philip Glass music, like Koyaanisqatsi, which means 'life out of balance'.
On the other hand, one might ask if there was ever a time when it was 'in balance' and, if so, why did it all go wrong. Those motor vehicles are going to be going round that roundabout for much longer than it will be a trouble to me.     

Oh Babe, What Would You Say

Penglai Pavilion at Cheltenham today
Apologies to anybody tuning in for the Saturday Nap but it ran today. I delayed my luncheon break until two o'clock so that I could go and watch the 2.10 on Mr. Betfred's telly and was rewarded not only with a classy performance, Coleman only having to push a bit before going comfortably clear, but also a remarkable return of 11/4 after last night's snapping up of 2/1 saw it as short as 6/4. Some Irish raiders are going home the poorer for that.
The performance only made Paddy shorten Penglai to 20/1, from double carpet, to win the equivalent race in March and that's an optimistic call but one might as well have a share in the hope and the hype, some of which has been generated by me here, I'd like to think.
It will be worth sticking with the Ferguson/Coleman horses tomorrow because the advent of some proper races has not found them out. Qewy might have been last of three today but not by much. So, Devilment, High Bridge, etc. Have a look.
It will be a week or two before I can say a few words about the new Ted Hughes biography but 600-plus pages will fly by, one week seeing me a third of the way through. But, congratulations to Jonathan Bate on the knighthood I only found out about by reading the blurb inside the dustjacket. If you like knighthoods, that is. It's unlikely I'll be offered one, or even the British Empire Medal that I might just qualify for, but I would be in a better position to disdain such honours if I were thought worthy. I would say that I have a first name and a second name and no use for my middle name or the commonplace letters I can put after them (as a joke, if I wanted to) so why do I want to clutter it up with an ersatz medieval prefix.
Literary biography is a dubious industry, though, forever delving into the dark side, and the Hughes dark side was as dark as most. In the 35 years since I was doing just enough as a deshabille student, the fashion has turned about completely from the text being the object of attention in literary studies to the text being treated as evidence for investigation and the prosecution of the author. I wonder how many life stories do not reveal difficulty, darkness and tragedy. Perhaps it is not only artists whose lives are like that, it might be the same if you read the life of your local greengrocer. But those lives don't get written,
Arthur had a particularly bad year the price of carrots went up, his customers all complained and then his wife left him.
But it's possible that eventually we won't want to know, we might start to feel more guilt than curiosity reading the private parts, as it were, of a life, and English departments all over the world might go back to the literature. Meanwhile, Prof. Bate brings some of that customary speculation across from his work on Shakespeare with an anecdote about Hughes forgetting his scarf when leaving a reception at Faber where he had met T.S. Eliot,
Either the newly famous poet was still nervous at the end of the evening with the world's most famous poet or he and Sylvia were rushing because the babyminder's time was almost up.
Blimey. Yes, that is what life is like sometimes but until somebody finds an oblique reference to forgotten scarves or the hourly rate for a babysitter at the time in Lupercal, we may never know.
I sometimes don't wonder why I found horse racing more captivating than academia.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Desert Island Poems

This evening's meeting of the Portsmouth Poetry Society was, as expected, an enlightening one as members nominated their Desert Island Poems and read a couple of them each.
Statisticians will need to note that with two nominations, Under Milk Wood was the most chosen poem, yes, it's really a radio play but we don't let that worry us. With a further poem also listed, Dylan Thomas proved to be the joint most popular poet, with Larkin and Shakespeare also selected three times.

My list is, for these purposes,

Thom Gunn, My Sad Captains
W.H. Auden, Musee des Beaux Arts
Philip Larkin, At Grass
Julia Copus, Stars Moving Westwards in a Winter Garden
Sean O’Brien, Latinists
John Donne,
Elizabeth Bishop,
Shakespeare, Sonnet 57, or possibly 129

Being your slave, what should I do but tend
Upon the hours and times of your desire.

Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action,
I decided not to have more than one poem by any poet or else it could well have been three Gunn and three Larkin before even looking elsewhere. I nominated Donne and Elizabeth Bishop for being who they are, for doing what they did the way they did it without picking a specific poem.
I read At Grass and, later, the Julia Copus. And there came the unexpected turn of events. Denise had said that she had chosen her poems because she likes poems that make her cry. And there's me thinking, 'fair enough but not me, it's more about words and language than emotion'. But then, a few lines from the end of Stars Moving Westwards, somehow becoming more magnificent than I had remembered, it dawned on me about grief and bereavement, and how this actually 'meant' so much more to me, perhaps hearing myself read it. And I had to stop and collect myself.
Maybe that's why irony, detachment and a degree of impersonality are so useful in poems. When you start to mean it- and I think Holden Caulfield arrives at a similar conclusion- it can begin to be a bit much. But I didn't think it would happen to me.

I have the lists that the PPS poets brought with them. Maybe I'll make a feature of them in due course. And if anybody wants to send me their 8 Desert Island Poems, I'll use those, too. Say a few words about how you chose them if you like. For example, John Dean knows so many poems by heart that there was no need for him to take those, he took eight more to learn.     

The Saturday Nap

This week's Saturday Nap runs on Friday, all being well. So if you tune in on Friday night or Saturday morning to find we've already won, apologies for that but it could be that you were lucky to miss out on another big, brash, confident disappointment.
I've been waiting for sometime for Penglai Pavilion (Cheltenham, Friday, 2.10) to turn up in a proper race and realized last week that it would most likely be at the first Cheltenham meeting of the season. I think he's the best of John Ferguson's classy recruits from the flat and so it figures that he would be aimed at the most prestigious early season novice hurdle. Here, rather than mopping up easy pickings in the provinces in summer, there will be opposition from the big gun stables. There's no saying what price he might be until we see which of the declarations have stood their ground but, whatever the start list looks like, I'll back him blind.
The next best, probably, of the stable's young potential stars, Maputo, took on a field that included a few useful looking types at Kempton last Sunday and recorded his fourth win and so I'm expecting Penglai to win as well. The only slight doubts are look what happened to Emotionless after my bravura recommendation two weeks ago, and then 2m5f. Really? Okay, then. But he did leave everything else behind in a different postcode on his previous two runs.
So, I'll also be interested in Qewy's first run over fences in the second on Friday and it looks like Courtown Oscar is set to make it a hat-trick at Carlisle tomorrow.
It is no fun at all if you don't believe in anything.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Kate Bingham - Infragreen

Kate Bingham, Infragreen (Seren)

Open remains as fresh and wide-eyed as when I read it in the Forward book a couple of years ago. Coming back to poems after a while they can sometimes lose the sense of wonder that first made one admire them but this, containing its own sense of wonder, is still an inspired and inspiring piece.
There are several more tightly-rhymed lyrics here where the form, however disciplined, extends the range of the poem rather then restricts it which is a sure indication that the poet is in charge of the language, and their talent more than sufficient to be so, rather than the choice of form bossing the poet. Midnight and The World At One are almost as good - private, sane, understated and organized.  
Down is 14 lines, half of which end in 'down' and the other half all on another rhyme. Of course, the 'down/down/down' repetition has an artistic effect, which I think is also a deadpan comic one, but more than that, the use of such structures is always there to remind us that the poem is a structure, an artifice, a game and the point of it is not necessarily entirely to say what it is saying.
My Hand is one of a number of poems that take place at night and/or in bed. The small but enormous space between two people is only partially overcome by need or sympathy,
I looked at you and as you slept
my body, suddenly too warm,
remembered what its blood was for,
my fingers tingled with regret

and reached a second time towards
your folded arms and open neck.

There's a lot to like about such poems but a book of only such articulate accomplishemt might seem a bit one-dimensional, even if it provides a satisfying sense of rounded completeness. As well as the scenes of domesticity, Kate Bingham writes about outside, elements from nature like sunlight, flora and fauna. The danger with such things is that the poet's experience of them might not be that much different from anybody else's and we might think we've seen all that for ourselves. Ultragreen and Infragreen, the first two, short poems in the book possibly get a bit close to such commonplace profundity. While one must never be prescriptive about what a poem should or shouldn't do, use of a word like 'photosynthesis' should usually be considered, considered again and then rejected.
But 'look at the rain', with all its lower case lettering and lines broken into fragments, does something more metaphysical (perhaps), an appreciation of rain,
falling into itself in the street as if only falling matters

and, in Spring, only the page before,
       even the weak municipal crocuses
divide and multiply, insisting they matter.

and there is a self-deprecating mood in much of Kate Bingham that seems surprised to find, but knows, that the commonplace is extraordinary, the meek perhaps will inherit the earth and such things do matter.
There is rigour and a self-awareness in these poems that make them exemplary in the way they approach the world when lesser poets attending writing groups all over the country would make the same issues seem precious and self-indulgent. I caught up with Kate's first two books after first reading Open. I'm slightly behind times finding this latest book now because it came out earlier this year but I'm glad I found out about it before too long. It contains an idea of plenty within its modesty, its innate intelligence and facility with language delivering more than ordinarily might have been expected.
If anybody thought a villanelle was a difficult thing to do convincingly, Arrangements is two of them using the same words to rhyme on. As 'arrangements' of words, one might eventually have to ask when such self-doubt becomes showing off. We should enjoy the paradox.           

Friday, 16 October 2015

The Saturday Nap

We got off to a cracking start last week with Emotionless. Last, and it wasn't until Tuesday I read that he come back lame. But it must be admitted he'd have needed to be good to beat Air Force Blue.
Of course, it was a mistake to get involved with flat racing but Phil Bull made his fortune backing second favourites in two year old races and double the stake when the favourite is odds on, which is what we did there.
So, with Ascot putting on their top class card to mark my 56th birthday, we can leave them to it while concentrating on Stratford, Ffos Las and Market Rasen.
Charlie Longsdon was the in-form stable this time last year and he is again now. Crickel Wood (Stratford 4.40) ran promisingly first time out behind a winner who has won again since and everything looks right for him to go in this time.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Shapiro - 1606

James Shapiro, 1606, William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear (Faber)

If I learned nothing else from my negligible study of Philosophy, it was how philosophers point out loopholes in the work of their predecessors and then replace them with others of their own, to be seized upon by the next generation. A similar thing happens in Shakespeare Studies where biographers point out how much of their peers' work is supposition and likelihood, rather than fact, and then provide other guesswork and probablities instead. Thus much of Shakespeare's life takes place in the subjunctive mood for us.
James Shapiro, despite being the highly acclaimed scholar that he is, is prone to that same habit and, as far as I know, Samuel Schoenbaum was one of the very few to resist the temptation to imagine his own bard and stuck to documentary evidence.
As early as page 9, Shapiro has re-asserted the traditional assumption that Judith was Shakespeare's daughter and Hamnet, who died young, his son. A friend of mine has an unpublished play and I have written up a precis of a longer essay here that stack up a respectable case for thinking that those twins were fathered by Hamnet Sadler, in Stratford, but while every other detail of the biography goes through variant interpretations, we seem to be the only ones who think otherwise. But that is how this branch of academia works, there have been about 70 suggestions as to who wrote the plays but nobody questions who fathered the children.
Shapiro's title here puts more emphasis on the year, 1606, than the name of Shakespeare. Not even the most imaginative literary historian could fill 359 pages with glimpses of Shakespeare walking to work, passing St. Paul's and buying a copy of a play, The True Chronicle History of King Leir, and other entirely plausible but equally unevidenced episodes. The book explains the political situation, immediately after the Gunpowder Plot, with King James trying to establish the Union of England with Scotland and all the associated religious and political tensions that came with them, which were in no way soothed by taking place in a time of plague. And then we wonder why this was such a rich period of English Literature when nowadays our leading poets spend so much time on pensionable salaries teaching Creative Writing and daring to present papers at conferences.
Although very successful in the theatre industry by 1606, the accession of James brought new doubts about the future of patronage for Shakespeare, and everybody else, but through circumstances identified by Shapiro as 'powerful brokers', it was Shakespeare's company of actors who were appointed The King's Men.
Then, as now, the question of union or not between England and Scotland was a prominent issue and the theme of the division of the kingdom in Leir was one that was perhaps more important to the contemporary audiences of Lear than it has since become. In his Epilogue, Shapiro points out how each age finds what it will in Lear, and in the C20th, with visions of holocaust and apocalypse, and then family, fatherhood and dementia, other themes in the play have seemed more relevant but might not have seemed so in 1606. One telling statistic, though, is how often Englishness is mentioned in Shakespeare in Elizabethan plays and how often Britishness has replaced it in Jacobean plays. Academic work is more worthwhile when based on solid, empirical reference to the text like that, when it proves its point by showing us something real.
More good work, and Shapiro becomes more impressive as such valid points accumulate, is seen when Ben Jonson's masque, Hymenaei, is staged at enormous expense, not quite Shakespeare's sort of thing, and Shapiro doubts that Shakespeare's 'Our revels now are ended' in The Tempest was ever a valediction to the theatre. There were still at least three more plays after The Tempest and lines like,
                             the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces

could be commentary on the pageantry and shallow grandness of the masque.

But equivocation was something very much in vogue as inquisitors sought out suspicious recusants, subversives and adherents to the old religion. When questioned by the zealous pursuers of thought criminals, it was necessary to answer their questions only partially sometimes.
Macbeth is not only a play about the murder of a Scottish king, invloving witchcraft, and whether evil is a product of birth or culture but,
a nightmare world where words belie intentions and honest exchange is no longer possible.

Ben Jonson was brought before the courts (not for the first time) in early 1606 to explain his religious convictions and in uncharacterstic short order soon produced Volpone with its plot of duplicitous humanity and the culprits suffering unduly harsh treatment. Meanwhile, in Stratford, the apparently much-favoured Susanna Shakespeare was one who refused to receive communion. There was a fine line to be found between being true to one's beliefs, being honest, sensible and keeping your head attached to your torso, your entrails inside you and not being set on fire.
Antony and Cleopatra is the third major play written in 1606, Shapiro pointing out that the rhythm of Shakespeare's productivity goes in bursts of activity interspersed with fallow periods. Unlike the other big tragedies, this has no soliloquies as such, is based almost entirely on one source, Plutarch, but Shapiro finds deeper theatrical irony hidden by Shakespeare in "Some squeaking Cleopatra', reminding
      Jacobean playgoers that they themselves are listening to some squeaking cross-dressed boy speak these lines
and allow them to see past the limitations of the stage,
to a world in which the hyperbolic and paradoxical can register a deeper truth.

That point may have been made before, I don't know. Neither do I know how far Shapiro's appreciation of Shakespeare is ahead, or behind, that of Shakespeare's contemporary audience but the same might be said of opera and Monteverdi's Orfeo, often regarded as the first opera as we know it, was first produced in 1607.
I was glad to read again of the outrageous debauchery that took place during the state visit of King Christian of Denmark, part of the family tree but differentiated from James in levels of drink consumption, attitude to hunting, and lechery. But I'm disapponited in Shapiro that he casts doubt on the first-hand documentary evidence for it on the grounds that it was reported in possibly unsent letters meant as a lterary device more than reportage. Earlier, Shapiro has also cast doubt on Shakespeare's affair with Jeanette Davenant in Oxford, an episode I'm particularly keen on. I mean, you give these academics the possibility of a good story and then they take against it.
But the plague returns before Christmas, the tolling of funeral bells so constant that Londoners no longer ask who it tolls for. Quite amazingly, Shapiro refuses to note that John Donne was by that time in London but nobody wants to speculate on Shakespeare's relationship with Donne, either personally or through a coming vogue for 'metaphysical' poetry. God only knows why not.
It's a brilliant book, of course, piecing together the impulses behind the plays that have come to look different to audiences since. It is remarkable, though, how Shakespeare is reconstructed for us on such fragile premises, utterly convincing as a playmaker beyond one's wildest dreams but only on the say so of the astute academics who draw their own conclusions on our behalf.


Monday, 12 October 2015

Roddy Lumsden - Melt & Solve

Roddy Lumsden, Melt & Solve (Salt)

In the Author's Note, Roddy Lumsden explains that he suffered concussion followed by a period of disorientation which included the loss of his creativity. To restore that, he adopted some rules to write poems in certain places, about particular occasions, even 'entertaining the idea of sentimentality'.
I thought it reminded me of the time when I played darts but then got the 'yips' and found it hard to let go and throw the darts. In the end, you just have to throw the bloody thing towards the board and see what happens. I thought perhaps these new poems might do that and have lines like, 'Since you left me have you seen me with another girl / Seeming like I'm having fun' or 'I saved the last waltz for you / Two lonely people together.' But it's not quite like that.
One part of the process of getting back to normal was 'to impersonate the person he had been' and that is what he does in these poems, too. They are still recognizably Lumsden, fractured in the early pages but gaining something like coherence as they progress, always with the proviso that Lumsden is usually a linguistic showman and not the most literal of poets, so how would we know. His poems might not always be open to interpretations that elicit a clear 'meaning', which is fine because I'm not a reader that demands one, but it is tempting to suggest that the 'melt and solve' of the title are the disorientation and the process back towards the more organized chaos of his poetry to date. This is one book, in two sections that come too close for comfort for me to have to accept that they are 'sequences' rather than long poems in parts or a series of related but separate poems.
As well as this gradual process of rediscovering his way of working, the poems have recurrent themes. He says that the surrender to sentimentality involves 'namedropping' and here an interest in Peter Greenaway's film, Drowning by Numbers, and thus the music of Michael Nyman recurs as a motif alongside Bella, the ex-girlfriend, and a deeper sense of insecurity, perhaps even anxiety and mistrust, possibly rooted in the transience of love,
                              Love troubles through me,
often brief, though I wish it were not so. 

             Even the best of kisses
is improved by hindsight, and by Mozart,
no doubt, though remade till insufferably sad.

Mozart crops up more than once, as does 'Wobble' but I'm taking the wobbles to mean brief losses of newly rediscovered equilibrium and not the bass player with Public Image Limited and Invaders of the Heart but you can never be too sure nor would want to be given that the book ends with a playlist of mostly quite recherche pop music.
The sentimentality, if it needs an excuse, is predicated upon references to the painter Charles Burton Barber, as per yet another wonderfully chosen cover illustration. It doesn't need an excuse, though. It would be preferable if, in our ultra-cool, beyond-all-indulgence attitudes now, we could allow the return of some such comfort blanket. Many of us are not quite as avid fans of John Coltrane as we are expected to pretend and would be better off being able to admit a preference for Lester Young's Ghost of a Chance. For example.
On first reading, one might take this book as a self-indulgent experiment into how a compulsive writer like Lumsden slowly regained the process of moulding the protoplasm of raw language into poems but the more they are returned to, the more they solidify into something worthwhile. I've long believed that 'experimentalism' is fine but experiments that fail should be thrown away rather than published but this works. Perhaps Roddy Lumsden emerges from this crisis as a new but older, wiser and maybe sadder poet than the magician he was before. He might not have lost anything but the figure of Bella that haunts his waking moments vaguely echoes Hardy's woman much missed.
None would have noticed if poets like Housman, or the younger Geoffrey Hill, had suffered a writer's block because they produced so few poems whereas Lumsden publishes a new title every two or three years. Not All Honey was 2014, Melt & Solve is nearly a hundred pages dated 2015. You can hardly call that a hiatus but you could call it a tribute to the success of his methods of recovery. It was a necessary recuperation because if you are Roddy Lumsden and not writing poems, you are no longer Roddy Lumsden.           

Thursday, 8 October 2015

The Saturday Nap

Hold onto your hats, lds & gnlmn, because here begins the fabulous roller-coaster ride that takes us from now until Boxing Day, otherwise known as my weekly flirtation with horse racing journalism, The Saturday Nap.
Each Friday evening, or by 11 o'clock on Saturday, there will be some glib observations on the weekend racing programme, usually nominating one horse as the best bet. As with any investment, one must be aware that they can lead one to ruination just as easily as make a fortune. It's best if the money doesn't matter. It doesn't, really, if one is lucky enough to be able to get by while regarding it with some disdain but if one takes part in any sport, you need a scoring system and the year's balance sheet is how I keep score. It's a fine thing if a pastime can show a profit and my fully audited accounts for 2015 so far show mE to be in a healthy position, the best year I've ever had in fact, thank you very much.
So, sustaining the inspirational, empowering message throughout this brash opening to the new period, I am Prince Monolulu this week because 'I Got a Horse'.
We begin this week so that we can start with Emotionless in the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket. Paddy is going 5/4 and needs to be knocked over in the rush to get on. It's a time to list all the cliches about putting your betting boots on, steaming in, betting like men and putting the mortgage on. It's time to weigh in on the side of a star who could be anything, for who the sky's the limit and should be backed with utmost confidence until he gets beaten. We need Aidan O'Brien to run Air Force Blue because otherwise Emotionless would be 1/4. The only reason you get a price is because others will put money on the opposition but you have to believe and you have to believe you won't end up like Stan Laurel who eats Ollie's hat in Way Out West. I won't be eating my hat and am confident I won't be expected to.   
Mostly, as the Autumn progresses, I'm sure it will be novice hurdlers from big stables that get nominated here. Perhaps a novice chaser and maybe the occasional punt in a handicap but it's odd how the summer flat season kicks up a gear in October with the Arc, Ascot's champions day, these Newmarket meetings and the Breeders' Cup (and I'm glad I checked where to put the apostrophe in that). It's almost as if the Derby, Royal Ascot, Goodwood, York and all were just some support acts for the main event.
But we will be into the genuine sport soon, the winter game of jumping, stamina and durability. Emotionless will be at stud, after a few flashy outings on strips of verdant turf that do no more than undulate a bit, long before this season's new intake of National Hunt horses have made their way towards Gold Cups, Grand Nationals or grey midweek days at Fonrwell Park.
Here we go, then.

Monday, 5 October 2015

I Never Saw That Land Before

Ages and ages ago I posted a photograph of the cemetery in Portsmouth, said it reminded me of Eliot's line, 'I never thought death had undone so many', and undertook to take more pictures that brought poems to mind. Well, that hasn't happened.
I've seen some high windows and presumably missed any number of opportunities but on Butser Hill last week, not very far from genuine Edward Thomas territory, the scenery brought to mind his lines in I Never Saw That Land Before. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/248178
Perhaps it suffers from sincerity, almost preciousness, but many might see that as a virtue in our knowing, ironic age. Apart from the customary Thomas appreciation of the countryside, it undertakes to defend a 'language not to be betrayed' which makes it something of a manifesto poem and one to be admired.
I took some pictures while up Butser because, always a struggle, I did wonder if it might be my last walk up to Hampshire's highest point. It is quite shameful how much I suffer on such gradients and I should know because twenty years ago I was almost equally shamefully fit. But on such a day as last Thursday, it had to be done.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

The Perfect Book

Perhaps still only a work in progress but at least by now it has taken a recognizable form.

The Perfect Book

The world outside the books
was not a happy one, Maggie felt
                                  ‘The Mill on the Floss’

It will always lurk in late night shadows
or in the margin of a life mis-spent,
an ambition not to be realized,
to write that novel that I’ll never write.
It wouldn’t have to be the perfect book
to lie quite disregarded in a drawer,
not packed with scintillating episodes
or days of shimmering unhappiness.
It only has to be what it would be.

But gradually the stilted prose and plot,
as transparent as children’s lies, would grow
in stature like the prowess of the friend
of a friend genius that everyone’s
heard about but no-one’s met. Invested
with all such panache imagined for it,
its momentum soon like an avalanche
in spring, its reputation guaranteed
by those who haven’t read a word of it,

who picture their own novel for themselves.
It is about the maverick who finds
love insufficient for his purposes,
or, set in 1800’s provinces,
the chronic want of kitchen maids that glanced
sideways at ostler’s boys while inside them
passionate thoughts kept them so abstract at
their work, or only stories they’d wanted
to be characters in, once chanced upon

in library books or handed down in school
from teachers with tobacco habits dressed
in tweed. It may or may not start to rain
outside and the clock on the mantelpiece
stopped in an early chapter yesterday
or the day before. There, before the plot
thickened, before the crime, crisis or kiss
that caused the tragicomedy, sunlight
is still as radiant as it was then.

Bells on Sunday


I thought the bells were particularly fine this morning, not having been awake at the right time to hear them in recent weeks.

The bells of St. Clement Danes, Strand, London play London Surprise Royal.

I don't know how long the link will last.