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.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Oh Babe, What Would You Say

Were The Beatles a 'rock' band? This was the question that briefly diverted Christmas for some of my family. Oh, Babe, what would you say?
The game to be played was the Five Second Rule game in which players have to name three things in a given category in five seconds. Some discussion took place when the category was 'rock band' and one answer offered was The Beatles. Some readers might be surprised to hear that I was not involved in the controversy, neither suggesting them nor objecting to the answer. The rules of the game state that any disputes should be settled by debate among the players. Now, there would be a recipe for an acrimonious Christmas if it were allowed to get out of hand. But luckily Laura was playing, it's her game and she's good at deciding things so it didn't take long to sort out. Don't read any further if esoteric discussion on arcane issues is not something you enjoy.
The subject was passed to me after The Beatles were disallowed and I said Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. There wouldn't be much dispute about them being rock bands.
The Beatles began as something like a rock'n'roll band before the idea of a 'rock band' had been thought up, I might suggest. But before The Beatles split, there were such acts as the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, the Yardbirds and suchlike that were probably where the term originated. It is big, loud music, usually played on electric guitars, often by long-haired white blokes but none of those elements are part of a defintion because, as ever, these categories are too vague to be quite so specifically defined.
By 1970, The Beatles had recorded such things as Revolution, I am the Walrus and Helter Skelter which were surely identifiable as rock music. It's a bit like asking if J.S.Bach was a 'classical' composer. Well, not really but classical music, like that of Mozart and Haydn, wouldn't have happened without the music that he and his contemporaries wrote.
It's not a very good question if the game can't provide a complete list of acceptable answers and that list would go on to almost forever, not stopping after Deep Purple, Queen, U2, etc..
The game couldn't become an Olympic sport. I have some sympathy with the contestant who didn't realize how strict the refereeing was going to be and I'd probably have allowed it although I was outvoted anyway. But were The Beatles a rock band. Possibly not because they were more than that.
But the decision going against the answer handed the initiative in the game to me and I went on to win, as can sometimes happen in such games, but the question raised was much bigger than the simple result of a Christmas parlour game.
Christmas also included my first experience of Netflix, which was something I never thought I'd have call for. But the BBC's 2002 production of Daniel Deronda was found on there just in time for me to spend three and a half hours watching it. It was useful revision as I try to keep all of George Eliot's novels in mind before assembling some thoughts about them as a whole but, more importantly, it was a wonderful thing. Hugh Bonneville was imperious and sinister in his controlling role as Grandcourt, a parallel with Eliot's similarly manipulative Tito in Romola. One is glad to remember that not all of Mary Ann Evans' male characters are quite so dark or her credentials would be vulnerable to accusations of a skewed feminism but these represent the bad world that Gwendolen and Romola are put into conflict with and not necessarily the full story of the Eliot view of the male.
It is a glorious piece of television, the 700 pages of the novel distilled to three and a half hours as sensitively and economically as possible by Andrew Davies and raised the status of the novel for me just when it was fading rapidly.
Don Poli duly delivered the Christmas Nap. After a scrap. It wasn't my intention to tip an odds on shot but we were lucky to get an SP of 4/6 in the end. Having looked forward to the tremendous programme of Christmas racing, it broke up somewhat from a gambling point of view as so many races were left with odds on favourites. Maybe there are too many good races or not enough good horses to contest them all and at present, perhaps to the detriment of the sport, too many of the top horses are trained in Ireland, mostly by Willie Mullins, but that's not his fault.
But there can be no complaints about the King George, Faugheen, Sprinter Sacre, Ar Mad and the fact that, once The Libertines are confirmed as Best Band in the NME poll, I'll be able to wrap up the account for 2015 by moving enough cash from the bookies into the bank to make it officially my best year ever and carry over some stake money to begin 2016 with.
Coming soon, some words on The Importance of Elsewhere, Philip Larkin's Photographs and my words of introduction to the Portsmouth Poetry Society's forthcoming meeting on the poetry of Rosemary Tonks. Do come to that if you can, on Jan 20th.
And, in the meantime, Best Wishes, HNY and we will make our way with some trepidation into yet another year. 

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Christmas Message

It was on the b side of Solid Gold Easy Action. I don't think there's any need for me to look that up.

A brief but heartwarming message from Marc that I'd like to echo here.

I'd like to wish you a Superfunk Christmas and a Golden New Year.

Friday, 18 December 2015

The Christmas Nap

The Saturday Nap is home and hosed having run on Thursday and put us back into the black. I'm sorry it was only returned at 8/11 but where else can get 72% interest on a day's investment. The success or failure of this Autumn's feature all depends on the final Christmas plunge, though, although as ever it must be pointed out that the selections so far are further into the black when calculated on the Guaranteed Best Price than that old-fashioned friend of the bookmaker, the SP.
Tomorrow I must include Chelsea to win 2-0 post-Mourinho with ideal opponents to do it against in Sunderland. The players can do no more than show him that they could do it all along but just were no longer prepared to do it for him after his misjudged dealings with the good doctor.
Blue Fashion looks the likeliest option at Ascot on a fine programme where I'll be keeping it to sporting low stakes but with chances to win about 5 grand if I happen to go through the card with the likes of Thistlecrack in the Long Walk Hurdle, Fingal Bay in the chase and a bit of an outsider in the Ladbroke Hurdle.
But while the party animals are all out bingeing on this, the busiest night of the year for hospitals and ambulances, I'm feasting on the prospects of the racing in which almost every horse I can think of has their mid-season target race before deciding where they go later, be it Cheltenham, Aintree, Punchestown or maybe just Fontwell.
The modest yankee I've just put together will benefit enormously if Sausalito Sunrise can land the Welsh National. Less ambitiously, and in a treble without him, are Don Cossack in the King George on Boxing Day who has looked as if he's a horse going places and this is the first really big prize to go and collect however many others have good claims. Nichols Canyon in the Ryanair Hurdle on the 29th has Arctic Fire to deal with but should show that his defeat of Faugheen wasn't so much of a turn up. But Don Poli in the Lexus Chase looks the complete business on the 28th and, with so few of the Saturday Naps having run on Saturdays, is not the Boxing Day Nap but the Christmas one and is confidenmtly expected to bring this little series to a successful conclusion. There he is, look, pictured. He's won already.

We might have to think of a new name for this little column next year.

In the meantime, it's 5/4 Happy Christmas, 13/8 Happy New Year, 7/2 Seasons Greetings and don't forget to tune in for the Cheltenham Preview in March.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The Saturday Nap

11/10 seemed like scant reward for relentlessly pursuing the Hilly Way chase with Felix Yonger in it but eventually, the race went ahead and that nap was landed.
It would have been the nap, at 5/2, two weeks ago but Cork was flooded. The meeting was rescheduled for last Sunday, when I took 2/1 ante post, but the track was still unraceable. So the meeting was moved to Navan on Monday, where he was chalked up at 6/4 so I took that. And the SP was 11/10. Don't talk to me about the law of diminishing returns.
I am feeling a little bit smartarse about the Houdini act I've performed over the last couple of weeks, refusing to put more money into my account but plotting my way out of the downward slide rather than join the ranks of destitute losers who insist on ploughing in more good money after bad. It is for good reason that the specialist racing channels used to have so many loan companies advertising on them, to their niche market.
The other side of that story is, of course, how my litany of recent winners would have been worth much more had I weighed in on them but, what's the point, it's not really about the money. 2015 will have shown a respectable profit and there will be something to start next year with. It could have been worse.
There's an end-of-term atmosphere now because this might be the last post, as it were, for this year.
Yanworth has been backed as if defeat is out of the question for Friday's Supreme Trial but I can't quite see it being any value with Altior in opposition and the 6/1 Penglai Pavilion could conceivably look like a seasonal gift if his last run is put behind him and he lives up to the hype that preceded it, some of which was provided by me.
I similarly don't want to nominate Saphir du Rheu for the Long Walk Hurdle with Thistlecrack still on the upgrade and Reve de Sivola always dangerous on heavy ground.
The Saturday Nap has been a moveable feast this year, not running on Saturday very often. It has run on Fridays, Sundays, Mondays. And now it runs on Thursday, the main problem being that I've stumbled across a winner for a few days in a row by now and so I'm going to back a loser soon. But Jessbers Dream in the first at Exeter tomorrow has been backed to 4/5 and looks very solid, without being bombproof, and so is a confident selection to sweep us into the black and ready for Boxing Day.
I was going to tip Don Cossack, here and now, for the King George, which is the right place to end on a winning note and the price is contracting all the time, but you have to worry about Cue Card; I'd love to see Silviniaco Conti do it one more time; there are plenty of other opportunities over Christmas, one of which might not be the offer of taking 4/1 about The New One to beat Faugheen. 
And so this won't be the last Saturday Nap of this year's adventure. It will be a cliff-hanging ending worthy of that great English novelist, Dick Francis.

Monday, 14 December 2015

The Shakespeare Circle

The Shakespeare Circle. An Alternative Biography, ed. Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells (Cambridge University Press)

It has been remarked that there is a 'Shakespeare-shaped hole' at the centre of his biography. The man who acted in the plays he wrote most of, was a shareholder in the theatres they were performed in and can be traced through a number of surviving legal documents is elusive and biographers tend to fill in the gap he leaves with suppositions, imaginings and the deductions from their various pieces of detective work. This new volume of essays has scholars working outwards from that hole, providing essays on family, friends and theatrical colleagues, in an attempt to shed some light back in.
In her Afterword, Margaret Drabble notes that, after so much has been written on the subject,
Surely...there can be nothing left to discover.
And yet, there can be new ways of looking at what there is, when minds of sufficient ingenuity are brought to the subject.
Shakespeare's will is a crucial document in understanding much about his life and relationships with others but is notoriously problematic when trying to deduce any such solid detail from it. The single line in which he leaves his second best bed and the furniture 'unto his wyf' has been interpreted at as much length as some of the plays along with the fact that it is inserted, apparently, as an afterthought. But sometimes it is possible to short-circuit generations-worth of debate by suggesting, as Katherine Scheil does, that the insertion might be nothing to do with Shakespeare but merely an omission by the copyist who added it in later.
As has happened before, it's all the lowly scribe's fault and,
Francis Collins, Shakespeare's clerk, was known for producing imperfect and uncorrected wills. 

and also, thus, causing much more confusion among biographers over the following centuries than the will as it stands was already going to give rise to. There is often a simple explanation when everything seems complicated and while much of this book seems to open up wider possibilities than some of the generally accepted ideas, it does also sometimes offer the chance to close down labyrynthine debates by simplifying them with revelatory common sense.
Graham Holderness, in his essay on Hamnet Shakespeare, mentions (no more than in passing) the possibility that the boy was,
proof positive of his mother's infidelity.
and then he moves on, still not noticing the further possibility- brought up whenever the chance arises on this website- that he could have been named after Hamnet Sadler, the family friend, as a reminder to all that Shakespeare knew who the real father was. Although it is noted more than once in the book how many children were named William, possibly after Shakespeare, it takes Hamnet and Judith Sadler until their ninth child to do so.
One would have been glad of an essay on Hamnet Sadler, which is an odd omission from this otherwise comprehensive volume in which the mining of contemporary records in Stratford is impressive. We know he was taken to court for having a muckheap outside his house; we know he wasn't at first included in Shakespeare's will but appears to have been added in, perhaps after a late change of heart and some, like me, are admirers of my friend's insightful theory that he was the father of Hamnet and Judith Shakespeare. It's a pity we couldn't have contributed a chapter on Sadler but in such an 'alternative biography' it is a shame to see the old idea that Shakespeare fathered a daughter and then twins still trotted out as unchallenged fact when Don Paterson's book on the sonnets gives his opinion of whether Shakespeare was gay or not as almost not worthy of an answer, 'of course he was'. So it wouldn't be too surprising if, having accidentally fathered a child in an early experiment in heterosexuality, he only dabbled in such conventional congress with a dark lady and other minor skirmishes but really was unlikely to be a prolific producer of progeny like so many of his contemporaries.
Germaine Greer, having made such a convincing case for Anne as a self-sufficient woman in Shakespeare's Wife, here presents a further typically Greerian defence of the much-disregarded daughter, Judith, in which the surviving twin is badly treated by her putative father in the conditions of his will on account of her marriage to Thomas Quiney, the vintner of some disrepute. In her customary and entertaining style, Prof. Greer really wants to stay with the 'alternative biography' theme and does so by finding the best where she can in womanhood and assuming that men are, for the most part, feckless but, as a stalwart contrarian, has to resort to suggesting that the unreliable Quiney, 'might have been fun'. She makes less of the fact that in Holy Trinity Church, alongside the graves of William; Anne; the acknowledged daughter, Susanna; her husband, John Hall, and Thomas Nash, the grandson-in-law, there was no room left for Judith, who is lost in the graveyard somewhere. So perhaps she was just unlucky that she lived until 1662.
There is a tendency to take sides in such issues and it does us no favours. While it is traditional to admire Shakespeare, this side of bardolatry, it would be problematic to assume his better treatment of Susanna in the will was entirely due to his better judgement. She sued against allegations of adultery and may or may not have been quite the idealized daughter she is sometimes thought to have been. But, then again, she might have been recognized by Shakespeare as his only genuine offspring which, given his apparent interest in coats of arms and his dynastic legacy, might be why his grandson-in-law is buried very close to him while Judith is forver lost to posterity.
David Fallow's essay on John, the father, makes a case for not believing in the long-held assumption that he fell upon hard times but that he was very successful as a dealer in wool and the reason we can't see that is because he was so successful in hiding his business affairs from the tax authorities that it is hidden from us as well. It is less romantic to think of William first going to London on business rather than with a group of actors, or in pursuit of such a career but it does fit, for opposites reasons, as an explanation why Shakespeare didn't go to University. Not because he had to stay in Stratford to help out a struggling family business but because he went to London as part of a thriving business. And we must not forget that there's plenty of circumstantial evidence to suggest that, as well as being anecdotally the sweetest and wittiest of company, he was businesslike whenever questions of cash were involved.  In either version, he gets himself to London at a tender age and I'm surprised how much this book as a whole assumes regular visits back to Stratford when all his work from the late 1580's to after 1612 went on in London. The Alternative Biography still lingers on family ties when the 'artistic temperament' often 'flies by those nets' (Joyce, not Shakespeare) but, yes, Stratford was always home and where he would retire to once he was tired, his revels were ended and, it has to be said, his writing was out of fashion.
He is spotted in London before the commonly accepted first mention of him as the 'upstart crow' in Greene's Groatsworth of Wit, in references that have made him worthy of mention before1592, and we are indebted to Andy Keeson for telling us that. You need to have been around for a while and made something of a reputation before your peers start to notice you and so I'm delighted to see Shakespeare's arrival in London made as early as possible because not being in Stratford when the twins were conceived, in 1584, would be a very good way for him to know that he wasn't their father.
There is one remaining big question about why Shakespeare's masterpiece (and I know many now say that is Lear, but it isn't, it's Hamlet) is so closely named after the so-called son. Emma Smith steps in to explain that they are two different names, Hamnet and Hamlet. That is helpful in dividing out a three-sided convergence between the family friend, the naming of the boy and the subject of the magnum opus, when two are plenty. I'd be glad of it if it weren't even more apparent that spelling was an approximate art in those days, especially in Shaxpere's day, and that Hamnet and Hamlet weren't closer to each other than several of the variants of Shakespeare's own name. It would be better to point out that the play was based on the old story of Amleth and that the family friend was called Hamnet. And that's all there is to it.
But Shakespeare's circle were no more angelic than any other assembled gathering of humanity and there's no reason to assume he himself was any better than the rest of us either, except when first being satirized for his 'sweet', Ovidian writing and then proceeding to dominate English Literature like none before him or that ever will be able to again. Duncan Salkeld tells us all there is to know about George Wilkins, brothel keeper, hideous man, co-author of Pericles but associate of William Shakespeare who, whoever he was, certainly made a long-lasting name for himself and, apparently, a tidy pile of cash while he was doing it.
This book wouldn't be the place to start if you want an outline of his life. You can go to Anthony Burgess for a shameless summary of all the myths and legends, or somebody like Peter Ackroyd for a sensible account. But, in the same way that much of the science we were taught at school (Jupiter used to have 16 satellites but now has 64 or more) has been updated, the way we understand the life of Shakespeare, if we care to, is forever being modified. This book is a useful step in that direction but we know it's not over yet.
I'm not flabbergasted to read that Shakespeare might not actually have died on his birthday but I am disconcerted that despite my attempts on this website, and my friend's excellent play that extrapolates his original idea, and was circulated to a few theatres and academics, that nobody else can see that Shakespeare fathered one daughter and she, as far as he knew, was his entire offspring.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

The Saturday Nap

With half a dozen winners last weekend, I could feel a bit hard done by that I'm not sipping champagne while deliberating how to conquer new heights this weekend. But when one has been on the slide there is some reluctance to send good money after bad and I was only playing with the remnants of what was left in my account so that I can end the year on a respectable profit. And you can't win much by defending.
And then Bristol de Mai had loomed up, allowing me to start totting up the payout from the winning nap, only to find that the Moore's 14/1 had saved a bit and went clear again, making it look as if the stable know something about training horses for Sandown that none of the others do.
I know there's no such thing as 'fair' but life can seem more difficult than it needs to be sometimes. It didn't seem so in those lazy, crazy days of summer, though, cashing in on low grade, off-peak jump racing, not realizing that I should be steaming in then, not waiting for the proper (i.e. 'competitive') races in the Autumn.
Sausalito Sunrise is a horse I've always liked since it follwed Kings Palace home in novice chases more than once. Already a winner of a good, grown up chase, he's 7/2 fav at Cheltenham tomorrow but can't win every time he runs.
Peace & Co, who landed the Cheltenham nap for us in March, reappears in the International Hurdle on Saturday, and seems to be all the rage at 4/5 but with Old Guard already an impressive winner this season in opposition, he isn't nap material.
So, Felix Yonger, who was to be the nap last week until Cork was abandoned, is taken to show that the weather was against us last week and I've somewhat rashly taken the 2/1 on ante post terms. I was on at 5/2 last week but it looks slightly different now after Clarcam ran elsewhere and got beat. It runs on Sunday.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Best Poem and Best Collection 2015

It has taken more thinking about than usual to arrive at a decision about which was the Best New Poetry Collection I read in 2015. The shortlist of four titles posted here a few weeks ago would all have been very worthy winners, which is what being on the shortlist means, but it has taken from then until now to decide because it was by no means obvious.
Most of the subsidiary honours I augment these two main titles with were awarded at the shortlist stage but since then Steven Isserlis's performance of the Shostakovich Cello Concerto has been supplemented to the  Best Event category. It has to be admitted that I've not been to very many spectacular events this year compared to others but it is unlucky for Index Cantorum, the choir whose lunchtime concert in Winchester Cathedral in September, with its Tavener, Monteverdi and MacMillan, that Portsmouth ought to be bloody grateful that Isserlis comes here and it's almost beginning to look as if some of us pick our Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra concerts on the basis of whether or not Shostakovich is on the programme. But, what can you do, it was quite clearly the best thing I've been to all year, although very difficult to compare in any meaningful way with my nephew's first bike race.
There were the usual small handful of tremendous poems that will remain in the memory as long as the memory remains. Kate Bingham's Open was shortlisted previously when I first saw it and is now included in her book, Infragreen, but it can't really be shortlisted as 'new' twice; in any other year, I'm sure Caitriona O'Reilly's The Airship Era, or perhaps also The Servant Question, from Geis, would have been the best poem I'd seen but Sean O'Brien's The Beautiful Librarians was an instant classic, bringing with it its own 'realms of gold' to inhabit. It was compared in Poetry Review to Larkin's At Grass for its nostalgia, and perhaps there is the vaguest similarity. But there is no danger of Tom Paulin mistaking Sean's tribute for a lament for the loss of empire because, of course, it is subtly political not so much in its adoration of the librarians and the books but in its lament for the ongoing closure of the libraries. It isn't just the best poem of this year but one of the greatest poems of the century so far.
But it wasn't quite so easy to decide which collection to say was best and I had to first wonder how to decide before deciding, although no strict set of rules can be made to work. Eventually, one has to just know.
The first two or three poems in Don Paterson's 40 Sonnets had me thinking that, if this continues, this is going to be the best book of poems I've ever read. But the facility, the cleverness, the understandable impulse to stretch the limits of the 'sonnet' perhaps counted against it in the end.
Kate Bingham is a wonderful poet and will always be one to seek out for her beautifully made pieces. Infragreen is her best book yet and only, I think, her third, so she's likely to be considered here for as long as such considerations take place.
And it is much to my chagrin that Prof. O'Brien, 'majesty', had not been awarded a Best in the now seven years I've been undertaking these deliberations until the paragraph above because he is a long-standing poetry hero of mine, in his best poems.
But the book that does the most with 'poetry', has the most range and has the deepest, most resonant effect  -even if it explores further into the lexicon than some might think necessary and possibly fancies itself more than is good for it- is Caitriona O'Reilly's Geis, mainly for the two poems mentioned above but, then again, for its ambition because although ambition can often be a bad thing, one can't achieve much without it.
It wasn't easy to arrive at the decision but once I had, I was happy with it.
The cheques are not in the post to the winners because the prize is only what recognition I can add to the poets, which isn't much more than they already have, but it comes with my thanks for having done what they did. Poetry is a dubious enterprise nowadays and possibly always was but it is the likes of these admirable highlights that make it all worthwhile.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Rothko Chapel

Rothko Chapel, Kim Kashkashian, Sarah Rothenburg et al (ECM)

This record is unlikely to make the Sunday morning playlist to accompany the all-too-brief long lie down with the paper, the racing prospects and possibly the crossword. While I would never draw the line at serious 'art music' for such an occasion, the most often chosen records for that include Wagenseil's Quartets for low strings and the Krumpholtz Concerto for Harp, no.6 if you must know, which would be the theme tune for the Sunday morning programme of gorgeous, uplifting music if ever this website extended into a radio station.
Mark Rothko's paintings omitted the human figure at an early stage of his career and anything identifiably figurative soon after. His canvasses of merging blocks of colour then drained themselves of bright colours to dark until only black remained and then he committed suicide. In a varied shortlist of favourite painters, he is one of mine alongside Vermeer, the Brueghels, de Hooch and, of course, Maggi Hambling. The title piece of this new record is Morton Feldman's music to go with the last, black masterpieces collected in the Rothko Chapel in Houston. It's unlikely you'll be able to name very many other pieces scored for viola, celeste, percussion, soprano, mezzo-soprano and choir.
It's an impossible job, really, to find music to accompany paintings that are best left to shimmer on the edge of eternity in silence but Kim Kashkashian's and Feldman's solemn viola and its small entourage make a brave effort while always somehow doomed to fail by even allowing the possibility of any programmatic interpretation. If music has the advantage of poetry by not having to tie itself to the meanings inevitably let in by words then painting is free of the ideas that come with music. The pieces for voices by John Cage that follow perhaps get closer to Rothko, their sustained single notes overlapping into meditations that float beyond meaning, gently and then more urgently, but offering no more than that. They suggest timelessness without being able to achieve it in their five or six minute duration but they weren't specifically written to go with the art. Such music was possibly of its time and comes with the feel of the dead end of modernism but a cul-de-sac can be worth exploring and the ear for EAR (Antiphonies), thus titled and not just typing that has been left unchecked by me, echo medieval plainchant to show that not all the avant garde threw away all reference to their inheritance.
The highlights of the disc, though, must be the Erk Satie Gnossiennes, more so than the dramatic but  deliberately simplistic Ogives. Gnossienne no.1 is made to linger and hang even more than I remember it doing. It wanders in its misty mystery, emerging with its simple but haunting refrain. Sarah Rothenburg brings out all that was already implied in it and the disc is worth having for this alone, bringing back memories of a much-loved LP I played over and again as a teenager. I hope it is exactly that recording, by John McCabe, that I have gone to the lengths of finding on CD only to save me the trouble of finding out if, firstly, the LP is still in good enough condition to play and, secondly, my never-used turntable can play it. I had unwontedly left Erik Sate aside for much too long.
But, there's more, the set finishes with John Cage's In a Landscape. Whereas the voice pieces here are from the 1980's, and thus 'late', this is from 1948 when he was 36, and apparently a different composer altogether. It is like finding Picasso's blue or rose periods when all you knew was the Demoiselles d'Avignon or some other fractured vision of humanity. It is luminous, repetitively so, but lands very much on the lucky side of whether such compositions sound trite and self-generating or somehow entirely convincing. It can be a close run thing. It's not unlike Philip Glass's wonderful Solo Piano album. I wonder if that still sounds as good as it used to.
Oh, no, here we go again.

Oh Babe, What Would You Say

Sometimes the George Eliot just has to stop. I thought it was quite rude of Giles Coren, the slightly less sexy of the two current Corens, to suggest in  The Times last weekend that reading George Eliot wasn't enjoyable. This ribald, deliberately outrageous suggestion is, of course, just a journalist's nuisance remark lobbed in to make him seem interersting, which he sometimes is while never able to aspire to his sister's much classier demeanour.
But it came at a difficult time when, quite honestly, Romola was burying me in brilliant scholarship about Savaranola and Florence and everything but I was doing that thing I like least, among others, which is reading a book for the sake if it. Which is a pity because otherwise Geoge Eliot has been a joy to read but, only half a novel from reading all of them, she has to be put away for a little while because The Shakespeare Circle, ed. Edmondson and Wells, arrives, and needs looking at seriously, immediately and importantly.
Most people who have heard of Shakespeare, which is most people, think that the plays are the thing. I don't. I'm interested in every last, ludicrous detail about his life, which is mostly unretrievable but remains disproportinately crucial to me compared to what he was good at, which was writing plays, and perhaps poems, too.
So, maybe, one day, I'll pick up Romola where I left off. But not in any hurry.
Those on the edge of their seats to know what will be given that priceless honour of my Best Poem and Best Collection of Poetry for this year will only have another week to wait. It has been a difficult process but I'm confident of arriving at the right decision soon.
Whereas there is another award I'd like to get sorted out as soon as possible because I put money on it and I'd like my money back sooner rather than later.
It must be 40 years and more since I ever cared about the NME awards and sent in a vote for Jan Akkerman as Best Guitarist but I noticed The Libertines at 8/11 on Paddy Power to be this year's Best Band. I've since seen Gunga Din at 6/5 for Best Single and the band at 4/7 for Best Live Band. I have no idea what the opposition are like- Wolf Alice, The Maccabees, Foals- but I'm happy to back The Libertines blind, against anything, because they must be the best. And I only hope the voting readers think so, too.
The Libertines were actually The Saturday Nap this week until I realized the result wouldn't be just yet and, really, the Saturday Nap is supposed to be about horse racing.
But anybody who thought the Labour Party was finished might want to think again. I don't know what price Hilary Benn was for next Labour leader earlier this week but I'd make him favourite now, in a lack lustre field. It's never quite as lack lustre as a Conservative leadership contest but their lustre is generated by money, blase arrogance and an odd carry over from the Divine Right of Kings. there is no way of persuading them they haven't got it. In the same way that campus marxists could brilliantly explain all the problems but never provided a solution to them.
It must be time to listen to Gunga Din.

The Saturday Nap

Aintree, Sandown, Wetherby and Chepstow.  It is like being in a sweet shop, aged 6, hardly knowing where to look to spend your pocket money. And yet we know that Friday night is about choosing that one, that one, that one and that one, completely convinced that each of them is descended from Pegasus only to arrive at Saturday tea-time with a winner or two, maybe, but a litany of unexplained mishaps to reduce the enormous potential profit to an attitude of 'oh, well, never mind'
I had backed Felix Yonger to win on Sunday ante-post, him being a horse that never lets me down but I owed him an apology for not realizing he was running when he won a few weeks ago. But already Cork on Sunday is abandoned.
I have had a great week, statistically, so far on the recovery trail from some major recent setbacks with 7 winners out of a dozen but it takes a long time to repair the damage of a couple of major misdirected plunges when one is doing so with small change, defensively unwilling to plunge headlong into further disaster and jeopardize what will be a respectable plus for 2015. And it must be almost time for the Nap to get itself back into the black, too.
We will have to have a bit of a mug punt on races like the Becher Chase but that's not the sort of race to stab at with real money. It's just nice to go to bed on Friday night thinking, if one can still think, of a couple of quid turning into a couple of hundred because it can and sometimes it does.
But, sensibly, I still wouldn't dare guess at the winner of the Tingle Creek even if Un De Sceuax and Simonsig aren't in it. Not unless they could bring back Tingle Creek himself at the top of his form.
It's a shame the 3 mile chase at Aintree has been reduced to four runners with Don Poli thus odds on. He will know he's in England by the lack of numbers surrounding him. You never need to know if a race is in Ireland or England if you switch on At the Races. If there are loads of them, it's in Ireland; if there are four or five runners, it's almost certainly in England.
So my main hope is that Paddy unsuspends my Felix Yonger bet and lets me take him on elsewhere. I like Saint Are in the Becher (Aintree 1.40) but would like to dare to believe in my old, and perhaps ongoing, Grand National hope, Unioniste. There's no nap there, though.
O O Seven (Sandown 2.15) is one you might put as the one to keep a yankee together but 4/5 is not what I'm looking for.
The Skelton stable have been doing very well in recent days, there's not much I like more than a stable in form, and so Virgilio in the 2.45 at Aintree is going to go in somewhere in tomorrow's guesswork.
But Bristol de Mai (Sandown 1.55) was always a chaser to look forward to and now the time that we were looking forward to has arrived. That's the nap and, if I wasn't recovering from recent traumas then I'd be having much more on it than I actually will be. If and when it has won, it won't have been guesswork, it will have been very unfortunate that I didn't feel like lumping on.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Kate Miller - The Observances

Kate Miller, The Observances (Carcanet)

In The Guardian recently, John Dugdale described this book as 'the oddball entry' on the Costa Prize poetry shortlist.
In a time in which poets are prized for their difference, individuality and 'personal voice', where pluralism has been realized and what poets have in common is that they have nothing in common, it's hard to say whether being identified as 'oddball' is a good thing or not and furthermore whether, as such, it places the book in question among the orthodox or the unorthodox. There are still plenty of self-styled renegades who regard themselves as 'against the grain', 'avant garde' and different but what are they different from if the centre has not been able to hold and there is no established hegemony to be contrary to. Those poets who aspire to maverick experimental status are more likely to be following a tradition now over a hundred years old with lots of arcane standards of its own that have been 'old hat' for longer than they realize. Along with so many other assumptions that were challenged years ago, perhaps the distinction between mainstream and avant garde has, inconveniently for them, also been erased and put them out of a job.
There's nothing remotely oddball about Kate Miller's poetry and I doubt if there was intended to be. She is identifiably herself, one of many, many different poets writing today and perfectly orthodox, or unorthodox, because it is doubtful if either term means anything at all.
It took me a little while to find my way into the poems. They are not inconsequential but I found them inconclusive. Eventually, I found the poems in the fourth and final section, Enter the Sea, a number of which concern Portsmouth and I cottoned on to the lines in House at Sea,
                                I watch the dark
green creature claw the bottom step 
and mount. Eyes and 'o's of diesel,
winking, double on the swell.
                          and saw the water. The poetry is about seeing but one mustn't take poetry at face value and I began to look at the poems to see in what ways they were also 'observances' of ceremony, rites or rituals. And there we are, on page 33, a poem sub-titled 'a ritual observed'. So, similarly, without wanting to move into a masterclass on close reading or an undergraduate workshop, perhaps Enter the Sea is both a command and a stage direction and the title, House at Sea, can be read from opposite angles. But poetry is best left to have its way without too much such explication.
In From the Gods at Oz Adana, Pas de deux, 

Insects hush
as bats begin to net the sky.

The poem has a quiet reverence and is one of many where one becomes aware of its music. For poetry ostensibly about visual effects and abstract ideas, it is written with subtle rhythm and the pleasure of the sound the words make together is as important as the pictures they make.
In The Sea is Midwife to the Shore,
       the sea smoothes,
fondles chubby stones, croons over each
                               peculiar stone and treats it
as its own
    newborn, immense and gleaming,
                             nursed on the stretched belly of the beach. 

and then, in Nelson's Last Walk, both the students on and lecturers who taught the Stylistics and Criticism course at Lancaster circa 1979 would have been thrilled to count the 's' sounds in the last three lines to forensically make their case for assonance although, all these decades later, I'm now allowed to enjoy it for what it is and that it just happened like that.
The Observances repays some re-reading. It's not an instant hit but is poetry with subtle top notes and stays long in the appreciating. It has probably been worked on and crafted over time, it is deeply considered rather than spontaneous and thus requires some attention but time thus spent is likely to be re-paid. It certainly warrants more than being labelled 'oddball', which, even if some might take that as a compliment, doesn't sound like one to me. The Costa Poetry list also includes Don Paterson, Neil Rollinson and Andrew McMillan and I prefer my own list (elsewhere here recently) but it's possible that the virtues of Kate Miller's poems could persuade their judges to put it ahead of Paterson's entirely different knowing cool.