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.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Cum Romae

Reading about Catullus, and I can hardly wait to continue, makes me want to write a poem a bit like his. This is 'as if translated from the Latin', and Cum Romae, I find, is the idiomatic way of saying 'when in Rome' rather than 'quando in Romana', which is what I would have thought.
I had an idea for a second one and vague plans there might be more, a series but not a 'sequence', but when I wanted to write it this morning, the first line had completely gone. One must write these ideas down because they don't always come back.

Cum Romae

One of my girlfriends stops me in the street
and tells me that she has had some good news.
I do my best to listen and enthuse
but it’s another girl I came to meet.

I look over her shoulder at the stream
of passing faces, looking for the one
that has become for me a paragon.
She thinks I am distracted, in a dream,

but love cannot be love if not distressed
by absence or separation or loss
or that it’s not adequately expressed.
To be fair, she is also fabulous

but her news went wholly disregarded.
I should have felt more guilty than I did. 

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Tradescantia and Noob

I mean, come on, give us a chance.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Cheltenham Preview 2016

It is hardly Willie Mullins' fault that he is in such a powerful position, with a chance of becoming champion trainer in the UK while based in Ireland. There can't have been a meeting of anywhere near the magnitude of the Cheltenham festival where one trainer looked set to dominate quite so overwhelmingly. But some strange things have happened in the trial races in January and February. Djakadam, Black Hercules and Valseur Lido have fallen, Bellshill ran inexplicably badly (in a race won by the Mullins third string) and now both Faugheen and Arctic Fire are injured and out of the Champion Hurdle. So it's clearly not as easy as just turning up to collect. In some of the most unadventurous tipping ever seen on the internet, I'm going for a horse each day, three of them short-priced favourites and then the each way bargain in the Gold Cup. We can have a bit of a dart at a few other races with the pocket money but these red-hot investments need to go in and the shrewd observer knows how often that doesn't happen so it's a high stakes game as I try to retrieve some of the deficit already accumulated into the bookies' bank so far this year.
Faugheen's absence removes the chance of doubling up with Douvan one day one where 2/5 and 1/3 still  pay something close to even money but the knock-on effect has been for Annie Power to be made favourite, likely to be re-routed from the Mares race, and brings The New One back into the argument for the Champion Hurdle. That is only of interest to see if I, and also he, can get belated compensation for when we was robbed two years ago. But, more significantly, it apparently leaves the Mares race open for Vroum Vroum Mag.
On Wednesday, in the novices hurdle, nobody who saw Yanworth win the trial race so easily will want to oppose him here because it was made to look very easy indeed and the novice hurdlers don't immediately look a vintage generation. Nothing has yet given him a proper race and even money will be worth having once the ante-post market becomes non-runner no bet.
Thistlecrack (nap) has been kept to hurdles this season rather than go chasing because the World Hurdle appears to have been presented to him as the opposition fallen away or finished too far behind him (as pictured) and so we only really fear the dark horse Different Gravey who was introduced to the betting after bolting up in a handicap last week. But Thistlecrack has the most solid look about him of anything at the festival and that possibly even includes Douvan.
So, if we are still in funds by Friday, the Gold Cup presents us with a list of Irish options all of who have different questions to answer. Don Cossack was my original long term idea of the winner and he might have been in with a chance in the King George when he fell at the last but it looked as if they were going too quick for him- at least as if Vautour was- and the different track and longer distance might be to his advantage but if Smad Place puts in the same spectacular front-running performance as he did in the trial then they will all have to find something to catch him and going from the front has been the way to win a few recent Gold Cups so, at 12/1, he could be backed each way with good reason.
So the treble is Thistlecrack, Yanworth and Vroum Vroum Mag, each done on their own, of course, with an accumulator including Smad Place (each way) for a considerably more modest stake.
But those are the serious bets to depend on which won't be much fun to watch because the week, and recovering the year so far, depends on them.
Dreams of the huge punting windfall- and it's not as if I'm not due one- will depend on landing an unlikely sequence of hopeful selections that potentially multiply up alarmingly in accumualtors.
I'll take on Min, that doesn't seem to be the most vaunted of the Mullins battalion, in the first on Tuesday, with Altior, who has that dubious role of leading the British defence of the Supreme Novices. Sausalito Sunrise, also on Tuesday, has become quite a favourite of mine who won't have helped us get a generous price by winning impressively last Saturday. I wish he hadn't done that, really. Bristol de Mai, in the JLT Novice Chase on Thurs, has become what we might have hoped he'd be, and now looks the part. And, snooping round for one to make the yankee, on the grounds that finishing the same distance behind a putative Faugheen as he did earlier this season, The New One is nominated for the Champion Hurdle more in hope than expectation but, with three of them running on Tuesday, a second yankee can be thrown together in mild desperation, to build something else round Bristol de Mai later in the week.
I realize that most newspaper tipsters write more encouragingly about their selections than I have on some of those but they are industry insiders who get paid to generate enthusiasm for the sport. I'd prefer my reader to enjoy it while doing the sensible thing. There's a lot of money to be lost during Cheltenham week.  As long as we land a couple of our big four, that money shouldn't be ours.
It is customary to end this highlight of the horse racing year on the internet with a look beyond, to the Grand National. In among some ante-post wagers on my account is some 25/1 Silviniaco Conti, who was my first thought. He is combined there with a few whose chances at Cheltenham no longer look as good as they were and now, after last week's impressive return to form, he's only 12/1. It is too much to expect he could end an already impressive career by becoming a National winner as well but he jumps and stays and is a class act and so has all the credentials to do so and will be carrying a few quid of mine. 

Monday, 22 February 2016

Oh, Babe, What Would You Say

The pound lost over 2% against the dollar today and has lost 4% so far this year. I dare say there are benefits from that as well as a downside and it probably doesn't affect me much but it is all apparently due to concerns over the UK remaining in the European Union and today's exponential decline is put down to the decision of one man. That is how important Boris Johnson is.
Caitlin Moran got it about right in The Times on Saturday in her outline of how she would organize the country, explaining that she would have Boris as a figurehead Head of State, with no power at all (and I can't see that mattering to him as long as he can be called Prime Minister), who could just be sent abroad to fall over, say 'Blimey' and make people laugh. Meanwhile a geek with no personality whatsoever that nobody sees and hardly ever hears about, who understands how to run the country, can spend all day on a computer, crunching numbers and deciding what to do.
Boris can hardly campaign with much conviction having been seen to spend so long trying to make his mind up where he stands but that could be presented as evidence of what a finely-constructed argument he has formulated, i.e. that a vote to leave provides a basis for negotiating a better deal to stay in. But his new friends- Nigel Farage and George Galloway- will not see it like that and neither will his old friends Jacob Rees-Mogg and Michael Gove. So it's a rare old, convoluted plan he has devised as the best way to get to become Prime Minister and we can only watch in dreadful trepidation as the long story unfolds.
I'm not going to continue any sort of campaign to Remain because most canvassing and electioneering looks to me counter-productive. You won't be persuaded to vote like me because I advised it, in fact it's more likely to put you off. Paddy was offering 2/7 that we Remain and 5/2 we Leave on Saturday but then I heard Ladbrokes on the radio saying they shortened the market up to 4/11 and 2/1 post the Boris declaration.
I still make it a 1/6 chance we stay in so you can have 4/1 Leave.
The positions of so-called right and left have shifted about alarmingly since the 1970's but now even the 'left', as in Jeremy Corbyn, and the Green Party are Pro-Europe. The biggest danger to the Remain vote is apathy and voter fatigue. But its greatest assets are those five figureheards listed above. If that disparate bunch of misfits are all voting one way then I'll vote the other.
While waiting for more books to arrive (after sadly Hunter Davies' biography of Wordsworth was too badly damaged in the post and never arrived), I did read Thomas Middleton's A Chaste Maid in Cheapside on Sunday. You can see why Shakespeare was so eminent in his day and has been since. While I'm sure the play is a lively and entertaining romp on stage, on the page the footnotes take up almost as much space as the text, going to great lengths to explain all the puns and wordplay of the bawdiest kind. It makes Middleton seem like a Jacobean precursor of Jim Davidson.
I appreciate the fashion for cynicism, the commentary on emergent capitalism, the stock characters and how Ben Jonson was becoming the next big thing but I'm afraid we are spoilt by having had Shakespeare in the same way that Michael Bywater once explained that we were flattered by being of the same species as Bach. The arguments put forward by Rubinstein, representing anti-Stratfordians, that Shakespeare would have been too busy to write as many plays as he did as well as acting, are tempered by Middleton's output as well as reference in the book to another actor/playwright. They were insubstantial objections to Shakespeare anyway when the real problem for the anti-Stratfordian coalition seems to be with the idea of genius.
One of the main benefits of having the Eurosport channels was always for me having the cycling on it. Now that cycling has become, in the twenty years since I packed up doing it, all but the British national sport and there is a Bike channel devoted entirely to pedal power, there is a danger that there might be too much of it and it could become the new football. But Eurosport has plenty of snooker, too, and I was glad of its coverage of the Welsh Open that finished last night because those with only terrestrial channels were denied the chance to see what was quite possibly the greatest snooker ever played if you discount some of the most outrageous nights of Alex Higgins' tormented career.
In the space of one week, Ronnie O'Sullivan won 4-0 in 38 minutes, turned down a 147 break and made 146 instead because ten grand wasn't enough of a prize for it (for him) and then came back from 5-2 down in the final, against the estimable Neil Robertson, to win 9-5. And that is snooker genius the like of which has not been seen before.
And it seems that, unlike other sporting greats that haven't been able to cope with their own singular gift, he's not even throwing it away on booze, drugs and a downward spiral. The most one can accuse him of is a kind of off-hand disregard. Barry Hearn said he showed disrespect for the audience who would have liked to have seen the 147. No, they saw something better than that- a 146 and the first time anybody's been cute enough to say no to the cash windfall and do something else instead.
I'm looking forward to the forthcoming reading and music. Here already is Daisy Dunn's Catullus' Bedspread, then there will be the new Graham Swift, the not quite so new David Mitchell Slade House when it appears in paperback (ordered to circumvent Amazon's p&p rules), Sean O'Brien's selection of Andrew Marvell in the Poet-to-Poet series to see what one Hull-related poet says about the other for when I do my own revised summary of Marvell one day and, most long awaitedly, Gorecki's 4th Symphony, now out on CD.
So don't forget to tune in for all of them but, possibly before any of them, the Cheltenham 2016 Preview in which I will nominate the three big bets, and each way Gold Cup suggestion, that will retrieve the uncommonly unsatisfactory start I've had to the 2016 turf account.
It makes it seem a bit unlikely that dull old stories about My Life in Sport, with cycling, running, chess, darts, pool and possibly gaelic football, are going to be required to fill out these spaces for a while yet.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Kent Opera Tosca

Tosca, Kent Opera, Maria Tonina, King's Theatre, Southsea, Feb 19th.

I didn't expect to be sitting on the front row with a ticket for row D of the stalls but the King's remove the front three rows to accomodate the orchestra if necessary and so I was two yards from the horn player and not much further from the percussionist. That might not be the ideal mixing desk position to get the perfect sound balance but you do get a good view of the stage.
The small Moldovan orchestra could at first sound like Friday Night is Music Night and I did wonder if, with Southsea not being Covent Garden or La Scala, we might be in for an 'opera experience' for those who like to say they've been to one. But, as the production progressed, one either acclimatises to it or Vitalii Liskovetskyi as Cavaradossi convinces that he has a voice worthy of the occasion.
Tosca is partly Othello but mainly Measure for Measure set to Puccini's sumptuous melodies and thematic leitmotifs. If Tosca offers the best opportunity for a diva to play a diva and thus be opera at its most extravagantly indulgent, it still has room for some of the pathos of Boheme and Madame Butterfly. In this renewal, a Golden Eagle is used on stage which I can add to the dog and snake I've seen in Shakespeare as animal actors. I'm not convinced the theatre is the proper habitat for a Golden Eagle but in a dramatic doubling as a Scarpia lookalike, whose cruel performance, booed by myself and others at the curtain call, played by the resonantly named Vladimir Dragos, he did well. The ensemble ending of Act 1 in which the pantomime villain thinks his evil plan to win Tosca is going to work, is where the production began to  succeed, both musically and dramatically.
Tosca's aria, Vissi d'arte, and Caravadossi's E lucevan le stelle were worthy of their own rounds of applause and Maria Tonina had her glorious moments hitting some high notes even if it struck me that Vitalii as the painter might be the real star of the show. The opera on tour has two singers for each part and so it depends whose day off it is when you see it as to who you get. I'm sure that's the other one on the advert.
By the third act, one is engaged enough not to fret that this might not be Maria Callas but be grateful that the King's puts on opera alongside its more downmarket product and I don't mind at all if that sounds elitist. There is some rubbish on their programme.
Anybody who can take the extravagance and hyperbole of opera and then give it a chance would find enjoyment of this easy to follow story and lurid drama readily achievable but there's no point in trying if you can't let go of irony or understatement. It is just funny otherwise.
But, as the body count rises, Tosca herself has the honour of making it three out of three for the main characters as she disappears off the back of the stage just like Don Giovanni before her.
I'm not going to pretend I don't  know there have been better Tosca's than this, or better Toscas, but neither am I going to say I didn't enjoy it because it still produced some of that weird thrill that makes you know you're glad you made the effort and saw it.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Oh, Babe, What Would You Say

On Saturday there was a problem with the delivery of newspapers to Portsmouth. Tesco Express didn't have any, neither the Co-op, nor the One Stop. The day stretched out ahead of me with a big hole in it where The Times should have been.
Coming at the same time as the announcement that The Independant was ceasing its printed edition and all that that portends for the future of print, it was a glimpse of a dire future of internet journalism. I spend too much time in front of this screen already and prefer to be laid out with the paper in the same way that I don't want a characterless gadget like a kindle to read books on, I want books. I want the crossword, the book reviews, the quizzes, the chess, the obituaries, the racing page, the columnists and to glance despairingly at Oliver Kamm's latest diatribe against grammar pedants as he defends some usage that has been adjudged erroneous by one less liberal than him.
I went out again later and saved the day by finding a copy in the shop that once told me I'm the only person who buys The Times there and if I don't buy it they send their one copy back. But progress on the crossword stopped with only a quarter of it done. Never mind, there's no point fighting a losing battle. But I looked again later and made some more progress and in the evening, by dint of gutsy determination and 'never say die' got down to one clue remaining, G-S-O-N. But I could think of no such word that might fit so fell back on a helpful website and found GOSSOON, which is a servant, and fitted the clue. But that is a problem with such crosswords. One may have no chance of completing it on your own if it contains a word you've never heard of, but how would you know.
Anthony Trollope scored another hit with The Warden, admirable for its brevity comapred to many of his books, as well as its observation of its own times, which reflect on our own as any old classic is wont to do.
It is a kind of morality tale in which the conscience of the warden, who only wants to make the world a better place, persuades him to resign his post in the face of a campaign against his position (rather than him personally) even when the case is dropped. And everybody ends up the worse off for it.
In a particularly memorable passage, considering the downgrading of scholarly work to a more facile mode in which, 

ridicule is found to be more convincing than argument, imaginary agonies touch more than true sorrows, and monthly novels convince, when learned quartos fail to do so. If the world is to be set right, the work will be done by shilling numbers.

Perhaps the difference now is that not so many of us think the world will be set right but I dare say there are young people and Corbyn supporters who genuinely think it can be.
But the time is creeping up on me, one of those cycles that define the turning of the year, when I will need to think of a subject for my contribution to next year's Portsmouth Poetry Society programme. Having delivered Rosemary Tonks, quite successfully, I thought (and Bloodaxe will be pleased to know it resulted in at least two more books being bought), it soon becomes time to decide what to do next year, to write the brief introduction over Christmas and do it in the New Year.
My 35 year old undergraduate dissertation on Andrew Marvell has been safely, and unregardedly, hidden away ever since the typist I took it to in Lancaster was kind enough to provide a carbon copy. All such work, like the exams, were destroyed once evaluated and 15000 words would have gone into the flames without such foresight and I've always been grateful.
It's not that bad, actually. My 21 year old self surprises me. I can summarize the main points, replace some of the naivety with a more knowing savoir faire and there it is, some work usefully recycled.
Which I'm suddenly aware works in the opposite direction with poems.
There haven't been many new poems posted here recently but that doesn't mean I haven't written any. But since I won't be appearing in South this year as it looks as though I will be selecting the poems for the Autumn edition, I wonder if I ought to try sending some to another magazine. Therre aren't usually enough of them to cast before more than one set of editors at a time and, reading the small print, it increasingly seems that poems that have appeared elsewhere, specifically not required by many publications, includes such small-time websites as this. So my frugal output is stretched further by deciding whether I should casually post them here or offer them up for the chance to appear in print.
But, whether or not, progress towards The Perfect Book, with this cover picture to illustrate the poem, Cygnus, is still on schedule to appear on 17/10/2019.
But if it doesn't yet seem time to surrender the printed word to digitalisation, it might be time to accept that biography is as much an imaginative form as a factual one. Shakespeare biography has always been more a thing of shreds and patches, made from fantasy and folklore, and Julian Barnes' recent account of Shostakovich is an imaginative recreation and yet still brilliant. So, let's surrender to the enjoyment of reading a good book while remembering that biography is written by biographers. While waiting for Hunter Davies' account of Wordsworth, which was ordered to fill a gap, it is likely to be overtaken by Daisy Dunn's Catullus' Bedspread, a life of perhaps the most colourful in a competitive field of candidates among the Roman poets. I will tell you about it as soon as I've read it.


Monday, 8 February 2016

Who Wrote Shakespeare? Shakespeare?

Saturday was one of those rare days when I read a book in a day. It has to be a short book, compelling and have no competition from other things that need doing but it has happened before. Who Wrote Shakespeare's Plays? by William D. Rubinstein claims to be objective in considering the arguments for and against the most popular candidates in the Authorship Question but Rubinstein's previous books include The Truth Will Out, which set out the case for one of the latest candidates, Sir Henry Neville, that he has a share in and so it might not be completely impartial.
I'm not impartial either but was swayed to some doubt when first taking up the subject of Shakespeare biography quite a few years ago now and was prepared to accept the upshot of John Michell's Who Wrote Shakespeare? that the Stratford man was an uneasy favourite and that collaboration was an attractive answer to what has become a battlefield of sometimes quite vitriolic debate. But, without any axe to grind or point to prove, and no reason to uphold the status quo, I'm squarely back in with the Stratford man even if reviewing books on the subject here has led to even me being condemned elsewhere as an arch-Stratfordian unwilling to engage with the evidence. But, for reasons of their own, there continues to be this various group of conspiracy theorists, some more 'crackpot' (Rubinstein's word, not mine) than others, who keep the debate going. So, taking this little book as a starting point, I understand the overall position to be something like this-
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) has had his name on the plays and poems since they appeared in print, some during his life and some after his death. It wasn't seriously questioned whether he wrote them for two hundred years and more.
He is referred to as their author by Ben Jonson, who would have known him, in his tribute and other contemporaries, not always quite so graciously.
He was a theatre man, an actor and share-holder in theatre companies. His day to day involvement in the theatre meant that he wrote parts specifically for the actors in his company, like Richard Burbage, but, most significantly, for his comic actors and the nature of the fool/clown parts in the plays changes immediately when Will Kempe leaves- quite possibly to the relief of the rest of the company - and Robert Armin, a more melancholy fool, is brought in and thus plays Feste, Touchstone and the Fool in Lear.
There are references to Warwickshire in the plays, specifically to Wincot in The Merry Wives of Windsor as well as the apparent wordplay on 'hate away' (Hathaway) in Sonnet 145, that looks like an early poem about a domestic disagreement that was resolved lovingly even if subsequent stresses in the marriage might not have been.
And there is not much to convince us of a genuine alternative candidate for the authorship in the cases made for others, which increasingly look more like exercises in ingenuity by those who see themselves as amateur sleuths indulging in a game they enjoy than literary scholarship.

The case that there was some collaboration between writers in the Shakespeare plays is not at issue. Most accept Thomas Middleton as having a hand in Timon of Athens. The sudden change to a whole new style of theatre late in Shakespeare's career looks to me to involve John Fletcher and perhaps Francis Beaumont. Plays in those days were the property of the theatre, the writers more like jobbing professionals than the revered artists they are seen as in the C21st, and the need to adapt, edit or make good a play for a new production meant that any scriptwriter could pick up a text and doctor it to suit requirements. The Two Noble Kinsmen is generally attributed to Shakespeare and Fletcher. And so the idea that the plays were written by a number of people is not disputed, only the extent of the involvement of others as well as Shakespeare.

But the evidence put forward in favour of the other candidates is much more tenuous than the various points made against the case for Shakespeare.
If Francis Bacon's was the first major claim to be put forward, it has receded to the status of historical curiosity by now, but is most convincingly disparaged by Rubinstein on account of his 'elephantine prose style' that stands in comparison to Shakespeare's,
as the poems of  Pushkin compare to a speech by Leonid Brezhnev on tractor production in the Urals.
The Earl of Oxford died in 1604 which make the continuing support for him difficult to understand but many years ago I had a poem by Oxford in front of me on my desk at work and kept it there for months, looking at it regularly and, no, it was workmanlike, ordinary and unconvincing as a piece supposedly by the same poet that wrote the earliest sonnets, not even just 145, or the likes of Richard III.
Marlowe died even earlier, in 1593. There was no need for him to be secretly smuggled out to Italy to write plays under a new name (and more about Italy in a bit). Shakespeare's early plays seem to take the cue from Marlowe's, Richard II  from Edward II or The Merchant of Venice from The Jew Of Malta, but do it somehow better in the same way that Thomas Tallis's Spem in Alium sounds as if he heard Striggio's 40-part motet and decided he could do better than that. Marlowe is unlikely to have written such similar plays in pairs.
And so Rubinstein's book leads us quite logically to Neville, his own previously stated preferred option. But he has no evidence that the M.P. wrote anything of a literary nature, or had any such interests, with no connection to the theatre having been found.
The latest count of alternative candidates is about 70. A list I saw counted Thomas Campion's supporters numbered as one. Which corroborates the idea that identifying any known name in Elizabethan/Jacobean England as a potential author of Hamlet has become an ingenious game. So, before anybody else floats the idea, I wish to lay claim to the radio or television panel game, Who Wrote Shakespeare? 

But since the brief summary of positive identifications of the Stratford actor are not enough to satisfy the sceptics, it is useful to dispel some of their main objections. Not all of them are quite as damning to the acceptance of this traditional, dyed in the wool (and more about wool later), unthinking adherence to the Bard. And it is worth mentioning that I'm not one of those Bardolaters identified in Germaine Greer's book who thinks the world of the man, his works and everything about him. The writer needs to be human to write about humanity and fine writing, as I was told by a sixth form history teacher, isn't enough. Well, not unless you want to be a writer, I should have replied. And George Orwell says somewhere in his essays that writers are vain, selfish and lazy. Nobody is attributing the plays to Shakespeare because we like the bloke; we didn't know him. He would have had faults like anybody else. The writing is no better or worse whoever wrote it. It just happens to be tremendous writing and it looks as if he wrote it.

But Italy, for instance. Shakespeare almost certainly never went abroad. But how detailed did his knowledge of Italy need to be to write the plays set in Italy. I reckon I could write a story set in New York if I felt inclined to and I've never been there and am not going to go. Italy was as fashionable 400 years ago as the centre of the Renaissance as America was in the C20th and audiences were interested in the glamour they attributed to it. It is not so surprising that Shakespeare set so many plays there or that he could imagine a balcony in Verona where he might set a courtship scene. And if the author of the plays was so well travelled, why didn't he know that Bohemia didn't have a coastline, in A Winter's Tale.
It is pointed out that there was little interest in Shakespeare biography until the C18th, as if to suggest what, exactly. There wasn't much interest in literary biography at all. There wasn't anything like the industry in it that there is now with so many Universities housing academics needing to find a subject to publish new work on to further their careers; to challenge established orthodoxies and make the lives of authors their subject rather than the work. And, by the by, Shakespeare's plays were going out of fashion before he died as a new, more cynical theatre evolved through Ben Jonson, until the theatres were eventually closed by Puritanism and Restoration theatre was an altogether different thing. And so there is every reason why Shakespeare was of increasingly less interest for a long time after 1616 and there is a parallel in music in the way that J.S. Bach, apparently less renowned than Telemann in his lifetime, needed to be rediscovered by Mendelssohn before he could occupy a similar position in music to that held by Shakespeare in literature. But, by 1759, interest in Shakespeare, presumably on account of the belief that he had written the plays and poems, was such that New Place was demolished by the Rev. Frances Gastrell, its last incumbent, because he was so irritated by tousists coming to look at his house, which had been Shakespeare's.
The regularly raised objection to the Stratford actor that he was a provincial, uneducated non-aristocrat is often dismissed as snobbery so it's very enterprising of Rubinstein to try to turn that argument the other way round. But not going to University doesn't prevent anybody talented enough from achieving success; by no means all aristocrats are intellectual giants; someone with sufficient acumen will provide for themselves in reading and finding out about those things they are interested in but by far the most depressing thing about the discounting of a so-called provincial hick is that it underestimates genius, which can occur anywhere and at anytime. It is astonishing to know people of genuine talent and outstanding intelligence, to see how quickly they learn, understand and assimilate subjects or creative ideas that stretch someone of my respectable but more limited means or prove to be completely beyond me. And I've not necessarily met a Shakespeare, Bach, Michelangelo or David Bowie.
That the actor, theatre share-holder and businessman, Shakespeare, would have been too busy to write two plays a year up to the seminal masterpiece, Hamlet, and one a year afterwards is less convincing if one considers the acting career was not on the same scale as Burbage but thought to be in smaller parts and probably ended soon after or with the part of the ghost in Hamlet, if that anecdote is to be believed but, again, such doubts are betting without giving genius its due.
That there were were no books mentioned in Shakespeare's will is also held against him as if it were proof that he couldn't have been a literary man. But it is more likely that whatever books there were would have been a part of a general dispersal of minor items not specifically left to anyone and no mention at all of books is more convincing than if the will had specificied a few religious treatises or textbooks on orchard husbandry rather than a complete set of Ovid. I have well over a thousand books in my house, maybe two thousand, I don't know, and that includes a complete set of beautifully old-fashioned, red Loeb editions of Ovid but my will will not make any mention of books.
And, finally, which is approximately sixthly in this list, why would any other author want to hide behind the name of a frontman, especially if one could have had the credit for the unparalleled body of work that has passed so thoroughly into the language. The history plays are Tudor propaganda, not dissident work likely to make their author a target for government henchmen and, as James Shapiro points out in 1606, The Year of Lear, as soon as James becomes monarch and the unity of England and Scotland is a big issue, the plays suddenly shift from an emphasis on England to Britain. It seems an elaborate disgiuse that requires much more explanation from the conspiracy theorists than has been provided so far.
But people are always going to believe what they want to believe, sometimes not only in spite of reasonable assessments of the evidence but from a contrarian attitude. Among them, quite famously, are Derek Jacobi and then Mark Rylance. It's not for me to become so partisan as to point out that Jacobi's sitcom with Ian McKellen, Vicious, was an appalling travesty of camp that didn't even look as if they done it ironically or that Rylance's three-handed Tempest as his farewell to The Globe simply didn't work and that staring out of windows mournfully with those eyes in Wolf Hall doesn't make you as good an actor as Lawrence Olivier or, for that matter, the much more moving Ben Wishaw in Richard II. Because those wouldn't be points relevant to the issue.

But what I am grateful to the Rubinstein book for is the drawing by William Dugdale, from 1653, of the Shakespeare monument up on the wall to the left of the graves of the family in Holy Trinity Church. This is not the current kitsch bust of a writer holding a quill pen, who does look like a self-satisfied pork butcher and has been previously, in places, assumed to be a likeness of the writer because his wife, Anne, must have seen it. But this is a man with his hand on a sack, perhaps of wool, with no writing implements in sight. Obviously a successful businessman, and local, you would have thought. So why have we now got an awful pastiche of a poet, one has to ask. And when did it replace this bust of someone esle.
One would like to think that the drawing is of an original monument to John Shakespeare, the father, who recent research has suggested did not suffer a downturn in his business affairs but was an early exponent of tax avoidance and made a fortune in wool that he took care to hide from the tax gatherers of the day.
It's probably that, then, and still no reason to think that William Shakespeare of Stratford didn't write the plays. Perhaps it was decided to change the monument into one of William by some local fan or entrepreneur wanting a further tourist attraction. It is to be regretted they didn't employ a better scupltor. But there's plenty of opportunity for further speculation there and everywhere.


Friday, 5 February 2016

All's Well That's Bellshill

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a betting account is much better when one is taking money out of it than putting it in.
I didn't carry very much forward from 2015, having transferred enough into the bank to make last year officially my most successful year ever. It matters little that all of that has gone because this steadfast refusal to move money into their bank from mine probably saved me from setbacks that would have come about last weekend. As World Capitalism teeters on the brink of disaster, which is what capitalism tends to enjoy doing, I am very aware that my every transaction and, even more so, any turf advice I post here, is the flutter of a butterfly's wing on one side of the planet that could set off an avalanche on the other.
But even if I have made a policy decision to not get involved in further investment until The Libertines win the NME poll and I thus collect, or I transfer in the stake money for Cheltenham in March, I only have to look at tomorrow's racing to waver, consider and eventually break under the pressure.
I have already plotted the attack on Cheltenham 2016, due to appear here later this month, and am sure it is a gilt-edged plan, but I can't look at tomorrow's racing and not get involved.
I won't be touching Peace & Co with a bargepole at that price and Pont Alexandre will have to wait and see; I can't imagine choosing between Tea for Two and Bristol de Mai; I lke Katkeau but have a history of getting that one wrong. I can find plenty of reasons to just watch races tomorrow but I can't let Bellshill go unbacked at 5/4 at Leopardstown. I'd prefer to back it and lose than not back it and watch it win.
So that is a tip in itself, that I'll break all the fragile rules I set for myself to back this one.
And by five past two, we will know if this was a brilliant piece of judgement by one who seriously knows what he's doing or, otherwise, proof if proof were needed that actually I'm no more than a compulsive gambler who simply can't face Saturday without having a few quid. Because once it's won, of course, I can have a guess at some of the other races, like a kid in a sweet shop.

Oh Babe, What Would You Say

The Jane Austen Crisis has been averted. I know she is an exquisite stylist and much-loved but going back to the etiquette of Regency England after last weekend's encounter with Shostakovich would have seemed a bit lukewarm. With another weekend looming, I went into Cosham where there is a second hand bookshop and a number of charity shops in search of something that might bring itself to my attention. You can never tell with such speculative trips. Sometimes you will find an absolute bargain but otherwise the cupboard can be bare and the longer you look the less interesting the stock appears to be. But today was a lucky day and bang, bang, bang, I picked up three books in five minutes for less than six quid, the parsimoniousness always adding to the frisson of such success.
First up was the Penguin Classics Five Plays by Thomas Middleton, widely acknowledged now as a collaborator on Timon of Athens. Already, just looking at the dramatis personae of A Trick to Catch the Old One, a lazy suspicion of mine has been amended.
I had assumed that the cipher characters, Poet and Painter, in Timon were the work of Middleton because Shakespeare never misses an opportunity to give even the most minor charcater a memorable name. And I'd even include Apothecary in Romeo and Juliet in that. Surely Shakespeare would have found names for the poet and painter. But Middleton here has Theodorus Witgood, Pecunious Lucre, Lamprey, Spitchcock, Gulf, Kix and Walkadine Hoard so he was clearly well ahead of the game in that department. And characters with some of those names, as well as Moneylove, provide an obvious link to the themes of Timon, too. So the Middleton plays will look lovely on the shelf until it's time to read some of them. I've probably read a couple already so I can start elsewhere among these new acquisitions.
And that will be with William D. Rubinstein's Who Wrote Shakespeare's Plays? (2013), bought mainly for how recent it is because it presumably contains further thoughts, or is merely a condensed version of Rubinstein's The Truth Will Out, the portentously titled, much bigger book he co-authored with Brenda James, which announced the arrival of a new candidate for the authorship in Sir Henry Neville, in 2005. And so I don't know how objective this assessment will be, especially since the order the candidates that are considered goes - Shakespeare, Oxford, Bacon, Marlowe, Countess of Pembroke, Earl of Derby, Earl of Rutland, and finally, Sir Henry Neville. As if arriving at the right answer having dismissed the rest. We will see quite how even-handed this account is. It's not as if I haven't got any other books on the subject but I hope that, as a contribution to the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death this year, I might present here the case for the defence- no, not the defence, the establishment of Shakespeare as author. I know it's been done before and I know it won't put an end to the ongoing controversy but I'd like to bring some modicum of sense to it as my input to at least suggest that once some people become addicted to a theory, no amount of reason can prevent them from getting lost in fantasy.
My third purchase was Anthony Trollope's The Warden, which easily sold itself to me by being advertised as being about 'an unworldly, cello-playing clergyman' engulfed by ecclesiastical and political skullduggery. If only all novels were about unworldly, cello-playing clergymen. But if Jane doesn't seem quite relevant at present, Trollope, in my experience, usually does. It has an introduction by Joanna Trollope, who I find is from the same family but not a direct descendant.
Look how much just buying these three books has generated already. Reading them can only provide more.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Oh Babe, What Would You Say

No, no, please. I don't have to go back to reading Jane Austen, do I. I was a hundred pages into Mansfield Park, just filling in time until the Juilian Barnes book arrived, but then that only lasted 24 hours and so now I backed faced with the prospect of returning to it.
I don't mean it's bad but the point of it is somewhat lost on me. I remember circa 1979 making Vanity Fair the worst novel I'd read and I don't doubt that Thackeray and Jane Austen are very good at what they do, I just don't want them to do it to me.
So I was looking through Amazon for ideas on where to go next, maybe David Mitchell's Slade House, and saw some of the reviews of other Barnes books. Someone said his style was 'preening', self-regardingly clever and that was a fault, of Flaubert's Parrot in particular.Which just goes to show that you can't please everyone so you might as well please yourself. There are those that genuinely don't like Shakespeare, possibly even some not impressed by the Beatles and I've heard objections to Mozart and Sibelius. So it's not impossible that there are some who don't like Beethoven or Bach and if giants from history like those can't be universal paragons of artistic achievement then nobody else is going to manage it now.
But it could be a genuinely interesting year in politics.
I tried to estimate the odds for the next President of the United States and at least got the favourite right, only slightly overestimating her price, thus underestimating her chances.
Paddy goes 10/11 Hilary Clinton, 2/1 Marco Rubio, 7/1 Sanders, 15/2 Trump, 12/1 Cruz, which is about as reassuring as one could hope.
For all the bluster and apparently unstoppable momentum of Donald Trump, you can now get 15/2 after his defeat in Iowa. He turns up in an aeroplane with his name on the side like Led Zeppelin used to do. But even they weren't quite as bombastic.
Perhaps we should be more concerned with Europe than America. I've always been very pro-European and it doesn't take much of a look at the cast of anti-Europeans to know that I'm In. Nigel Farage, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the usual suspects from the right but no longer the left, it would appear. Whereas Tony Benn and other assorted left were predominantly anti-Common Market, as it was then, we now have the Green Party, the SNP and Jeremy Corbyn lined up in favour.
But what does Boris think. Is it really true, as suggested by a BBC journalist this week, that he is still deciding on his position because it needs calculating to have the best chance of enhancing his leadership prospects. Can such a fundamental part of a politician's policies, manifesto and 'beliefs' really be quite so malleable as to depend on how it might affect their career prospects.
Well, sadly, it does and they will say and do almost anything if they think it will help to realize their ambitions.
In the 1990's (probably), roughly around the time that the Conservative party had a group photo taken of themselves with their ties taken off, to make them look casual (but only made it look as if they'd all just taken their ties off), I remember Michael Portillo explaining to conference that they needed to make it look as if they cared about the disadvantaged because otherwise the disadvantaged wouldn't vote for them. Not because they cared but because they needed the votes. It was very honest of him to admit it but it didn't sound quite how he meant it to once you'd heard what he said.
I sometimes enjoy making up those amusing book titles that used to be in comics, like What the Moon Does by Wayne Waxenrise, Is Your Pet a Dog by Noah Catt, Three Types of Soil by Pete Lomanclay, Two and Two Make Five  by Stu Pidboy or It's Raining Again by Thor Titwood.
I could go on like this for hours. But now there's I Don't Care About Anything Apart from My Career by Polly Titian.
It is remarkable that David Cameron might be able to pass himself off as a great European in the tradition of Ted Heath and Jeremy Thorpe but he might.
And finally, Portsmouth's thriving and lively poetry community looks like continuing in fine form in 2016 with a number of events planned that should make it another good year.
Some of the following things are more established than others but all of them are more than rumours.
Pauline Hawkesworth and Denise Bennett have new pamphlets due out, published by Indigo Dreams as a result of success in their competition, and likely to be launched with readings, Pauline's probably in Hilsea with readings by members of Portsmouth Poetry Society. The South Downs Poetry Festival in July will be this year's event under the auspices of the Havant Literary Festival. And the Autumn edition of the magazine South may or may not be edited/selected and thus the launch reading held, in Portsmouth, which would most likely be in October but I couldn't possibly say.
It's odds against all those events happening without me showing up to read a poem or two at at least one of them. Whether or not I'll set a new personal best of reading poems in public more than twice in a calendar year remains to be seen.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Julian Barnes - The Noise of Time

Julian Barnes, The Noise of Time (Jonathan Cape)

Not quite fiction because some of it is true but not really biography because not all of it is, my main concern with a novel like this is about suspension of disbelief, or belief, as the case may be, and how much to believe or not believe. The credit at the end, citing Elizabeth Wilson's biography of Shostakovich, was a worry and in places we are told things that read as if they could have been lifted directly from a factual account. But one person's facts are not always like another person's version and many reports of history are falsified, mistaken or otherwise misreported so objective truths are a fugitive thing and, all that aside, it was not long before this compelling short novel had made such issues seem trivial.
Those of us who misspent our youth reading Solzhenitsyn are back on familiar territory in Stalin's Soviet Union, not only the sinister atmosphere and paranoia but also in the name and patronymic way that people are addressed and that candle of humanity blown about by the winds of totalitarianism. While Stravinsky and Prokofiev were driving flash cars and living celebrity lives in the USA, Shostakovich stayed in Russia,
He declined to imagine any alternative.
It was surely the braver thing to do, an act of some self-sacrifice, but time and again Shostakovich is seen as cowardly. Even his naming as Dmitri Dmitrievich was going to be Yaroslav Dmitrievich until his mother and father were talked out of it by a bullying priest. Early on,
               he knew he was a shy and anxious person. And with women, when he lost his shyness, he veered between absurd enthusiasm and lurching despair.
The novel begins with him waiting by the lift door in his apartment block, expecting to be arrested, so that his family aren't traumatized by witnessing him being taken away never to be seen again, but it never happens. From there, his life thus far is seen in the flashback of his contemplating and then onwards into subsequent events. But in Julian Barnes' text, it is not narrative but an essay, a commentary not entirely from the composer's point of view.
Of the many themes brought together, the main one is about orthodoxy, the clash between the expectations of the state for their composers to produce music undemanding enough to be for all the people and the art of the individual who was the greatest composer of his generation in that country, and by now, possibly the greatest of the century from any country. The Soviets, and Stalin in particular, regarded contemporary music as formalist and decadent and so the composer has to tread this fine line between integrity and 'poltical correctness'.
Visiting America and seeing the 'free, capitalist' West, he has precious little relief in such iconic artists and thinkers as Picasso or Sartre,
How easy it was to be a Communist when you weren't living under Communism!

and he is regaled by journalists with such questions as whether he prefers blondes or brunettes. But he retains his respect for Stravinsky's music.
One of the cases in point in Shostakovich's early compositions was the opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtensk, which offended the Soviets the most and the ban on performances of it put a premature end for him to a whole genre in which he would have produced much more. But if the death of Stalin resulted in some thaw in ideology and a reduction in massacre on an industrial scale, the insinuating of the composer into the post of Chairman of the Union of Soviet Composers and, as a corollary, becoming a party member under Khrushchev, who knew 'as much about music as a pig knows about oranges', in some ways becomes more of an ordeal than what he was going through before. He signs articles purporting to be written by him without even reading them because to check and make any alterations would be to give them some validity.
Barnes makes the story an uneasy reminder to those of us lucky enough to be as free as we are, and still complaining, that precious few have ever been so and that our blase reliance on such glib strategies as irony are too comfortable and easy. In two brilliant pages on irony, when even Rostropovich misses the point in the Cello Concerto, it proves to be a potentially self indulgent and insufficient.
Even Shakespeare is a little naive because his tyrants 'had doubts, bad dreams, pangs of conscience, guilt',
But in real life, under real terror, what guilty conscience?

And so, on those terms, why would we respect such a knowing, literary composition as The Noise of Time compared to the work of Shostakovich, Akhmatova, Yevtushenko, Solzhenitsyn and Pasternak. Although it's not our fault we are so blessed that we never had to go through what they suffered and it is not our fault that our music and writing wasn't put under such duress in the crucible of such a regime.  
But, not even that, ultimately. The best art defines itself and an explication of a work's title can often be a way into interpretation of what it is 'about'.
Art, it says, is the whisper of history above the noise of time. Which is good, but not quite as good as the conclusion of the passage it occurs in, that says,
And he knew, therefore, that all definitions of art are circular, and all untrue defintions of art ascribe to it a specific function.
The Noise of Time is a consummate masterpiece, read as the most pressing priority inside 24 hours that also included the usual weekend routine and Julian Barnes on this form is a consummate master. One wants such a book to continue for as long as it can while at the same time needing to finish it, note it, appreciate and admire it. Two contradictory impulses are in play together until the next conflict arises in which you either want to read it again or lend it to somebody else and insist they read it.
I never thought that my initial reservations would be dispelled quite so convincingly.