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.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

The Winter Game

This poem might set a new personal best for the longest it has taken to write one. I had the idea 10, 15, maybe more years ago but never quite saw beyond a mere description. But now we have it. It's not for me to say whether it was worth the wait.

The Winter Game

All the time the prospect of loss dances
about them as if risk were delicious,
as if to tempt the devil from his rest

and invite him down to the track to see
them clatter through the tops of husbandry,
exhaling fire on the coldest of days,

their riders perched like natterjacks waiting
to spring until push comes to shove, your score
precarious upon them, too. The last,

you need to hold your breath. You’ve seen it all
before- the fall, the bad mistake, the time
yours loomed up, confident, you counting cash

in your head before the one in front out-
jumped him and left you with just the ticket.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

SDPF Desert Island Poems

There doesn't seem to be much going on in the literary world today. No seminal letters in the TLS co-authored by me that rewrite Shakespeare biography, no, nothing like that.
So, I thought I'd mention the forthcoming South Downs Poetry Festival and the 'Desert Island Poems' event in Petersfield on July 23rd. I might get along to that to listen to some good people interview some other good people on the subject. Three poems, a luxury and a record when they already have the Complete Beethoven and Bob Dylan.
Not having been selected for interview, not surprisingly for any number of reasons, I thought I'd interview myself on the subject.
Three poems- two of which will come as no surprise-
Thom Gunn's My Sad Captains, an all-time favourite, atmospheric, precise and measured.
Philip Larkin's At Grass, one of his major masterpieces but the one about horse racing and, perhaps 'existentialism', whatever that might be.
And then Julia Copus' Stars Moving Westwards in a Winter Garden, which I read at Poetry Club a little while ago on an evening of 'favourite poems'. Denise had said she liked poems that made her cry. I immediately thought, oh, no, not me, that's not the point of it at all. But then when just over halfway through reading Julia's poem, I had to stop and collect myself because that was exactly what was threatening to happen. So maybe it's not just about putting words together, then. Maybe it can have a real emotional impact. Who would have thought that.
My luxury would be the internet if it were allowed on the island and e-mail was disabled so I couldn't write to anybody to come and save me. Not that I can think of anybody who would. But if not that, then a painting and thus Vermeer's A Street in Delft. It's been on my wall for so long now, in a cheap print, that I'd be lost without it and it would be nice to have the real thing on my island.
The music is a harder choice and the shortlist would extend to several hundred titles. To get value for money, the set of Buxtehude's Opera Omnia by Ton Koopman would be a great idea and being stranded on a desert island would be an easier way to get it than trying to win the price of it on horse races. Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610 is one piece that would provide plenty of music and never run out, as would The Well-Tempered Klavier by that lad from Leipzig.
I'm not going to pretend to be exclusively highbrow just because the TLS will no longer seem worth reading unless I'm in it just because I personally have been instrumental in raising the bar for them, so The Magnetic Fields 69 Love Songs; I Want You Back, I'm Still Waiting, Walk Away Renee, The Tracks of My Tears, Just My Imagination - any of those Motown classics would be fine. Or just The Liquidator, or, quite appropriately, Tired of Being Alone, although I might not be.
But they'll want one piece, won't they, and forever is quite a long time. It's going to be Spem in Alium, isn't it.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Poetry Prospects 2016

It's nearly May and there is still nothing of my shortlists for Best Poem and Best Collection of the year. I have addressed this crisis by specifically seeking out what new titles have appeared. It's not as if I'm going to be short of poems to read, having agreed to select poems for a magazine in the summer. Neither is one short of options these days in a market where more poets want to see themselves in print than read the work of others. There could be any number of masterpieces hidden among the lists but how does one know which ones they are.
So, one has to stick with what one knows in the absence of solid recommendations. And that means the admirable Ian Duhig and then the second book by Judy Brown, whose first was enough to make the second something to look forward to.
I have often thought about posting a pastiche review of an imaginary book by a fictitous poet but then realize that I'm better than that and don't need to do it anyway. The sort of review I wanted to lampoon is in plentiful supply in magazines and on the internet. Judy's first book, Loudness, was praised thus,

Her poems wrestle at the interface between self and other and from the heat of that fight she forges startlingly original imagery .

It is that style of virtually meaningless reviewing that gets poets a reputation for preciousness and self-indulgence and one suspects the reviewer is competing for attention with the poetry itself. I am saddened that the reviewer in this particular case is a poet that I have long admired. I promise that I will try to avoid such pitfalls when I offer any thoughts on the new book soon.

So that's Cue Card beaten at Punchestown and the healthy wad of cash I brought back from Cheltenham is thus diminished. The Punchestown festival is proving to be one step beyond for some red-hot favourites but I thought that after Yorkhill and Vautour had got beaten, at least one would oblige. I swerved the first two but then still got clobbered. It's like walking down the street, noticing an open manhole cover, avoiding the Motability chair doing 15 mph towards you, thinking, no, nothing's going to catch me out and then walking into a lamp post.
So the Buxtehude Opera Omnia still can't be ordered yet. In the end, I'm just going to think, sod it, I deserve it, I'm having it.
But Ding might help. At first he was touted as a future World Champion, of the Snooker, but this year had to qualify, having not quite delivered on his early promise. I know the wily John Higgins is still in there but, with the carnage in the first two rounds leaving most of the bigger names on the bus home, it's shaping up into a Ding-Selby final and there's been a lot to like about the implacable Chinese. I'm doing the wrong thing in immediately chasing after lost money, it says not to do that in my book, but sometimes it turns out one should have done the wrong thing.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Oh, Babe, What Would You Say

Sometimes it can take a long time for something that might have been obvious to be made clear. In the piece on Lindsay Kemp in yesterday's Observer, we learn that Bowie's Jean Genie was 'inspired by' Jean Genet. Oh, I see. Forty-odd years later.
One day, later this year, we will give Shakespeare a rest but I'm afraid that will not be just yet.
Among the various offerings I saw or heard over the weekend, the outstanding piece was Radio 3's Sunday Feature- First Folio Road Trip which tracked down a few copies of the first folio and enquired into their histories.
BBC4's Arena, looking at Shakespeare on Film was a worthwhile collection of period pieces but in a way more to do with film than Shakespeare. In such films as Kurosawa's, that take the story of a Shakespeare play and do something radically different with it, Shakespeare is by-passed because it wasn't his story and it changes what he had done with it so, in a way, it might as well be a version of the story that he took as his source. But otherwise it showed how each period will make the plays in their own image, and how else would it be.
That is what Shakespeare Live! From the RSC did on Saturday night, turned it into a spin-off from the Strictly Come Dancing school of television, and so it was a surprise to find the sedate Countryfile do something more impressive which, since it is a programme about farming, had a bloke in a field holding up a copy of the drawing of the Shakespeare monument in Holy Trinity Church, done in 1653 by William Dugdale, which shows a man with a sack of wool, not a poet with a pen and paper. That one moment was more interesting than any amount of formulaic tributes by rappers, dancers, bite-sized scenes from the plays and standard-issue biography. And Judi Dench acted her socks off by pretending she didn't know much about acting companies on tour and being kind to John Craven.
Meanwhile, the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare's death is not the only such occasion of note. It is the 125th anniversary of Gloucester City Cycling Club and they are making something of it.
They have an exhibition forthcoming in what we used to know as the Folk Museum, in Westgate Street. And yesterday lunchtime, three stalwarts from the club appeared on Pete Wilson's Radio Gloucestershire lunchtime show to talk about the club and tell some good stories from the early days of bike riding, through the glory days when I was 13 in the early 1970's and rode a few time trials - I was surprised that Phil Griffiths' Commonwealth Games silver medal was considered more worthy of mention than those- to more recent highlights like the legendary Ann Wooldridge doing the Race Across America and the thriving club it continues to be, involved in all kinds of bike riding.
Perhaps Ted Tedaldi deserved a mention for his long service to the club, the tremendous triallist who was a childhood hero to me. I remember going round to his house with my mother to buy a club badge. The headmaster at school had said that badges could be worn if they were (something like) 'for a worthwhile cause', which we explained to Ted. He said, 'Well, if the headmaster says Gloucester City Cycling Club is not a worthwhile cause, send him to me'. Which would have made for an interesting debate, Jasper Stocks v. Ted Tedaldi.
But they were great days. Gerry McGarr, Alistair Goldie and Roy Hook did a fine job representing the club but one story told out of school deserves another.
Was it Roy that said that when Phil Griffiths first turned up he was overweight and was called 'Billy Bunter'? But forgot to say that, in turn, he was called Parsley because he looked like the lion from The Herbs.
Luckily, I was too young and insignificant to be given a nickname then. I've been called a few things since, though.  

Friday, 22 April 2016

Shakespeare in Italy

The question of Shakespeare in Italy has arisen twice in the last few days. Firstly, it was asked why so many of the plays are set in Italy and then said that he had spent some time there, the one ostensibly being used as evidence for the other.
Italy was where the Renaissance began, and flourished. It was a while before Britain followed. Thus, in the same way that we admired America in the C20th as somewhere more glamorous and somewhere that many imagined they'd rather be, so Italy was 400 years ago. Shakespeare is not the only dramatist of the period to set plays there; many others did, too, but that does not lead us to assume that Venice, Verona or anywhere else on the peninsula was chock full of English writers all finding inspiration to bring back fashionable stories to put on the London stage. They could find such tales in books.
Arthur C. Clarke, amongst others, wrote books about space travel, as was the fashion in his day, but if future generations extrapolate from that evidence that he went there, they will be in error, having used a flawed method of arriving at a conclusion from their premise.
No, Shakespeare didn't go to Bohemia before writing The Winter's Tale, Denmark before Hamlet or Vienna before Measure for Measure. Yes, there are the 'lost years', immediately before 1592 but if Robert Greene saw fit to attack him as an 'upstart crow', he didn't do it the day Shakespeare arrived in London. Even Shakespeare needed some time to have made a name for himself to generate such anomosity.
And it is a tribute to the determination of some of those who will go to any lengths to dispute the authorship that they can make themselves believe that Marlowe wasn't murdered in 1593 but it was another body that was found while Kit was secreted off to Italy to write the plays. Why would he have written two versions of each early play, like Edward II and Richard II.
No. As much as we can be sure of anything- and it would be preferable to accept some copper-bottomed racing certainties rather than entertain wilder and flimsier fantasies- Shakespeare never left England. If there are people on the loose, allowed to deliver lectures that say he went to Italy they must be made to give their reasons.
Because some of the plays are set in Italy.
Is that it?
Can I have my money back, then.  


I know I'm a day late but he is worthy of the rare accolade of marking his passing here.

The 1980's was not a great period for pop music and I mainly now remember it as being the Jesus & Mary Chain, a big pile of reggae LP's, and Prince.
He belongs among the highest strata of pop genius.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Shakespeare's Sonnets at PPS and other stories

Anyone in the Portsmouth area with an interest or the inclination will be welcome tomorrow evening (20th) for an evening devoted to Shakespeare's sonnets. It is a friendly, informal group without agendas and everyone has the opportunity to read something relevant (usually a poem) which can then be talked about. St. Mark's Church, Derby Road, North End, kick off 7.30 and we will be away at 9.30. My own contribution, being a self-appinted authority on the subject of Shakespeare's life, will be the piece on the dedication in the 1609 edition, that appears here a few weeks ago.
Meanwhile, the short list for Best Novel of 2016 has got off to a much better start than its Poetry Collection equivalent. I am waiting for All That Man Is by David Szalay, to put alongside the Graham Swift and Julian Barnes that have already impressed and I'm aware that Ian McEwan and Sean O'Brien, to name but two, are due later in the year.
Before ordering the new Szalay, I tried Spring, published in 2011, not least because it has horse racing in it. It proved to be a good choice, very convincing not only in the horse racing parts but in the dysfunctional relationships, the theme of money and its fine writing, which occasionally threw up words that might have been trying too hard but it did plenty to make the new book one to look forward to. There was much to admire, like on a trip to the zoo,
Even the energeticaly pointed-out okapi - a strangely neglected creature, it looked like a misunderstanding in a medieval manuscript...
so don't talk to me about poetry being better and novels are 'prosaic'. Good novels do all that poems do, and more, whereas many poems do nothing like as much as a good novel. But I found myself thinking of the old point about how nobody ever does mundane things in films or books. In a lot of novels there is more sex than usually happens (or am I missing out), for example, presumably because it's interesting or significant. It certainly is in Spring, but it occured to me that not many people in books read books very often which might be odd because they're written by people who must have read a few. I know Jane Eyre reads a book but then she would but most books are not about people reading books.
I pursued further music by Errollyn Wallen by buying the album, Errollyn. The opening track, Daedalus, brought to mind Kate Bush- it is an album of piano-based songs- but didn't always live up to its early promise, being a mixture of jazzy, dreamy but sometimes less than compelling pieces.
It might be best to see what more orchestral music there is from her wide-ranging output but I don't know how much more is readily available on CD.
And, if anybody can explain ITV's Marcella to me, please write. Or, of course, don't. I realize that it's not Z Cars anymore and that darkness fills our lives with ever-deepening noir. I was lured in by the wonderful Anna Friel, almost like a victim in such a story of bleak obsession, and now I find I can't get out. It is an example, and I'm not sure it's a good one, of how future generations will look back on our television and wonder if life was really like that for us all. They might wonder why we relished so much bad. Or, by then, life might be like that for everyone and they'll find it quite ordinary. 

Friday, 15 April 2016

Hooray ! Hooray ! It's a Holi- Holiday

I understand that it is customary for some people to travel to far off countries by aeroplane for holidays and while there undertake such activities as dancing, sight-seeing, scuba diving or transient relationships. I have for some time been in agreement with Philip Larkin's remark that he wouldn't mind going to China if he could come back the same day. But since I can have the sort of varied and hugely enjoyable few days as I had in Swindon, Oxford and Cheltenham, I have no need of further afield. Only a train ride away, I benefitted from a programme of unremitting excellence.
On Saturday I didn't even have to miss the Grand National on my way to Jesus College, Oxford because the train arrived in time for me to find a bookmaker's before proceeding to Daisy Dunn's talk on Catullus. I have reviewed Daisy's recent books here most favourably, as is proper, and was able to include her appearance at the Oxford Literary Festival in my itinerary. It might have been a minor disappointment not to find the event by sauntering through an historic quadrangle to a venerable hall- it was through an entrance between two shops and turn right, as indeed Boris Johnson might, into a modern place with flipcharts and other C21st facilities- but that doesn't matter. Daisy's obviously accustomed to these promotional appearances now and she does it all very well, even being polite enough not to have me thrown out for maybe not looking quite the debonair academic but something obviously disreputable that is trying to get away with it.
One disadvantage of having a book published is having to promote it because I gather that publishers like to know that the author will do such things to shift a few copies. I wouldn't want anybody to think I am self-published because I can't find anybody to do it for me. Oh, no, it's easier for me to do it myself and give them away. Only the most commercial of writers would write if only for money.
The questions I had for Daisy were answered completely to my satisfaction. Is that picture on the back of Catullus' Bedspread really him? Well, at least she was honest. Top marks to the lady. I don't suppose the translation of Ovid I gave her to look at will be forwarded to her agent with a note recommending that I be offered a lucrative advance to do more.
One changes trains at Didcot to get from Swindon to Oxford and back, right by the power station where the explosion was. At 7.45, on the way back, with the sun setting behind the mangled wreck of metal and concrete, it made for a sinister post-apocalyptic tableau that didn't seem right to be taking pictures of and the camera I have isn't good enough at that distance anyway.
A new event in our family sport of Bag Boggling, The Spring Open, was held on Sunday at a new venue, Market Lavington, where my neice hosted this special, early season warm up in a year that will see the Olympic title played for again in August.
Warm up might have been the best words for it as, like other summer sports such as cricket and cycling, an April date doesn't always bring with it summer conditions. On a soft pitch, with a wind to bring into calculations when assessing one's optimum throw, it gave the players more to think about and more than one fell over, for different reasons. But it is a picturesque venue with potential to host further tournaments as the sport grows and extends its franchise.
The handicap event finally proved the worth of the handicapping system and provided a new final, my sister Pam v. my father, the inventor of the sport (in Nottingham, late 1970's) and it went to Pam in a close match which is what the handicapper wants to see.
The Open itself served its purpose by giving the recently deposed World Champions, my nephew, Chris, and myself, a chance to chip away at the confidence of Ollie who took it last year in the best game ever played in the history of the sport. And that is what we did. It might be said that Ollie had more on his mind, renovating a whole house, than concentrating on his boggling but world titles are not easily come by and even less easily retained and so not even such an important diversion can be allowed to distract a top player. I knocked him out in the semi-final and then Chris came back from 2-0 down to become the first winner of the Spring Open (10-8, I think it was) and is installed as outright favourite for World and Olympic glory in August. But everyone played well and the old game has never been better. Thanks to Laura for pictures...
One of the fallers was me, overcome by the celebrations and biggest ovation of the afternoon when Ron took an early lead against my dad with a spectacular, and very unexpected, 2 point hit. His interests, and talents, are more practical and tool-based than my own and if he is the perennial outsider in any boggling event, he is the consummate groundsman and prepared a superb playing surface last year. But I came away reflecting on the difference between those who can, will and even enjoy renovating a house and those, like me, who are horrified by the idea. There were all kinds of activity going on there- in the garden; stripping paint off one room or removing fireplaces in another and I realized that none of them had given any thought to poetry, books, Catullus, which novel to read next and how the world is so very different for all of us. But, gladly, Ollie has more of a soul than I am giving him credit for and, with two adjacent rooms that have their ceilings removed, has invented Demolition Tennis, a very difficult sport in which you throw the ball over the wall from one room to the next and the other player either catches it or, generally, doesn't.
Tremendous. I can't see how you could refurbish a house without getting some poems or a whole new sport out of it.
And then, Wednesday. It has been said that Heaven is a Place on Earth, not originally by Belinda Carlisle but she made a reasonable job of saying so. She must have been to Cheltenham races on a bright, Spring day- the nice, quieter meeting in April, not the madding crowd of the festival- and backed almost nothing but winners. There is nothing I'd rather do. I only took photos of the horses I was backing and came back with pictures of nearly all winners.
I know the racecourse can be a lonely and desolate place when it all goes wrong but it helps if you do your homework. Ruination is only a few weeks away for the obsessive but, if it doesn't matter and you can stand a loss if and when it happens, it is a great feeling to have when you think you've unravelled the mystery of this esoteric sport and find that, actually, the bookmakers have paid for the whole holiday.
I could expand upon minute detail of each and every race but will save you that and explain that the best moment, by far, was when the screens had been put round a faller at the last (when one fears the worst), who was beaten anyway, but then the screens were removed and the horse was led away, no more than winded, to a gentle round of applause. One of those moments, and I do have them from time to time, when one embarks upon a sentence but finds one can't finish it. Not for the want of words (oh, no, not me) but because your voice fails you.
Otherwise, hats off to Richard Johnson, two winners and champion jockey de facto to add to all those titles he won betting without A.P. I don't call him Dickie because he's very reliable. Here he is returning on Fox Norton from the novice chase that made me richer than I imagined it had until I got home, looked at the account and saw how all those fiddly, little combination bets can multiply up once you have 4 winners lined up in a row.
I'll stick at it, then. I've promised myself that when the year's profit gets high enough and I can see Ton Koopman's  Buxtehude Opera Omnia, 30 discs of it, at a price that coincides with the ostensible surplus cash, that's what I'm having because that's what I want and I'll deserve it. The defintion of luxury would need to include ownership of such a thing and having the time to review it. And I could do that without going anywhere.


Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Shakespeare's Bastard

Simon Andrew Stirling, Shakespeare's Bastard, the Life of Sir William Davenant (The History Press)

L.C. Knights' essay How Many Children Had Lady Macbeth? argued that the play didn't mention any children but neither did it say she had none. It's not in the text and so the question should be not put. It is, however, perfectly legitimate to ask how many children had William Shakespeare, not only because it is of biographical interest but it could be any number from one to five, so it makes for a good game, and who knows about any more than that. Simon Andrew Stirling gives an account of Davenant's life here, allowing us to decide if we want to count him among Shakespeare's offspring. He is a radical historian, keen to offer his own often unorthodox views but supports them with impressive close readings and research. He is not quite radical enough to avoid the general assumption that Hamnet and Judith Shakespeare were Shakespeare's children but he quotes Davenant as having said that the lost play, Cardenio, was written to provide for another illegitimate child. So, we don't question whether Susanna was Shakespeare's daughter but, after that, you can mix and match the twins, Davenant and the further rumoured illegitimate issue to reach your eventual estimate.
The weakness of Davenant's claim is that he appears to have started the rumour himself, elevating himself from godson to flesh and blood at some stage of his adult career. Some affectation was not beyond him if he thought it made him look better, like the way he restyled his name D'Avenant but, if he inherited the Shakespeare DNA, he similarly made his way to London at an early age in pursuit of fame and fortune, wrote poetry and plays, mixed with high society and, furthermore, actually gained a knighthood and was, not quite officially perhaps, Poet Laureate. Although his mother was known for her wit and charm, John Davenant, her husband, was described as a 'melancholy man' and was not.
I've wanted this story to be true for quite some time with no way of deciding whether to believe it or not. Stirling's book doesn't convince me completely but it doesn't put me off. However, although Davenant's life is worth a biography in itself, the question on which it is predicated is the very least of our concerns by the time we've finished. The book is made of four sections, going back from Davenant's last days to his birth. It is an odd and unsatisfactory feeling to be moving forwards towards events that have piled up behind you. But Stirling wants to save his best material to the end. The end is 1605, the year of the Gunpowder Plot, for example, and, by the time Stirling has taken us through all of his conclusions based on his reading of the Sonnets, the plays of that year and the political and religious zeitgeist of the time, we have much more to think about than Davenant's parentage.
Before that, we have seen Davenant's role in the Civil War, his position as the opposite of republican Milton, his life possibly saved by a casting vote when Parliament had to decide on which 'malignants' were to be executed, the reprieve possibly being due to Milton's influence. His work, such as Gondibert, was admired by such as Thomas Hobbes, Abraham Cowley and Henry Vaughan. He lost his nose through syphilis, and you can imagine how funny it was when contemporary wits remarked of the 'No' vote that put him on trial rather than execute him, 
some Gentlemen, out of pitty, were pleased to let him have the Noes of the House, because he had [no nose] of his own 
But however affable and popular, witty and charming he was, I can't help noticing that after he is released from the Tower in 1652, he is deeply in debt and his first wife has died, then in very short order he has married the wealthy Dame Anne Cademan, proceeds to spend all her money, persuuades her to sell her jewellery and by 1655, she is dead as well and Davenant gets leave to travel abroad and 'promptly married his third wife', the widowed Henrietta-Maria du Tremblay which 'went some way towards resolving Davenant's chaotic finances'.
So, we can assume he was quite capable of charming a rich widow with or without a nose. But it's a great shame that such an eventful life so vividly lived should be overshadowed by Stirling's propositions at the climax of the book.
I'm more than happy to buy the idea that Jeanette (or Jane, or Jennet) Davenant is the Dark Lady, loved by Shakespeare in 1593 when she then makes him jealous by also consorting with his friend, the Earl of Southampton. Later, in 1605,William Davenant is said to be the result of a re-kindled relationship and if, as Stirling says, Antony is 42 and the dark Cleopatra 38 in Antony and Cleopatra, written late in 1605, then, no, I don't believe in coincidences and those are the ages of Shakespeare and Jeanette then, too.
I'm delighted to find Willobie His Avisa, the poem from 1594, brought into use. It places the action of the Shakespeare-Jeannette-Southampton triangle very specifically near Bristol and if this is good, it's very, very good but I don't know if accepting that means that we have to attribute A Lover's Complaint to John Davies and admit it was not Shakespeare and thus the 1609 edition of the Sonnets was not seen through the presses by the poet. 
The last two lines of Sonnet 125, O thou my lovely Boy, are missing but that poem reads better addressed to a baby than to a boyfriend. And 126 goes straight on to consider the Dark Lady. I'm still with it.
The gap in between H and ALL in the dedication of the Sonnets, where all other words are separated only by a full stop, is a cipher that indicates that the words should not be separated and it says Mr. W. Hall, which was the name Shakespeare used on undercover work, that he was a Catholic insider involved in the Gunpowder Plot, which was only ever going to be used as an incitement to anti-Catholic feeling (and worked) but somewhere along the line of the argument, it's not that I can't quite follow it, it's only that somewhere in its thread, one assumption or deduction must be a step too far.
I'm not convinced that Shakespeare was forced from the London theatres by revelations made by the publication of the Sonnets, edited not by him but in a way to discredit him and I'm still less convinced that Ben Jonson murdered him. to 'shut him up'. 1616 was a bit late for that. Stirling has had to revise and moderate some of his more imaginative theories before now and it seems he had some investment in the result of the scrutiny of the skull in the Beoley ossuary, which he would have liked to have been Shakespeare's (which is apparently not in the grave at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford) but is now identified as that of a 70 year old woman.
So, what do you know, the small skull there doesn't mean Shakespeare was a small person, it means it belonged to a little, old lady.
It's been a while since I mentioned Thom Gunn here and so I'm glad to quote the early poem, Mirror for Poets,
It was a violent time. Wheels, racks and fires
In every writer's mouth, and not mere rant.
Certain shrewd herdsmen, between twisted wires
Of penalty folding the realm, were thanked
For organizing spies and secret police
By richness in the flock, which they could fleece.

That's only the first stanza, before Thom named Shakespeare, Jonson and Southampton in the second. How much did he know? Does the 'herdsmen' , and subsequently 'flock' meaning also congregation, refer to Jeanette's maiden name, Sheppard, whereby she was related to the C16th composer, which in turn suggests we shouldn't think of her as simply a pub landlady in Oxford city centre. Or do the 'wires' refer us to the dark lay's hair in Sonnet 130, My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun, or are they misunderstood communications.
One can do a great deal with close reading but I still remember discovering the real meaning of 'forensic' was not 'highly detailed' as in fingerprints but actually something that can be used as evidence, that will stand up in court. I realize Ben Jonson had form for dispatching a previous enemy into the next world but that wouldn't be admissable evidence in court either.
It's a compelling account and the fact it doesn't come from an established bastion of Shakespeare Studies does not count against it. But it's a stretch to accept it all because we've been asked to accept less lurid versions of the story before and many of those are unconvincing by now. I might say I enjoyed it this side accepting it but a good time was had by all. While making the Dark Lady much more readily identifiable, there are a few too many leaps of faith from what we have been led to assume to think that this replaces quite all the previous accounts. If Stirling still thinks that the twins, Hamnet and Judith, were genuinely Shakespeare's children then he remains locked into that same old glib story while being carried away by what are much more dubious imaginings.
But, hidden away in the title of the book, there is still the original question. Was Shakespeare Davenant's father. I am a betting man but I prefer to bet on things when I believe it's one thing or the other, not when I'm guessing. By now, if I had to make a decision, I'd go for No, partly because there is something a bit suspicious about books like this. And, if not, then the other illegitimate child was only invented by Davenant to bolster his own story.
How many children had William Shakespeare?


Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Shakespeare's Sonnets - the dedication

I've already had to revise this ahead of the Portsmouth Poetry Society meeting on the Sonnets (20th April). Tomorrow night, tune in if you dare, for an audacious attempt to review Shakespeare's Bastard, the Life of William Davenant by Simon Aandrew Stirling.

If the readers of Shakespeare’s sonnets knew what the dedication meant when they were published in 1609, they were better off than we are now. 400 years later it is one of the most mysterious as well as most debated of the several pieces of first hand documentary evidence that biographers have but, given the number of interpretations it is open to, it raises more questions than it answers.
For the most part, Mr. W.H. has been assumed to be either Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton or William Herbert, third Earl of Pembroke, who are both identified  by biographers as the ‘fair youth’ addressed in the poems. From their portraits, Southampton appears to be the fairer whereas Pembroke had more connection with the theatre but both would have been possible patrons of such work and ready recipients of the flattery of a poet, which in those days was embarrassingly overdone by today’s standards.
However, academics and researchers are ingenious in finding new angles and it has also been suggested that the typesetter left off an ‘S’, and Shakespeare himself is the dedicatee because it should have read ‘To Mr. W. SH.’ Typesetters and copyists are regularly charged with carelessness if it facilitates a new theory. One might have thought such an error would have been noticed during proof reading. More reasonably, though, it has been suggested that Mr. was an insufficiently respectful form of address for one of the nobility, and although it’s possible that both Southampton and Herbert are the fair youth at various times, it would have been a daring manoeuvre to tell both of them that they were the dedicatee, or perhaps that was left ambiguous.

However, we’ve hardly started yet. All the words in the dedication are divided by a full stop except H and ALL which has a space as well. This, it has been explained, was ‘a known cipher of the time (that) used full stops to indicate a space between words. Where an actual space occurred, the words on either side were meant to be joined together’. Furthermore, Will Hall was a name used by Shakespeare during undercover activity, like spying, and that Shakespeare didn’t oversee the publication of the first edition of the sonnets but they were put together to reveal him as a Catholic insider as well as adulterer, and from there the possibilities become more and more mind-boggling. 

T.T. is nearly always assumed to be Thomas Thorpe, the publisher, but even the evidence of those initials isn’t clear cut. Among an impressive number of insights in his Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Don Paterson points out that the dedication is in two halves and suggests that the first part is ‘by our ever living poet’ and the second part added by Thorpe.
It would be difficult for so few words to contain any more ambiguity than these. If a ‘begetter’ is one that causes something to come into being then it could mean the poet, addressed by the publisher, but it could also mean the one that inspired the poems. The use of initials rather than naming the dedicatee specifically is almost wilfully vague, especially if the initials are reversed. The adventurer has numerous possibilities, most obviously meaning a traveller but perhaps otherwise an adventurer into poetry or something else. And since the two earls are third earls and the first poems encourage the fair youth to marry and have children in order to preserve his beauty in the next generation (which the youth seems reluctant to do), the use of the word ‘forth’ could refer to a fourth earl. Don Paterson, despite his own reading of ‘unset’ in line 6 of Sonnet 16, thinks that theory is ‘garbage’ and he’s usually a good judge. ‘Set forth’ probably just means ‘publish’.
At 400 years distance from the sonnets, we are now up against usage of words that has shifted since these were written as well as a different understanding of relationships. In the early C17th, the poet or artist wasn’t quite the revered figure they can be now and they depended on patronage for their living rather than the adoration of admirers of their own and the affection that one young man has for another in the poems was more commonly expressed in friendship without sexual overtones than we are accustomed to now. On the other hand, Shakespeare didn’t continue to father children as prolifically as many of his contemporaries. He is traditionally thought to be the father of three (the daughter Susanna and the twins, Hamnet and Judith) whereas I prefer the idea of two (Susannah and the illegitimate William Davenant) whereas many families had as many children as they could, of which a high percentage died in childhood. And Paterson says,
The question ‘was Shakespeare ‘gay’ is so stupid as to be barely worth answering but, for the record: of course he was.     
The sonnets themselves contain plenty more biographical clues, puzzles or false trails about the dark lady, the rival poet, the possible glimpse of domestic disagreement in number 145 in the word play on ‘hate away’ for Hathaway and a very literal reading of line 3 in sonnet 37 taken as evidence that Shakespeare was disabled. And we might well ask what happened to the last two lines of 126.
So far, I’m not sure that anybody at all has found supporting evidence for any of those in the dedication. But, just when you thought that every possible avenue of enquiry had been explored to the fullest extent, there’s more.
Last year, an American academic, Geoffrey Caveney, presented a wholly new explanation. William Holme was a professional associate of Thomas Thorpe and had died in 1607.  In those days, publications were more the property of publishers than authors, the monumental design of the dedication is like that of an inscription on a tomb and the ‘adventurer setting forth’ could be a friend going into the next life. This idea has not been dismissed by establishment Shakespeare scholars like Stanley Wells, who are usually very quick to dismiss new ideas that contradict their understanding of Shakespeare’s life and, especially, his authorship of the plays and poems.
So, the possibilities become more numerous, not less, and the Shakespeare scholarship industry looks like expanding and continuing rather than arriving at any firm conclusions.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Errollyn Wallen - Photography

Errollyn Wallen, Photography (NMC)

Errollyn Wallen was featured on last week's Music Matters. Where have I been all my life not to have heard of her before. I've never agreed with John Peel's adage that he was more interested in the music he hadn't heard than the music he had but you never can tell.
Errollyn and her Orchestra X say they 'don't break down barriers in music...they don't see any', which is fine. This is a new disc of orchestral pieces but she does much more than that. It will, as usual, be necessary to refer to other composers and genres to describe the music because everything still exists in the context of other things but these aren't barriers, they are reference points. There'll be Pete Tong at the Proms before we know it if we're not careful.
The opening Cello Concerto, played by Matthew Sharp is accessible, passionate and for the most part, I think, optimistic. One approaches any piece by a contemporary composer with some trepidation, knowing that a fragmentary style of loud/soft, stop/start is a la mode but this piece is coherent, organic and flows gorgeously. There is a glimpse of the first Bach Cello Suite, you might think, but it's gone before you're sure. I'm even less confident of any other brief quotations I thought I heard. But the one movement concerto explores the whole instrument and shifts through lyricism and tension and is readily added to the cello repertoire and I hope it is heard regularly in concerts.
I've tried a few times with Hunger and not yet found a way to say it is successful. From 1996, and so somewhat earlier than the concerto, Errollyn says it is a 'still but ravaged landscape' in memory of a friend. It is dark but hasn't yet taken me anywhere in particular. Not to worry. In a wide range of music, if you're not going to write the same concerto 500 times, like Vivaldi, not everything is going to convince everyone all the time.
Photography, though, in its four movements, shimmers, possibly like Philip Glass in a less minimal dance mood, and at the moment where the disc could have gone either way it turns out to have been a good decision to give it a chance. The second movement is homage to Johann Sebastian and anybody who makes him her hero and re-invents him so kindly is ever likely to be a big hit with me.
Again, it is hard to say if it's in the music or in my hearing of it but there may or may not be echoes of English pastoral in the orchestrations thus far. Not believing that any literature, music or art comes from anywhere else apart from other literature, music or art, I'm reluctant to say that anything is entirely 'original' but in a culture that knows so much and habitually refers back and across, Errollyn would seem to be the genuine article and as close to being her own thing as it is possible to be while remaining entirely not a dull, precious avant-garde exhibitionist.  
But if the disc wasn't good enough already, In Earth begins almost like something from David Bowie's Berlin period until gradually transposing into Purcell's mournful aria from Dido and Aeneas, sung by Errollyn herself emerging into radiant, funereal light. It is a haunting and moving finale that could have been stretched further and over elaborated but leaves it perfectly poised, demanding to be played again to understand it better rather than risking outstaying its welcome. Once you know what is going to happen, it is mesmerising to hear it appear note by note in the score like stars becoming visible as the dusk deepens into night.
I can't remember the last time I played a new disc quite so often and it is likely to be some time before it is filed on the shelf. Another album, Errollyn, ostensibly something different altogether, is already on its way here. If it's anywhere near as good as this, I'll keep on looking for more. It's possible there might not be enough.
How could I have not known for quite so long.    

Soap Opera

It's easy to forget that if one calls oneself a 'poet' of sorts then it's necessary to write a poem of sorts from to time.

Soap Opera

They want to know what’s going on,
the characters that, week by week,
move from the brink of one crisis

onto the tense, cliff-hanging next.
It’s written into their faces
in old lines of anxiety

saved up from debts or vendettas
or not knowing who the father
is. You couldn’t make it up.

Like us, they can’t escape themselves,
derived from the derivative,
who look as if they’re real but aren’t.

They show us we are victims, too,
of circumstances, of ourselves,
on this side of the flat widescreen

where love also revealed itself
to be not quite as advertised
in the short sunny intervals.

Friday, 1 April 2016

All Their Jests, Forays and Unenlightened Fools

On this auspicious date, I am pleased to be able to make one of the great revelations of this Shakespeare anniversary year. Hold on to your hats, this changes Shakespeare Studies once and for all.

To be, or not to be, the author
Earlier this week, Radio 4 had an item summarizing some of the famous April Fool hoaxes in the media from the spaghetti trees to the announcement of the decimal 10 hour day. One of them was a 2010 report on the Today programme about the discovery of a locket belonging to Shakespeare's mother, inscribed in French, where she was called Mary Ardennes. This was taken as evidence that she was French and, thus, so probably was Shakespeare.
I thought, That's Daft, but it's no dafter than some of the theories put about with regard to the man, the plays and the Authorship Question. On a scale of 1 to 10 of daftness, it's only about a 6 compared to some of the theories seriously put forward and so it hardly consitutes an April Fool. And then the penny dropped. Oh, I see.

The whole Shakespeare authorship debate has been one big April Fool and we all fell for it. Many years ago I wondered about it before becoming staunchly pro-Stratfordian and defending the traditional attribution against allcomers. It has exercised the minds of the top Shakespeare scholars in books, societies, conferences, websites and open feuding. The big hoax developed from obscure beginnings but gathered momentum as it went along and various luminaries either did, or didn't, realize what was going on.
Of course, by now, nobody seriously believes that the plays and poems were not mainly written by the man from Stratford. As Bill Bryson puts it,
The only absence among contemporary records is not of documents connecting Shakespeare to his works but of documents connecting any other human being to them.
The earliest extant expression of doubt is from an C18th clergyman whose idea was unlikely to be known to Delia Bacon, the American obsessive who really began the debate about 175 years ago. From then on, many have joined the bandwagon but only the most gullible believed it. The likes of Mark Twain, Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance saw the joke and how brilliantly it could be made to work and went along with it to mock the dogged bard worshippers who were so infatuated with their Shakespeare that they couldn't see the mischief being made.
It's not as if the hoaxers didn't leave enough clues. Early perpetrators called themselves Looney, Silliman and Battey but the zeal of the Stratford supporters made them blind to the barely disguised taunts. The more outrageous the claims made by the conspiracy theorists became, finding hidden codes in the plays and putting forward less and less likely candidates as the True Author Revealed, the more frantic, affronted and indignant did Shakespeare's defenders become. It was a brilliantly contrived hoax and it got us 'at it' for a century and a half, spilt gallons of ink and caused more heartache than can adequately be expressed in a soliloquy. Only now can we see what fun they had at our expense.
The most remarkable contribution to the prank (when, really, they went too far but by then must have thought they could get away with anything, and did) came from Muammar Qadhafi, whose proposition that Shakespeare was actually Sheikh Zubayr was broadcast on Radio Tehran in 1989.
It has been a wonderful literary circus to put not alongside but far above that of Chatterton, or the musical equivalent in which Fritz Kreisler passed off some pieces as those of a newly discovered baroque master. Nobody noticed. Not until, luckily, I was tuned into to Radio 4 for a change and it dawned on me. It is remarkable how many such discoveries are made in such Eureka moments rather than by years of hard research. But hats off to all those apologists for the Earl of Oxford, Francis Bacon, Marlowe's faked murder and his being secreted off to Italy to write plays. I am ashamed to have ever defended the case for Shakespeare against such ludicrous claims but at least I'm big enough to give credit where it is due, which is much easier for me to do than the rest of his defenders because it's me that's uncovered all their jests, forays and what unenlightened fools we all were to ever give them the time of day.

So, I told you it would be any good. The whole issue can now be put to bed, Mark Rylance and his jolly band of tricksters can be congratulated for keeping it going for so long. But 'so long' to the Authorship question, they've been found out. All the points have been made and they are very tired now. That is an end of it and from now on we can concentrate on proper biographical questions (which will be resumed here soon) and perhaps even read and attend the plays should we wish to.

It was incorrigible... incomprehensible... indefatiguable... but now I'd like to invite Delia Bacon, Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud, Mr. Charlie Chaplin, Derek Jacobi, Mark Rylance and the assembled company of the Anti-Stratfordians to join us in one last chorus of Now We All Know It's All Tosh.

But, Chiefly, Yourselves.