David Green

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

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Oh, Yeats, What Would You Say

I'm not much more the wiser in my attempt to understand W.B. Yeats better. I thought there must be more to it than Celtic Twilight, mysticism and then Ezra Pound makes a poet out of him but on the evidence of Richard Ellman's Yeats, the Man and the Masks, perhaps not.
I had thought that Ellman was a standard text on the issue but hadn't realized it was published in 1948. It is a 'critical biography', written well before the fashion in literary biography became more a set of anecdotes designed to describe the poet in relation to their work. Ellman explains in some detail how Yeats' thoughts on theosophy, the occult, mysticism, nationalism and philosophy informed his plays and poems but he says nowhere near as much as we would now expect about his life, the relationshiops with Maud Gonne, his wife, Pound and other writers. We are left with the impression that there wasn't much more to him than these thoughts, maybe there wasn't. But while we need to read Ellman in the light of how biography was done in the 1940's, we also need to understand Yeats in the context of the fin de siecle.
While his interest in seances, automatic writing and the elaborate systems of the theories he devised look madcap to us now, or to me at least, it is difficult to blame anybody for taking up ideas that were fashionable at the time, like a lot of 1970's campus marxists.
One can sympathize with some of the ideas behind the masks, the preference for symbol over the symbolized, and such ideas are in parallel with the signifier/signified distinction, as well as the difference between character and personality but how it can be allowed to be taken to quite such lengths and with such seriousness is hard to fathom from this distance.
There can't be much doubt that Sailing to Byzantium, Byzantium, Among School Children and The Second Coming, amongst others, belong in any C20th canon, if canons are still allowed, and Ellman did go some way to explaining how they were arrived at but, heaven knows, I came away from the book feeling that I knew precious little more about the man than I did before. But if I'd been able to concentrate harder in the passages that detailed his esoteric theories, I'd know a lot more about some portentous, rickety old musings.
--
So, that was an unsatisfactory attempt to fill the latest void in my reading list. Very shortly, I won't need any such filler to pad out my studious nights as a few hundred poems will be on their way shortly from South, from which I am to pick 60. It will be like an easy version of being a Booker Prize judge, a job that has always seemed incomprehensibly beyond me.
But, in order to remain sane, I've got a copy of Sebastian Faulks' Where My Heart Used to Beat on its way.
--
And while reaction to the letters page of the TLS of a few weeks ago seems to have been left at a few cursory dismissals on Twitter - what do you have to do to get anybody interested - well, if you're Ben Elton, it's fine. Have an all-star cast and six half hour slots on a Monday night. But Upstart Crow has been worth sticking with. Ben's done his homework and has put some useful material in among some more obvious, and bawdy, jokes.
Perhaps the highlight so far was in last night's episode about the sonnets in which Shakespeare explains to his uncomprehending friends and family how 'prove' and 'love' are half-rhymes and thus better than full rhymes. They don't get it, of course, and won't have it.  But, thanks, Ben Elton, William Shakespeare and David Mitchell. And to a few of you that may or may not be reading this, there you are, it's just like I told you.
--
Whereas, don't quote me on this, unless it wins on Saturday.
A few years ago, I did a Derby preview, tipped Ruler of the World, lost confidence in it and removed the posting and then it won at 7/1.
It's fair to say that these days my interest in the turf is only when they put fences in the way to make it interesting. Flat racing is more about bloodstock, breeding, empires and world domination, not the novice hurdle at Fontwell Park.
And this year, of all years, the Derby is not a race to get heavily involved in. If evidence is often thin in these early classics, it is all the thinner this year because it appears wide open not because so many potentially great horses have staked their claims but because none of the trial races have provided anything convincing. It was only a couple of weeks ago that two fillies were among the favourites. Imagine that.
While the wisest advice might just be to follow Ryan Moore, who is the natural inheritor of Lester Piggott's position not only as having first pick of what to ride in the Derby but also as a reluctant communicator, I'll suggest Deauville as one that could easily get your money back each way if you don't like losing but could make it a respectable pay day if you're happy to take a chance.
Exactly how much of my profit so far this year is risked on it remains to be seen. 

Monday, 23 May 2016

A View from the Boundary,

which is what these column inches of miscellaneous reflections always used to be called.

County cricket is such a long-standing tradition that nobody involved in it seems to still remember why it happens. It is a venerable ritual that needs to be observed, so that people like the major in Fawlty Towers can look at the scores over breakfast.
Because Nottinghamshire were playing Hampshire, it was necessary for me to attend because I am a fervent supporter of my home town team and can name one or two of their players, although Derek Randall, Reg Simpson, Gary Sobers, Gamani Gooneseena and Basharat Hassan weren't actually playing today.
All the time Hants were struggling to 270 all out, it appeared that Notts were winning but as soon as they batted and were immediately 0 for 1, they weren't. When neither batting side, while batting, think they are winning, it can be slow going and that is what happened on a day when the weather contributed most to the day. There's only one thing worse than the cricket being not very interesting and that's when it stops completely.
Luckily, the wit and wisdom of the assembled group conjured fine entertainment from the newspapers and from the thin air at the back of their minds. So The Times crossword was filled in, possibly correctly- I don't know, followed by the Telegraph. The Call My Bluff  game was followed by an improvised Sausage Sandwich Game, copyright Danny Baker, where the result was Stenhousemuir 2 Patrick Thistle 0. Then, a traditional game of Today's Birthdays, in which contestants guess the age of those famous people whose birthday it is, e.g. Anatoly Karpov, 65; Lady Olga Maitland, 72, was followed by a new game that turned out to be most successful, guess the temperature from yesterday's World Weather which was further improved by guessing the location having been told the temperature and its initial letter. Although I had been first to get anything spot on by guessing the temperature in the Falkland Islands yesterday at 5, I was soon outgunned by Spenno in the reverse game, having guessed Mumbai was specifically as hot as the degrees stated, and it turned out to have been Marrakesh.
So, you can see how the English summer can be survived- not by the vicarious spectating of arcane sport but by doggedly getting all the value you can out of the newspaper while Hants and Notts battle grimly on over there in the sunshine, like, as it were, 'too bald men fighting over a comb'.
--
Meanwhile, I know by now it's time to think of which book to read next and order it because I'm nearly halfway through the latest. It is long overdue that I added Yeats to my poet's biographies and Richard Ellman's The Man and the Masks still looks like the best critical biography.
I've never been sure about Yeats, having been introduced to all such things when Eliot was regarded as god in C20th Poetry. I've felt I owed W.B. something ever since I changed my mind during the final exam at University, having intended to write about Eliot, saw the questions, liked the one on Yeats best and somehow, from somewhere, scribbled out a masterpiece.
I still haven't decided, his formative years having been difficult, the fashions of the fin de siecle for Madam Blavatsky and all kinds of baggy mysticism not having done him any favours - it's a good job he hadn't been a teenager in the 1960's- and one needs to give him more time. For a moment Ellman seems to make a good case for his dual personalities alongside Jekyll and Hyde and Dorian Gray and the difference between character and personality, which seems to prefigure the Ego and Id, but then Yeats reverts to type and involves himself in all the wrong things. But perhaps wrong things is all there were. I can't say that books on Eliot or Pound made them attractive figures either so there's plenty of time for Yeats to make a case for himself. It's not as if he doesn't have a great oeuvre to back him up and whenever was it that we had to like the poet anyway. Even though the fashion has by now swung decisively back to literary biography and away from the text and text alone as the object of appreciation, it is still very important to have written some great poems.   

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Can you teach Creative Writing, especially Poetry?

From time to time, I don't know why, I get an e-mail from Agenda. I must have clicked something somewhere once that generated them and I don't mind. But it is surely far too highbrow and serious in its approach for me, who only finds myself countersigning letters to comics like the TLS.
It's interesting to see which profoundly important writers that you've never heard of are being featured or interviewed. There is a terrifyingly narrow world out there somewhere in which great reputations are made without their names ever being mentioned outside of a handful of magazines. And, why not.
But the latest issue says it debates, ‘Can you teach Creative Writing, especially Poetry?’
And I've asked that question myself in that rhetorical way that expects the answer 'no'.
I once met a friend of a friend who was an art teacher and asked him if he could teach me to draw, because I can't, and he said he could.
I didn't believe him but later wondered what would be the point, even if he succeeded.

The same applies to poetry, as it would to football.

I don't know whether to get myself a copy of the latest issue of Agenda and see what they have to say or whether I'd be better off sticking with what I think. 

Norman MacCaig



Last night's meeting of Portsmouth Poetry Society, on Norman MacCaig, provided an unparalleled level of approval, certainly ahead of anything I've ever seen, there or anywhere else.
That is a tribute not only to the man and his poems but also to those PPS members who were there last night. I have shared this programme with them.
In the unlikely event of anybody ever wanting to interview me, there would be no need. Look at this, I agree with everything he says, and the way he says it.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Jeremy Thorpe

John Preston, A Very English Scandal (Viking)

It is quite soon to be having another book on Jeremy Thorpe after last year's biography by Michael Bloch. They inevitably cover the same ground but whereas Bloch's was a life, and a compelling one, this new book concentrates on the court case. One also notes that John Preston writes for the Evening Standard and Telegraph, whereas Bloch was possibly more sympathetic (even if one wonders why he should be) and so one is aware that there might be differences in perspective.
Jeremy Thorpe was my favourite politician and so the news, as it was revealed, in the late 70's, was always difficult to take. I was more than ready to accept the story that it was all a South African plot to destroy the great Liberal hope and that Harold Wilson had been another target. Having wanted to believe that so much,  that there is no evidence for it is also disappointing. No, however much one doesn't want to admit it, it is hard not to have to admit that Thorpe's redeeming qualities increasingly struggle to redeem him during the lurid story of duplicity, vaunting ambition and desperation.
One thing that I will still say for him is that he could have had a safe enough career as a Conservative but his brand of optimistic, reforming, pro-European Liberalism was apparently genuine. The Liberal revival that began with him continued for three more decades until the post-coalition debacle and that's the thanks you get for doing the right thing. Look how difficult it has been for George Osborne to put doctrinaire policies into action without the Liberal brake on his intentions.
In the first General Election campaign of 1974, the Liberals were led by the charismatic Thorpe, and made election broadcasts featuring larger than life (and most other things) Cyril Smith and flamboyant disc jockey, Jimmy Savile. And that was then regarded as an attractive line-up likely to gain votes.
It was always disappointing in those days to believe quite so fervently in the intrinsic goodness of the Liberal cause and yet to find them so often the butt, as it were, of so many jokes and off-colour remarks. But, as was explained in the Bloch book, the 12 Liberal M.P.'s were a disparate bunch of absentees in pursuit of careers at the bar, opportunists and some of them, including Smith unsuitably right wing. Perhaps they were more trivial than I gave them credit for but all the time, behind the news stories, this absurd shambles was gathering, with the needy Norman Scott never going away and Thorpe buying him off, forever thinking he's heard the last of him, becoming more manic in his plans to rid himself of that turbulent nuisance, but it was never to be.
There are graphic details I'm not going to repeat here. It's not supposed to be funny but sometimes maybe it is - not least, as I noticed, when Leo Abse, who has tried to bring some reforming acts before Parliament, tries to promote vasectomy as a way of preventing a population explosion and does so in a Private Members' bill (sic).
We find that the great Roy Jenkins' sympathy for homosexual equality wasn't quite as selfless as might have been thought because at Oxford it had been him and Tony Crosland. If one is in the market for further revelations of famous private lives then there is enough here to make you go in search of more about George Carman. But perhaps the highlight, and unlikely star of this motley cast, is the judge, Sir Joseph Cantley, an unworldly man especially when given the job of hearing such a trial, for who,
the idea that one man might give another flowers was one he hadn't come across before.
But, for any who had any doubt that the trial was an Establishment fix and travesty of justice, it is described here as equal but opposite to the discharging of the case against Captain Edmund Blackadder, on trial for shooting Melchett's beloved pet pigeon, by Stephen Fry's General Sir Anthony Cecil Hogmanay Melchett VC DSO. 
It is gripping because it is so farcical. One wants to have sympathy for someone and, as in a Hitchcock film, even though you know Thorpe is guilty, some of us still like something about him and might still be on his side despite all the evidence. How could it all have unravelled quite so spectacularly badly. Probably because Thorpe was an incorrigible risk-taker and, in this account at least, always expected someone else to get him out of trouble. Which, in the end, they do but it is at the cost of the career that once looked so promising, negotiating the terms of government with Ted Heath without consulting the rest of his party. But it was a position built on such unstable foundations that perhaps it was for the best that it never happened. Among other suitable metaphors for his story, the best might be the hovercraft used in the election campaign that was designed to float on air but actually sank.
For all the louche glamour, the elegant dress sense, the charisma and dash and sense of entitlement, it came to a sad end, a broken man still forlornly hoping for a peerage that could not be bestowed on him. It's a marvellous, terrible morality play, but more complete and more highly recommendable in Michael Bloch's version.     

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Ruth Emily Mills

Ruth Emily Mills, Favourite Songs and Arias, St. Mary's, Fratton, May 15th.

There's no telling when a day is going to turn out much better than you could imagine. It was a warm morning so I looked at the paper outside, went inside to not quite finish the crossword (yet) and further discovered Errollyn Wallen's music, this time finding a major favourite in Guru from the Girl in My Alphabet album, finished the book I'll review next week and had time to make it to St. Mary's for a quick afternoon concert before the final of Young Musician of the Year. 
Ruth Emily Mills began with Handel's Let the bright Seraphim, which I had readily expected to be the highlight. Paul Searle Barnes accompanied with nimble, baroque fingers and Emily immediately impressed. After a fine performance of Porgi Amor from the Marriage of Figaro, I thought we might have heard the best since my preferred composers were front-loaded on the programme. But, gladly, I was wrong, because they were possibly by way of a warm up.
As only a music fan and nothing like an expert, I'd guess Ruth's future lies in the operatic, and less stylized repertoire that was to come. I'm always impressed by the young musicians at, say, St. Martin-in-the-Fields but they have usually graduated and are embarking on careers but Ruth is younger than that, just on her way to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and could hardly have been more accomplished.
One fears for a young performer faced with a big church to fill and an audience of about twenty. But it was never in question. It must be the self-possession that comes from confidence in knowing what one is doing that makes it second nature to be so assured. The opposite can be said of why I do so few poetry readings.
Her voice could be heard ringing around the further reaches of the architecture. Pieces by Richard Strauss and then a set apparently chosen to allow her the best opportunities to stretch and soar away on some exuberantly gorgeous tunes made the most of the glorious venue and acoustics.
I am not always easily impressed but I soon realized that this was no ordinary free concert by a young hopeful in search of an audience.Whether it was the Massenet, Rachmanninov or Dvorak that did the most is impossible to say but I hardly want to find these pieces in recordings by classic divas because it might spoil the memory of them. And then Ruth ended with Main Herr Marquis from Die Fledermaus, adding comic acting to her obvious talents for drama and sumptuous Romanticism.
There had to be an encore. I didn't dare hope she might show us how she's getting on with the Queen of the Night aria and so wasn't disappointed that it was the traditional 'lollipop', I Could Have Danced All Night.
I could have listened all afternoon but one prefers excellence in smaller portions than large helpings of something less.
Many thanks to Paul for having a pen on him so that Ruth could sign my programme which is another for my little collection. If I care to, I'll be bringing that out from my chaotic archives to show people one day to show that, yes, I knew. I was there. I hope so, anyway.
I saw Julian Lloyd Webber bemoaning how Young Musician is such a minor sideshow on the BBC these days compared to how it once was. And, yes, we did have Face the Music, Joseph Cooper, Robin Ray, a musician Prime Minister, or one who at least waved at stick at an orchestra (and a Prime Minister whose wife was a poet, of sorts) but it isn't over yet. Those of us who know where to look can still find it. It's a shame so few found this concert on a Sunday afternoon but I'm glad I was one of them.
And had posted a review just over an hour after it finished.   

Friday, 13 May 2016

Oh, Babe, What Would You Say

Ben Elton followed the guidance provided by Edmondson and Wells (see below) and used his imagination to give us his version of Shakespeare's life. Upstart Crow didn't get off to a very good start- I nearly switched it off after the first minute, but- as we all know in the Shakespeare industry- a knee-jerk reaction to any new approach is not advisable and everything has to be given its chance. Elton's done his homework, provided a first episode with a plot device about a plot device and, notwithstanding some awful moments of unnecessariness, it survives to be given further consideration.
Comparisons with Blackadder are ill-founded. In the old classic, a starry cast worked over the script line by line and contributed whereas this is Ben Elton collaborating somewhat less. The difference between him and him with Stephen Fry, Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Laurie, Tony Robinson, Miranda Richardson, Tim McInnerny and a litany of guests was bound to be a big difference, and it is.
--
The deadline for submissions to the Autumn edition of SOUTH is the end of the month. I'll be half of the selection process and so they'd better be worthwhile. But I mustn't know the authors while reading them. Submit them via the PO Box on the form provided on their website.
I don't know what a good poem is so that won't be among the selection criteria. Each poem succeeds or fails on its own terms. I'll pick those I like best in the hope that what I like coincides with what most deserves to see print. So, really, all you have to do is give it a try and I apologize in advance if I miss your masterpiece.
--
And, finally, on the cold call issue, that has been such a favourite source of stories for such a long time.

I have now stopped the direct debit to the well-known animal charity that called for the third time having been asked not to twice. So there's a vacancy for a new benficiary and I'll identify one soon.

But then, this week.

Hello, is that Mr Green.
Yes.
Hello, we are a call barring service.

And that completely stumped me. Which of my many prepared strategies do I use this time. I said nothing. He said, Hello. I still said nothing and he rang off. But he gets the prize for best call yet ahead of the BT caller who I told I wouldn't sign up to any company that kept calling me, who then asked if I'd sign up if they stopped.
It's a good game and can be a lot of fun.   

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Simon Trpceski - Brahms, Ravel, Poulenc

Simon Trpceski, Brahms, Ravel, Poulenc (Wigmore Hall Live)

I don't know how much of a recent trend it is to release concert recitals or if I've just noticed more of them. It is to be encouraged and has a number of advantages over and above saving on studio time. There is a ready-made performance, organic and coherent, without the suspicion that you are listening to an amalgam of a dozen performances spliced together for their best bits to create something more perfect except that it never existed. The premise of pop 'live' albums was presumably to capture the energy and atmosphere of the gig but it could be at the expense of sound quality and one doesn't necessarily want to pay to hear the audience. There are no such concerns with a piano recital at the Wigmore Hall.
This one was on July 19, 2014. It begins gently, and thus quite daringly, with 3 Intermezzi op 117 by Brahms, which is remarkable for its understatement and charm. You'd probably recognize the first piece, or does it just sound like Faure. But, unlike that difficult decision that orchestras have, about what to play before the concerto and the symphony, this is a brilliant int
roduction.
The main feature is the same composer's Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel. I wouldn't have put those two composers together- in the same way that Vaughan Williams and Tallis don't seem to belong either- but that is where it's interest begins. The statement of Handel's theme is soon merged into something entirely Brahms, or even Schubert, and goes on its various adventures, before returning back home to Handel. Being op.24, it is presumably an early work and the sleeve notes feature a picture of Brahms not in the usual figure of elderly sage with a long beard but quite an imposing young man. The story that he destroyed a lot of his music because he didn't think it compared with Beethoven is a sad one. There would be precious little published since if we all took that attitude but one could put these variations alongside the Diabelli and they wouldn't suffer. They are 26 minutes of sure-footed invention and the disc is justified for the Brahms alone.
Ravel was a favourite composer of mine when I was a teenager - the Pavane, Bolero, and all that impressionism, notwithstanding the Concerto for Left Hand and the orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures. I don't feel the need to return to him very often now although note that it is a sonata of his that Emmanuelle Beart is working on in Un Coeur en Hiver, and that is worth a lot.
The Valse nobles and sentimentales drifts between moods too much for my liking, one minute suggesting light on water, then flirting with ragtime, from hesitancy to something more strident. Much preferable from roughly this time and place in the history of music are the John McCabe recordings of Erik Satie and, with no disrespect to Simon Trpceski's work here, I'd take them every time.
Poulenc has become a bit of a C20th favourite, mainly on the basis of some great choral music. The concert ends with nine short pieces, called Novelettes, Improvisations and a Toccata. We are brought back to some, more organized composition and thoughtful playing with these attractive pieces, including the ravishing lines of Hommage a Edith Piaf, and the Toccata ends with a flourish. But one can't help but think that the Brahms has been bookended by pieces of less consequence. It's a fine disc, though, and only makes one wish that, if we had world enough and time, every concert of such worth was available in the same way and all we had to, and all that we did have to do, was listen to them.       

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Edmondson and Wells on Shakespeare biography

I thought it might be interesting to have a quick look at some thoughts on the discipline of Shakespeare biography by the pre-eminent scholars, Paul Edmondson and Prof. Stanley Wells. The General Introduction to the fine volume of essays edited by them, The Shakespeare Circle, begins with this paragraph,

Imagination is needed if we are to bring the information we have about another human being to life. When the subject is Shakespeare, although we may continually lament that the facts we most desire do not exist, we may decide to broaden the scope of how to use what is available the better to imagine what his life was like.

Okay. Let's have a look.
Imagination is needed, is it. Rather than 'evidence'. That's fine, although we are already risking putting our imagination ahead of anything that we can prove, but we can live with that because it might be all we can do.

Then it says, the facts we most desire do not exist.
That's not quite right, is it. The facts do exist, it's just that we don't know them. It is a problem with much of history that it is written by people who weren't there at the time and even those that were there might be telling their version of events. But facts do exist.

And then Edmondson and Wells assert that we may decide.
Who are the 'we', there, I wonder. Is it them or us. Are they, even sub-consciously, saying that Edmondson and Wells may decide or that the ongoing debate the better to imagine what his life was like is something that anybody can take part in.

At first it looks like a harmless opening, just two careless sentences that appear to say nothing more than something ostensibly inoffensive. But close reading has its virtues.
The paragraph above is likely to be quoted again here, and possibly elsewhere, in due course.

I don't want to spoil anything, like any further items on the subject of Shakespeare biography, or dismay readers who have heard enough about it already and would prefer that I write about something - almost anything- else but if the big boys want to play, then we will give them a game.      

Thursday, 5 May 2016

David Szalay - All That Man Is

David Szalay, All That Man Is (Jonathan Cape)

The title of this looked familiar until I checked and found that James Salter's book was called All That Is. That was a disappointment and so is this, although to a much lesser extent. It is nine separate stories, a bit like the Seven Ages of Man except with nine of them, which take us from teenage backpackers to old age in various parts of Europe. And so it's a bit like Sebastian Faulks' A Possible Life, which is five more substantial stories but not even as vaguely linked as these.
One realizes at quite an early stage that, for Szalay, 'all that man is' is not going to be full of potential, made in God's image and capable of infinite goodness, compassion and love. It is about men in the masculine sense of the word and, for the most part, they are in pursuit of money and sex and often dissatisfied at the amount or quality of them that they achieve. Once one appreciates his irony, one can see the thematic thread continuing from Spring, and both seem to be born from the post-boom letdown of the nineties, which was only a letdown for those who saw it as an ongoing project of accumulation that inevitably went wrong but they never saw it coming.
So, even if it is not an uplifting read, one can see it as a realistic assessment of the basic motivations of a certain sort of 'man' adrift in European capitalism, written in the sort of prose in which the art is to look artless and go unnoticed.
On holiday, a feckless youth thinks he's going to succeed with a young Latvian girl until he finds her belatedly in the arms of another bloke in a night club. And he ends up with the morose, overweight daughter and then her mother who are staying in the same dingy hotel.
Another part describes an escort in London and the hopeless infatuation of the kid destined to mooch about after her in a world where sex is money and he doesn't have enough of one to get the other. Szalay captures these tableaux with insight and bleak accuracy.
Stories of yachts, millions lost to the crash and to opportunist ex-wives and other unsatisfactory outcomes continue, depressingly but gathering some momentum as one understands the sub-text, until the gentler, slow-moving last part, about retirement, the estranged wife flying out to look after the defeated old boy after a car crash and lucky escape into hospital. It achieves some sort of redemption, in its way.

There will be better novels than this this year- there already have been- but David Szalay is a writer worth acknowledging, very good at what he's doing even if it doesn't seem to be a beautiful thing.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Judy Brown, Ian Duhig

Judy Brown, Crowd Sensations (Seren); Ian Duhig, The Blind Road-Maker (Picador)

Two recent poetry books that superficially look similar. Two poets with good taste in cover design. They are very different poets, though. We shouldn't compare books by their covers.
Judy Brown's Loudness was an impressive debut. Some people never surpass their first achievements whereas a proper artist will develop and Judy clearly is one of the latter. It's a good idea to begin with one of your best pieces and After the Discovery of Linear Perspective is a fine poem, nostalgic for the old, flat world,
                              the maidens and saints twisted to press
at the picture plane, all breathy frottage, and damp like flowers under glass 
but glad of the new-found space. Perspective is a theme that recurs, as are unseen things and presences that don't register.  In One of the Summer People,
It's hard to believe I am a mere foreground flicker
in the place of deep time.
The perspective here is like that of a long exposure photograph on which her passing figure leaves no trace on the vast picture of history. In a parallel way, the burning of old diaries in The Things She Burned That Year, sees the last record of earlier days 'read itself into the blaze'.
The unseen include the third umpire in cricket who, having been shut away indoors and pale all day,

Some nights he walks bare-chested onto the pitch
and touches the square for some last warmth. 
At first I was concerned that some poems were trying too hard, striving too much for novelty and ingenuity, which can be a fault with a generation of poets that came from Creative Writing courses that taught them they must 'find their own voice'. The more I looked, however, the more I became convinced that Judy does genuinely meditate on minutiae and makes them significant in language that is both accurate and distinctively her own.
In the best of the poems that came out of her residency at the Wordsworth Trust she demonstrates more of her visual artistry, describing Grasmere from above, shown to her by the devil, as
like a frock cast off and wrinkled on the ground,
which is superb.
And neither is it all cleverness and for effect. There are poems of emotional power, too, about mortality, for example. It doesn't get much more serious than that. But it is a fine collection, memorable in a number of ways and we can be confident that Judy Brown is established and will be around for a long time.

Which Ian Duhig apparently already has been. The Blind Road-Maker explicitly references Piers Plowman, Tony Harrison and Tristram Shandy, and much more than that among his extensive liberal/leftist heritage, but there is no sense in which his work is, like Eliot's, a mosaic of previous literature shaped to his own purposes.
Like his last book, Pandorama, this is exuberantly rhythmic, deeply humane, in a tradition of protest and endlessly well-read. If poetry were a more high-profile art form, he would be accorded 'national treasure'status, so let's be thankful that it's not.
Blockbusters uses Harrison's iambic pentameter but not his couplets or rhymes, until the last two lines, which is a good decision as the spirit of the Leeds bard is sufficiently evoked without it becoming too close to mere pastiche.
then, in a flash, like Paul, I saw the light,
through Peter's apophatic paradox
to Stevens' definition of a poem,
a mirror-image of  Frost's melting ice,  
were not the only lines that made me stop and wonder for more reasons than one. Firstly, which is it and, secondly, how tremendous.
One shouldn't encourage too much poetry about poetry but even though he's at it again in Canto, a state of the nation poem, one forgives Ian Duhig anything because he does it so well and so nicely,
is  Prynne why now your average college nerdsworth
shuns Byron to study bloody Wordsworth?
In a wide-ranging survey, Canto shows Duhig's familiarity with the culture of 'young people', that dreaded phenomenon to some of us whose reference points are still in the 70's- although, at least the 1970's- and he was in sympathy with Goths in the last book. It all shows him in the kindest of lights. 
The Wold Is Everything That Is The Case takes the famous line from every intellectual's second favourite Ludwig (some may put him first but I don't believe it) and makes lines out of it by omitting letters. It's a good trick if you can make it work, which it does here, but not as well as a poem from a little magazine I had in the 70's that did the same thing with 'Marriage is a natural state for women but an unnatural state for men' that brilliantly produced the grim reflection that,
Marriage                    ate                                       me.
I wish I could find that magazine and credit the author.
On successive pages, Contracted Silences is three short poems on such things, most notably the Messiah Stradivarius that is contracted never to be played, such is its greatness; The White Page, about stretching out the ink of words into one straight line and re-making them as others,
                                    like letters 
Molly Bloom sends herself
with love's blind signature
and Bridled Vows, that makes a very realistic alternative to the somewhat discredited litany of 'love, honour and obey'.
It might have taken a while for me to find some books of new poetry to read this year but, once I put my mind to it, I knew what I was looking for and was not disappointed. That's two for the year's shortlist.
Both admirable books in their different ways. In among the welter burden of poetry being written compared to the incommensurate amount of poetry being read, there's enough to believe that there is sufficient quality if you can find it and I'm sure there's plenty more that I don't know about.
Being tremendously enjoyable, and basically just 'any good' in my chosen demotic, is another thing these two poets have in common.