David Green

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

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Oh, Babe, What Would You Say

It is unlikely that future historians of England will look back on the last week and say it was 'our finest hour'.

Following the hapless performance by the electorate last week with their tactical naivety and misplaced crosses, the football team put in an even more deplorable effort on Monday.

I'd like to dissociate myself from both as far as possible, never having been sure whether to identify myself as English, British, European or, preferably, a 'citizen of the world'. English might be my subject but that means English Literature and Language, not separatism or tribal identity.

So, a fine antidote was reading Julian Barnes' Flaubert's Parrot. It is a modern classic and so needs no reviewing or introduction from me. It is a book somewhat 'out of category', mainly literary biography but more tangential than that. There had been few like it before it appeared in 1984 but there have been a few more like it since. It is written in the voice of a persona, not Barnes' own, about Flaubert, and through this layered device, reflects upon writing, books, reading, art and thus arrives at an admirable aesthetic, a complete joy to be reading for its elegant erudition, its defining of the 'literary' and thus very much all those things that the Francophile, internationalist Barnes established as both his great idiosyncratic strengths and that attitude that some might find fault in.
But it was a welcome respite from some of the 'state of the nation' commentary of the last few days.
I don't entirely blame some of those that voted to leave for the reasons they had - some people I quite like voted to leave-  but I certainly do blame the undisguised ambition of Boris using it as his last stepping stone to becoming Prime Minister and I do blame the uncouth, lowest common denominator campaigning of Farage.
I see Martyn Crucefix reviewing Sean O'Brien's Hammersmith under the title 'The End of England'. Well, it's not quite that, is it, it's only the latest episode in an ongoing thousand-year-old story. But it is one of the more significant episodes to have happened in our lifetime, those of us who ever more fondly remember the 1970's not for the three-day week, the uncollected dustbins and the unburied dead, but for the liberal education, the belief that progress was being made and the likes of David Bowie. I would swap Now for Then in England unconditionally.

But a fine pile of deliveries was waiting for me this evening when I got home. Lee Perry's Arkology set is far too canonical to be reviewing now but I'm looking forward to Helen Mort's new poems, coming soon after her first collection, and Katy Evans-Bush's essays on poetry in Forgive the Language. Also on its way is Ben Lerner's discourse on The Hatred of Poetry where I will be hoping that his is the same as mine, a sort of dissatisfaction with having to think about the whole idea of poetry, the philosophy of poetry or theory. It is not natural to enjoy all poetry per se and so much of it is not to one's taste but we like it above all else, apart from music, when it is done well and so we should find those poets and poems and read them all the time.
Meanwhile, yes, in the same way that cricketers want to be golfers, footballers want to be racehorse owners and pop stars want to be philosophers, poets really want to be musicians. That is my 'hatred of poetry'. I'll wait and see what Ben Lerner's is.

Friday, 24 June 2016

I Never Dreamed We'd Leave in Summer

 

I've never voted for a winning candidate or party in a national election, and probably not in a local one either, but I was sure I would be on the right side this time.

I feel as if I've been hit by a truck.

Anybody reading this from outside the UK, I'm sorry. It wasn't my fault.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Oh, Babe, What Would You Say

I'm not sure how this masterpiece evaded my hearing for so long but who's to say what lies among all our unheard music and whether we would gamble on swapping it for all the music we have heard.
After the return of a new series of The South Bank Show on Sky Arts, beginning with a summary of the joint, literally, careers of Sly'n'Robbie, it heralds a long overdue reggae revival at this address. It's not that it ever went away and The Pioneers, The Liquidator and Girlie, Girlie have been on the playlist recently with Gregory Isaacs still revered above all else but there's nothing like a new purchase to re-kindle an old passion. Lee Perry's Arkology will be worth having if only for this and we will see how three discs of mostly dub versions sound so long after the discovery of that esoteric art form.
I've looked up the chords on the interweb and reckon I could play Dreadocks in Moonlight after a fashion but not even the contributors to such websites claim to be able to decipher all the words.
--
Sebastian Faulks' Where the Heart Used to Beat ended as movingly and impressively as was expected, the only problem with it being a suspicion that his facility to do such things makes one feel somehow his puppet or plaything, or that something ostensibly quite so mainstream and accessible can be quite so good. So, it isn't necessary for something to be ground-breaking, difficult or contrary to be any good. I'm glad we've established that.
After that, in this ongoing reading diary, I realized that 40 years ago, as an ardent sixth-form student of literature, I had bought compendium volumes of novels by D.H. Lawrence and George Orwell but not read them all. They are not books to read in the bath because if you happen to drop them they wouldn't half make a splash and then hurt you but it would be a shame to have kept them for so long only to ruin them. It's not practical to take them on the train, either.
But The Clergyman's Daughter was worth looking up, having waited so long in its spinsterly way on the shelf to be read. In three parts, one is lured by the first part into thinking it is just going to be about the trials and tribulations on the young lady in her role, trying to make ends meet in one little outpost of the Church of England. But then, at the start of part two, she's lost her memory, doesn't even know who she is, and goes hop-picking in Kent, homeless, destitute and reduced to the very basics of human existence. Her rehabilitation is via a teaching position in a desperate 'private school', run for profit, not education, where her worthy ideas are not appreciated by the proprietor. Orwell smuggles in three different critiques of the state of the nation as it was then, much of which is of course just as relevant today, while telling this story of a paragon of virtue. Perhaps it's not a great novel and it possibly belongs somewhere in between the fiction, like Keep the Aspidistra Flying and the famous polemical ones, and The Road to Wigan Pier. By some standards, Orwell might not be the greatest novelist but it was a tremendous read and I'd rather have him above many more highly regarded names.
From which I moved on to Flaubert's Parrot, yet another classic title that I've not read before although I am quite up-to-date with recent Julian Barnes. In contrast to the Orwell volume, this is a book that does fit neatly into an iside jacket pocket, which is a shame because I'm likely to have finished it before I go anywhere wearing a jacket when I'll want to read a book on the way.

Harnoncourt Missa Solemnis

Beethoven, Missa Solemnis, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Arnold Schoenberg Choir, Concentus Musicus Wien (Sony)

The first box-set I ever bought, circa 1978, was Harnoncourt's Brandenburg Concertos on LP's. What a luxury it was, compared to these spendthrift days when one buys anything one feels like buying, and what a glorious thing to have. So it seemed fitting to order this last recording, a live performance from Graz, July 2015.
We ought not to bring any preconceived idea of  'solemness' to what Beethoven meant by 'solemnis'. Bach's B Minor Mass sounds from its title alone as if it will be a work of gravitas and dark profundity, which in some ways it is, but it is bright, lively and energetic, too. The Missa Solemnis similarly overturns any assumptions we might have made with Beethoven showing us the riot of passion that surged inside him. Here are all the phrasings and mannerisms from the most daring and explosive of his symphonies which are triumphant and heroic in their revolt against purely classical style.
We have to wait quite some time before any respite is offered by the Benedictus, by which time it is welcome, the solo violin part in its high registers exploring elsewhere on its own, lone trajectory. To say that is the highlight of the piece might be to suggest that one has felt battered, rather than inspired, by Beethoven's exuberance up to then and there could be some truth in that. Whereas the late quartets and Fidelio are not as forbidding as one might think, you need to know not to come to the Missa Solemnis in search of calm contemplation.
It is possible to love Mozart unconditionally, to admire Bach beyond anything else and enjoy Handel for the sheer luxury of it all but Beethoven's restless, perturbed spirit is another thing altogether when he is in this mood and, Moonlight Sonata, the gentle parts of the Pastoral Symphony and no.5 notwithstanding, he often is. I thought I was going to find parallels with Bach's choral music in this but, no, it is nearly all contrast.
When other teenage boys had Led Zeppelin, or perhaps Suzi Quatro, posters on their bedroom wall, I had Beethoven, and Claudio Abbado, so his troubled expression has long been with me, brooding through those symphonies I collected then. He is to be celebrated in a way that perhaps no others can be but, having played this several times now, I wonder how often it will be taken from the shelf once it has been filed there. Older, but not much wiser, it is likely I'll pick out The Well-Tempered Klavier or one of the Tallis Scholars discs ahead of this because I don't usually want to be shaken and stirred to quite this extent. Maybe I need to be.
But coming next is Lee 'Scratch ' Perry's Arkology set, which will keep me busy for a while. It would be interesting to know what Ludwig would have made of that.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Cliff, Saving a Life

What I complained about to the BBC at the time was their coverage of the police raid on Cliff's house. The helicopters filming from above as the singer's home was raided by the law for whatever evidence of wrong doing could be found. I didn't bother going into any detail about how wrong, how lurid and how prejudicial it was, I just asked that when they added up the number of complaints about the coverage, could they count me in.
My next step was to order copies of the Soulicious album for my sister and me as a token act of support. A set of duets with some sensational soul singers, most notably Candi Staton, and this masterpiece with Freda Payne, but also Billy Paul, Percy Sledge and songwriting credits for the second generation of Motown, Beau Dozier.

When the evidence to prosecute Cliff went forward to be considered, I underlined five parts of their statement that convinced me that nothing was going to come of it,
We have received a full file of evidence from South Yorkshire Police. We will now carefully consider its contents in line with the Code for Crown Prosecutors, in order to establish whether there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction, and whether it is in the public interest to do so.
It hasn't taken very long for the prosecutors to take note of those careful caveats and realize that it meant 'there is nothing we can do with this'. I'm no lawyer but even I could see that. But I'm very surprised that the decision came quite so soon. I expected it to be dragged out for ages. I'm surprised it had even been taken out of the relevant 'in' tray by now, or that it had even found its way into the right one.
800 000 pounds, it says on the BBC website, is how much it all cost. And, if we didn't know better, we might be tempted to think that somebody somewhere was trying to make a name for themselves by nailing the biggest name they could get. The same sort of person who didn't do anything about Jimmy Savile, who very nearly made it to the age of 86 with impunity. Get a grip of it, you lot. What a shambles you really are.

I realize that Cliff has not been found 'not guilty' but, there again, he couldn't have been because he wasn't charged with anything.


Sean O'Brien - Hammersmith

Sean O'Brien, Hammersmith (Hercules Editions)

It was a CD-sized package but was too flexible to contain a disc. I couldn't think what it might be and so had to resort to opening it to find out.
This signed, limited edition, collector's item is compact but well produced but possibly for the likes of me who are not completists of their favourite artists but like to have most of it. It can stand alongside the 1997 edition of The Ideology. I am grateful to Sean for not exploiting the market for such items by issuing the number of luxury books that are detailed in Ted Hughes' letters or providing the same sort of shock as when I rang Enitharmon many years ago to ask the price of Thom Gunn's In the Twilight Slot. This neat artefact costs ten pounds but most general readers can probably look forward to seeing the poem collected in a future, fuller volume, with more than these two cantos.
Sean takes his three-line stanzas from Dante but it isn't terza rima exactly as he only rhymes when he sees fit. Although we might feel we are in familiar O'Brien territory in these poems, the schlerosis of contemporary Britain, as he sees it, the sense of loss, of a world gone to bad in mundane places, it is here specifically Hammersmith, where his mother and father met, and not any provinicial outpost of England that is synecdochically representative of all of it. If we immediately recognize a painting by Hieronymous Bosch from its panorama of tortured monsters in a hellish nightmare canvas then we equally know Sean for these depictions of post-Thatcher, post-Beeching England. As he explains in the foreword, the poem comes from the same source as the brilliant Elegy from the November collection, which where he first wrote about his mother.
If Hammersmith is still haunted by the days when her generation experienced something 'with a strange resemblance to happiness', it is now where,
The pub that was fading, then boarded, then sold,
Too far from the river, to far from the shops,
An in-between place where the calendar stops, 

but one wonders, and thinks back over the complete O'Brien oeuvre, if happiness is always something attributed to the past and if it would have been so then and so is forever fugitive. The foreword is not the first time he has referred to the Boat Race as representative of a bygone world, begging the question about quite how idyllic that was. And there, too, were John Snagge and Stafford Cripps.
This lament is classical, an echo of Ubi Sunt poems, but the more specific it is made in Hammersmith, the more we have to wonder if that is what Sean would have felt like whatever period he had lived or if it is more generally an essential part of the human condition.
The photographs, ostensibly converted to black and white, that accompany the poems feature few human figures. I was once told that photographers like to get a person into a picture to give it some context but, on tyhe other hand, one photographer's maxim is presumably another one's anathema. The effect in Sean's pictures is a kind of grey abstraction, of form, shapes, tangle but ultimately of absence. He is there, reflected back to his own camera in a mirror, the flash going off. I don't think it's significant enough to spend time trying to make it so.

For my own part, I idolize 1971 but, on the day that I land the first leg of my optimistic treble, that charges would not be brought against Cliff Richard, I note that the odds against the other two legs have diminished. It is beginning to look for the first time that the UK might vote to leave the European Union and the odds against Donald Trump being president of the USA are also shorter than they ought to be.
I had thought that however much I relish the idea of the past, frozen and untouchable as it is for us, that the present must be better. Our ancestors were quaint and thus loveable and so were the times they lived in. But not having Diana Ross or T. Rex at number one is compensated for by the internet, CD's or Victoria Coren. It might depend on the outcome of the second and third legs of the treble whether we want to share Sean's nostalgia wholesale or merely sympathize.
But his point is also that the perceived dereliction of the world he came from, our natural interest in the ancestry that defines us, is one more thing lost that will never come back. If that is to be regretted, it was ever thus.
   

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Mediterranea Trio

Mediterranea Trio, Chichester Cathedral, June 14th.

I'm not convinced about the acoustics in Chichester Cathedral. Its long, narrow, deep space with arches into the aisles perhaps has too many spaces to fill and too many suefaces to echo from. It's best top get close to the instruments and row five, half an hour before the start is a good enough result.
The Mediterranea are a pleasant, understated trio formed at the Royal College of Music eight years ago. If the piano and violin, Elenlucia and Markella, took most of our attention in these pieces, Alessandro's cello was always worth looking out for.
Haydn, well-mannered and civilized as ever, was their first composer, the Trio in C Hob xv:27, elegant, formal, seemingly never too serious and  redolent of a happier age, for those who could afford such luxuries. We should be grateful more of us can hear such pieces now.
But, not for the first time in a chamber concert, Debussy was the unexpected highlight. Lush and lyrical, the Trio in G, L.3 suggested first of all that Debussy has been catalogued by somebody beginning with L and no longer has opus numbers but secondly that his chamber music needs further investigation. The andante began with some pizzicato interplay between violin and cello and the finale showed the cello to best effect in its swan-like theme and the piece was never troubled by dark thoughts or anxities.
Last year I followed up a concert of the string quartet by ordering a CD of it but the recording lacked the immediacy of the live performance. But I'm going to try again so that I can hear this piece
some more.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Shakespeare, the family man

Enough's enough. I think I've seen it all now. Here is an imagined outline of a day in the life of William Shakespeare, attributed to Sir Stanley Wells,

http://www.bbc.co.uk/timelines/zc46k7h#z2njg82

I hope the link lasts. 

Of course, everybody is entitled to their own version of Shakespeare and nobody should want to deny anybody else their own preferred version. On the other hand, much-vaunted, high profile professors need to do more than indulge their own quaint fantasies.
Ben Elton's Upstart Crow has Shakespeare in Stratford much of the time but that is for a joke.

The Shakespeare that Wells presents, mooching around his provinicial hometown as a happy family man is at odds with the necessity of being in London acting on stage, being a shareholder in the theatre company that makes his fortune, having affairs with a dark lady and perhaps a fair youth but, more than any of that, where are the progeny of this happy marriage when the only offspring we can be sure about was conceived before they were even married. The Sadlers produced 14 children; most couples had children as often as they could because in those days not all were going to survive childhood and William himself was the third of eight.

So, even if we were to withdraw the suggestion that the twins were not really Shakespeare's children, he is still not trying very hard to establish the dynasty, the male line that makes his registering of a family coat of arms worthwhile.

He was in London, making money, writing plays, acting in plays by Ben Jonson, living in Silver Street in the 1600's, investing his fortune back at home in Stratford but not cosily sitting by one of his ten fireplaces writing Othello in the town he had been so quick to get out of in the 1580's.

Anthony Burgess' biography takes all the myths, legends and anecdotes and weaves a most beguiling story from them but it was not offered as scholarship. Wells seems to want to offer us the poet strolling through the Warwickshire countryside admiring flowers. But a writer deals in words and a dramatist deals in plays and a businessman - Shakespeare apparently ever alert to a money-making venture- makes sure he keeps his eye on the business.

I do not only disparage the account that Prof. Wells describes, I refute it and provide the reasons why. 

   

Piano Music

Poetry, and poets, don't need rules that must be applied at all times. Once in a while someone will raise a question about what is allowed or can you do this, or that. You can do whatever you like. But each poet or poem might like to abide by certain regulatory methods of their, or its, own choosing.
The avoidance of excess is one of mine, much in the way that Larkin avoided the excess of high modernism, explicit politics or linguistic fireworks. If such principles result in a 'plain style', that is fine. It doesn't mean it is any the less poetry for that.
Piano Music is 'piano' as in quiet, as undemonstrative as undemonstative can be, I hope, the emotion strained through time, fiction and words to make something that might suggest a calm piece for piano.
It's another to sit with the poems collecting themselves together towards The Perfect Book. The Summer Game, a companion piece to The Winter Game, about an uneventful day at the cricket, is taking a bit longer to find. But there is plenty of time.



Piano Music

The rain stopped half an hour before
and shines now from the cobbled streets
where the aproned proprietors

of tidy, circumspect caf├ęs
wipe tables for the customers
they hope will spend the afternoon

at them, discussing whatever
it takes. One of the first to take
a seat’s a character that finds

themselves in the closing chapters
of a novel set here, a small
town in the provinces with spires

that point modestly to pale sky.
The river can freeze in winter
but now flows with new confidence

towards a city and beyond
where they imagine is the love
that left with insufficient cause

to make them stay. And so the book
ends not quite there but soon after
having never been more than this.
 

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Professor Sir Stanley Wells CBE

On a day, yesterday, that saw the further Trooping of the Colour and the BBC showed again the episode of Dad's Army in which Wilson is discovered to be Sergeant The Honourable Arthur, it was fitting to find that more honour was bestowed on Stanley Wells, the guardian of all traditional Shakespeare Studies.
Regalia now adorns his name more than ever before. Many will celebrate the honour and congratulate him and so will I, when he sees fit to engage in scholarly fashion with the theory that appeared on the TLS letters page regarding the parentage of Shakespeare's twins, Hamnet and Judith.
His dismissal of the idea as 'hoping it was a joke' and 'fatuous' was below the standard required of such prestige. No, it wasn't a joke and, looking through the rest of his Twitter account, he is in need of more variegated insults for things he doesn't like than habitually calling them 'fatuous'.
The idea has been derided but not refuted. Mr. Curtis and I are interested in knowing why the theory can't be true and we were hoping that the likes of Stanley Wells would enlighten us.   

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Oh, Babe, What Would You Say

Looking down the list of previous novels by Sebastian Faulks in Where My Heart Used To Beat, it looked as if I had them all bar the pastiche books and the early rarity, Trick of the Light. I went upstairs to admire them, found them all lined up and remembered that I did actually tidy up a bit a while ago. But Human Traces wasn't there, the one about the origins of psychiatry that I abandoned some years ago. It wasn't to be found anywhere and the Faulks collection suddenly looked sadly incomplete without it. I wonder if it was among those titles I gave away to a second hand shop once. It didn't seem like such a mistake then, a novel I hadn't got on with at all, but now I miss it. It's very rare for me to dispose of books and then when I do, look what happens. I will be more careful in future.
Where My Heart Used To Beat is compsite Faulks in a way, apparently some war, going back to the Anzio of A Fool's Alphabet, and then some psychiatry but cosummately readable with that inobtrusive perfect pitch that demands so little but provides so much and some magnificent writing on love, the loss of it and the desperate inner core of isolation inside us all. I haven't finished it yet because another job became more urgent and so I'm sure the ending will provide some profound emotional truth but it remains true that there is no more reliable novelist in England than Sebastian Faulks. Even if you give his books away in a careless moment, you miss them eventually.
--
The job that took precedence was selecting the poems for South 54. Over 350 poems from which I and another Portsmouth poet will choose the 50 or 60 to go in the Autumn edition. It's too early to say anything conclusive yet but two evenings going forwards and then back through the poems was several hours to provoke some reflection.
I haven't read that many poems quite so quickly before. None of the few editing jobs I've ever done were on such a scale.There are some to admire; there is plenty to like but it's not always realized in the finished poem and one feels sympathy, more than anything else, that the technique fell just short of what was intended; there are equally poems that didn't look as if they were ambitious enough but were convincing and I liked them the more for that, and there will always be those poets who have an idea of what 'poetry' ought to be like and aspire to that condition when they'd do better to just write without preconceptions. But I won't be saying any such thing or prescribe what I think a poem should be like because they all succeed or fail on their own terms.
Poetry in such large volumes becomes generic. Three poems had the same title and a number of themes recurred throughout, as the big themes of literature do. There are no set criteria by which to establish what makes a 'good' poem and so, having listed the ones I like, I'll compare my list with that of my co-selector and hope that what we like is what the readers of the magazine like, too.
Inevitably, 300 poems will be 'rejected' and we've all had that happen to us. It is not the end of the world. The poets were happy enough with their own work to send it in. They should be just as happy with it if it isn't selected. The same magazine once rejected a poem of mine that subsequently won a competition. There is no accounting for taste. 
--
In the meantime, the agency that administers subscriptions to the TLS messed up my trial of 12 issues for 12 quid and they didn't start arriving until last week. I had hoped to use such an offer to monitor reaction to our Letter to the Editor in the April 29 edition but by the time they started delivering the paper, whatever desultory reaction it generated appears to have evaporated.
On Twitter, Stanley Wells, his sidekick, Paul Edmondson and others were quick to deride the idea that the twins Hamnet and Judith might have been fathered by Hamnet Sadler but Twitter is no place for a thesis, it's the sort of medium Boris Johnson might use.
We are made well aware that certain established persons in the Shakespeare industry don't like the idea but we are none the wiser as to how they would refute it. None have so far seen fit to respond through the medium in which the idea was first widely published.
It doesn't seem to me a minor detail of the biography that warrants so little addressing since whole books have appeared on such issues as when Shakespeare was a mere witness to somebody else's divorce.
There is more to come on the subject from Curtis-Green but we are somewhat at a loss as to what to do with it because it looks as though Prof Wells and his friends were happy enough to congratulate themselves on their Alternative Biography but were nowhere near quite alternative enough.
Perhaps soon, the TLS will be provided with a reply and we might even find out what Profs. Bate, Greer, Shapiro and anybody else thinks.
We said we were surprised that nobody had thought of it before. I'm even more surprised how little reaction it has generated. I'm still waiting to find out why it isn't worthy of a fuller answer.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

The Poetry of Muhammad Ali

The tributes to Muhammad Ali have been welcome, not only to show how universally respected he was as an outspoken campaigner for reform, to say the least, but for the litany of memorable quotes. Among all the other things he was, he was a poet, too.
Of Henry Cooper, he said,
Henry hit me so hard that my ancestors felt it in Africa.  

Having lured George Foreman into punching himself out and getting 'tired', he reflected,
Man, this is the wrong place to get tired.

There are many, many more, but perhaps the best was when he was outdone by a flight attendant who asked him to fasten his seal belt.
Superman don't need no seatbelt, said Ali.
Mr Ali, said the flight attendant, Superman don't need no plane.