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, 27 July 2016

Oh, Babe, What Would You Say

I intended to be reporting back from the South Downs Poetry Festival, specifically from the Desert Island Poems show in which some Hampshire poets interviewed some others in the format of the much-loved institution. I took the precaution of checking the train time for Petersfield only to find that the train I wanted was cancelled, the one before was not makeable and the one after wouldn't get me there in time. I realized I could go and make it another way but when I arrived at the bus stop to see a bus I could have taken just leaving, I recalculated my chances and just thought, no, it's a hot day, I'm afraid they'll have to manage without me. Which it looks as if they did.

And perhaps for a while, that will apply to much else.
As I've mentioned before, the TLS arrives usually in Thursday's post, full of its own so-called erudition. I look forward to it, find out a few bits of interest but, especially the letters page increasingly makes me wonder about the line between scholarship and satire. My friend and I were pleased to get the Shakespeare Twins theory into print there in April but reaction to it, a few celebrity names in Shakespeare Studies deriding it on Twitter, was underwhelming. There was no attempt to refute the theory with cogent arguments, it was just summary derision which might be explained by a certain distaste for anything that comes unexpectedly and disconcertingly from outside of the established academic coterie. There is nothing wrong with the theory and it can be no more proved than it can be disproved, apparently, and we do have further words on the subject to offer but, having finally seen it into print, there isn't much more we can do if the world simply refuses to engage with the idea.
The referendum and its fallout continues to look confused and irrational and heaven help us if Donald Trump gets in across the water while other events on the news are beginning to dress atrocity in a grim patina of normality. A certain discomfiture has long been my own minor neurosis but it was almost something I could indulge in while worrying more artificially about the horse racing results. I didn't intend it to become that much more intense and develop into the way we live now. But it is likely to be the way we live now from now on.
So, who really wants to know what I think. I certainly don't and thus, in the same way that I have come to regard poetry readings by me, which is that if I'm not very interested in my own poems then I don't see why anybody else should be, I might spend a bit less time adding to the internet's heavy burden and listen to the Proms while reading Stendhal instead.
It is certainly a malaise but in what it consists is a difficult question. To assume that my own late middle age had coincided quite synchronicitiously (as Leonard Sachs might have put it on The Good Old Days) would be vanity. It might have seemed obvious to many thinkers or writers that the world revolved around them but I'm convinced it doesn't revolve around me. We all have our own scriptures to return to for solace, to explain it all, and here is Thom Gunn, in Fighting Terms, when if not still a Cambridge undergraduate, it wasn't long after,
                       Like the world, I've gone to bad. 
which always sounded tremendous, as if it should be true and now it sounds like it is. But Gunn, of course, was putting on attitudes to see how well they fitted or how good they felt and I expect that's all one can do.
I've seen a number of websites, blogs and suchlike announce from time to time that they are taking a break. I'm not saying that. It's still here, a brooding presence and useful to me if not many others to look up what I wrote about a particular book when I can't quite remember. It is a good thing to put down a note about such things, and make sure one does, at the time rather than just put a book on the shelf in a suitable place because, blimey, it's hard to remember sometimes what it was like.
I know we left the enthralling series, My Life in Sport, at the end of the second of three pieces on cycling and there are still running, pub games, chess and a miscellany of  competitive sports to be covered.
The year's best awards have Judy Brown and Ian Duhig shortlisted for the poetry, Graham Swift's Mothering Sunday looking like a strong favourite for best novel; Errollyn Wallen's disc is a contender for best CD and a wonderful day at Cheltenham races is probably in the lead as best event so far but it is to be hoped that there's more to come. But I've honestly stopped looking back at how many items I'd posted by this time in previous years and worrying that I'm not keeping up. 

Meanwhile, I might be more with Wittgenstein than usual and suggest that of which there is nothing to say, we should say nothing. Or something like that  

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Sean O'Brien - Once Again Assembled Here

Sean O'Brien, Once Again Assembled Here (Picador)

David Harsent wrote four episodes of Midsomer Murders and there's no reason why Sean O'Brien isn't equally up to the job on the evidence of this, his second novel. Here is a version of England, a private school in the provinces, with its history and traditions and a cast of malevolent characters and their motive for murder.
There is a by-election going on with a candidate from the emerging fascist party, it is 1968, and the school is holding a mock election. The narrator is an old boy returned as a teacher into the institution, increasingly drawn into sins of the past re-emerging into the present and , like Hamlet, finding the sinister events revealed to him beyond his capacity to deal with. Anti-semitism is second nature to the institution and is a part of not only its cadets but also its minor literary figure and local bookshop. Stephen Maxwell is not only in a position of responsibility, being called upon to oversee the school's star - Jewish-  Oxbridge candidate, but has an ex-girlfriend on a downward spiral and an affair with the headmaster's wife to make it no easier for him.
What O'Brien does best is describe character, either sympathetically or with his poet's accuracy in portraying the malign or raffish,
Maggie was beautiful in an autumnal way, her beauty on the edge of inevitable dissolution. It seemed  to be the pathos that provoked the desire.
The tension rises and routine right-wing violence doesn't take much provoking as the novel is paced towards a climax in which the body count rises before Maxwell's account looks back with the benefit of hindsight on what we know is really ongoing and unfinished business.
There is much to enjoy in the writing, if you enjoy admiring it, because it is not for the faint-hearted, bringing to mind the seedy world of Patrick Hamilton and I can think of no comparison that represents higher praise than that. The atmosphere of history weighing heavily upon England transfers readily across from O'Brien's poetry and if the Sunday Times reviewer thought that it was strong enough to overcome an unlikely or contrived ending, I only reflect that mundane stories don't get written down and that fiction is inevitably made of remarkable things.
O'Brien is still likely to be regarded as a poet even though his output includes plays, translations, commentary and other fiction but he is a writer to be respected in whatever genre he takes on and this, like all his work, is a record of our times as powerful, and sometimes didactic, as any who have made a contribution.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The Summer Game

The secret to attracting readers to a website (and I still don't refer to this as a 'blog') is to get quoted and retweeted by reviewing other people's books, which is fine. Sometimes the author, or composer, will write in person, expressing gratitude for my generous appreciation and I say, 'you're welcome' and things like that.
But it seems to me a very good way of putting a stop to all this very minimal 'going viral' is to post a new poem by me, that I finished about five minutes ago.
I don't want anybody to think I don't like cricket. Of course I do but it's much funnier to take a sardonic view of a most English and ritualistic of events such as a 4 day County Championship match. It took me two matches to get the poem and I'm not saying it's right. Having begun with the eight-syllable line, it doesn't seem to be the right vehicle for the later lines but that doesn't matter.
It is not really about cricket, is it. It's about cliché, I would have thought. But I often think a poem's not a poem until it's about at least two things.
It can go into the folder to be revised if need be when considered for the projected booklet, The Perfect Book (David Green Books), provisionally planned for publication on 17/10/2019.

The Summer Game

It’s too late to be afternoon,
too early to be evening. Not
quite time for gin yet, and yet, there’s
little else to do. 
                        The summer
isn’t long enough for some so
cricket makes it seem like it is.

A man records it all, a dot
pencilled in so that when he wants
to know that nothing happened, he
can see that nothing did. For his
is the drudgery of knowing

until one nips back from outside
off, through the gate, and sends off stump
cartwheeling back across the land
that once perhaps was countryside
where cartwheels used to turn with less
use of metaphor but cartwheel
is the word we use for when stumps
are knocked down like that so never
thought we needed any other.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Oh, Babe, What Would You Say

The First Night of the Proms and thank heavens for it. BBC4 on Friday nights has been essential viewing for a few weeks with the Good Old Days and the indefatiguable Leonard Sachs but the Elgar Cello Concerto is a cut above Terry Scott doing his schoolboy act from 1974. With the Elgar being only the first of ten cello concertos in the Proms programme this year, there is for the next six weeks at least some landmark, some beacon to give at least the appearance of stability and worthiness in these unstable times.

Which is not necessarily to be said for my trial subscription to the TLS. Taken out so that I could follow the continuing debate generated by the Shakespeare twins theory, by the time the administrative section had processed the order what little response the idea sparked in the letters page was over. A few dignitaries from the high end of Shakespeare Studies derided the idea via the minimalist medium of Twitter without attempting to refute it and I'm left with 10 weeks' worth of highbrow charades, the letters page in particular being a pastiche of arcane point scoring that one imagines conversations between Oxbridge dons would be like if written by Peter Cook. So, I don't know whether to let the subscription stand or abandon hope that it will ever start to be of more than passing interest.

Another thing that could be better understood as pastiche is David Mitchell's Slade House. A disappointing blend of Murakami, Tolkein, theosophy and mystery, I need someone to explain why it is any good because, as an introduction to Mitchell's previous books, it has done nothing to make me want to read more. And so the newly arrived Sean O'Brien novel will be followed by Stendhal, who I first meant to read about 40 years ago but never quite got round to it.

And something else that needs explaining, although I apologize for mentioning football in this usually football-free zone. Yes, Wales did splendidly in the European Championships and Chris Coleman's reputation is at an all-time high, whereas England outdid any previous low that England have achieved with the performance against Iceland but is this black and white, binary differentiation of the two teams entirely accurate in the light of the result between the two sides in the group stage, when it was a genuine, competitive match that 'mattered'. One might have thought that such a recent win against such a wonderful side as Wales didn't make England quite such a deadbeat lost cause. But, yes, v. Iceland, they were rubbish and a team with that much talent playing so badly is most often a sign that they don't feel like it, as per Chelsea once the players had taken against Mourinho.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the poems for South 54 are duly selected and a good bunch of poems they are, too. The more you look at them, the more you like them and one is only sorry that so many have to be left out. But the reading to launch the magazine, in the Square Tower, Portsmouth, is a date for anybody's diary who is nearby and interested. I suspect that date will be Thurs October 20th but will confirm that later.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Katy Evans-Bush, Forgive the Language

Katy Evans-Bush, Forgive the Language, Essays on Poets and Poetry (Penned in the Margins)

Lively, direct and just enough 'out of the ordinary' without being too much so, Katy Evans-Bush has been a poet to admire for some time. This new book of essays and reviews thus looked worth having a look at and it is, being recognizably written in the same spirit as the poems, none too precious, rigorous but always on the approachable side of the purely academic.
In 1980, I proposed doing an undergraduate dissertation on Keats and Negative Capability but was told there wasn't 15000 words worth of things to say about it and so I did Marvell instead. Katy's essay here on the subject is about 3500-4000 words and she does a good job on it so I was probably well advised all those years ago. Negative capability was described by Keats in a letter in 1817, as,
when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason
and has always looked like a good idea to me. The idea is explored and explained in terms of an escape from personality, 'less about already knowing the thing than it is about being open to the thing' and the process of writing poems which is one of asking rather than telling. It will be the essay to which I go whenever the question of negative capability comes up, which isn't every day, and I'm glad I never wrote about it because I would not have expressed it as well as this.
KEB is good at close reading but sometimes needs to be read quite closely herself. In Men's Troubles, she tells us that,
Frederick Seidel, in particular, might be seen as a 'man's poet': he is often charged with misogyny 
and the circumstances of those charges are then clarified but one needs to read carefully to see where the association between being a 'man's poet' and misogyny has come from. I'm sure it's not implied that misogyny is an essential component of being a poet suitable for men. Ideally, if we are  interested in the poetry then gender is not a primary concern but, by all means, for some it is a very significant issue but we don't want damning assumptions to creep in and be inappropriately applied to all men.
The Line is a comprehensive account of the line of poetry, the most crucial point about lines being where they end, whether on a rhyme or not, and thus the next begins. Like discussions of poetry in translation, there is a lot of very obvious stuff to be said and Katy goes from saying those to some profound observations that go beyond what would occur to many of us. If it seems alright, it probably is alright and we don't need to go any further than that but the best such writing, like Brodsky's or those books of close readings by Paul Muldoon or Tom Paulin, demonstrate to us why it looks alright or what is happening on deeper levels that are not revealed by less concentrated reading. Katy notices and thinks about detail and why it matters and how it works. It's like not just driving a car but knowing what is under the distributor cap.
By the Light of the Silvery Moon - Dowson, Schoenberg and the Birth of Modernism is an informed and compelling essay on fin de siecle aesthetics and those very exciting times. If it borrows some of its essential points from Alex Ross' The Rest is Noise, it readily acknowledges where and when.
Dowson was even more the consummate Decadent than his friend Symons,
we are told, which means that,
Dowson was the symptom of the disease, of the reason Modernism had to happen.
which is 'in a nutshell', the story, and very much like why Pink Floyd meant the Sex Pistols had to happen, one is tempted to suggest.
It is impressive that alongside such a wide-ranging set of essays (more reviews, Ted Hughes, plagiarism, Dylan Thomas, London, Wallace Stevens), the author still has time to indulge an obsession with vintage typewriters, which are described with the attention to arcane features that only a genuine appreciator could know about. There is a lot to like and I wouldn't like it quite so much if I thought for one moment that I was being told things that I would agree with if I were in a position to have my own opinion. It is a hugely enjoyable book and I hope it reaches the wide audience it deserves.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Ben Lerner - The Hatred of Poetry

Ben Lerner, The Hatred of Poetry (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

'Hatred' doesn't look like quite the right word for it. 'Scepticism about Poetry' might be closer to the ideas here but doesn't have the same impact. Ben Lerner begins his essay with Marianne Moore's poem, Poetry, that begins,
I, too, dislike it.
and dislike is passive in its negation of liking, not forthright in its condemnation.

I was interested because I have a few poems that doubt if poetry is always sufficient for the job it sets itself. Lerner begins his discussion of objections to poetry with Plato who, in his Republic, found no place for poets because they do nothing useful as if that were any reason not to have them.
But it is with Caedmon that he finds the first genuine reasons for doubt,
'for songs, be they never so well made, cannot be turned of one tongue into another, word for word, without loss to their grace and worthiness' [Bede] If that's true of translation in the waking world, it's doubly true of translation from a dream. The actual poem Caedmon brings back to the human community is necessarily a mere echo of the first.
Compromised by its own words, a poem finds it difficult to live up to the transcendent ambitions it had during its making.
Thus the poet is a tragic figure. The poem is always a record of failure.

It is noted in Keats that he can describe perfect music but not play it. We are side-tracked by an analysis of why McGonagall is so bad that he is memorable for it and then Whitman is given credit for trying to do something that was impossible.
Whether poetry is leisure or work is a good question but likely to be answered differently by those who enjoy putting together a few verses for enjoyment from those who appear on the circuit of festivals, morosely or cheerily trapped behind desks after readings ready to sign copies of their books for readers.
Lerner has a useful passage on the avant garde who 'hate existing poems because they are part of a bankrupt society' but fail through a 'nostalgia for the future'.
Lerner doesn't, of course, hate poetry but his monograph puts into context the limitations of what some have been led to believe could be sublime. For myself, I think it is necessary not to begin from a dream of what the poem potentially could be, which led to Caedmon's disappointment, but build from what raw materials we have, which are the words and forms, to make whatever we can. A carpenter has wood and the idea of a chair but shouldn't begin work believing that his chair will be perfect. There is genuine satisfaction to be had from the finished work.
Poets, or many of them, would prefer to be musicians but would be better off accepting that music is capable of something apparently closer to the transecendent, not least because it isn't tied to the meanings, rhythms and sounds of words. The Well-Tempered Klavier is not expected to mean anything.
In the end Lerner asks of the haters,
that they strive to perfect their contempt...where it will be deepened, not dispelled, and where, by creating a place for possibility and present absences (like unheard melodies), it might come to resemble love.
It might sound as if this is an academic treatise that talks all kind of self-indulgent theory designed for other academics but it is accessible, sensible and short. Among all the writing about poetry, of which there is no shortage, this is a piece worth reading. It's not as strident and dismissive as its title might make one anticipate and, for anybody still interested in what poetry is or can be, it is a sane and informed contribution, and most of it looks good to me.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Helen Mort - No Map Could Show Them

Helen Mort, No Map Could Show Them (Chatto & Windus)

I once appeared, well above my station, in the pages of PNR. The review that they published, I think by accident, expressed disappointment that Paul Farley's second book didn't seem as good as his first. I've been wary of writing anything too harsh ever since but have found it relatively easy not be be anywhere in the vicinity of Paul Farley, just in case.
No Map Could Show Them follows soon enough upon Helen Mort's fine debut collection, and is dominated by poems about women mountaineers from the first, who hiked up Alps in skirts and petticoats, to more recent climbers. It is a rarefied atmosphere in which these adventurers beyond the obvious have the world at their feet and sometimes go much further beyond it in their attempts. But my first impression was that Helen Mort's language is not similarly ground-breaking. She is down-to-earth and understated in her appreciation of these pioneers but, as we have seen, it might be best not to make that a criticism.
The poems might be wise not to attempt descriptions of blizzards, avalanches and frostbite but take a more considered view of such characters as,
                              Miss Jemima,
snug in my temperance 
and crinoline,

taking chocolate in Grindewald,
the Eiger flashing down
stern looks.

There might be more to be made from such apparent incongruities than there would be from hyperbole and drama. The poems time and again move on and away from their subjects in their last lines, as in Hathersage, the poem that I was first convinced by, where the sun is,
a flashbulb through the branches
taking your photograph
all the way out of town.

which is typical of many of the leavetakings here, leaving a picture but no other trace of itself. And so, the book's title, like the poet's method, is to notice that which is so often left otherwise unmarked.
Black Rocks and the poems that come after it is in memoriam Alison Hargreaves, and not the only one in which we feel a sense of these precarious adventures being life lived on tightropes and precipices, inviting danger that is often glad to accpt the invitation. It becomes an extended metaphor for lives of somewhat less daring.
Lene Gammelgard becomes,

less after than before. You'll never be
what you are now, a silence framed
by sun. You are what's said.
You'll never be what's done.

In what first looks like casual free verse, that which some still say isn't poetry at all, one never has the sense that it is not poetry. It has soft rhythms, natural phrasings and discipline that is well-disguised but artful. It requires more than the first reading to appreciate and my determination not to dismiss it quite so readily as a disappointment was rewarded. The fact that it is anything but overwritten makes the poetry more enduring, not less effective. Lillian Bilocca, who campaigned  for legislation following a succession of Hull trawler tragedies, is celebrated, as well as 'difficult women' in Difficult but perhaps the most memorable will prove to be Kiss, in which Alison Hargreaves records in her diary her first kiss with a boy, but not her mountaineering,
your hands clamped to your sides,

and you, for the first time,
not knowing what to do with them.

Friday, 8 July 2016

It's the Spice Girls that have resigned

Don't know if you will have heard this one but somebody sent it in to Radio 5 earlier in the week.
Ginger. Chris Evans from Top Gear.
Posh. David Cameron from Prime Minister.
Sporty. Roy Hodgson from England football manager.
Baby. Boris Johnson from his leadership campaign.
and Scary. Nigel Farage from UKIP leader.
Brilliant piece of work by somebody.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Today's Times Crossword Solution

Geoffrey Hill

Photograph from December 2011, taken with his customary curmudgeonly permission, 'if you must'.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Sounds Familiar

One of the snobbier academics to whom I wrote even suggested that the matter wasn't really of any interest at all. Well, I suppose he has to guard his territory.

Julian Barnes, Flaubert's Parrot