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, 28 February 2017

Oh Babe, What Would You Say

It is vaguely reassuring when something becomes identifiable enough to be a syndrome. It's not my problem anymore. It's known about. It can't just be me that gets cross about it.
In The Observer's TV review on Sunday, on the subject of last week's programme on political correctness by Trevor Phillips, was the first time I'd seen the idea of 'virtue signalling' specified in quite such precise terms. It is defined as 'ostentatious sensitivity'.
I'm sure we've all found ourselves in circumstances where we've had to express more concern that we actually feel, for the sake of appearances and that is thus a social nicety but the problem is those whose personality is made up of chronic or wilful caring beyond the call of duty.
It might make one appear a heartless curmudgeon to object to such a thing until it becomes an overwhelming theme or a deliberate play for the adsmiration of others. It might seem preferable that someone goes out of their way to express sympathy for others as the world turns towards self-interest, self-promotion, Trump, supremacism and isolationism but in the end it is not much better than a sinister attempt to gain favour by other means.
It makes for bad poetry if we are asked to admire the poet's precious feelings more than their use of language and, in a wider context, it makes one suspect that the virtue being signalled is not a real virtue in the first place.

But, more rewardingly, I've been thinking about Robert Schumann following last week's encounter with the wonderful Steven Isserlis who cites him among his favourite composers.
As I pointed out a little while ago, it is hardly Buxtehude's fault that he came before Bach. Great things are achieved 'on the shoulders of giants' and Johann Sebastian would not have done what he did without Dieterich as a precursor. And so, in a similar way, it is not Schumann's fault, or Mendelssohn's, for that matter, that they arrived after Beethoven.
What were they supposed to do after such a monumental presence. But what they did was admirable and honourable and however overshadowed by such a majesterial achievement, they produced lyrical, gorgeous music of their own that owed a debt to the colossus but didn't attempt it on quite such an outrageous scale. In the same way, perhaps, as generations of post-Bowie pop artists learned from him and developed out of an appreciation of one part of his work and maybe Suede are an adorable example of that.
One can only work in the times one lives in and in the context of what has gone before and sometimes it's not possible to outdo what has gone before and so one has to do what one can do. There's nothing wrong with that and if Schumann and Mendelssohn are not quite Beethoven they are still marvellous in their own right. 

The Jess Davies Band

It is 40 years since a song written by me was performed in public. The legendary Emergency Exit, who were my mates from school,  played a church hall in Gloucester and the highlight of their set -for me at least- was my anthem of teenage anxiety, Everyone's An Onion.
But last night progress towards a number one hit or a place in the songwriters hall of fame resumed with The Jess Davies Band's premiere performance of Someone Somewhere (Davies-Green), where Jess does a fine job on the words I provided.

The next date on their itinerary is the Aurora Cafe Bar, Albert Road, Southsea, Fri 10th March, so get there if you can. Having checked out the website and seen the price of drinks there, I'll be glad of anybody who'll buy me one.


Sunday, 26 February 2017

Time After Time

And so, there it is.

Begun in September and finished with a big effort today, I can now say I've written a novel.

Or I have at least ground out 50 thousand words that ostensibly tell a story.

It probably wasn't worth the ink it took to print it out but at least it has a soundtrack.


Thursday, 23 February 2017


Schumann and Wagner, Steven Isserlis, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Karabits, Portsmouth Guildhall, Feb 23rd.

It's always great to welcome Steven Isserlis back to Portsmouth, especially when one is in the right place at the right time to do it personally. There we were having a quiet Guinness before the show and, bless my soul, that's not Brian May, is it.
I was able to over-ride any embargo on Wagner in order to get better acquainted with Schumann on account of there only being 11 minutes of his music and, to be fair, it wasn't too much of the customary unruly din and nobody suffered too much.
The Schumann Cello Concerto is a great pleasure with its singing lines over a mosaic of orchestration in which different parts of the orchestra provided the interplay with the soloist and the themes. The middle section of the unbroken three movements was more intricate and intimate, contrasting the more agile fingerwork with the flowing melodies before more flourishes led towards a standard post-Beethoven climax and a smoothly satisfying piece that enhances Schumann's position in that overcrowded middle division of much admired if not often enough played composers. I can soon rectify that.
I would have used the phrase 'cantabile' for the concerto had Steven's encore not been Tchaikovsky's gorgeous Andante Cantabile, ostensibly variations of the Volga Boat Song, I like to think, with its hymn-like theme and a rich tone from the cello, that annexed the 'cantabile' for itself. It was hard to separate out enjoyment of the piece from luxuriating in the instument so it's lucky that one doesn't have to and the coming together of various such features is surely what music is.
There is a similar lightness of touch to much of the Rhenish Symphony, no.3 and one quickly realizes one shouldn't be finding a place for Schumann somewhere between Brahms and Mendelssohn but allow him to be Schumann and be glad of him. Profound, broader passages emerge later in the five movements before the stirring brass finale and it is all a gentle enough lyrical excursion to revisit. I had memories of having heard the piece and thinking of a river, having taken no short cut through the title but if a lot of music could evoke rivers, not all of it makes me note the word 'flow' quite so readily to describe it.
So maybe Schumann's symphonies edge ahead of Brahms' in my ongoing project of box set collecting every time a specially selected horse does the business round Newbury or Newton Abbot.
And, what a wonderful added bonus to get my programme signed. That charming man.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Oh, Babe, What Would You Say

Bishop's Court
The World's End

is not the beginning of the Contents page of my next booklet of poems. No, it's the honourable roll call of today's horses that obliged in a yankee to put the world back to rights after last weekend's debacle. Four out of four in a yankee is not unheard of and can happen from time to time. The first time it happened to me, circa 1983, I thought I'd been touched by a miracle whereas tonight I'll only be looking out for the blue moon.
Brenda Maddox's George's Ghosts is a fine account of W.B.Yeats but had to be put on hold when another book turned up. Her summation of Yeats as 'scatty and splendid' looks very fair, if not charitable. His regard for the 'Eliot-Auden camp' as one of 'bleak mundanity' is aloof and, like many poets, he doesn't come across as immediately attractive. 'Dubious' would be appropriate as he moves from one set of reasons to be doubtful about him to others. I think I'd have liked Larkin but in most cases readers are drawn in, like Shakespeare admirers, to assume the best about poets on account of their poetry. That is probably a bad idea.
Brenda's book was temporarily left to one side because of an enthusiatic recommendation from a colleague for Francis Wheen's Strange Days Indeed (2009), a riveting study of 1970's paranoia in high places from Richard Nixon, through Harold Wilson to Idi Amin and the proliferation of terroroist groups and Prada Meinhoff chic. Was it really like that as we lived through glam rock, Bowie and punk. Well, yes, it apparently was and maybe it is like that most of the time. It might be more unusual to find a decade in which mundanity was the prevailing atmosphere and see if we preferred it.
I can only pass on the recommendation and thank the person who lent it to me, having found it in an Oxfam shop.

And now for a game of Which One's Diderich?

Buxtehude mania didn't end with my Christmas acquisition of the Opera Omnia but has proved a springboard to even greater things, now in possession of the t-shirt that I wore for last week's poetry reading; the definitive volume by Kerala J. Snyder now on order and various options on the print here under close consideration.
But whereas I had taken it that this group portrait only 'possibly' included Dietrich and he is the one draping himself over the keyboard in thoughtful repose, it now turns out he's playing the viol. If only the technology had been available to him, perhaps he could have played all the instruments, like Prince, but I doubt if he could have sung Klag Lied to his own satisfaction.

Meanwhile, I must press on with Time After Time, the novel written for the sake of writing a novel. My character, Des, needs to finish his epic 12 Hour ride by the end of chapter 9 and then I only have chapter 10 to do. Riding a twelve and writing a novel are similar enterprises, not to be undertaken lightly, and I'll be glad to be in a position to say I've done both, neither of them particularly well, and not have to do either of them again. 

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Denise Bennett - Water Chits

Denise Bennett, Water Chits (Indigo Pamphlets)

Care and attention, one would think, would be essential parts of any poet's method but few display those virtues better than Denise Bennett in her new collection, published as a commended entry in the Indigo Dreams pamphlet competition.
It is in the choice of words where she goes beyond a satisfactory choice and finds a better one. 'Prinking' catrches one's attention in Making Jam Sandwiches with Stanley Spencer, and in Sometimes there is,
                              the inky-bleed of sky
                     has quartered the moon

and the reader is made to consider the 'soft, cidery skin' of the new born baby in Son. These all capture experience in gently sensual language that make them vivid.
Twenty-eight free verse poems don't rhyme on their own but the collection has been thoughtfully compiled to make a coherent whole in which poems rhyme with each other.
'Sizzle' in The Chagall Window rhymes with 'dazzle' in Piecing Together the Dark; the thirst of the soldiers at Gallipoli in the title poem rhymes with the 'last sup on earth' at the end of The Baby's Bottle; the painter Chagall rhymes with the sculptor Epstein in a couplet of poems on Jewish artists; Coventry cathedral rhymes with Chichester and poems imagining the life of Edward Thomas are followed by those on Stanley Spencer. These associations bring the poems together in sympathetic relationships that make the volume more than merely the latest poems by one of Hampshire's most admired poets.
Denise's main theme is humanity and the poems are clearly made expositions of such feelings but there is wordplay, too, in places, like,
                         buttercups enough
to fill a creamery,

in Dock Leaves, about a childhood memory that rhymes with other childhood poems and then contrast with moving poems about her mother in extreme old age.
In The Knight Speaks to Eleanor, Larkin's Arundel Tomb is echoed in the 'fidelity' of the couple but his careful undermining of his own, now famous, line that 'what will survive of us is love' is let be and Denise provides her own account.
But for a favourite, I'd pick Brayford, about a specific place in time with its 'centuries of secrets' that rhymes with the next poem, Boundaries, an in memoriam poem for a lady who 'had never gone beyond Exeter' / the vicar said' which is a marvellous thing to have never done in an age where increasingly people travel widely but belong anywhere less and less.  

A little bit below here are details of Denise's forthcoming evening on March 17th where she will read from the book.  

The Avant Garde

Tonight's meeting of Porrtsmouth Poetry Society is my presentation on the Avant Garde and in a packed show this evening there are a number of exhibits to marvel at, possibly someone with a gadget on which we can listen to some concrete poems and here is my outline introduction, which is a personal view and none of the views expressed in it are those of the society.

I’m not too proud to decline Wikipedia’s offer of a definition of the avant-garde,

The avant-garde (from French, "advance guard" or "vanguard", literally "fore-guard") are people or works that are experimental, radical, or unorthodox, with respect to art, culture, and society. It may be characterized by non-traditional, aesthetic innovation and initial unacceptability, and it may offer a critique of the relationship between producer and consumer.

And we can take its further elucidation, which is also very useful,

The avant-garde pushes the boundaries of what is accepted as the norm or the status quo, primarily in the cultural realm. The avant-garde is considered by some to be a hallmark of modernism, as distinct from postmodernism. Many artists have aligned themselves with the avant-garde movement and still continue to do so, tracing a history from Dada through the Situationists to postmodern artists such as the Language poets around 1981.
The avant-garde also promotes radical social reforms. It was this meaning that was evoked by the Saint Simonian Olinde Rodrigues in his essay "L'artiste, le savant et l'industriel" ("The artist, the scientist and the industrialist", 1825), which contains the first recorded use of "avant-garde" in its now customary sense: there, Rodrigues calls on artists to "serve as [the people's] avant-garde", insisting that "the power of the arts is indeed the most immediate and fastest way" to social, political and economic reform.

In poetry, there have been many and various ‘avant-gardistes’, including Ezra Pound, Edith Sitwell, Mina Loy, the ‘concrete’ or ‘sound’ poets of the 1960’s and John Ashbery. But poetry has perhaps been less spectacularly avant-garde, or had to try harder, than other genres, being made of words and thus less able to extricate itself easily from traditional meaning.
In music, John Cage presented his 4.33, a piece ostensibly for piano in which no notes are played but we have 273 seconds of silence, 273 degrees below freezing being absolute zero. He is outdone by Robert Rauschenberg in art who took a drawing by de Kooning and rubbed it out thus ending up with less than what he started with. But the avant-garde is not about absence, it deliberately challenges and usually tries to set itself against ‘mainstream’ tradition by doing things in radically different ways.
It is ‘experimental’, for better or worse.
For better, it can be hugely entertaining, as in Michael Daugherty’s Long-Haired Poet in the Dorchester Hotel, which went something like this,

!!!!!                       !!!!!   
!!!!!                       !!!!!
!!!!!          ?           !!!!!
!!!!!                       !!!!!
!!!!!                       !!!!!

Or Seven Number Poems by Neil Mills on the LP Experiments in Disintegrating Language/Konkrete Canticle (1971) that adhere to rhythmic structures but use numbers instead of words and thus achieve a minimalist music entirely without verbal meaning. I’m delighted to find somebody has taken the trouble to perform them on You Tube.

For worse, some of the avant-garde seem to go out of their way to try to offend, provoke or otherwise abuse any other poet from the ‘mainstream’ as part of their radical agenda. The mainstream mostly doesn’t mind what they do and is happy to assimilate their best efforts, be amused by others and simply let them be if they insist on their difference. Auden pointed out somewhere that ‘everything changes but the avant-garde’.
The full title of Matthew Welton’s book We needed coffee but… fills the whole front cover, and is longer than many of the poems in it but, that point having been made- if it is the point, the book contains poems very similar to many published in the 1960’s and they first made me wish that the Vietnam War could be brought to an end whereas most mainstream books published in 2009 had moved on from the sort of poetry being published in 1969.
Seeing themselves as new, revolutionary or contrary to tradition, avant-garde poets are often young and think they are the first generation who were ever going to overthrow the ‘established order’. But every generation has poets who think that and all they can hope to do is join the long tradition, not re-invent it.
It is more plausible to identify Beethoven and Picasso as genuine innovators, who developed from what went before them and only then broke with established practice and took major steps forward in their later work. One poet who does a similar thing is W.B. Yeats, whose early work is radically changed by Modernism, and Ezra Pound, into something entirely tougher, more rigorous and provides a model for the generations that came after him.
In a radio programme, Whatever Happened to the Avant Garde (Radio 3, 11/12/2016), Paul Morley asked if it’s even possible any more and Stephen Burt in the poem is you is probably not the first to refer to the ‘post avant-garde’, which must be as annoying for them as it was for anybody who thought that their rebellious clothes or outrageous hairstyle would remain shocking forever.
It might seem to us that by now every avenue has been explored and we can thank Andre Breton, Carl Andre (the author of that pile of bricks in the Tate) Bob Cobbing, Marcel Duchamp, Pierre Boulez and Yoko Ono for all their work. Some of it led only into cul-de-sacs from which there was nowhere else to go but others, like T.S.Eliot, David Bowie or Tracey Emin, became part of the mainstream tradition. Or perhaps we have hardly started yet.
Poetry is a wide church and all are welcome to make their contribution within it. All you have to do is ‘be any good’. The long tradition of poetry is much more liberal and inclusive than some avant-garde poets gave it credit for and is not offended by new approaches. It is glad of all their contributions but sorry if they thought they were quite so different. A new hat soon becomes old hat and there’s nothing we can do about that.      


Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Forthcoming Poetry Events in Portsmouth and Havant

There is also Pauline Hawkesworth's launch, of Life-Savers on All Sides, previously mentioned below, this Saturday, 7.30 pm at St. Francis Church, Northern Parade, Hilsea with a supporting cast of readers from Portsmouth Poetry Society.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Natalie Clein, Suites for Solo Cello

Natalie Clein, Suites for Solo Cello (Hyperion)

Bloch's Suite no.1 unwinds as if from somewhere else. It is an immediately engaging beginning and for a moment had me wondering if the disc was playing properly in the same way that a critic recently checked Nemanja Radulovic's new Bach recording to see if it wasn't playing too fast. The opening could have gone on longer for me but that would keep us waiting for its subsequent tuneful, expressive movements that at no time am I going to compare with any other repertoire, however great the temptation might be.
One can't live permanently in the world of the viola da gamba and so I was glad to see that Natalie Clein's latest release concentrates on mid C20th solo cello music. Like her previous recording of Schelomo, it is admirable that she brings our attention to this fine, somewhat unclassified composer who is worthy of it.
These pieces, three suites, benefit from being played quite loud to better appreciate the nuances and phrasing of movements that continually flow and conjure new feelings and ideas in their unravelling. They have offered more and more through half a dozen plays so far and are unlikely to fall off the playlist for a while yet.

If one expects something more stylistically adventurous from Luigi Dallapiccola one is not disappointed by the strident triple forte 'dissonance' of the opening bars. Unsettled and unsettling, one is not allowed to linger long in its brief serene moments and stretched notes. Dating from 1945 and Dallapiccola being 'a fervent anti-fascist', one needs no temptation to assume some programmatic meaning in the music and appreciate its terse statements as passionate for good reason.

But if one's knowledge of Gyorgy Ligeti's music is limited to the fractured compositions that I knew, one might be surprised by his Sonata, opening with pizzicato and notes bending between phrases of lyrical longing. It looks into dark places but not forlornly or hopelessly. Whether or not it deliberately echoes the viola of  Sainte-Colombe from three hundred years before, I don't know but it brings to mind the atmosphere of his brooding before Natalie is off in rapid passages of intense, and brilliant, explorations of the fingerboard.
This is not a place to begin listening to the solo cello repertoire but it is a fine place to have arrived at. The pieces make a coherent and compelling programme from this esoteric area of the catalogue, unflinching and deeply rewarding, repaying all the attention it continually draws out of the listener.