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, 31 May 2017

Music Notes

An hour last night spent with a disc of mazurkas from the Complete Chopin and the first copy of my subscription to Gramophone provided much needed respite from the horrors of an episode I'd like to but will never forget.
It would not be pleasant to go into too many details here, where I prefer to concentrate mainly on finer things, but it does involve a cat in the house and taking a lot of bedclothes to the laundry.
Gramophone doesn't have the CD glued to its front like the BBC Music Magazine, I think there are downloads, but more than compensates for that with the greater depth of its writing. Not as academic as I remember it some decades ago but a couple of grades up from the sometimes trite BBC product or the irreverent padding that I pass off as reviews here.
Initial impressions of Chopin very much favour the solo piano music that most of us will know him best by. The orchestral parts, post-Beethoven like all C19th composers can be characterized by the way they developed from his sound, are a bit too 'Romantic' but on the piano alone, he is an engaging companion.
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It's years since Music labels overtook Poems at the top of the index to this website and why wouldn't it. Originally intended to be about my poems, poetry and then literature and books in a wider sense, it has become obvious that music is more important or, simply, better. There is a way in which words are more limiting and escape from the hold of their associations, meanings and structures ever more difficult while music, of course, flies clear of language and one is more often in awe of those born with the innate talent to do it well.
It is nearly forty years since I introduced myself at a poetry meeting by saying I was a poet because it was easier than writing novels. That remains true now that I've actually finished a coherent 50 thousand word novel and realized the effort that was required to make a first draft of a feeble, cliche-ridden story of no literary merit compared to the delinquent discipline of lolling about putting together a few lines trying to avoid all the traps and claiming to be a creative artist.
Which is not to say one doesn't admire the greatest poets almost as much as any musician or proper writer. I hope that anybody within easy travelling distance of Portsmouth will come and see what goes on at Portsmouth Poetry Society next Wednesday when the subject under discussion will be Seamus Heaney. Since his death, I no longer know who is the greatest living poet in the language but during his lifetime there was nobody else whose language came so naturally with its own extra vitality.
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Meanwhile, it's unlikely that anybody is going to be able to explain to me the significance of the 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper., much coverage though it is getting. She's Leaving Home, yes, A Day in the Life. But otherwise, it's not the best album ever made, it's nowhere near the best album made by The Beatles. I can only assume that a few opinion makers once saw it listed in Rolling Stone as no.1 and thus assumed that was the right answer. I Wanna Hold Your Hand is better on its own than that whole album.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Jean Rhys - Collected Stories

Jean Rhys, The Collected Short Stories (Penguin)


How appropriate would it be to present Jean Rhys as the female counterpart to Patrick Hamilton. It may only be superficial but that's never stopped me before.
Their stories, and their lives if that is relevant, are both set in low rent, insecure worlds of exploitation, emotional and monetary hardship with the theatre sometimes as a vainglamorous environment place for manipulation, false expectations and seedy dishonesty.
The cruelty in Patrick Hamilton eventually went further as Unknown Assailant saw his prose diminished to little more than a gin-soaked set of shorthand notes whereas Jean Rhys' stories maintain a spare style that, if anything, improves with maturity and in Hamilton it is more often the men that suffer for their infatuation.
Hamilton's leftist sympathies are less obvious than Rhys' more explicit and prescient themes of racism and sexism but she is in a better position to know, coming from a Carribean childhood that makes England time and again seem like 'the land of the dead' in any number of ways. Both, though, concern themselves with outsiders, misfits and characters in isolation.
Alienation, in A Solid House, is felt by Teresa in Miss Spearman,
Usually the sweetness and softness, if any, were displayed for all to see; but, hidden away, what continents of distrust, what icy seas of silence. 
In Fishy Waters, Maggie says to Matt,
'you find envy, malice, hatred everywhere'
and very soon realizes,
She was trying to fight the overwhelming certainty that the man she was looking at was a complete stranger.
By the time we read Overture and Beginners Please, it is clear that comfort is going to be cold comfort and the first person narrator is the only one who thinks, that having been offered a place at the Academy of Dramatic Art, she had reason to be,
happier than I'd ever been in my life. Nothing could touch me, not praise, nor blame.
On a tour of northern theatres, she meets one of the boys who,
showed me a sketch he'd done of a street in a Northern town. He'd called it 'Why we drink'. But none of this prevented me from being excited and happy.
The later stories do more by not making everything explicit but Rhys' ironies are obvious if gently put.
The artificial behaviour of 'beauties' in the theatrical profession are sharply observed in Before the Deluge. The Chevalier of the Place Blanche sees a predatory seducer foiled as his promises are too transparent but the girl that escapes him has only to look forward to 'the midnight train to Brussels and a very thin time indeed'. And something like that thin time comes to Miss Verney in Sleep it off Lady.
But, troubled though they are and rarely bringing with them anything less than a bleak view of human nature, Jean Rhys proves to be a wonderful story teller and a hugely gifted writer. These pieces are more subtle than I make them sound by only quoting thematic, resonant lines. If and when the opportunity arises in the ongoing crusade to be equal to the number of books I buy, I will look out furtherr titles of hers. Whether the next option is a novel or her memoirs remains to be seen.       

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Oh, Babe, What Would You Play

One wouldn't have thought that a mug punter's balance sheet would continue quite so consistently onwards and upwards so perhaps these days I'm not a mug punter any more. But pride comes before a fall so I must stick with the programme and be grateful while it keeps on working.
After another good weekend of which I had no great expectations but one thing led to another, I treated myself to the usual reward of searching Amazon for the next investment. The Complete Buxtehude was an outlandish luxury and a huge success but doesn't have to be the end of such self-indulgence.
The Complete Bach Cantatas goes to 72 discs, for £64. It remains a possibility but the unwelcome voice of restraint could just be heard saying, 72 discs, are you sure. It's not the shelf space, it's not the parsimoniousness, it's just the recognition of how long it would take to listen to them all once each. Although I would enjoy just looking at them.
So, maybe the alchemy that turns horse races into a music library is beginning to lose its charm. But not just yet. What, Simon Rattle's Beethoven cycle with the Vienna Philharmiker for a tenner. Okay, then. I'll be straight into the Pastoral when that arrives. And I had been aware that there is no Chopin on CD on those much-vaunted shelves, the cassettes and LP never get played and so 16 discs of the Complete Chopin, regrettably not by Martha Argerich, take me from no Chopin to all of it for the price of a fiver on a 3/1 winner.
Chopin's restraint in leaving us only 16 discs worth of music is admirable compared to Buxtehude's 29 and Bach something like 157. Thanks, Freddie, lad. I realize that all that Bach is the closest to perfection that any art is likely to achieve but surely it was just showing off to bequeath us quite so much of it.
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But, never one to be magnanimous when brash celebration is an alternative option, and never mind what a relatively minor honour it is in the wide and plural network of contemporary poetry, it has been announced that my poem below, the Portsmouth Acrostic, was adjudicated finest among the small number of poetry entries received for enhancement of the refurbishment of our office. So, all the usual caveats apply, like in any poetry competition, there would have been different winners if different judges had been invited to choose. And, quite possibly I was the only entrant that has received cash from a magazine for a poem that was published, so I won't be tempted into saying that it was like Nijinsky running against some much more honest, sincere and unambiguous colts and mares. It is very possible that many who read those poems, not all of who will be familiar with Empson's Seven Types of Ambiguity or with deep reverence for the work of Elizabeth Bishop, will prefer the other poems and I'd be the first not to blame them for that. Most remarkably, though, the ratio of number of adjudicators to number of poems entered was almost 6:1 and I'd be surprised if there's ever been a poetry competition like that before.
But poems serve different purposes in different circumstances and literary worth might seem to a certain type of literati to be the overwhelming parameter by which to judge their value but it's not ultimately them that decide beyond the painfully limited precincts of campus, journal and elite cognoscenti.
I had thought the 'long fellow' meant Lester Piggott but I think I can see what Tony Walsh, performance poet, is doing by calling himself Longfella. Referring back to the Hiawatha poet, maybe, maybe not.
The poetry map is a difficult thing to hold one's own place on, this cosy middle-ground of understated, lyric poetry for the page that I identify with immediately feels the need to distance itself at first from the cerebral compositions of J.H. Prynne, the self-absorbed avant-garde and the precious creative writing industry but neither does it want anything at all to do with the one-dimensional crowd pleasing of 'performance'.
Walsh's This Is the Place, as a poem, set new standards for me with regards to what 'bad poetry' is like. Its 'defiance', its exploitatation of heightened emotion, its appeal to very basic, visceral feelings at the most vulnerable of times and its complete absence of any other way it could be read made Kate Tempest look like the most subtle of ironists in comparison. If ever I need to show anybody a bad poem from now on, I'll show them that.
But, if you're going to have a poem, perhaps it was going to have to be something like that. That is the problem with words, why poetry will never be as good as music, and we are stuck with them. Sometimes words aren't good enough but there were plenty of people who thought that Tony Walsh's words were exactly what was required and so I, and all those like me, ought really to abide by one of our other standbys, which we got from Wittgenstein, 'whereof one cannot speak, thereof we must be silent'.      

Friday, 19 May 2017

Ironically canonical

Firstly, quite beside the point, Hat's Off and Congratulations to Her Majesty as her horse wins the Yorkshire Cup. It must have been exciting with the distances being a neck, a neck and a short head but it makes for a pleasant afternoon and the prize money should cover a suitable retirement gift for His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh. More importantly, though, the 4/1 I availed myself of last night restores my turf account to the very comfortable position it was ten days ago and thoughts turn towards the 72 disc set of Complete Bach Cantatas. We will see.

But, mainly, in  my role as honarary consultant to anybody doing a course I can help with, I've been considering 'the canon' which is apparently the subject of an essay for the Open University.
A list of those sine qua non names without which no genre can apparently be defined. It seems to have come from the selection of painters made by Vasari and developed from there, so it's hard luck for anybody that slipped his mind.
In Western classical music, it would begin with Bach-Mozart-Beethoven but where does it stop. Surely then Schubert and Brahms and, if them, then Haydn, Mendelssohn and I'm sure, looking at Wikipedia, Dieterich Buxtehude would be thrilled to have been included once the canon was expanded. But is one inducted as if into a Hall of Fame and can one be demoted out of it if fashion changes and one is no longer de rigeur. What would Telemann have to say about that.
But the point being made by the course in question doesn't appear to be who should be in or out or whether it's a daft idea with no definitive answer. It sets up the canon only to denounce it for not including many women or black people.
And, yes, it is dominated by German men in wigs and my records include nothing by Clara Schumann or Fanny Mendelssohn or Mozart's sister, only Hildegaard of Bingen, Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Sofia Gubaidalina and Errolyn Wallen.
But I'm not off to Jamaica to ask why UB40 aren't considered an essential part of the reggae canon alongside Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown, Lee Perry, etc.
Although everyone has their own idea of the great and good, it is not a list that is officially written down anywhere. It has been set up just so that it can be knocked down for apparently fashionable purposes.
The canon of academic correctness currently includes a critique of the idea of the canon but in 1979, when I was being introduced to the then current fashion, it was the 'intentional fallacy' that was the object of derision, in favour of the text as the object of study. Oh, Death of the Author, Where are you now.
I don't know if Sofia Gubaidalina or Errolyn Wallen are canonical, neither do I care and I very much doubt if they do, either. It is a shame to have to cite things that have effectively become no longer relevant in order to signal one's virtue in ways that weren't germane to the issue in the first place. Still, if that's what you need to do to pass the exam and become a graduate, I suppose you do it. It was ever the way.    

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Murakami - Men Without Women

Haruki Murakami, Men Without Women (Harvill Secker)

Murakami is proving himself time and again as one who is improving with maturity. One might not have expected that of a writer who might at first have been perceived as something of a novelty act.
The strangeness is increasingly assimilated into stories ostensibly more rooted in idenitifiable ordinariness. The one piece that works less well here almost acknowledges the fact as, in Samsa in Love, the first person narrator wakes to find he has turned into Gregor Samsa. The literary joke might be good enough for others but we usually expect Murakami's off-kilter reality to be a bit more subtle.
Otherwise, these seven stories provided a marvellous weekend, that unfortunate sort of book that is so enjoyable you both want it to last longer but you want to read it at once, too.
The title wrongfoots the reader's expectations. In all of the pieces, men are very much not without women but they are usuaally in temporary, unofficial relationships rather than 'steady' or married ones. It is at the core of all Muraakami, and apparently much contemporary Japaanese literature, that to be human is to be solitary but capable of intense, if non-permanent, attachments.
Both Kino and the final story, Men Without Women, - oh, now I get it - end with sustained elegiac passages that vaguely bring to mind Joyce's The Dead without any suggestion of anything quite so magnificent but we are by now way beyond regarding Murakami as some vogue, cult or exercise in cool. These pieces work like poems with their leitmotifs, restraint and elegance rather than narrative impetus. If there is a compulsion or intensity about their accounts of love, it is with an acknowledgement that it is not a fixed, stable condition but mutable and, like music, moves on.
It is a quiet book, for the most part, not undramatic but distanced by the narrative devices of looking back or putting a story within a story. Its effect accumulates from a relaxed, unintrusive prose style, that one understands the two American translators have succeeded in capturing from the Japanese. The best prose is often the most transparent, that one doesn't notice until one has appreciated that one hasn't noticed it.
Having been in on the Murakami story for so many years now, and wondering at times in the early stages quite where it was leading, it is very satisfying to have been led this far, to Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and now this. There is no conceivable reason why there shouldn't be plenty more to come.     


Haydn - The Seasons

Haydn, The Seasons 1801, Paul McCreesh, Gabrieli Consort, Wroclaw Baroque Orchestra, and soloists (NFM)

Haydn's late oratorio, The Seasons, is here presented in a nowadays rare large-scale performance as it was first heard. Another rare thing for a British audience is that its luxury book-style packaging comes not with parallel English-German-French text but with English and Polish. That is not a sign of the times to horrify UKIP but because it was recorded in Poland, with Polish choir and orchestra and financed by the Eurpoean Capital of Culture 2016, Wroclaw.
Carolyn Sampson takes the soprano part, which was never going to be likely to put me off buying it.

If, as the explanatory notes say, The Seasons has suffered in comparison with The Creation in the same way that Haydn has suffered for not having been Mozart, it's not as if either of them suffered that much. The Seasons, not unlike Vivaldi's version of events, is a cycle of nature but in Haydn there is the sub-text of progress and renewal in which nature is also God. None of that is likely to deflect our jocular maestro from quoting himself, the Surprise symphony in the Spring, and Mozart later.
Mozart never let a profound subject prevent him from exuberant invention and, if anything, Haydn is even less likely to.
While one of the most memorable passages comes in the onset of bleak midwinter, the merry-making after the harvest is a time for full-blooded roistering and Carolyn sings,


You mincing dandies, stay away!
Here your airs and graces count for nothing,
and smooth talk does no good:
no-one will listen to you.
 
One knows not to come to Haydn for too much introspection and long, dark nights of the soul. Even if he wanted to do that, and he doesn't look as if he did, it wasn't what he was mostly employed to do. The string quartet setting of the Seven Last Words from the Cross, so beloved here in the release by Cuarteto Casals, doesn't take us through the agonies and ecstacies that James MacMillan does but it makes for a gorgeous piece of music. But The Seasons is something of a mature schwanengesang and blends tender moments, duets and choruses into a beguiling, shifting experience that, of course, ends in celebratory fashion with us asking that we,
shall ascend into the glorious heav'nly realm.

For the purposes of the suspension of disbelief, it is best not to ask if that isn't right here, right now with a continuing supply of wonderful music or if there is somewhere better.       

Acis & Galatea, poem



Acis & Galatea

It seems strange now that I was wrapped
up in the poetry of love,
but I was only human, trapped
with only such that humans have
of world and time and marvelled at
the infinite that made me weep.
What will survive will not be that.
I followed her like a lost sheep.

If love is cruel, the glimpse I had
of happiness was just as brief  
for violence is all we know
for sure. But as a river god,
transformed now, I’ve taken my leave,
teem, dense with amazed fish, and flow.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Oh, Babe, What Would You Show Off

When I saw that President Trump had accused someone of being a show-off and grandstanding, I assumed his use of the internet had extended to reading me. Fair enough, I thought, it does seem a bit jejune to be posting crossword solutions. But then I realized he'd sacked somebody else and it was them he was growling about.
But we will see. I dare say he is saving his humility for when it's his turn to be thrown out, which can't be far away now.
But it was a thrill to finish that TLS crossword, which looked impossible at first. The main reason for beginning it was that there wasn't much else of interest in the comic this week. But the crossword seems to be constructed as an educational aid, leading you to things you never knew if you care to investigate, like Edmund Spenser's poem on the death of his daughter, Daphnaida. Although whether I read it or not remains to be seen.
The flowing, surging Romanticism of the first two Schumann symphonies accompanied the early inroads, Schumann having been judged worthy of further investigation as the favourite composer of Stephen Isserlis and the first instalment of last weekend's windfall from the turf accountant. But, pleasant though Schumann may be, it was instructive to move to Handel's Acis & Galatea, second hand at £0.01 +  £1.28 p&p, can't argue with that, for the vital finishing touches and be reminded quite spectacularly of how much better Handel is than almost anything else.
The simple story of love torn apart by the murder of Acis by the jealous baddie, Polyphemus, and then in a typically Ovid metamporphosis, turned into a stream, is the sort of thing that happens round here all the time and likely to happen even more often once the Liberal Democrats have legalized cannabis. But it is a masterpiece. And tonight, we begin with Simon Rattle's Brahms 1 from his cycle that last week's treble also paid for.
It is magical the way that sensible study of horse racing can be turned into a record library and I'm sure that all those who warn against gambling, as well as the school music teacher who knew I couldn't play the glockenspiel and so expected no more of me than to suggest corrections to his spelling of Dvorak, would appreciate the ongoing project.
The other arrival today is Murakami's Men without Women, so the question is whether to continue louchely with Jean Rhys' fine Collected Stories or break from them temporarily to freewheel my way through Murakami's latest over the weekend.
If only I knew which my faithful audience wanted to know about first. It's Murakami, isn't it.
Okay then.  
A further happy outcome of not much going on elsewhere was the other night when Radio 5 was droning on about football, Radio 3's often studiously eclectic Late Junction was offering some especially dreary jazz, Radio 4 had some of its so-called 'comedy' on and so I turned to Radio 2 and found Suzi Quatro's Quatrophonic, where she was playing an impressive list of doo-wop records which she was saying was what she grew up with. Good for her. Some people insist on becoming successful and don't care how they do it - who knows what sort of poet might belatedly sell a few records as a Country songwriter- and Devil's Gate Drive didn't cause me to swoon over Suzi when, aged about 13, I had a poster of Beethoven on my bedroom wall. But If You Can't Give Me Love soon comes to mind on You Tube excursions these days.
And so, with the compulsiveness not of a fool soon parted from his money but like a judicious magpie that knows what he wants when he sees it, it's a Doo-wop box-set for me and I have a postman who has no idea what treasure he is delivering and how grateful I am to him. Such service should not be demeaned by the profit-motive and, in line with a dreamy Labour party manifesto, it should be nationalized so that we can all enjoy it for what it is.  

Thursday, 11 May 2017

This Week's TLS Crossword Solution

By Jove, missus, I impress myself sometimes.
Some use of the interweb, by all means, but very educational it was.
With a couple of Schumann symphonies followed by Acis & Galatea, that is what I call an evening well spent.