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.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Carolyn Sampson - Bach

Bach, Cantatas for soprano, Carolyn Sampson, Freiburger Barockorchester/Mullejans (Harmonia Mundi)

It was an act of great self-denial that I didn't order this new release for, ooh, at least ten days. One must acknowledge that one can't just buy everything that one fancies and some restraint and discrimination needs to be exercised. But another stupendous review and the thought that I have actually denied myself the 72-disc Complete Cantatas quickly overturned the decision, especially with respect to being discriminating which would surely mean it needs to be added to the Dietrich Fisher-Dieskau and Natalie Stutzmann albums because neither of them are sopranos.
BWV 202, Weichet nur, betrubte Schatten begins like Zadok the Priest in slow motion. There are only so many chord sequences available and I suspect Handel might have lifted it from Albinoni anyway but the music soon leaves behind any such trivial parallels. Played time and time again, it appears bottomless, inexplicably faultless and seemingly able to explain everything. You might try to tire out its sumptuous luxury, not only the composition but the sound of it, the fact that there are over 200 of them and these are only three. I'll go back to it again soon and see how tired it sounds.
I hope it's not impolite to notice from their picture that the Freibuger Barockorchester are a mature group and one wonders if their playing benefits from accumulated and shared wisdom because it always has enough time and space, tone and manner to restate the case for Bach - that never needs any reconsideration- at a time when Mozart had been pressing his beguiling charms on me again with The Magic Flute, amongst other things, and Handel is usually on the premises ready to overwhelm with his flamboyant genius. I am forever trying to convince myself that if I could only have either books or records I would have books because literature is somehow the real thing. It never quite works. Bach is better than Shakespeare and poetry has a hopeless job on if it wants to prove itself a higher calling than music.
Carolyn Sampson is, thankfully, wherever one looks these days, working too hard, I reckon, but only satisfying a demand and if it's not Dowland songs in the Wigmore Hall or the headline-grabbing disrobing in Handel opera a while ago, it turns out that the Poulenc Stabat Mater quite recently was her as well. I'd forgotten that. I had a minor concern that she was a bit more lush and sensual than Bach's Lutheranism requires but these cantatas concern themselves with renewal in Spring, a re-joining with God expressed in sometimes seductive metaphors that end in bliss, and a wedding cantata in which 'Cupid once again goes on the prowl' so her talents are not entirely out of place. She doesn't have quite the same magnificent dignity that Natalie Stutzmann's set has but that is because she's not supposed to. And, with Dietrich ostensibly not being quite as sexy, before anybody starts to suspect it is what Ms. Sampson looks like that makes me admire her, I might point out that I like Josquin DesPrez, Yehudi Menuhin and Dmitri Shostakovich as well.
Andras Wolf, bass-baritone, in BWV 152, Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn, can be smooth and tender as well as agile, and an obvious highlight is the duet that ends that middle cantata of the three here.
The wandering lines of the oboe, an innovation by JS in church music at the time, are happiness in a bottle, here played by Katharina Arfken, it says, and so special mention to her, weaving her way alongside Carolyn so that track 7 needs to be flicked back and heard again because, like the best such pieces, it isn't long enough.
The continuo seemed high in the mix at first and Carolyn, in the early stages, maybe not as prominent as she might be but either one becomes accustomed to that or why should it not be. One of the great, perhaps too often overlooked, features of the cantatas are the viola da gamba/cello parts where Bach is serving up plenty in behind when many would be distracted by the main line. It's not only in Bach that listening once is not enough because there's more going on than a few plays can appreciate.
This goes straight to the short-list for Disc of the Year, a category that has become more competitive than the poetry decisions I try to make come December. And so much for self-denial, surely there's something perverse about it, I've already been back to Amazon, eyeing up the Complete Cantatas, the amazing value on offer on one set made virtually a gift by my insurance people sending an e-mail kindly reminding me that I hadn't yet activated the £30 voucher they gave me for renewing with them that I had missed entirely.
I mean, for heaven's sake, surely I've got better things to do.
No, I haven't.        

Monday, 24 July 2017

The BBC Explained

I don't care how much people at the BBC, or anybody else for that matter, are paid and I'm disappointed that the story has lasted quite so long in the news.
There are various points being made about the rights and wrongs of it all. I can appreciate that John Humphries and Nicky Campbell are senior figures, that Chris Evans and Lineker could earn more elsewhere and that Rachel Burden and Jane Garvey are consummate broadcasters worthy of parity with male counterparts. But the figures are just numbers, quite possibly the outcome of different negotiating skills. I can't believe Chris needs the money and, for me, being all shouty early in the morning doesn't warrant it but 9 million people tune in and like it. I'd much rather listen to Rachel.
These high earners will pay 40% in tax and spend much of the rest of it, thus keeping others in employment, and I'm not convinced it makes them any happier. On a bigger scale, I don't care how much the royal family get paid and I wouldn't even tax her majesty because that's just another ever decreasing circle of complicated paperwork.
The BBC costs 40p a day, it said on the BBC. I'm now aware that some people pay the licence fee but never, they say, never watch or listen to any of the BBC's output so they have a point that they shouldn't have to pay, if only there were a cost effective way of making sure they never saw another clip from Top of the Pops. Personally, I'm happy to pay 40p a day for Radio 3 and The Proms, with the rest as a bonus, and I don't have to watch Top Gear, Strictly Come Dancing or Doctor Who. But I don't mind that they're on because as well as the elitist feeling of cultural snobbery it allows me, they can be sold on to the rest of the world in order to pay Daniel Barenboim, Natalie Clein and the like to appear at the music festival. It's a shame, in these terms, that Clarkson was sacked because he was strangely a good investment, an odd parallel with the royal family who are differently demeaned but pay a dividend.
What is beneath all this ongoing brouhaha is, of course, a right wing plot. In a stategy that Donald Trump would admire, those who see the BBC as a leftist conspiracy, with its University Challenge, BBC4 and concerts from the Wigmore Hall, take any opportunity to undermine it and they must be delighted that the female signatories of the open letter have become unlikely sisters-in-arms against Reithian values. To them, any attempt at impartiality, balanced reporting and producing programmes of value irrespective of audience figures or advertising revenue are deeply suspect and to find feminism coming out in support of their malign campaign is a credit to just how sinister their methods are.
Their motives are there, lurking beneath these red herrings, the chronic undermining of a last remaining fine and wonderful thing. For them, ideally, we'd pay to subscribe, then again for a special event or extra channels and once we'd tune in, much of the output would be advertiements for further packages they want us to buy. I'd rather not have a Beethoven symphony interrupted by an advert for some jazz, thank you very much.
We should be glad of it, especially as once it's gone, like the branch lines on the railway, so many libraries or panel games like Gallery or Face the Music, there'll be no getting it back.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Recent Reading

A few months ago, reading had become chaotic and was less the rewarding pleasure it is supposed to be and more a forced march. It's not self-improving, there's no progrramme or worthiness to it, it's just something to enjoy so once one has to abandon one thing in favour of a higher priority, sidelining things that might never be returned to (sorry, George Gissing) orr having three on the go at once, it starts to defeat the object, even if the priority is often to report back on something new and important here.
So, back to some level of orderliness, I can returrned to the 645 pages of Elizabeth Bishoip's selected letters in between items of a more pressing nature while Hereward the Wake hangs on in there, hoping to come back into favour.
It was on page 176, November 1948, when she is 37 years old that the first reference to her heavy drinking is made. I don't want to become too voyeuristic because the value of the letters is in the insights offered into her own writing, and self-deprecation about it, and her relationships with other poets. But by 1951 it is remarkable how she is able to hold herself together and report to friends of three week binges and her five day hospitalization when clearly the literary among us are far more interested in the opportunity she had to read alongside E. E. Cummings.
But she's a doughty old bird and whether one should really be reading letters or not, they make a fine biography and only add to one's admiring of her.
Another American lady of the same generation is Carson McCullers, whose The Heart is a Lonely Hunter was a title on the C20th American reading list at University that I shouldn't have missed out in my strategy of achieving a 2:1 by reading as few books as possible. Beginning with The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, immediately impressed and I'm now wondering if there has always been a copy of the Lonely Hunter somewhere upstairs and didn't need to order another. But, something to relish and a writer who conveys most persuasively some profound humanity,
His hand sought the adjacent flesh and sorrow paralleled desire in the immense complexity of love.

While Charlotte Mew failed to impress at first, whose Collected Poems and Selected Prose I was looking at well in advance of the Julia Copus biography. One can see a kinship with Hardy's poetry and why ne would have admired hers but things have moved on a bit since then. She was on the verge of being consigned to a verdict of quaint eccentric before the story Elinor made the whole book worthwhile, a steady, mannered account of love denied and inevitable, but very convincing, sadness. 
Be that as it may, it can't be good news all the time and perhaps I was due to pay for the good time we had in Wales. It's been a bad week here in Lake Wobegon.
The TLS tells us we are all Janeite now, on her anniversary and being put on the ten pound note.Well;, we're not. I'm not anyway. I'm sure it's my fault and that with a prose style so eminently imitable, Eng Lit's answer to Tommy Cooper, she must be classic, iconic and canonical and I've missed out. I read Mansfield Park nearly forty yearrs ago, perhaps too young to appreciate its satire and ironies. On a visit to Cambridge, my friend introduced me to his best mate there who eventually struck up conversation by asking who was my favourite novelist.
- James Joyce.
He pulled a face intended to express disgust. So, out of politeness, I enquired after his and it was Jane. And that just about put paid to that. We eyed each other distrust, suspicion and possibly even contempt and I realized I might not be his favourite poet anymore.
Then I re-read 100 pages of Mansfield Park after the whole of George Eliot by way of comparison and for me there was no comparison.
So this week's TLS got filed before bedtime on the day of its arrival, couldn't even do the crossword, when it usually lastrs the weekend.
Then, having struggled heroically with my feet all week, probably something to do with new boots, I thought the least I deserved last night was a good Prom but it was John Williams' film music. While I've no objection to a certain openness to diversity in the Proms progrramme, and one of the most memorable ever was a late night Indian performance by Rajan and Sajan Misra, it would be nice if film scores, Dr. Who and other such lowbrow items could be shuffled off to Radio 2 and Alan Titchmarsh put in charge.
And I only escaped as far as the racing channel where Deauville was going to start the fightback to the position of affluence I was in this time last week except it got turned over by the shortest of short heads.
And, with the chess rating at Chess24 suddenly ordinary again having been stratospheric quite recently, things can only get better. And there's every chance they might with the arrival of a rare (for me) DVD order. Not a film but something I stumbled on that I thought I must have.
Tune in next week to hear all about it 

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

These Roles Be Reversed


These Roles Be Reversed

They pass them up, the drinks and food,
At least they try to, all day through,
In the hope that they do some good,
Sometimes on one’s 12 Hour Debut.

But they were passed to in their time,
By kids in shorts on country lanes.
The rider then was me and I’m
Giving the same drinks back again.

Man hands up sustenance to man
In very much similar style.
They cover what distance they can,
Something over two hundred miles.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Thom Gunn Selected Poems

Thom Gunn, Selected Poems, edited by Clive Wilmer (Faber)

It's been a long wait for this book since the news that it was in preparation. I've waited longer to see books in print, am still waiting for a couple more, but not often. Clive Wilmer's selection is most valuable for its authoritative introduction and notes, the poems being familiar to Gunn's admirers from plenty of previous editions but should provide a welcome opportunity to assess where Gunn's reputation now stands.
In the 1950's when his generation of poets emerged, he was immediately regarded as among its leading figures but whereas Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes have survived considerable vilification to become often quoted 'National Treasure' and iconic mythmaker respectively, Gunn has somewhat faded from view as the fashion has swung in some places towards a smartalec postmodernism in the Age of Muldoon. This is diagnosed by some commentators as being at least in part due to Gunn becoming transatlantic, if not American by adoption, and an accompanying  stylistic shift in his poetry. But previously Donald Davie, in a critique of the period, had written that he kept noticing "how insistently Thom Gunn shouldered to centre stage." Not that Gunn, despite his apparent swagger, seems the sort of person to 'shoulder' his way anywhere, it was the poems that did that. Those poems, though, have always been more urbane than those of Hughes and if there are some residual similarities in method to Larkin's, Gunn's came to express a much more generous personality than Larkin's cartoon curmudgeon.
As befits such a contrast, Larkin was more frugal and his three mature volumes constitute a 'selected poems' with the removal of only a handful of pieces whereas Gunn's output does benefit from some pruning. Not necessarily at the hands of his last editor, August Kleinzahler, or perhaps Clive Wilmer, though, despite the impressive credentials they bring to the job. I was ready to complain, in time honoured tradition, about the omission of a number of poems - A Waking Dream, Thomas Bewick, Monterey and The Butcher's Son - for which Wilmer includes sufficient candidates fit for substitution, but then checked Kleinzahler's volume and found he doesn't include any of them either. Whether this is down to their attempts to represent the range of Gunn's output rather than present his finest work or if we merely diverge in our tastes is a question I'm left with but I can't agree with the selection.
Wilmer puts in the whole of the long poems Misanthropos and Jack Straw's Castle while Kleinzahler leaves them out and certainly both decisions are preferable to using only excerpts from either but even if they are thematically significant, it would free up a lot of space for less dubious work if they were regarded as interesting, less successful experiments and didn't diminish the selection which might become the one that future readers first turn to. Poets deserve to be assessed by their best work rather than a representative sample that demonstrates acknowledged flaws and Gunn in his finest moments is a more accomplished poet than any of his generation.
Where Kleinzahler saw the first two collections, Fighting Terms and The Sense of Movement, as juvenilia, Wilmer spreads his selection more evenly throughout a career that moved through very different phases but produced masterpieces from the outset to the end, an end that Wilmer tells us was almost pre-conceived, but emphasizes, if anything, the poet that Gunn became ahead of the knowing coolness that first made his name and it would be difficult to omit any more than he has done from The Man with Night Sweats, which is regarded as a return to form even by many who ever thought Gunn had lost something. It is clear by now that he never had. If those of us that grew up with the David Bowie of the 1970's might now think that his shifts in genre eventually didn't do him any favours and ran into something less than genius, Thom Gunn never lost the capacity to provide each new collection with poems to compare with his best.
Wilmer tells us that Gunn 'came to dislike' The Sense of Movement for '(as he saw it) its excessive formality and over-deliberate manner'. And one well might, having moved on, but Gunn was a good enough judge of his own work to regard the poem My Sad Captains as 'one of his best poems'. It would have been a shame not to. But what he perhaps didn't realize, following his reservations about the 'confessional' poetry of Lowell, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, was that somewhere inside him was a confessional poet trying to get out from the model of impersonal detachment that he long maintained. If we can read into the trajectory of his oeuvre as a whole an emerging frankness about his homosexuality (which for me is neither here nor there in an appreciation of his talent or significance as a poet) as the zeitgeist modified itself as he wrote, we can also now see his devotion to his mother, who committed suicide at a crucial time in his life, and hostile attitude to his difficult father not only in the later poems where he finally recalled his teenage years but also in From an Asian Tent, left uncollected at the time of writing, in which, he
   each year look more like the man I least
Choose to resemble, bully, drunk, and beast.
Are you a warning, Father, or an example?

If that is a minor paradox, it is a more regular succession of paradoxes that Gunn makes his poems from, as if echoing Keats' idea of 'negative capability',
that is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason

something like which is to be found in On the Move,
At worst, one is in motion; and at best,
Reaching no absolute, in which to rest,
One is always nearer by not keeping still.

and in other poems both in this selection and not in it.
We shouldn't make quite so much of the points that Gunn was poetry's most sophisticated contribution to the 1960's counter-culture of The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane et al while maintaining a much longer tradition that acknowledged John Donne and Elizabethan poets as models, or that he was equally adept at metrical, syllabic and free verse, each informing the other, if occasionally to his detriment when too enamoured with the Roberts Duncan and Creeley, which isn't to say that his interest in them didn't contribute something to his writing.
It is to be hoped that Clive Wilmer's work in making this selection offers a chance for Gunn to be re-assessed and his status in literary history established somewhere above where it could have been left to languish, as a poet's poet but not considered foremost among the generations of poets coming after those of us who took their initial impetus from the poetry of the 1950's. It was Thom Gunn that made me want to be a poet in the same way that George Best made me want to be a footballer although it's a moot point which influence was the most significant or useful. I had understood that a biography was in preparation but that was a few years ago now and there's no sign of it so maybe that project has been abandoned but let's hope it hasn't and its author hasn't long forgotten it and used their Eng Lit Masters to gain a position in marketing or advertising.
I am grateful to Clive Wilmer and August Kleinzahler who 'keep hope alive' even though I remain at some odds with their choices of what constitutes Gunn's best work. In the best way, it is an oeuvre that was at once contemporary and for all time but when his two nominated literary executors fail to include The Butcher's Son in their definitive selections, one wonders if they didn't quite appreciate,
   a light within the light
That he turned everywhere.


Thursday, 13 July 2017

Letter from Wormbridge

On Sunday morning I spent an hour at Wormbridge, which is on the road from Abergavenny to Hereford, in support of my nephew’s cycling time trial debut in the Welsh Championship 12 Hour. Most riders would progress to the 12 hour discipline from 10 miles, 25 miles and then longer distances but we’re not particularly impressed by mere speed merchants and Chris went straight to the day long event, the ostensible purpose of the project being to replicate the photograph of him, aged 7 or 8, handing up a bottle to me in the 1996 edition of the Western Time Trials Association, with the roles reversed 21 years later. There is not much that our family doesn’t know about organizing, timekeeping and riding 12 hour cycle races but we haven’t had a rider since my last effort and so man hands on misery to man, as Larkin said in his poem, and it was good to have someone to pass it onto.
We stayed in the Raglan area, near the start and finish of the race in an idyllic but impractically remote converted barn some way behind the back of beyond and after visiting the local castle on Saturday, were up with the dawn chorus at 4 a.m. to get to the start. From the beginning, there were two events going on within the same race. Not necessarily the women’s and the men’s, the tandems (of which there were none as it happened) and the solo riders but those who were in contention for the top prizes and those who were riding a 12. The point of the latter option might be lost on some people but some sport, and especially occasions like this, are about much more than the dreary tyranny of who won. Personally, I don’t want to hear about the challenge, the ‘journey’ or personal development either. It’s just there so you can do it if you feel like it. It’s not supposed to be easy and it wouldn’t be any good if it was.
Dan Colman, the next big thing of Welsh cycling, made an early statement of intent by setting off like a scolded cat, piling up fast 10 mile times one after the other with the likes of Dean Ware, Tom Glandfield, Gavin MacDougall and Victor Chetta posting times in behind him that may or may not provide a platform to challenge from later in the day.
But as a one-time rider myself who needed to train hard to be good enough to take part, never mind be competitive, I’m often more interested in the stories going on below the top few places on the leaderboard and, on a similar theme, it was good to see Janet Tebbutt, if only in passing from the car, once holder of the ladies Land’s End to John O’Groats record in the 1970’s and my all-time sporting hero ahead of better-known figures like Derek Randall, George Best, Alex Higgins, Basil D’Oliviera, mavericks for who winning didn’t seem to be the only reason to take part. There was a captivating contest going on among the ladies who brought some genuine class to proceedings with their panache and style that had absolutely nothing to do with being female and everything to do with being accomplished riders. One gathers other favourites throughout the day, mostly those riders who have the time to acknowledge your support although there’s no reason why they should. One motivation for being a lone long-distance cyclist might be to have twelve hours to yourself and so cheers of encouragement from lay-bys might not be what they came for.
But all day is a long time and what looks like an emerging pattern by lunchtime can’t always be relied upon to provide the result at the end. The impetus can swing away from the early pacesetters and the afternoon is where the actual outcome is decided. Colman didn’t slow down by much but MacDougall and the eventual winner, Victor Chetta, had more saved up than we knew about. Heroics elsewhere included a superb ride by Suzannah Minns at long last putting a gap of some significance between herself and her nearest pursuer who had served up a resilient battle from one minute behind all day long.
Chris had gone very much to plan although I know it’s easier to make a plan than deliver it when one’s chain comes off three times and you buy the losing ticket in the traffic light lottery and have to stop at them on both the outward and return parts of the trip to Hereford. It was hotter than ideal although windless (which might not be as ideal as it sounds in the heat) and although dual carriageways probably do provide better time trial results than B roads and country lanes, they are also a dystopian nightmare from a future we’ve now arrived at and the old course we had based on Sutton Benger, Malmesbury, Cirencester was more pleasant both to ride and spectate on. I was concerned he wasn’t taking enough of the water offered but it transpired that he couldn’t take any more. By mid-afternoon my thoughts had turned to my own hydration and promised myself some cans of lager at the end so please note, anyone who visits Raglan on a Sunday night and fancies a can of lager, it’s like Stairway to Heaven and the stores are all closed.
Among the reams of e-mail advice I provided in my role as self-appointed Svengali, it must have said that from 8 to 10 hours is the hard part. Once you are down to less than two hours, you can think you’ve cracked it. So those were the difficult moments although I doubt if packing was ever a serious option. No more serious, it seems, than having another go at it is having achieved this first success which may, or may not, have won the trophy for best novice. Before we know that, we will need to know who the first time at the distance novices were. But he did finish first, being the earliest starter of those who finished. In a 12 Hour, though, it is distance covered that wins the money, not who finishes first.
But what a sensational return to the classic sporting event it was. Twenty years on and it is still there, diminishing year by year with fewer and fewer riders apparently interested in guts, composure and determination and preferring lycra, sunglasses and expensive equipment to show their friends. Well, frankly, that won’t do but there still are enough stamina merchants to sustain it a while longer and a few athletes who can turn up and ride it like it’s a ten mile blast and see how long they last. Top marks to Chris and all my new best friends I met on Sunday. It’s going to have to be quite a concert that denies the Welsh Championship 12 Hour the prize for Best Event of the year on this website come December.