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, 30 October 2017

Roddy Lumsden - So Glad I'm Me

Roddy Lumsden, So Glad I'm Me (Bloodaxe)

In yet another tremendous cover photograph, Roddy Lumsden has Sandy Denny for his latest book. Anybody who doesn't know who she was is going to struggle with most of the pop music and cult figure references that are strewn throught the poems inside. I doubt if I got half of them and I'm not bad at such games. On the back, in his new publicity photo, Roddy looks like an unpainted Roy Wood but it's by no means all music, his natural constituency when reaching for a metaphor is food.
The Round Britain Quiz star retains an inordinate amount of detail and his poetry similarly teems with invention, innovation, technique, esoteric knowledge as well as a penchant for the Chinese horoscope and the fragile nature of relationships.
I began at the beginning, which I don't always, and read the first section of the three in page order, feeling no need to flick forward in search of something more interesting. His idiosyncratic style forever ducks expectation, defies received ideas of what poetry should be. He did suggest a few years ago that the coming generation of poets were the best/greatest/most exciting (delete those he didn't say) ever in English poetry, which I took to mean those he had coached on Creative Writing courses, but I don't think they are. They might have been if he could genuinely bequeath his gift but he can't and most of them don't possess anything like it.
I'm rarely sure why poetry collections are divided into sections. I imagine it's thematic and I can see the second section, A Soft Leviathan, made up of the 'conflation poems in which he 'has knocked the square peg of one subject through the round hole of another', which is as maybe but the poems I've noted down as most worthy of comment come from the first and third parts.
Simone's Cookie is phenomenology, if not ontology, not letting us in gently by introducing Kierkegaarrd as an early gambit. And,
you remember awfulness, a sad station 
you once waited on, or the acre of chaos
which pretends to be our understanding.

This might be advertised as Lumsden's most optimistic book for some time but the confidence is in the shifting, elusive bravura of the poems, the trains of thought and the apparently bottomless resource of telling lines rather than in the account of discomfiting life as it is lived that they serve.
Page 16 is an uninhibited tribute to, and consideration of forms of coitus, beautiful in its way but I'm still with those who were reluctant to translate Catullus 16 for schoolchildren and there are enough other pieces to enthuse about more.
Elba is the poem I've returned to most often, exile being a powerful theme in poetry from before Homer and Ovid, and no less rich in potential now. For Napoleon here, solipsism or something like it is both a trap and a source of unlikely freedoms.
                                   Treason was impossible.
What won me was simplicity, the sweeping,
the bed-making, the birdless birdcage gaping.

It would diminish Roddy Lumsden to categorize him as avant-garde and it is such more accessible poems that his use of the language is seen to best effect but many admirers of 'mainstream' poetry are going to find some poems difficult. He's not as difficult as Geoffrey Hill, who insisted on it, but like Michael Donaghy, Paul Muldoon or Don Paterson, it's not of interest how avant-garde it is. If that is all there is to discuss about poetry then it must be missing something. There isn't time to whittle ourselves over labels that others have made it their raison d'etre to prove themselves to be.
Work Crush is a brilliant piece that understands office life as well as The Office itself did.
                            Our lives would lift 
into that starling swarm of whatever.
I barely know you and yet you may
be welcome at my funeral, karaokeing
my best song.

Even that 'my best song' is the demotic, grammatically incorrect usage that means his favourite song rather than the best he ever wrote
On second reading, some of the poems didn't seem to have the same immediate impact as when one didn't know what to expect but staying with it and winnowing a generous full-length collection down to the handful of those shortlisted for masterpiece status, those are the poems you buy books in the hope of finding - nobody writes masterpieces all the time - and the book is a palpable hit.
This is Roddy's tenth book, it says. I don't have all of them, I don't suppose, and I had begun to wonder if anybody needs more than one because they all provide similar elusiveness of meaning in places, enough to puzzle on what they mean, if anything, and whether or not it always works. But you do need several, this one as much as any, because there are great things to be had. It's not easy being a poet these days, avoiding all the obvious pitfalls in an industry overcrowded with dedicated artists who all think it's about them but without enough consumers to buy all the available product.  Should it be reportage from the front-line of one's own life, giving biographers licence to relate every line to some trauma or idiosyncracy or should it be classical art for art's sake. It doesn't matter. It would be very odd if it were entirely one or the other.
Roddy Lumsden remains one ahead of the game, still clear of the pack, good at doing his own thing, there is also a confident suspicion that the poems would achieve another level if heard read aloud by him -the page being a democratic but sometimes deadening stage for some poetry- and there's not many you can say all that about.             

Friday, 27 October 2017

Stuart A. Paterson - Looking South

Stuart A. Paterson, Looking South (Indigo Dreams)

Just when it seems I've not seen much new poetry this year, it all comes at once. Some failure of the poetry bush telegraph left me the less informed but eventually I found out about this and there's a couple more to come.
Stuart Paterson's Saving Graces was an excellent debut in the 1990's after which it went quiet but he's back now and making up for lost time.
Not much has changed, and we can be grateful for that. These are poems rooted in time and place, the title referring us to his return to Scotland after years in, I think, mainly Manchester. They are direct, uncomplicated meditations on home, local history, nature and some politics, free of the sort of linguistic showmanship and adventure to be expected in the Roddy Lumsden book just arrived. In some amateur poets such sincerity and unlayered poems can become mundane or sentimental but Stuart is never that, his themes accumulating to an authenticity and truth that make for richness in an entirely convincing collection. His sense of place is full of the people, past and present, that made it,
Loves were made to last, fused through the brick
& woven into smoky floor and thatch,

and the details of several obscure figures from the history of Galloway, often C18th, are provided in a number of footnotes.
The nationalism that Stuart began with, when his poem, Dream State, gave its name to an anthology, hasn't abated. Personally, I don't see political independance being necessary in making identity and countries seem to me better off in alliances than in isolation but politics is not the primary purpose of poetry. Although it is a natural place for the discontents.
Looking for Wullie reminds me of my own search for Rosemary Tonks as Stuart tries to find the grave of Wullie McClellan, blacksmith, whose photograph shows him at work,
                                       lost in 
what it means to live but not forget.

And Sketched, on the page opposite, is a similar thing, with
Grace wedged into the very essence of
geology, herself a poem, a sketch
still being drawn not by word or line
but by the steady expert hand of time.

That closing on a rhyme in otherwise usually unrhymed poems is a regular feature in poems held together by phrasing and rhythm. It is effective and undemonstrative, never in danger of being accused of being prose set out in lines but neither allowing itself to be forced into unnecessary disciplines.
My Last Word on Herons is acute in its observation and depiction; Margaret Wilson's Abjuration is as powerful as anything with its conflation of political and religious dissent, gender perspective and life denied; Not Summer Yet describes the contingency of unseasonable weather.
The book, so specific about events and characters, is about timelessness, though. It is always extending beyond circumstances to something wider, the grander scale of things not by any means accepted as right or proper but understood, and impressively set down. It would be difficult for anyone, whether a regular reader of poetry or not, not to enjoy it at whatever page they open it.
It's great to see him back in such consistent good form.      
    

The Saturday Nap

Confidence can be a bad thing but you need to have at least some to be getting involved in anything. Everything I mentioned here last week won except the safety-first option that I put up in bold letters.
And then going to Plumpton on Monday was all of interest, good little meeting, but one wouldn't be lured into betting on most of those races if you weren't there. I didn't do well to exercise restrraint because I only exercised it when nominating winners and not backing them.
So at first one looks at the weekend prospects, which are many and various, dubiously. Less than half of the sumptuous profit I was showing at halfway through the year has gone but it seems a long time ago that I was in a position to treat it as regular income.
The Professor will be on the wire later, I'm sure, once he's got himself out of various Portsmouth pubs and I know he's keen on The Pentagon at Doncaster. He'll probably be right but what appears to be the O'Brien second string can hardly be a blue chip investment if Ryan Moore prefers to ride something else. I can't see why he does but he does.
The proper racing is at Cheltenham where there is plenty to like but heaven knows it is going to be competitive.
Doing Fine (2.00) was a real friend in April but I can't tip him tomorrow.
Midnight Shot (4.20) has also been kind, a horse I've got a lot of time for, and I could see him turning over the favourites but he's one for the small change yankee.
Robin'Hannon (4.55) would be the soundest option at a meeting I'd rather use Monopoly money at.

It's at Kelso one has more chance with legal tender.
Rockalzaro ((1.15) will go into the multiple bet and I'd be overjoyed if it's anything like the betting forecast price.
But Paul Nicholls sends Give Me A Copper (2.25), with Sean Bowen, future champion jockey, doing the long haul up north until he can get the pick of the stable rides. That should be The Saturday Nap.
But it isn't, the nap runs on Sunday.
Shantou Village (nap, Aintree 3.00, Sunday) could well be still progressing after impressively destroying my enormous hopes for Penglai Pavilion at Cheltenham two years ago and following up with 11F11 last season. He returns getting weight in a handicap from horses I reckon he's better than and he's 6/1.
It's not my sort of race usually but I think he's more than one to include in the speculative punt on a handful of vague fancies.
Meanwhile, I'm still thinking the jockeys and horses look very small at Plumpton.




















--
And now the Professor has been on the wire. His identity remains undivulged here (it's not John Francome) but I still won't quote exactly what he said.
But, yes, he goes with The Pentagon.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Alan Hollinghurst - The Sparsholt Affair

Alan Hollinghurst, The Sparsholt Affair (Picador)

 For those of us who don't live in such a world, reading an Alan Hollinghurst novel must be what it's like for Science Fiction fans chronically hungry for more tales of savage green mutants constantly at war on the planet Xarg. It is genre fiction of a high order but drenched in the detail of Oxford, sherry, Peter Grimes and Pauillac.
Much admired for his prose style, and often called Jamesian, it is a sumptuous experience and one anticipates a new book roughly every seven years with some relish. But there can come a time when one thinks one sees through the technique and some of the magic is lost, or it disappears for good.
No Hollinghurst character ever says anything without being given an adverbial clause to qualify precisely how they said it as the author displays his close observation of personality. Ezra Pound would have had a very good time indeed scoring through anything but entirely necessary nouns and reducing the text to half its length. If Ezra pared down to the barest essential, Hollinghurst can hardly bear to have anyone sip a drink without them doing it with a furtive hint of loucheness or as peremptorily as a busy secretary.
They spend their lives in a constant condition of expectation, blushing or usually 'colouring' whenever in the proximity of the object of their desires. It must be exhausting for them.
Through generations of the twentieth century, the original sin of the Sparsholt affair is never quite spelt out although we know it involved corruption and an illicit homosexual liaison in a period when public opinion wasn't quite as laissez-faire as it is now. But for much of the book it is hard to care much about anybody affected by it because they all seem so charged up with the frisson of their own eroticism. I had Alan Hollinghurst close to the top of my list of contemporary novelists in a time that seems to me to now lack a poet of the status of Auden, Larkin, Heaney or Sylvia but isn't badly off for fiction writers. And, yes, of course, Auden gets a mention in passing. But for much of this book he went into reputation freefall, having apparently gone to the same themes once too often and I wondered what I might be bid for the complete works, this one signed. The correct answer to the finest of our fiction writers is surely Julian Barnes whose literariness isn't bound up with chronicling privileged high camp.
However, having flirted outrageously with the perils of being abandoned by me, he somehow saves the day. It is throughout a vivid and enjoyable read and, one eventually has to admit, shot through with several pieces of exceptional prose from the 'thuggish, illusionless head' of the burly opposition at an art auction, through the 'hundred teenage mornings' huddled in a duvet to the aesthetic critique of those whose talk was always 'somehow of having...as if having was their right, and unending'. So perhaps the whole book should be credited with more ironic distance, before the appearance of the dreadful child, Samuel, who tells it as he sees it, who was the first character I liked.
The final section is written in more relaxed cadences, a memorable passage describing a street-cleaning truck in poetic terms,
the swirled pattern started to dry and fade, like a canvas in a dream whose erasure began the moment the brush had made its mark.
The passage of time, the feeling of outsiderliness in a world catering for younger people and an elegiac note of perspective inform an ending that does well to convince after I had spent so long unconvinced. Johnny somehow finds himself a Brazilian boyfriend in the form of Jose, which may or may not refer us to Peter Mandelson but does fit with the theme of gerontophilia. And then it is equally doubtful that the novel ends with a reference to To the Lighthouse, in which a final stroke completes a painting, with a portrait re-done, the paint 'still wet and workable', which even if it doesn't mean Virginia Woolf, certainly does make the whole book come flooding back.
Maybe it is some sort of masterpiece but it may also be too far down the line now for Alan Hollinghurst to prove himself the master of anything beyond this reportage from the revolution in gay lifestyles.        

Friday, 20 October 2017

Oh, Babe, What Would You Say

I typed out another complaint to the BBC last night, making it clear that I was their most loyal supporter and would gladly pay twice as much licence fee for Radio 3 alone. But I didn't send it and I'm glad I didn't. The Rev. Richard Coles did his best on Question Time and so we'll let him off, for once, but I'm on Coleswatch from now on, monitoring how much airtime he's given. -
--
The TLS continues to just about save its skin, like a test batsman who regularly gets out cheaply but then plays a good innings just before he was going to be dropped. England have a surfeit of such players at the moment although most of them are going to Austrralia because they are due to play well.
It's an excellent piece by Seamus Perry, Was Matthew Arnold Any Good? One might have thought the answer was, Well, he wrote Dover Beach, didn't he. Most of us would be more than happy to have done that. But I'll look forward to the case for and against, which is likely to be slanted against, and it's a good idea for a series. Were Queen, was Walt Whitman, is Paul Muldoon, is Alan Hollinghurst, are Gin and Tonics any good?
Derek Mahon's poem, Howe Strand, is a very fine one and is being re-read time and again to see if it can be put on the short-list for Best Poem of the Year. And it is to be hoped that its appearance might be a portent of a new collection to come because we are due one at his usual production rate and such a book is always a bit of an occasion.
But then J.C. on the back page alerts us to a list of the 'Most Popular Out-of-Print Books' in A Book of Book Lists by Alex Johnson, which might prove too tempting not to obtain. But J.C. asks,
if they're popular, why are they out of print?
and that takes us back to square one and makes me want to cancel the subscription forthwith.
I know you can't rely on the BBC to write clear sentences all the time and some announcements can be misleading. 'Chris Froome won his fourth Tour de France' is the sort of thing they tell us and it is  true but not what they mean. It was on the sixth Tour he had ridden that he achieved his fourth win. But the TLS likes to think it is a bastion of linguistic accuracy and a paragon of scholarly virtue only to completely misunderstand the list in a careless assumption. The books are out-of-print, not popular. They are the most popular of those that are out of print but that doesn't make them popular. Those of us now clinging desperately to the publication date of a re-print of Patrick Hamilton's Monday Morning, set for next summer, can only cringe at such blase disregard for matters of such high importance. There are books I still want to live long enough to have read.
--
It's been a hard week here in Lake Wobegon.
I achieved 58 years, which doesn't seem a bad age to be. Maybe not as good as 35 or 11 were but it will only last as long as they did without seeming to.
I had to make up a pop quiz at ultra short notice for work, which is fine. One's head teems with possibilities like the biggest sudden eruption of natural energy since the last time Krakatoa went off  but some of it was too hard for the poor dears.
Well, hard luck. You should have seen some of the questions I crossed out. Tell you what, next time you can have a bakery quiz and I'll just put Lemon Drizzle Cake for all of them. I'm more of a fruit cake person myself.
And then yesterday, to Bristol. Of course, many of those charging around the road network think nothing of it because they're used to it. Our driver likes it and is used to it but top marks to him but even as a passenger I found it hard work. It's not that far, it should be easy but it bloody isn't. It costs over £17 to leave a car in Temple Meads station car park. Good, double it.

At least it's the weekend now.



         

The Saturday Nap

Champions Day at Ascot comes too late in the season for me and it might do for some of the horses as well so the card is full of potential pitfalls and we won't go there.
It is still backs against the wall here as I steadfastly refuse to give way having drawn a line at the level of profit I dropped to a few weeks ago so it is with great care that I place my last pound. And it will be a pound. This prudent strategy isn't exciting or lucrative but it might have saved me a few big losers, although the 4/1 we landed with the nap last week was a gift of an SP.
So, there are three jump meetings tomorrow and we start by ignoring the handicaps. The New One soldiers on in the Welsh Champion Hurdle but is asked to give away weight. We might back him to do that if we're still in business by 4.25.
West Approach is the most eye-catching debutant chaser so far this season in the 3.20 at Ffos Las but at 5/4, there is some fair competition up against him. I'd expect him to win that and then possibly run up a sequence as compensation for some good runs but only one win in novice hurdles last season but, again, he'll be one to look for if there is earlier success to build on.
The Professor's been on the wire already and goes for Ebony's Encore in the first at Market Rasen. Best of luck, Prof. And I'm at Rasen, too, for Not That Fuisse  (nap 1.40), after which we can press on with Demon d'Aunou (2.15), so there's a treble paying more than 10/1. Start the car, we're off to Rasen.
And at Stratford, they have kindly kept the novice hurdles to the back end of the card so that if we still want one more, we can have Mr. One More in the 5.15 by which time it is to be hoped we've gathered in some ammunition to take into next week.

Play nicely.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Martyn Crucefix - The Lovely Disciplines

Martyn Crucefix, The Lovely Disciplines (Seren)

Martyn Crucefix has always been good at giving a collection a name. There was A Madder Ghost, An English Nazareth and now this, which isn't bad either.
He has dispensed with full stops and commas. Not being a Crucefix completist, I'm not sure when that happened but it was after Beneath Tremendous Rain and by the time of Hurt. The effect, one might expect, would be to create a seamlessness, dispensing with linguistic furniture to leave the words free of their moorings, and so it does although nowadays I enjoy a full stop.
What it does achieve is some dislocation of expectation, as in The girl who returned to Aix,
one I watched as snug and warm as Richard Dreyfuss
was driven crazy by shapes in his head

ah, you see, so not 'as snug and warm' after all.
The reader can take nothing for granted on first 'encounter', as it were, with the poems. The technique has a disconcerting but creative power to shift to the unexpected even if I'm almost alone in not demanding to be surprised by every poem I ever read. It means that re-reading is re-paid more in these poems than most others although any poem that doesn't warrant more than a second look is not likely to be a good one.
The book is in three parts and the poems towards the end might be the best, in some ways the least abstract, and an alternative strategy to piling all the best work in at the beginning to get off to a convincing start. It's not every time I begin a book of poems at the first page anyway and so such a ploy is less likely to fool me. But Street View, the final poem, is the pick, about the poet finding himself on the internet feature in a sequence of shots, becoming aware of what's happening. In a loose way, it is linked to theme of the 'poetry of modern technology' to a previous poem about a mobile phone in his parents' possession accidentally ringing him up so that he, not wanting to, can overhear their conversation without them knowing.
Things difficult to love and La Giaconda gone are also poems that make immediate appeal. Crucefix is thoughtful and measured and not one for the showy or grand gesture. It is not surprising that he has plenty of competition successes to list in the credits although the details of how many poems were entered and were also-rans in other competitions we never get told in such palmares. One suspects that his finest achievements are his translations of Rilke but you need to be a proper poet to do the translating job with any credibility and he never lets you down, being one of those who have kept contributing to English poetry steadily and conscientiously making it worth being a part of. 

Saturday, 14 October 2017

The Saturday Nap

It is with some trepidation that we begin this autumn's series of weekend horse racing previews. Things have been quiet after reaching the halfway stage of the year well in excess of the previous record profit. But it has been a rearguard action in recent weeks.
But perhaps we can brave it out in adversity and turn the corner.
Flat racing cognoscenti will be all over Expert Eye in the Dewhurst at odds on but we can't do that.
I'll go with gilt-edged Paul Nicholls at the meeting he usually gets into top gear and put all my faith in If You Say Run (Chepstow 2.30).
The Prof's been on the line and nominates Lostintranslation in the 1.55.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Danny Baker - Going on the Turn

Danny Baker, Going on the Turn (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

There's a mistake on page 116.
I've tried my best to make sense of,
It's a common site
but, in the context, I'm sure it should be 'sight'. It's a mistake anybody could make and Danny Baker didn't go to university, like Shakespeare didn't, so it doesn't make him a bad writer but it does mean that his publishers should find better proof-readers. But Danny belongs to the spoken word and to radio, off the top of his head and come what may, his reliance on a wealth of stock phrases, in the way that Homer filled out his metre, rather than text written for the page, which is brilliant the way he does it but is only the way he talks written down. Spike Milligan said he thought he could talk but had to admit that Baker was something else.

At first, this third volume of memoir from the Greatest Living Englishman looks like the thrown-together contract-satisfying third of three. 250 pages of more of the same to ensure the adoring fans like me will pay up and make the tills ker-ching to the sound of cash rolling in after the tour of stage shows is over and the royalties for the telly show have been spent. And we all have to go work, don't we, even if not everybody's job is being mates with Rod Stewart, Vivian Stanshall, the Stones, everybody else you can think of and Danny Kelly.
I have worshipped the ground he walks on for long enough, not least for the way he can handle the superstar status and get away with the money-for-old-rope routine and still see it for what it is. Try telling that to Simon Dee. There's one for the teenagers.
But if Going on the Turn sets off looking like the last trawl of stories about when he met Ronnie Wood or Peter O'Toole or use a picture of himself with Elton when there is no reference to him in the text, you know it can't possibly be going to be that and it very soon isn't. The book flags up early doors that there is trouble ahead and however much it digresses, and digresses within digressions, it is most overwhelingly, horrendously and graphically, about being treated for cancer.
I know there is a whole genre of 'misery memoirs' and this could have been such a thing in other hands but Danny isn't capable of writing such a book. Even if he had died, which was a serious possibility, one would have only been left on whatever upbeat was available. Those parts, that provide the ground bass for the whole book, are hideous and only perhaps readable, or writeable, because we know he emerges at the other end. Life, we can't help but be persuaded, is a gift and few have been provided with the gift to enjoy it quite like Danny Baker.
I'd have thought I was his biggest fan but I wasn't among the hosts of well-wishers inundating him with well-wishing at his darkest hour. I would also have thought it most unlikely that, considering the company he's kept since his Sniffin Glue and NME days, he had foregone the dubious pleasures of drugs but he says he did until he and his best mate, the equally admirable Danny Kelly, take a trip to Amsterdam to see what cannabis is like.
The account of that spectacular disaster wins the genuinely Laugh Out Loud prize not for this year but for several years back-dated.
And then, the frightening story of how he left his Radio London job in the face of business strategists who honestly had the nerve to go and tell him how he might celebrate the anniversary of Love Me Do. By asking listeners to phone in and say what their favourite Beatles track was.
Oh, for fuck's sake. There's less gratuitous swearing in this book than its predecessor, which isn't only because Baker quotes his father less than before but if Danny can do it because he can, in the same way that Philip Larkin did it in poems, then I'm going to treat myself to one, just the once, because you simply can't have corporate non-entities telling Danny Baker how to do a radio show because that is exactly as gormlessly as they'll do it.
But, in a sad coda, it seems like that is the way it's going. Dan accepts that Radio 5 would rather have a preview of the weekend's sport from 9 to 11 on Saturday morning, and not the Sausage Sandwich Game, and it is only by some old-fashioned indulgence that he's allowed to carry on with this last hurrah, the man who, on Desert Island Discs, if all his other records had been swept away by a big wave, would have wanted to hold on to The Next Time.
That is the measure of the man.
It has been an honour to be of the same species as Bach and Mozart but I'm glad I shared my time as a part of it with Danny Baker.
      

Letter from Cheltenham

Thom Gunn: a celebration
Alan Hollinghurst,   Cheltenham Literature Festival, Oct 8th.


The point of being a mis-fit, glorying in the feeling that one belongs elsewhere, is not that you don't feel at home where you are, you need to feel not at home wherever you are. Cheltenham races, any racetrack, the Wigmore Hall, poetry readings, lunchtime concerts, they all have their ways of making me glad to be there but it's never quite me.
You might think that a Cheltenham Lit Festival session on Thom Gunn would be home from home but even that struggled a little bit, not even persuading me that if it's good enough for Sebastian Faulks, it must be good enough for me. It's not because the whole festival is really a big advertising interval you need to pay to get into or even the very civilized queue of people snaking out of the Waterstone's tent to get their new Mary Berry book signed. It must have been a while before those at the back got their few moments of audience with the great lady and, lordjesussaveus, I can confirm that books are not going out of fashion, replaced by the gormless little kindle gadget, not on the evidence of those lining up to so eagerly part with cash in exchange for hard copies of their choices in the makeshift book superstore. But those affluent, worthy, demure grey-haired types populating Imperial Gardens, I don't belong with them, really, do I. Probably not even in the extreme circumstances of editing them down to those who want to hear an hour of Clive Wilmer, editor of the latest Selected Poems of Thom Gunn, and Andrew McMillan, talking about Gunn with Helen Mort. Although it was one of those occasions, like the 300th anniversary of the death of Buxtehude marked in Handel's House, when I could at least be sure there was nowhere else in the world I ought to be.
Clive Wilmer insinuated himself into Gunn's friendship when it mattered and knew him well, even if the subject of the Troubadour poems momentarily escaped him. What one needs in such a crisis is to have a glib know-all like me sitting in the front row to remind you and I'm sure Clive was glad of me. But he speaks with great authority, in that instance of Gunn's charm and sympathy that was allied to a propensity to shock.
What has come out of Clive's book is Gunn's vulnerability, which he expressed well but, one imagined, was kept under control by his tremendous intellect and art. But perhaps his writing was all a working out of the trauma of his mother's suicide and, beginning by reading The Wound, the poem that opens any selection of Gunn's poems, I did wonder to what extend it was being implied that the wound referred to was as much Gunn's deeply embedded 'confessional' as it was that of Achilles.
Clive's main point was that Gunn's poems constituted an attempt to understand his experrience rather than just have it which is why the heavily drug-infused poems of Moly are among his most formally structured and not, as one might expect, the most diffuse.
It is to be regretted, by those who care about reputation, readership and thus book sales that Gunn seemed to miss out as the more 'English' Ted Hughes came to dominate attention among poets of their generation when Gunn was the more intellectual and challenging. But it doesn't matter to me. Those of us who kept the faith and knew all along shouldn't worry how many others of us there are.
Andrew McMillan also wondered why there was always a gap in bookshops where he thought the books by and about Gunn should be. Andrew was born in 1988 and so didn't read Gunn until there were no more poems to come. His credentials are thus only those of a fan but when he 'came out' as gay at the age of 16, he says his parents gave him a copy of the Collected Poems and said he should read that. Many are not so lucky in those circumstances.
But it is as a 'gay poet' that Andrew makes at least his initial connection. To see Gunn as a gay poet is to diminish him as much as it would be to appreciate Sylvia as a women's poet, Derek Walcott as caribbean or George Herbert as religious. If a poet can be reduced to issues like those then maybe they're not quite the poet they're cracked up to be or, more properly, not being appreciated as they deserve. Those that adhere to poets on such grounds should take their crusades elsewhere and absent themselves from literary studies entirely. But Andrew's a good lad, wise enough to know that Tamer and Hawk was the first poem to read and howsoever he might have arrived, even if his own poems bear no resemblance to Gunn's, any fellow traveller is welcome. Though it must be said, Gunn is likely to remain a poet's poet rather than belatedly become mainstream. That would be like the Velvet Underground suddenly becoming the new Abba.
One of the several temorary marquee venues was adequate to house a Thom Gunn celebration but you need the Town Hall when Alan Hollinghurst shows up.
Interviewed by Stephen Gale, Hollinghurst thrilled the liberal, novel-reading, middle-aged, well-to-do congregation with his faux-embarrassment regarding how much sex his books make reference to. Not only that but sometimes explicitly and, get this, it's gay as well. Oh, titter ye not, he's a proper writer. I used to be tempted to put him in there with Ishiguro, MacEwan, Seb Faulks, Sarah Waters, Graham Swift and any number of others as a candidate for top honours among British novelists in our period which doesn't look to me a bad one, if inevitably it has become almost too self-conscious, but it is becoming clear that the correct answer is Julian Barnes.
The Sparsholt Affair is unfolding as effortlessly stylishly as one might expect from such a consummate professional but the main effect of paying to witness this advert for a book I was always going to buy anyway was that it threatened to let some daylight in on the magic, much like I thought I glimpsed how Paul Muldoon achieved the remarkable things he does a couple of years ago.
Most interesting was Alan's list of novelists no longer fashionable that he enjoyed, in the hope that, after a similar time lapse henceforth, he won't be quoted on a similar list by the hot ticket from the next generation. Henry Green, Charles Morgan and, was it, Ronald Firbank, are thus names to look out for.
And then you join the queue to get your copy of Sparsholt signed and no less than two Waterstone's people have to go down the line making sure you have it open at the title page to expedite the signing process. I wondered if meeting the great man was actually worth being subject to such factory fodder humiliation but since my train wasn't going to deliver me from such process for another hour, well, I might as well stay and, to be fair, it is just as sublime a signature as you would expect of Hollinghurst.
But plans to retire to the genteel suburbs of earnest, hard-back, well-meaning Cheltenham are on hold. Perhaps I've been too long on inward-looking, downbeat, downtown Portsea Island and the graciousness of the spa town might prove unbearable, not to mention the virtue signalling, the artisan food, the stacks of cash and the fact that, even there, it's me that has to remind Clive of the detail of what he's talking about. I once saw snake on Leckhampton Hill and Cheltenham's nowhere near the sea. It could be that fate well-meaning brought me to Portsmouth, like it took Larkin to Hull, and it might be where I bat out the remaining overs, only going back to Cheltenham to see the horses.              

Signed Poetry Books - Clive Wilmer















One of the best things about being a poet/academic must be that whatever level of stardom you operate at, you don't get recognized in the street as often as Elton John would.
But, not so fast, Prof. Wilmer, I know who you are
because it's you I've come to see, please could you sign this book I bought specially for the pourpose.

Thanks.

Signed Poetry Books - Helen Mort














I'm glad I took on the challenge of my poor librarianship to find this book to take to Cheltenham because it has some fine things in it that it was good to be reminded of
.
And now my copy is all the finer for being signed.

She done a good job hosting the Gunn session.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Politics Explained, maybe for the last time

I'm finding it soothing, almost respite, just not to talk about it any more.

Sure, it still provides a grim form of entertainment in private but the game's up, not least after the half serious amount of cash the referendum and the American election relieved me of last year.

The joke is over about the blonde advertisement for himself whose name I'm not even going to use because the oxygen of publicity is all he lives for and those who still think he's a 'personality' are beyond our help. Oh, that's just him being him, they'll say.
Well exactly, so ignore him, then.

I had more time for Mogg in a post-ironic way, the way in which Vicky Coren meant 'I find you strangely attractive' but the emphasis has now shifted from the attractive to the strange.

I never thought the time would come when one could remember Ronald Reagan almost with affection.
It was impressed on us at school, under a series of subject titles that went from Civics, Economic & Public Affairs to British Constitution, by a seethingly right-wing teacher, that there were processes in place that ensured the way the country was run, in today's corporate usage, were 'robust'. It was not made clear that by the time we were his age all that vast edifice of protocol would be the plaything of vanity projects for bumptious inadequates.
One minute it's a ringing endorsement of a quite clearly beleaguered Prime Minister but the day before and the day after it is the transparent setting out of stalls in another vaunting bid for the so-called top job that Cameron beat him to in the first place and that last year he announced in ham-acting humility couldn't be him.
He stands for nothing whatsoever beyond his own opportunity. I'm a victim of his incessant campaign on his own behalf just by having to set it out, for my own benefit more than yours, when I could actually be listening to Toots & the Maytals.
I know that you know that I know that you know that and we all know he's two-timing us.
-

1967 seemed turbulent and dangerous at the time, we are told, but what a joy it was to hear Tony Blackburn recreate his first Radio 1 broadcast oin Radio 1 Vintage. Radio 1 kept me going until about 1974. The second ever record played, it turns out, was the masterpiece Massachusetts and it felt profound to be reminded of
When I think of all the good times that I've wasted
Having good times,
by Eric Burdon and the Animals alongside such other giants of the soundtrack of our pop-picking lives like Diana Ross & the Supremes and Cliff.

Also, seen in a good light last night on Sex, Chip Shops & Poetry; 50 Years of the Mersey Sound were some of the heroes of my teens who have been superseded by others since. But let's give Roger, Adrian and Brian their due, not necessarily in that order, for at least being in place to exploit the zeitgeist, make themselves a living from their finely-crafted bohemian image even if some of the reviews by snooty, elitist poetry critics of the time derided their work for reasons that never went away.
Some of my adoration of them was based on a realization that, Blimey, it's possible to get away with stuff like that and we don't all have to be T.S. Eliot and it was Allen Ginsberg, their godfather of Beat, that I probably thought I saw through first before reluctantly, years later, deciding to shelve my Liverpool poets books upstairs among the 'other books' because they somehow didn't seem to belong alongside Larkin, Auden, and now Elizabeth Bishop, and certainly not John Donne.
But maybe I'll bring them back downstairs. You have to like them even if it's only for the sheer nerve that you think you can see they know they're getting away with it. But Brian Patten, the young apprentice to the Ginsberg-Warhol surrogate, Adrian, for who I bought a spritzer in Cartmel College bar, Lancaster, in 1978 or 79, overawed to be in the presence of anyone quite so Adrian Henri, was perhaps the poet among them even if, like Don Paterson and any number of us since, he only had to see rain and he had a poem.

So, it's nostalgia, then, for me as my 58th birthday comes, as usual, just as the year goes colder.

Poets

for Roger and Brian
and i.m. Adrian

we told them we were poets
took trouble to go home
atleastaftermidnight
from parties in L8
and knew whimsicalwords
in sad thoughtful phrasing
would persuade birds
not to hesitate
itwasamazing
      

     

Monday, 2 October 2017

Bacewicz String Quartets

Grazyna Bacewicz, Complete String Quartets (Chandos)



If you're going to get something wrong you might as well get it completely wrong. I knew of this disc but couldn't have investigated very far because I'd jumped somewhat too readily to the conclusion that it was a contemporary of Mozart and Haydn. It must have been the architecture that made me think so but only a little bit more closer inspection reveals a bus of a make and model that wouldn't have been familiar to them.
Seven quartets on two discs, covering 1938 to 1965, can't help but bring to mind Shostakovich who made time among his wide-ranging output for an iconic set of his own. And Grazyna is, of course, a lady and so very welcome to help with the impossible project of trying to bring some levelling to the massive gender imbalance in the Western classical music canon. In a presentation on Classical Music that I have half planned in case the opportunity comes up to give it, I have to include the caveat that although I'll go back to Hildegaard of Bingen and finish with Errollyn Wallen, I'm afraid there aren't many women in it and, yes, it is mostly German men in powdered wigs.
This is busy, adventurous music, at least at the forefront if not avant garde for its time. Not quite as adventurous as this, maybe, which I found absolutely riveting on Sky Arts last night,















but adventurous enough for most of us.
It is complex music and 'difficult', I dare say, but two discs of it on which the Silesian Quartet bring an admirable clarity will last a long time to keep going back to. It can be discomfiting, agitated,  nervily spring-heeled or darkly reflective. Poland in that period had reason to feel that way and it's not possible to expect them to have dwelt too long meditating on larks ascending.
It was only when this disc won its category in the Gramophone awards that I realized what it was and the inevitable eulogy that wrote it up was an offer one couldn't refuse. Having not known who Bacewicz was, I do now and she is in there with the Ligeti, Kurtag and others who represent the heroic line of concentrated, meaningful modernism as opposed to the cerebral doodling of Boulez. It contrasts almost diametrically with the other disc currently on the playlist, the wonderful, immediately accessible Sebastian Comberti Stephen Paxton sonatas and concerto for violoncello. That is an instant delight and welcome relief whereas Bacewicz is more likely to sound true but be harder to take. But both are recommended as elements of a balanced diet.
I'm very glad the Silesian Quartet won the prize for this because otherwise I'd never have known and I'd have gone about under the erroneous assumption that she was a Polish contemporary of Mozart that, on this occasion, I'd declined to listen to.
I've managed to fill out the requisite number of words without saying very much about the music. Which is clever of me. With much avant garde art it is best to say as little as possible but one usually knows whether one likes it or not and I like this a lot. I hope it remains off the shelf and by the CD machine long enough for me to appreciate it better and better although whether I'll ever be humming leitmotifs from it in the office in the same way that the compositions of Burt Bacharach, the Motown Hit Factory or, today it was briefly Roy Wood, is a point likely to be moot for some time.
The next project is to make a conscious effort to know the difference between Zelenka and Zemlinsky. They only belong together alphabetically and a Wigmore Hall sort of bloke really ought to know which is which otherwise, next time I go, that might be the question they ask on the door and I might not get in.
 

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Letters to the Editor



Letters to the Editor

It might not matter much to you
but it does to them, somewhere deep
in the terrifying suburbs.
They have a point but not a point
that matters except to the few
obsessed with irregular verbs
or folk music, the life of St.
Jerome or tips on how to keep

tropical fish. All human life
is there. Even at this late stage
new ideas about Shakespeare
are waved away by those whose game
it is as if taken aback, as if
it had been an offence to hear
such mischief. But there were our names
on the TLS letters page.

All that fatal erudition,
all that careful wit and wisdom,
typeset so that those who care to
can read what such dilletantes
offer the human condition,
all the sins that flesh is heir to,
throughout the clement home counties,
further and beyond the kingdom.