Today’s the day. Well, yes, in the United States the main focus is on the mid-term elections. And it’s been welcome, inspiring even, to read of the number of candidates from diverse backgrounds who are standing – black, Native American, bisexual and transgender included. But it’s also the day that Pegasus Books, my US publishers, have chosen to launch the 4th and final Frank Elder novel, Body & Soul. The omens are good; early reviews have been more than kind. Nothing now for me to do, the odd squawk on social media aside … what will be, will be. But those reviews …
A story of deep emotional truth, with good people seeking to restore lost things and regretting their memories. There’s enough tension in this book to please any lover of a good detective story and quality writing that will satisfy general fiction fans.
– LIBRARY JOURNAL [starred review]
Harvey writes with great power about the disappointments and tragedies of living, and he always digs deep into the emotional recesses of his characters – all of which makes the devastating ending of this remarkable novel all the more powerful.
– BOOKLIST [starred review]
Fans of John Harvey’s books are already familiar with his signature sharp dialogue construction and subtle character development. This novel is not an exception. A good read from a master a crime storytelling.
– MYSTERY TRIBUNE
Well-rounded, sympathetic characters have always been a hallmark of Harvey’s work, and he’s at his best here.
– Marilyn Stasio, NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
Before the first of my radiotherapy sessions at UCLH yesterday, the nurse asked me what kind of music I would like played from Spotify while the treatment was in progress. Oh, just some jazz, I said. What I got was James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Van Morrison. I trust they’re targeting of my prostate was more accurate.
Two playlists this month … the first, the more usual selection from the good old iPod Shuffle …
Tell It Like It Is : Aaron Neville
Honky Tonk [Pt. 2] : Bill Doggett
Suite #4 in E Flat Minor/Bach Six French Suites : Joanna MacGregor
Beale Street Blues : Alex Welsh & His Dixielanders
Tea For Two : Lester Young w. the Nat King Cole Trio
Crow Jane : Skip James
Variations on a Theme by Thelonious Monk #1 : Eric Dolphy
String Qt #22 in B Flat – Menuetto/Mozart : Talich Quartet
Too Far Gone : Emmylou Harris
Getting Ready : Patty Griffin
And here is the newly chosen for the month of November playlist labelled simply New Stuff …
I was alerted to the music of the Ethiopian singer Aster Aweke when I heard in playing in Engocha, the Ethiopian vegan restaurant conveniently just around the corner in Tufnell Park. And I’m grateful to Tim Adkin, of Counterpoint fame, for reminding me of the pleasures to be gained from listening to Kevin Ayres – a bit of a favourite in my long-off Stevenage days.
The final painting is invariably, to borrow Picasso’s phrase … ‘the sum of its destructions’, with numerous earlier paintings – or perhaps better to say images, forms, shapes, fragments – buried or lost beneath the surface. And whilst these moments are variously submerged, obscured or obliterated, traces remain. There is is still a presence, a memory of each of these events and objects hidden behind the image, beneath the ground. Like a sediment, a past, an unconscious perhaps – still active, still agent.
Camden Arts Centre File Note, edited by Gina Buenfeld & Martin Clark
That paragraph is about the paintings of Amy Sillman, whom I wrote about in my previous blog post, but reading it again made me think of Heidi Bucher, whose work is currently on show at the Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art until December 9th.
These are not paintings, though their effects are not dissimilar, nor are they exactly sculptures (though there are also sculptures on display), they are ‘skinnings’. Latex works made by covering the surface of a chosen object – doors, windows, walls – with gauze, pressing liquid latex against and peeling it off again just before it finally dries. Peeling it off not completely clean, but bringing with it traces of the object being skinned. Streaks and patches of paint; fragments of wood or cloth; memories.
For me, there are two outstanding pieces in this fascinating exhibition, one on the ground floor, one the floor above.
Bucher’s dragonfly costume is fixed to the centre of the upstairs wall of the gallery, with large plate glass windows to the sides looking out onto the trees of the garden at the rear. An extravagant, almost impossible costume for some wild and wonderful gala evening; a giant insect that has pullulated to fleshy, iridescent abundance.
In a dominant position to the left as you enter the main room of the gallery, hangs what is perhaps the quintessential Bucher art work – and the one that harks back most obviously to the quotation in opening paragraph, with its references to the lingering presence of memory, to a unconscious, mainly hidden past.
The Bellevue Kreuzlingen was a psychiatric sanitarium in Switzerland, the one to which Freud sent one of the patients, Anna O, the subject of one of his first case histories, to be treated. A short film showing at the gallery shows Heidi Bucher in the act of making this work, this skinning; tearing away the vast sheet of latex from where it has been clinging to the surfaces of wall, wood, window and glass and, as it is freed, covering herself with it as she crouches beneath it, smothering herself in it as if to inhale the air, the vestiges of breath that still cling to it, as if to hear the kaleidoscope of whispered conversations, troubled minds. In a later moment from the same film, she runs along the corridors of the building, pulling the latex skinning behind her like a shroud; like a wedding dress with its heavy, flowing veil – some half-mad Miss Havisham caught up in the fevered consciousness of others.
Heidi Bucher : Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art, 14 Wharf Road, London, N1 7RW, till December 9th, 2018.
Amy Sillman : Camden Arts Centre, Arkwright Road, London, NW36DG, till January 6th, 2019.
If you’re in North London and looking for something to do of an artistic nature – looking rather than making, though making happens there as well – Camden Arts Centre on the corner of Arkwright and Finchley Roads is a good bet. Even if whatever’s showing doesn’t do it for you, there’s always the good little café with an adjacent two-tier garden. And, more often than not, the work in display is, at the very least, interesting. Sometimes, a lot more than that, with the bonus of discovering artists whose work you weren’t previously aware of, even if you should have been.
Such was the case when I came along with my daughter, Molly, last year and we were introduced to the work of the 90-year-old Romanian artist, Geta Bratescu – 90 and still working. And so it was this week, when my partner, Sarah, and I went to see Landline, an exhibition by the American artist, Amy Sillman. Enthralled. Delighted. Excited. “Wow!” from one room to another.”Wow!’ Just, I mean, “Wow! Look at that!”.
With the help of a zine [The OG. Fall-Winter 2018-19] put together by Sillman especially for this show [she’s into zines in a big way] and an Arts Centre File Note, edited by Gina Buenfeld & Martin Clark, our responses did become a little more articulate.
Aside from a large and rather beautiful animation based on Ovid’s Metamorphosis, showing on video in the central space between the galleries, Sillman’s work here divides into two main categories: paintings, oil and/or acrylic on canvas, and acrylic, ink and silkscreen works on paper. The former, mostly quite large – 190.5 x 167.5 cm, around there – seem more considered and while individual, wear their abstract expressionist legacy with ease. There’s Guston there, clearly – those heavy lines – [Guston in the works on paper, too] – a notion of de Kooning, perhaps – and in one piece, Avec, the greens and rectangular shapes have a hint of Diebenkorn. One of the articles we browsed in the Reading Room suggested Joan Mitchell as an influence, but I didn’t see it myself. [I’d have plumped for Grace Hartigan.] And besides – what does it matter, all this naming? Hints of this person, that person. [It’s the curse of once having done a History of Art course at Birkbeck.] Sillman is who she is.
The paintings are striking – and the hang gives them room to be so – striking in their immediate overall impression, and then again when you give them time, standing with them, moving close, standing still, moving away, interesting in a more complex way. It’s useful what the File Note has to say …
All of her paintings are long and often arduous exercises in accumulation and excavation, aggregation and erasure, coalescence and collapse. Over many weeks and months, surfaces are work and reworked, abandoned and returned to, scraped back and covered over.
So that what we see in the final painting is a sum of all the images, the marks that have been there before and partly obscured, painted over, nudged, shifted, changed. Change, that seems to be the key word for Sillman. As if, even though she has had, finally, to accept that a work is finished, it’s only finished against her wishes. Against her aesthetic.
We’re committed to something scrappy but good, earnest but smart, ironic and not cynical, a strange FORM! … We haven’t figured it out but we love art that offers change above all: insistent, unremitting change that won’t resolve into finality or finesse. We want to know what happened before and after. We can’t stand the knowingness, the smugness, of a goddamn good painting.
Amy Sillman. The OG#11. Metamorphoses. 2017
In an slightly earlier sequence of drawings shown here – the Pink Drawings from 2015-16, using acrylic, charcoal and ink on paper – a large display of them spread along one wall – the pleasure comes from the vitality of the colour, the vigour of movement, the swiftness of the marks, the solidity of the black.
The most recent of the works on paper are more instant, direct and disturbing – one series was started in response to Trump’s election. In some there is a single figure on his or her knees, vomiting, shouting, screaming …
… in others there is a swift overworking of line and colour not dissimilar to the technique used in the paintings.
The powerful double-sided pieces that comprise Dub Stamp in its entirety hang in a line across Gallery 3, the more immediate, predominantly black and white figures along one side – the one that presents itself first – shifting on the reverse to a mixture of brightly coloured abstraction and strongly inked irregular shapes and lines.
As you walk round, the images cluster against one another, coalesce for a moment and then divide. There’s an ugliness here and a hint of beauty: faced with the horror that underlies much of modern life, how might an artist respond? You can’t pin the answer down, it’s always shifting, changing. Try covering up the ugliness, the truth, and it will still show through.
Let me say again, this is a terrific show and it continues until January, 2019.
The recent arrival of two new editions of the third Resnick novel, Cutting Edge, one from Taiwan, the other from Italy, got me thinking about just how many different editions – some in English, some in translation – there have been since the book’s original publication, by Viking, in 1991, close to thirty years ago. A thought which got me scurrying to the shelves in search of an answer, and which turned out, eventually, to be 21. And that’s not including audio versions, abridged and unabridged, and at least two versions I’m aware of when it was included in an omnibus edition with other Resnick titles; one in this country from Arrow, the other a Knizni Klub volume from Czechoslovakia.
It is of course what most writers want, a book that outlasts its initial display on the tables at Waterstones and elsewhere [what elsewhere?] to exist, not just on library shelves or in charity shops, but still, somewhere, on sale. Being – hopefully – bought; being read. And what the writer of a series hopes for, beyond that, is that anyone for whom Cutting Edge is their first encounter with Charlie Resnick, will begin to track down the other eleven books available.
That the novel has been published in ten countries is testimony to both Charlie’s universality – and the universal appeal of crime fiction – and perhaps even more so to the diligence and persuasiveness of my agents over the years – initially Carole Blake at Blake Friedmann, then Sarah Lutyens at Lutyens & Rubinstein, along with their networks of sub-agents across the globe. And looking at the jacket design, gives an interesting indication of changes in graphic fashion, both from year to year and country to country.
Henry Holt were my American hardcover publishers for the first 10 Resnick novels and my editor there, Marion Wood, was, happily for me, more hands-on than many who buy the publishing rights from elsewhere, and, as such, she was very instrumental in framing the way the series would develop. The best-selling author Sue Grafton was one of her writers at Holt and she always said that as long as she had Sue – for whom she had a great fondness and admiration – in her corner, she could ‘get away’ with publishing slightly left-field writers like Daniel Woodrell and myself, whose sales were, shall we say, less than astronomical.
This cover, seeking to tie the paperback edition of the novel in with the BBC television series which featured Tom Wilkinson in the role of Resnick, was commissioned under the assumption that Cutting Edge would follow Lonely Hearts & Rough Treatment, which were broadcast in 1992/93. Unfortunately, although the script for Cutting Edge had been accepted and, thankfully, paid for, the BBC made a decision – based, to an extent, upon what they deemed to be disappointing viewing figures – not to go ahead with the filming. Which didn’t help sales of the paperback and was one of the issues that led to an estrangement between Viking/Penguin and myself and my decision to buy myself out of my contract – I owed them one more book – and move, in 1994, to William Heinemann/Arrow, where, despite changes in ownership, I’ve been ever since, happy under Susan Sandon’s watchful editorial eye.
Although Cutting Edge and a number of the other Resnick titles have been published in a number of countries, only Rivages, in France, have – up to the present – followed a consistent policy of publishing all of my crime fiction – not just the Resnick series, but the first three Elder novels and all the various stand-alones that have come along the way. I first met François Guerif, long the director of Rivages’ magnificent Noir series, at the Shots in the Dark festival in Nottingham, which led to him publishing Lonely Hearts – Coeurs Solitaires – in 1993, and I’m proud to say we have remained firm friends ever since.
Lovely little walk this: Metropolitan line north to Chalfont & Latimer and the edge of the Chilterns, pass a few suburban rows of Tudorbethan houses and you’re out in open country, soon making a small detour to the village of Latimer, where we take advantage of the bench on the village green to sample the coffee from our Thermos and share a KitKat, then we’re back on track, following the river past the watercress beds until, with a short climb, we reach Holy Cross Church close to Sarratt, where the cemetery benches provide the perfect lunch spot [cheese, banana & mango chutney on wholemeal seeded, since you ask] after which we cross the road to the garden of the Cock Inn to quench our thirst and use the facilities. In the past, we’ve made a circular walk of it, past the village of Chenies and through woodland, but this time, on the principle that things look different when approached from another direction, we go back the way we came.
Funny day, Saturday. Used to be football, most of the year anyway; playing it, watching it: cycling with my dad to White Hart Lane, where we’d pay a couple of bob to someone near the ground so as to leave our bikes in the safety of his front garden. Then, more recently, Meadow Lane: gloriously in the heydays of Don Masson and John Chiedozie, Tommy Johnson and Rachid Harkouk; more recently, the doldrums of … well, best perhaps not to name them. Though, after losing the first umpteen games of the season, it seems, at last, as if we’re on the way up.
Could have gone to watch Spurs play Cardiff today, but, shy of Wembley and its transport problems, I’m waiting for the new ground finally to open in Tottenham; if I were in Nottingham I’d be at the County ground, braving the rain and plummeting temperatures to watch the England Lionesses play Brazil in a friendly.
As it is I’m at home, watching the rain through the windows; happily there when the postman calls with three packets; one, an unsolicited proof copy of a soon to be published novel I might like to read and comment on [well, I might … ], the others, poetry: a copy of Amy Key’s Poetry Book Society Wild Card Choice, Isn’t Forever, which I’d ordered from Nottingham’s Five Leaves Bookshop on the strength of one of the poems on one of the little poetry cards they publish to coincide with National Poetry Day; the other – also unsolicited, but more than welcome – a copy, sent by Maura Dooley, of Negative of a Group Photograph, the book of poems by the Persian writer Azita Ghahreman, that she has translated with Elhum Shakerifar.
Maura’s book comes with a picture postcard – a carving from Southwell Minster – the message on the reverse remembering a freezing November long ago when she came to Nottingham to do a reading and on the way back wrote “a little poem, All Hallows, that I still quite like”. Here it is …
This is a day for souls.
Morning doused with air
that has rinsed itself,
wrung itself out over
cropped lands, picked lands, dug lands.
Autumn’s over. Winter comes
in the first stiffening of grasses,
frost seasoning the land like salt,
a chill biting to the core of day.
The town’s horizon blurs with
steam, smoke, mist, never resolving
quite the mesh of silver and heat,
like looking at the world through tears.
Hot, salty tears can’t melt the ice,
nor sluice his heart: but it’s a comfort,
this light and water mixing,
on the day her soul walks out
over the fields to him.
from Explaining Magnetism: Maura Dooley. Bloodaxe, 1991.
Negative of a Group Photograph: Azita Ghahreman, translated by Maura Dooley with Elhum Shakerifar. Bloodaxe, 2018
Isn’t Forever: Amy Key. Bloodaxe, 2018
And with just a few minutes to go before half time at Meadow Lane, England are one goal up against Brazil.
Okay, here’s the thing. Back in 1999, when Slow Dancer Press was both still in its prime yet about to fold, we published, for the first time in this country, James Schuyler’s Last Poems. Schuyler, along with John Ashbury, Frank O’Hara and Kenneth Koch, was one of the New York Poets – perhaps the least well known but far from the least. As Ashbery himself said, “Schuyler is simply the best we have.”
I won’t pretend that Last Poems contains his absolutely best work – that, I think, would be found in The Morning of the Poem from 1980. But what there is here is enough to give a strong sense of the keenness of his observation, the delicacy and precision of his style and the breadth of his interests, ranging from the jazz singer Mildred Bailey to the lives of birds, the glories of roses, the shifts and sorrows of the seasons.
Along with Schuyler’s poems [and yet another of Jamie Keenan’s wonderful cover designs] the book includes a six page Afterword by another fine poet, Lee Harwood, in which he writes about Schuyler’s work with affectionate understanding, and which would be worth the price of the book itself. If you were paying for it, which, in this instance, you’re not.
I’ve got a half dozen (or so) copies to give away in celebration of National Poetry Day – and because they should be being read, not gathering dust on my shelf. Just email me at email@example.com with your mailing address and I’ll send you one by return. Can’t say fairer than that.
… Not that much, just a couple of things hanging over from my recent blog about summer jobs, hot dogs, broad expanses of sand and distant seas.
First off, there’s the music. I’ve already mentioned the local Shadows-sound-and-look-alikes, Trek Faron and the Unknowns [whatever became of … ] but not the sounds of that summer in general, in particular. There seemed to be music everywhere: not through headphones, as it would be now, but from the dodgems, the amusement park, booming out from the juke box in the restaurant below the dormitory where we slept. It was – the summer of 1962 – a pretty good year for music; pop music; the charts; music on the edge of changing, tilting [see the Beatles sneaking in there] from a mixture of fairly basic rock ‘n’ roll, novelty numbers and sentimental ballads, towards something potentially more interesting.
A Top 30 [or so] assembled from the Mablethorpe juke box might have looked, alphabetically, like this …
A Picture of You : Joe Brown
Bobby’s Girl : Susan Maughan
Break It To Me Gently : Brenda Lee
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do : Neil Sedaka
Can’t Help Falling in Love : Elvis Presley
Crying in the Rain : The Everly Brothers
Desafinado : Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd
Do You Wanna Dance : Cliff Richard
Don’t Ever Change : The Crickets
Dream Baby : Roy Orbison
Duke of Earl : Gene Chandler
Hey Baby : Bruce Channel
I Can’t Stop Loving You : Ray Charles
It Might As Well Rain Until September : Carole King
Let There Be Love : Nat King Cole
Love Me Do : The Beatles
Love Letters : Ketty Lester
Return to Sender : Elvis Presley
Sealed With a Kiss : Brian Hyland
Sherry : The Four Seasons
She’s Got You : Patsy Cline
Softly As I Leave You : Matt Monro
Speak To Me Pretty : Brenda Lee
Speedy Gonzales : Pat Boone
Sweet Little Sixteen : Jerry Lee Lewis
Teenage Idol : Ricky Nelson
The Locomotion : Little Eva
The Wanderer : Dion
Twistin’ the Night Away : Sam Cooke
Walk on By : Leroy Van Dyke
What a Crazy World We’re Living In : Joe Brown & the Bruvvers
Ya Ya Twist : Petula Clark
Your Cheating Heart : Ray Charles
As I say, not a bad list at all, but there are three songs that I remember most from that summer and which seemed to be playing on the juke box more than most: one, the Nat King Cole, was pleasant if little more, but lifted by a deft arrangement featuring George Shearing’s piano; the other, a true monstrosity, was Pat Boone’s Speedy Gonzales, with its high-pitched intrusions in cod-Mexican falsetto. An abomination.
The third was Brian Hyland’s Sealed With a Kiss. Well, it was summer and even in Mablethorpe the evenings could feel romantic, the sun sinking slowly down over the wide horizon. I remembered it, some of it, some twenty five years later, when writing Last Summer, First Love, the second of my books in the Pan Heartlines series of teenage romances. [Look, a guy has to eat!]
Set, yes, in Mablethorpe, it’s the touching story of true love between Lauri, whose last summer it is, helping out in her mum’s café before heading off to be a nurse, and Mike, a student working on the hot dog stall. The names [and a whole lot more] were changed to protect the innocent.
Sam Stone : Swamp Dog from A Soldier’s Sad Story – Vietnam Through the Eyes of Black America, 1963-73
Too Close for Comfort : Art Pepper from Intensity
I Sing Um the Way I Feel : J B Lenoir & His African Hunch Rhythm from The Sound of the City: Chicago assembled by Charlie Gillett *
Blue Turning Grey Over You : The Chris Barber Band from Remembering Pat Halcox
Ruby, My Dear : Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane from The Complete Riverside Recordings
Into My Arms : Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer from Not Dark Yet
Single Girl, Married Girl : Charlie Haden from Rambling Boy **
It’s Not the Liquor I Miss : Luke Doucet from Broken
Panama : Luis Russell & His Orchestra from Saratoga Shout
I Left My Baby : Count Basie & His Orchestra with Jimmy Rushing (voc) from Classic Columbia, Okeh & Vocalion Lester Young with Count Basie
Love of Mine : Tish Hinojosa from Destiny’s Gate
The Books, Departures & Ben’s Photo : Lee Harwood reading, on a CD included with the publication, three of his own poems from The Books, Longbarrow Press, 2011. ***
*Living and teaching in Stevenage in the early to mid-70s, whenever possible I used to set aside all other engagements in order to listen to Honky Tonk, the programme Charlie Gillett presented on Radio London between 1972 and 1978, and which included about as broad a range of music that could be loosely categorised as rock ‘n’ roll as possible – from J J Cale and The Coasters, via Graham Parker and Dion, to Manu Dibango and the original demo version of Dire Straits’ Sultans of Swing.
**Okay proud moment coming up. It took place outside a bookstore in Venice Beach, Los Angeles, where I was due to give a reading as part of a West Coast book tour [those were the days!]; I was waiting outside beforehand, chatting to some of the people who’d arrived early, when a man came over and introduced himself as Charlie Haden. He couldn’t stay for the reading, he explained, as he had a gig later, but he just wanted to tell me how much he’d been enjoying my books – his son worked in the store and had recommended them – and he wanted me to have something in return, a copy of his latest CD with Quartet West. Oh, and let me go on record here – much as I enjoy the Quartet West CDs and Haden’s other work as both sideman and leader, my all-time favourite, and one of my favourite recordings ever, is Steal Away, with just himself on bass and Hank Jones at the piano, playing a selection of Spirituals, Hymns & Folk Songs. Perfection.
***Lee Harwood was perhaps the first poet – the first living poet – whose work I responded to strongly both on a personal level and as an aspiring writer – it took me many years to steer my poetry away from sounding like pale imitations of his and it’s a spell I fall under still. There are worse faults, I’m sure. I was fortunate enough to get to know Lee as a friend and to publish some of his work through Slow Dancer Press. [Dream Quilt, 1985; In the Mists, 1993; Morning Light, 1998] On the last occasion I saw him, before his sad death in 2015, we were both reading with the John Lake Band on the South Coast, not far from where he lived in Hove, and his voice was a soft and inimitable as ever. A lovely, lovely man and a wonderful poet.