John Davies comes across in his New and Selected Poems as a man of ordinary things, and, as is appropriate for a poet with the alter-ego Shedman, prominent among these is the shed. At the same time, however, he likes probing beneath the ordinary, looking for the essential, the je ne sais quoi which holds everything together, as in his allegory of a doctor listening at the floorboards of a hospital with his stethoscope, straining to hear the movements of the ghosts responsible for ‘the peculiar harmony of the whole machine’ (‘Auscultation’) or again in ‘Getting Giuseppe to the airport’ where he reflects on the infrastructure of ordinary life necessary for the carrying out of our most taken-for-granted needs and projects.
He is, in other words, a poet of the meditated everyday and emphatically not one of those whose ‘unexamined life’ is ‘hardly worth living’. On the other hand, he enjoys being surrounded by gadgets and gizmos, brackets for curtain rails, the ‘inlet probe and the nozzle micromesh’, and doesn’t at all mind cocking a snook at portentous attitudes and cultural shibboleths. His ode to a glass of coke and the ‘borborygmi’ it induces in his intestines is perhaps his most obvious expression of sympathy with the non-sublime.
His poems deal with the joys and disappointments of ordinary life, love, death, friendship, the bridging of generational and other gaps through common interests, the bleak matrimonial wasteland as well as the reverence that trust and continuance bring to love partners, even the frustration of the needed but long-delayed cheque and the pressure its non-arrival causes. Frustration of a more acute kind stands up and declares itself in ‘Glove compartment’. We are given occasional quick peeks of transcendence in poems such as ‘Gardener’s question time’, which speaks of ‘some interweaving he can’t account for’ in a familiar landscape.
To a considerable extent, Davies is a poet of landscape, of the British landscape (with a few glimpses of the River Shannon), its wildlife, and the history, both personal and pervasive, which landscape evokes. Some poems with urban settings are also tellingly descriptive.
Many poems evidence a quiet humour, while some provoke robust laughter. Davies’ work often shows a yearning to break away from a sense of constriction, and this tendency is perhaps best illustrated by the poem ‘Elegy’, which could be tagged as exhibiting the poet’s ‘Do not go gentle’ strain: ‘this elegiac tone really gets my goat’. (‘Oh hell! Now the bloody bells have started!’ as Jimmy Porter puts it.) On the other hand, ‘À la douce mémoire’ charts, detail by sadly tender detail, the dying of a female relative, while ‘In Memory of Beynon John’ is a lyrically evocative ‘list’ poem, all the more affecting for its obliqueness. There is also the more inclusively pitched ‘Love poem’ which embraces Russia and elephants as well a lost amour.
What the above qualities amount to is the very welcome New and Selected Poems of a varied and layered poet, one who may justly be described as ‘a man with a bit of Jizz in him’.
Author of Life Monitor (Three Spires Press)
and A Year’s Midnight (Pighog Press)
Member of Aosdána