One of the qualities I most like to find in a poet whose work I’ve not come across before is strangeness. This can mean many different things of course but there is certainly a strong element of ‘dislocation’ in the work of Gram Joel Davies, a young poet whose poetry I’ve only recently come across and am very glad to have done so.
His world is one of an apparent rural isolation, combined with modern technology and an evasive sense of ‘self’ which is expressed in an unusual mixing of vocabularies which can appear all too unsettling. These are intriguing poems however, where the reader is forced to confront the mystery of a narrative which is oblique, perhaps semi-autobiographical yet filled with precise detail and a powerful lyrical confidence which is accomplished and immediate.
In ‘Lost for Looking’, for example, we get this opening stanza:
Every day, flat face to the glass ceiling,
resumés, bounced back by the mailer-daemon;
knackered by hours trapped
inside telephone queueing systems .
Behind the brass plaques of financial wisdom
we find the smack of black pistons.
The second stanza is almost engulfed by information overload, amid a search for some kind of ‘practical truth’ whereby the individual can feel at home or at least rest easy without being driven ‘by some conception of a summit,’ and feel able to ‘establish / the essence of a single truthful task?’ Although there is a kind of ‘argument’ involved here, a kind of country v city split, with a final stanza which has an almost utopian projection, beautifully evoked in – ‘One glass cubicle in sunshine’s / all I ask’ – it’s a vision which also has a dystopian undermining at its core and leaves this reader feeling very uneasy.
In ‘Formation’ we have this disturbing opening gambit – ‘a wasp on the cock is what I like. / Clasped in an eggcup on my testicle / until its creep lets me peek’. As well as such arresting imagery there is a strong tendency towards ‘sound’ in these poems, both in terms of a skilful use of musical phrasing and in the ‘subject matter’ which again veers between the dissonant – ‘Something holy about sleeping in the room / with your fridge.’ – from ‘Tinnitus:Signal’ – and the more nervily upbeat, as in ‘Clubbers’, where we get this: ‘Everybody has a smiley / on their mouth. We come here to move, / to sweat and to belong’.
These poems are peopled by vulnerable, troubled characters, outsiders, who project a fractured and disturbing light on what we might call ‘normality’. In ‘The Buzzing Crowd’ the natural world feels as abrasive and out-of-sync as its human protagonists – ‘Those rooks, / they’d peck your brain and pull love right / from out your sockets.’
Davies evokes psychological states of inner turmoil via language which is estranged and troubling, yet beautifully constructed in its disaffection – ‘ Your carpet crawls like droplets on a hotplate / and the fear of tiny mouthfuls grows, exponential / to fleabites’. (from ‘Creep’). Powerful stuff indeed.