I like a knotty, argumentative poet. And I like Donald Davie very much. He was a blind date. I knew the name but had read, to my knowledge, none of his work. Barnsley born but for much of his life a peripatetic academic, there’s more than a bit of Yorkshire grit in these poems, the grit around which pearls are formed.
In a brilliant new selection by Sinéad Morrissey there are pieces from every decade of Davie’s writing life; poems where he foreswears sentimentality and romanticism and chews away at ideas and experiences like a favourite bone. What we have then in his writing is a synthesis of his internal dialogue that speaks directly to us. These are not imagery-filled, metaphor-heavy poems and they feel as if he has chipped them, mason-like, from stone to ‘chisel honey from the saxifrage.’
Poems which reference 18th-century poet William Cowper and Barnsley Cricket Club win me over instantly, and I warm to the poet and the man. I am astonished by how much he wrote and how close he was in age to the present me when he died in 1995. I think we are now dating.
This is an accessible exploration of Davie’s work. And it makes me want to read more, so this taster selection clearly works. It is an important reminder of the great writer he was, and how relevant he still is, nearly thirty years after his death. Morrissey’s introduction is clear-eyed and intelligent, a perfect primer for a clear-eyed and intelligent poet who in his poem 'Wombwell on Strike' writes:
tormented womb, the taut West Riding.
James Nash is a poet and writer based in Leeds. Heart Stones, his third collection of sonnets, was published by Valley Press in 2021.