Perhaps my greatest thrill as a reader is the discovery of a new poet, that moment when I open a collection, start gulping down the poems and immediately realise they’re going to be with me for the long haul. Of course, such moments become rarer as time goes by, but that only serves to render them even more significant.
It’s for this reason that I’m featuring Jonathan Davidson’s 2011 Smith-Doorstep collection, Early Train. He might not be a new poet, but he has been to me this year. I’ve gradually got hold of all his books, and they’re now fixtures on my desk. However, my favourite is Early Train.
There’s no doubt that this collection was unjustly neglected on release. The manner of Davidson’s poetry is unassuming, as is his profile as a poet, yet his work is packed with rewarding punches. As his verse has developed, Davidson’s poems have acquired a quiet depth and immense aesthetic coherence that resonate far more than the work of other more famous contemporaries whose main concerns are their haircuts, best camera angles and poetic posturing.
Early Train offers us page after page of poems that provide the jolt of recognition. In other words, they provoke a sudden self-awareness in the reader that sets us off on our own imaginative journey. One such piece is “The Flowers”, which uses understated syntax to powerful semantic effect, as in the poem’s final quatrain:
“…They are often seen on bridges
spanning motorways, the stems
wilting but unable to collapse,
traffic moving freely beneath.”
Davidson is implicitly inviting us to recall moments when we have seen such flowers ourselves, asking us how we were affected. Moreover, his use of apparently everyday language enables him to load certain specific words with additional connotations, creating a tension via juxtaposition: ”..wilting...unable…collapse…freely…” all qualify each other and all build on each other’s power.
The everyday is present throughout Davidson’s poetry, but this is never kitchen-sink verse. Instead, he plays concrete acts and details off with an intense imaginative world. One such instance can be found in a comparison between the opening and closing lines of “Tony”:
“I’m reconciling a bank account, thinking of you.
A thousand little contracts keep me in the black…
…I find you in the charnel darkness, in the chaos
and disorder, the lost stuff. I am un-reconciled.”
And Early Train is full of poems of such quality. It’s a collection of maturity by an outstanding poet. I’m hugely saddened by its lack of impact on publication but also encouraged that its slow-burning reputation is growing among discerning readers of poetry. I know that many of my friends are already keen fans and I hope this feature will contribute in some small way to the process.
To be honest, I had never heard of him before but after your enthusiastic review I shall make further enquiries.
Best wishes from Simon R. Gladdish