Poetry review: 23/3/21


by Jonathan Davidson

Cover shows A Commonplace by Jonathan Davidson. A landscape with large industrial chimneys.
A comforting feeling of togetherness and the interconnectedness of poetry and life… 

A Commonplace is a collection of poems in conversation with each other. The poems by Jonathan Davidson were written and edited in several different countries over a period of almost 40 years, and this navigation through the passage of time across a changing world could not be any clearer in the way the book is structured. Many of the poems by other authors are particularly meaningful to Davidson and relate to formative experiences or important people in his life, which are expanded upon in the accompanying commentary and footnotes. So thorough is the commentary that this book needs to be re-read several times, each time uncovering a different layer of meaning or connection between the poems. If, like me, you have the attention span of a gnat, this can feel overwhelming at times. Fortunately, the book is just as good to dip into as it is to read cover-to-cover.    

The sense of poetry as an anchor to the past and valuable companion on our journey into the uncertain future is strong in this collection, as is the idea that poetry is everywhere, surrounding us at all times, “as commonplace as food and drink”. The poems chosen by Davidson are given enough space to shine despite the detailed commentary (and frequent puns) as are his responses to those poems. Poems about universal human experiences are distilled and related to the author’s individual life in a way that asks the reader to do the same. We are urged to reconsider our relationships with each other, with the world around us, and with poetry itself. As the title suggests, apples and bricks are two threads running through both the poems he has chosen and the ones he has written. This combination of poems about modern life and the past, the natural world and the one we have built for ourselves, again asks the reader to consider their own place in the world, and how poetry might fit into their small part of it. The poems urge us to listen to the echoes of our past in our lives today and insist that we don’t lose touch with it. While poetry is an art form that lends itself well to discussing isolation or the individual experience, this collection feels more celebratory: it shows us how far we’ve come, but at times is still angry about where we might be going.

Not only are these poems in conversation with each other, but in conversation with the reader too: many of the footnotes are direct questions to the reader, immersing them further. This can sometimes be distracting rather than engaging, but does not detract from the quality of the poems and in fact enhances the comforting feeling of togetherness and interconnectedness reading this book generates.

Review: Bethany Goodwill

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Smith/Doorstop (2020)
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£6.95 – £9.95