London Grip Poetry Review – Gram Joel Davies



Poetry review – NOT ENOUGH RAGE Neil Elder finds this new collection by Gram Joel Davies lives up to the aims implied by its title


Not Enough Rage 
Gram Joel Davies
V. Press
ISBN 978-1-7398838-7-4

Not Enough Rage is the second collection from Gram Joel Davies, following Bolt Down This Earth (also from V.Press), and in it we find the poet once more exploring the challenges of feeling oneself to be living in a liminal space, or as the title of one poem puts it, a “Tourist in My Home Town”.

The opening poem, “World Away” marries form and content by taking the reader on a tour of speaker’s environs, lines meandering or coming up short as the geography dictates. The poem explores the tiny details of a street known since birth, and celebrates a certain beauty in the familiar;

             it might tell you something – about staying put, not looking far
                enough, not grasping
             this big world – when I tell you which pelican crossing takes 
             which paving stone triggers a trap that pumps your shoes with 

If you know any place well, then there is plenty to tap into here. But the poem then punctures that satisfaction with a dizzying list of the lives some people might experience, and the nagging thought that

          you don’t know you're alive until you’ve watched your breath
          make diamonds
          on the decks of research vessels touring actual icebergs, 

However, it is not so much the experiences that the poem’s speaker is seduced by, but more the chance to go ‘where words are not some abstract simulacrum / … but what happens’. Thus the poem sets up the attention to language and imagery that run throughout the next fifty pages.

I can’t say the collection is a comfortable read, and perhaps that is a good thing; there is an angst buzzing like an electric current throughout the work. In many ways, it is capturing the crackle that has been in the air for the last few years, the sense that things are out of kilter and could go snap at any time. In “A lonely man whose friend is the horizon” a figure ‘needs to escape / from huge stories, those of babies and skeletons.’. The world is too much, and yet escape into a wilderness seems impossible, everywhere there is the mark of man. We have the large scale turmoil ‘of gunfire and banks overflowing’ set against a solitary figure searching for respite. Other poems in the collection look at the isolation some in society may feel.

“Housing Block” is a darkly humorous look at an individual battling bureaucracy, someone needing a home, who knows ‘six thousand trusted spells for help’ but who comes up against a housing officer, cast as mythical gatekeeper who ‘dresses in dragon-hide’ and ‘lizard riddles’. Indeed, the ‘soft compliments’ that are used as a weapon are a beautiful example of how Joel Davies can spear a moment or idea so deftly. He does this earlier in the poem, where in the council office the applicant is kept ‘waiting, aching / in this cubicle beneath dire lighting.’ The whole conceit of this poem is enjoyable and witty, as the housing officer deflects the pleas for help with ‘cantrips, holy-signs / eye of gecko, sprig of holly,’ and the poem stands out to me as one of the more accessible and amusing in the collection, and all the more successful as a consequence.

Relationships with the wider world are a key element to the collection, but there are small scale relationships, romantic relationships, that also appear, though these are not much easier for those involved to deal with. There is disquiet in the poem “We Shared a Flat” from the moment ‘a beetle died in the jostled plates’, and although ‘we had love’, the run-down flat is compete with ‘the ashtray nobody notices get full.’ This much I follow, but then, as he likes to do, Joel Davies brings in an abstract set of images and I lose my footing in the poem. I occasionally feel I am failing in my reading; perhaps I am, but I don’t want to have that as the nagging thought whenever I read the collection.

                         The morning she vanished, I hurtled through cemetery cedars,
                         over my head. Running like stage paint,

                         I thought two pairs of the same shoes would make it last.
                         The officer who brought her back blinked - 
                         blinked when I thanked him.

The next poem is “How Many Nights” and it seems reasonable to assume it is the same relationship detailed here as in “We Shared a Flat”. In this poem, the aspect of mental health is explored, and the challenges presented to those who struggle with their mental health is presented. However, the difficulties a partner has in remaining supportive and sympathetic, are also interestingly put forward;

                    I know when breathing is not sleeping,
                    That you have not slept in days; I match
                    My breath to yours, hoping you will sleep as I do.
                    But you are busy not sleeping, not eating,
                    Lying like a glass corpse filled with hornets,
                    Scented by psychosis and ashtrays.   

The hurt and strangeness of the world in Not Enough Rage, is encapsulated in those lines, the ‘glass corpse filled with hornets’ image is brilliant, and an example of what these poems can offer by way of originality. There is also a tenderness that hovers at the edge of the collection, looking for opportunities to show itself. In “World Away”, the opening poem, the goal was ‘to show the world’ that what matters is words, and ‘what happens’ with words that touch the nervous system ‘like a taper / to a gas-tap.’ In poems such as “How Many Nights” that goal is certainly met. As for the title of the collection, there seems to be plenty of rage in these poems; we all know there is plenty for Gram Joel Davies to rage against, and poetry that shows its teeth is sometimes no bad thing.

Neil Elder has won the Cinnamon Press debut collection prize with The Space Between Us,as well as their pamphlet prize with Codes of Conduct which was also shortlisted for a Saboteur Award.  His latest work is Like This, available from 4 Word Press.
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