Michael Tolkien

Touchwood  ( Anvil)

(Accepted but not published by London Magazine: 1996-7)



   Davis envisages a demanding and unpredictable world where there are no theoretical consolations. Touchwood is the inflammable inner core of public and personal history; the fears and instabilities he bares with surgical concision. Intimacies and epochs reflect on each other; terser epigrams refract what chronicles imply. However you shore yourself up, doubt is ‘accusing you/ Of infinite evasion/ In all you say or do.'

     Those who break the mold confirm this, but they are the luminaries. Like the revolutionary Iranian poet `Eshqi, murdered in 1924, the subject of an initial tribute in well-honed, didactic rhyming couplets. A kindred spirit distanced by time and ideology, he wrote out of passionate need to combat the deceitfulness of language, to allay fears, and yet from ‘ a pointless love for sound and sense allied/ Bequeathed by all the poets who have died'. Davis' work at his ‘archaic, honourable trade', influenced by close study of Persian literature, emulates this ambivalence, as if controlled playfulness makes art restore the balance so singularly lacking in human behaviour. ‘We Should Be So Lucky' expresses ‘shameful, strong/ Nostalgia' for the Palace of Art, but he praises his mentors, Bowers, Auden and Suzanne Doyle, in uniquely imitative styles  for their unabashed humanity.

     These act as positives to offset tersely formal meditations on mutability and insecurity, middle-aged jaundice and bourgeois assumptions. His authoritative perplexity modulates with the kind of ease that ‘comes from Art not Chance' through many tones. These recur in the choric voice of the final poetic drama about Esther and Mordecai at the court of Xerxes,  paradigm and metaphor for the tyranny, intrigue and racial tension confronted by `Eshqi (or the  exiled Sasanian Persians of ‘Flight', who froze time with their own culture kept intact in a corner of China.) The court tale ‘Twists from our hands as if it were a live thing/ Unwilling to be tamed at our discretion'. Farcical harem politics turn into horrific genocide (with a disturbing glance at the mediaeval York pogrom), as if these are pieces integral to a recurrent pattern of extremities. The Envoi is characteristically stoical:

                        This story's old and always new,

                        A burden that won't go away

                        These things can't happen but they do.



Dick Davis