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A Darker Way: Grahame Davies, Seren

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Author, poet, editor, librettist and literary critic Grahame Davies was brought up in the former coal-mining village of Coedpoeth, near Wrexham, in north-east Wales. His former career as a journalist and producer earned him a number of Welsh and industry awards. In 1999 his study of Wales and the anti-modern movement, the product of his doctoral research, was hailed as a landmark achievement in the field of literary criticism and he has been the recipient of many awards for his contributions to poetry. In 2023 he was made a Commander of the Victorian Order (CVO).

A Darker Way brings together a collection of poems and songs which explore the human psyche. The spiritual realm is never far from his work but Davies is not a poet who sees things in simplistic terms: belief and unbelief are held in equal measure. These questioning poems impress us with their honesty. In ‘Seeking’ we are invited to listen to “the sea’s insistent catechism.” At the end of the day, Davies tells us, “if there are no answers, / you know, at least, /you have not hidden from the questions.”

The suite of poems on Aberfan, which lies at the core of this collection, is both moving and powerful. In ‘Mining Disaster Memorial’ Davies turns the tables so that the dead address the living: “We do not ask you to remember us: / you have your lives to live as we had ours, / and ours we spent on life not memory.” His experience as a young newspaper reporter for the Merthyr Express and his responsibility for the paper’s coverage of the 20th anniversary of the disaster and, later, his involvement in the 50th anniversary commemorations inform the background to ‘Journalist’, where he speaks for all journalists who are tasked with reporting on tragic events: “You are not there to weep./ You are there because they are weeping. / And the world must know.” The poems are accompanied by a series of pictures reproduced with the permission of IC ‘Chuck’ Rapoport, who was one of the first photographers on the scene in the aftermath of the tragedy. 

A suite of poems on Covid is equally powerful in its exploration of the pandemic. The poems were commissioned by the JAM on the Marsh festival, Romney Marsh, Kent, to accompany a performance of Fauré’s Requiem in St. Leonard’s Church, Hythe, to commemorate the dead.  Several other poems such as ‘The Saviour in the Shawl,’ A Welsh Prayer’ and ‘A Welsh Blessing’ were written as a result of specific commissions and set to music by composers such as Paul Mealor, Eilir Owen Griffiths and Sarah Class. ‘Sacred Fire’ was performed by South African soprano Pretty Yende and the Coronation Orchestra at the coronation of King Charles in Westminster Abbey in 2023.

Among the other poems in this collection, ‘Goodbye to a home’ and its companion piece ‘A new home’ caught my attention. Here is the opening stanza of the former with its carefully crafted line breaks and conversational tone:


     With no-one else we have spent

     so much time, been more

     ourselves, cared less

     what people say. The world sees

     what we want it to, but you

     saw what we never showed the working day.


The opening stanza of its sequel is equally conversational:


     I wonder if we could begin this way?

     If we could set aside the words we use

     habitually for all our habitations.

     You know the ones I mean:

     buying and selling, cash and equity,

     possession, occupation, ownership.

     Is all that really necessary? What must

     you think of us who think that way?


Other poems range across a variety of subjects, making reference to, among other things, the speedway rider Eddie Castro, Belgian painter Fernand Toussaint, the crypt in St. Leonard’s Church, Hythe, the Welsh League of Hope and the motto of Goodenough College, London. Some of the shortest poems, such as ‘Connection,’ ‘Palimpsest’ and ‘A Marriage’ are beautifully succinct, the latter alluding to Mercury, perhaps, who carried a hazel staff which bestowed him with great wisdom and was later regarded as a symbol of happiness:


     For thirty years she loved him, or she tried,

     but what she gave him, without price or pride,

     was just a hazel staff cut from a hedge

     that at the journey’s end is set aside. 


There is much to admire in this collection which, for all its sense of realism, its confrontation with tragedy and its reflections on the mystery of existence, reminds us that we are called to be salt and light.


Grahame Davies, A Darker Way, Seren, £10.99






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