Today we have a fascinatingly intertextual and eclectic trio of new poems from Jonathan Davidson, taken from his new book A Commonplace, due out from Smith/Doorstop in August 2020. Jonathan is a man of many talents and achievements and I won’t use my time here to outline them all, letting instead these poems speak for themselves. However, it might be useful to know that the first ‘A Letter to Johann Joachim Quantz’ is a spirited postscript to W. S. Graham‘s much-loved poem sequence ‘Johann Joachim Quantz’s Five Lessons’ and the speaker is Karl the boat boy who is not given a voice in the original poem. The last poem ‘On Why Brownlee Left’ uses Paul Muldoon‘s poem ‘Why Brownlee Left’ as its springboard.
A Letter to Johann Joachim Quantz
Do not be sentimental or in your Art. – W S Graham
You tutored me to not expect applause,
and I was not disappointed. Though it was
still chilblain weather, my fingers lifted
like lapping water, letting and stopping
the sounds, to make – I hardly reckoned how –
one of your capriccios. So they stood me –
my hands hard from hauling ropes, my face
weather-reddened – in a sweating corner
of a silk room and pretended to listen.
What forced and servant music rippled
through the chambers of the recently rich
and along the canals! I was a carrier –
as the barge, the smack, the wherry is –
of freight or ballast, and out I went
into The Baltic or The German Sea.
So, they kept me for this purpose only,
and great service did I do them all,
bearing away the frightening silence.
It’s an old brick in an old wall along the Old
Main Line Canal a kilometre west of here and
I Take a photo of it, and post the photo, and tweet
The photo and say something suitably ironic
About bricks and walls. I might as well have thrown
Myself in, there and then, because I had betrayed
My people with cheap words and fancy language
And knowing looks and an educated tongue: like:
What I don’t know about life isn’t worth knowing;
Like: I know so much about what we want and what
They wanted; like: I’ve done so much to get it.
Like fuck I have. And now they talk like the Right
Have won and that’s not a fucking problem. It is
A fucking problem. This brick stuck in this wall
With its arse showing the clay-cast word Utopia
Is the fucking problem. And you lot reading this
Are the fucking problem. The leaves are turning
Early this year and we failed to pick all of the
Beautiful blackberries because we were watching
A long-form drama about some world that doesn’t
Exist but would be fun if it did. And I am sorry
But I can’t be happy about any of this until
The word Utopia and the brickworks that cast it –
That bloody word on the base of a brick – is making
Bricks to build the houses for the people who need
Houses, and giving food to the hungry and clothing
To the cold, and for everyone the sweet dark taste
Of the blackberries you pick even when the dusk
Is nearly upon you, and you are tired and alone.
Those blackberries and that taste. That Utopia.
On ‘Why Brownlee Left’
I was nineteen and not well read,
other than John Keats and most
of Spenser and a bit of Lawrence
and Hardy, the usual boy’s stuff.
This was different. What it said
it said simply enough, neat turns
at each line’s end then back again,
ploughing a straight, narrow furrow
until, at the finish it just came
to a halt. And stood there. No joy,
no sorrow, the cut earth offering
nothing but emptiness, inside me.