Jonathan Davidson Poet

Jonathan Davidson

The acclaimed poet and writer Jonathan Davidson discusses the poetry on Ian Veanbles’ new recording, ‘Love Lives Beyond The Tomb’. 

 “I have been listening again to Live Lives Beyond the Tomb and reading the poetry and notes (which are excellent). Jennifer Andrews is not a poet I had come across but I like her piece very much. It is Frostian, or even Hardy-esque, but, to pick up Clinton Baddeley’s idea, it needed your music to deepen it. I would have read it and liked it and moved on, but  your song holds me up and opens the poem out. I confess I might have passed over the Robert Nichols poem as well, as it reads slightly too sweetly for my taste, but again your setting of it adds the specificity that the universality of the sentiment perhaps lacks. I am beginning to understand this, what music and the human voice does to words that we so often just glance at on the page. The very artifice (I mean this positively) of setting words to music adds a resonance, a depth, a hinterland to even a quite simple lyric.

The Clare and the Thomas I would have read with pleasure anyway and quite possibly had (many years ago). The Thomas is a poem that offers the particularity of situation that speaks of truth. And the Clare is the sort of poem contemporary poets pretend not to like because its register sounds rather too universal and perhaps has been over-used. But if one thinks for a moment of Clare’s life the poem lifts itself and with your setting we are given the time to appreciate that he meant what he damned well said! The Joyce came as a surprise, although I did at one point have a slim volume of his poetry. The Drinkwater was new to me, most of his work sadly is. He clearly wrote for people to understand, to take comfort from his work.

Perhaps that is the difference I’m struggling to articulate. That Drinkwater and Clare and so on, wrote for others, to allow their own suffering to help others, while so many contemporary poets write to validate their own psychosis – and this can be interesting. We are now meant to praise the poet not the poem, whereas with the poets you have chosen the poem is the thing. As it should be. And going on, I had forgotten how good Motion can be at simply handling language, choosing an apt and original metaphor or simile. ‘the polishing breeze’ is an example plucked at random. What an odd expression but it works, as does the ‘spurting / mud-moons’. Motion has done his reading and he writes in full knowledge of what has come before, which makes him unusual but is to me to his credit.

I am rambling slightly as I had meant only to comment on your choice of poem generally. And I think there is not necessarily a pattern but certainly a register and a heritage. Most, but not necessarily all, of the poems you have chosen could easily trace their genesis back through generations of poets, back through the Elizabethan age and even before. Which feels right, as to my untutored ears your music is built on the heritage of Western music and if I had the language and knowledge I might be able to expand on this hunch, but I don’t. The poems share an interest in making the particular universal and have a good plainness of language. And perhaps most importantly, most of them appear to say everything very simply but leave space for the reader – or the composer and singer and musician – to apply their creativity to release the poems, to make new art. Certainly, the simplest of poems – for instance the Jennifer Andrews – is re-made by your work with it.