Who owns the sturdily built houses / taunting my relative poverty / along undulating lanes?
Jonathan Davidson, according to the blurb on the inside of this book, has spent a lifetime finding ways to release poetry into the wild. There is so much more to the man: he won an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors in 1990. He has had eight radio plays broadcast on BBC Radio Three and Radio Four, along with radio adaptations of Geoffrey Hill’s Mercian Hymns and W.S.Graham’s The Nightfishing on BBC Radio Three.
He has also produced six poetry-theatre works, is director of the project management company Midland Creative Projects Limited, Joint-Founder of the Birmingham Literature Festival and Chief Executive of Writing West Midlands. A nicer and more hard-working poet you will likely never find and if you wanted a metaphor to encapsulate him with, A Commonplace does the job with style and panache.
Lessons from the Text
A Commonplace was startling when I first saw and read it during Lockdown. It is, for want of a better definition, the best guide I have ever encountered as to why someone chose to write what they did. Poets don’t talk much about their process: you just get shoved a copy of their books and have to work it out for yourself. This is the J. Davidson primer that I needed not only to understand the man, but why he wrote what he did: who inspires him, who he carries with him and, most crucially, how that has altered his own journey.
There is so much good work enclosed in these pages as to beggar belief, all held together with Jonathan’s elegant, precision-built wordsmithery, but I won’t lie. The poems are stronger with the exposition, built brighter by the footnotes. It is all part of a legacy I’m not sure Jonathan as yet realizes he has created, that I am grateful for, and that future generations will one day take for granted, because words are all well and good, but knowing WHY they were written, transforms poetry into a new and stronger creature.
Much more than this, however, is the understanding that all of this is interwoven with Jonathan’s illustrious career, that these poems overlap and hold the fabric of his existence together. There is not one single duff piece in this entire volume. The poets he chooses to highlight with him end up shining a light back to his artistry and brilliance. When all is said and done, this is the best autobiography of anyone I have ever consumed, and at its heart is the man’s poetic soul, brilliant and bold. Buy this book, and see for yourself, then wish you’d thought of the idea first. I know I wish I had.
Will you read it again? This is another one that goes in the ‘Life Changing’ pile. I don’t care who knows I’m a Fangirl, sometimes it’s a job that just has to be done.
Would you recommend it for me to read? Not just read, but take copious notes. Learn to understand your own work, so when people one day ask YOU why you wrote what you did, you are able to frame it in the wider context of poetic existence.