In Grahame Davies’ collection, Lightning Beneath The Sea, the final poem, “Doorway”, ends with the line, “Come on”, you said, “There’s plenty more to see.”
The same can be said for Davies’ poems. Curious, reflective and often introspective, his poems introduce the different people we may encounter in a lifetime as well as some of the strangers we never meet. He invites us to observe the seemingly commonplace or mundane in different locations: a charity shop, the seaside, inside a stranger’s home. The routine becomes a tool to explore the intricacies of human relationships and a wider society.
Always observant, the poems are highly visual, and often allude to a back-story to which the reader is not privy. Davies invites us to look closely at our fellow human beings, suggesting that first impressions are not always correct, and that there is much more beneath the surface. In “Plas Power”, Davies creates a striking image of a stately home, where “the stairs curve round like strands of DNA”:
grey gables, towers, wrought iron tracery,
like something Poe or de la Mare would build
words were wealth and poems property.
The poem alludes to a history between two characters, “she took my hands just like when we were young”, yet Davies does not reveal this shared past. Instead, we are left to observe and speculate.
One of Davies’ strengths is his ability to evoke a particular mood or thought which persists long after the poem is read. His poems, filled with idiomatic speech, are engaging and poignant. This is where Davies’ seemingly ordinary or banal subjects thrive: in the juxtaposition between these and the ‘real’ emotional intricacies within humans.
This is executed perfectly in “Charity Shop”. The poem begins rather mundanely, observing the typical books which are found there, “the glossy, tasteless, coffee-table kind”: it then opens into a story about a family and their missing daughter:
And yet, perhaps there’s more here than there
the inside’s been inscribed this way:
“Dear Bea, come home and we can share our
Davies stirs our emotions with his contrast of the ordinary and the heartbreaking, along with his use of everyday speech :
Her parents’ names, her sister’s, and the date
– God help them – scarcely 18 months ago.
The final lines of this poem, with their re-assuringingly conclusive rhythm, rhyme and repetition cement the power of Davies’ ability to infuse the banal with the poignant:
I buy the unread, two-pound-fifty tome
to give, if not the child, the book, a home.
There are certain lines in Davies’ poems which are truly thought provoking. In “Reader”, for example, which depicts an unknown woman in her home as she reads, Davies probes human nature and relationships:
Better, of course, that we should never meet.
Never be disappointed. After all,
is that not why we read: to spend our days
with paper, not with people? People fail.
Davies is at his best reflecting on others, encouraging his readers in turn to examine themselves and their judgements. “Crossroads” concerns meeting an old friend’s daughter and discovering that she is a prostitute. The shock factor works, not least because of the banal tone and language which lure the reader into a false trust, only for that trust to be broken.
The beauty of Davies’ poems is their ability to highlight the hidden aspects of people that are often viewed negatively, whilst maintaining a completely unbiased and non-judgemental tone.
Unfortunately, the significant variations in tone, subject matter and emotional depth across the collection also allow for some poems to be forgotten. Nevertheless, Lightning Beneath The Sea contains such a wide range of poems that there is definitely something here for everyone.