The Lover’s Pinch is Gareth Writer-Davies’ first full-length collection of poems, following his two pamphlets Bodies (2015) and Cry Baby (2017). While thoroughly at one with the sensibility and stylistic distinctiveness of the earlier work, The Lover’s Pinch moves forward in a number of engaging directions.
The Lover’s Pinch, like Bodies, is grounded in the physical – specifically, in the physicality of sex and sexual appetite. Homoeroticism (Bent, The Uncertain Narcissist) and the delights of transvestism (Dress) are touched on, but the titles of two poems, Cunt and Cleopatra’s Pussy, give an indication of the principal focus of the collection. At the end of the latter, we are reminded of how, beneath all the glamour and intrigue of Cleopatra’s amours, ‘a girl lay on her back / and bartered destiny’; the climax of the first comes without consummation; ‘you sheath your toys, like a sadness, whilst I return to my trousers/ an old dog / who forgot how to bury a bone.’
One of the poems, Hourglass, is subtitled a metaphysical musing and, for all Writer-Davies’ modernist presentation (lack of initial capitalisation except for proper names, general avoidance/ very sparing use of punctuation) there is something of the seventeenth-century metaphysical poet about him. The openings of many of these poems, in Helen Gardner’s words, ‘postulate an occasion’ – ‘under the olive tree / (some say the largest in Britain) / we sit (Chelsea Physic Garden) ; ‘I am making vegan chilli / for you’ (Chilli); ‘she dresses her mistress / in a gown of lapis lazuli’ (The Maid). Often the occasion is invoked by an opening ‘when’ – ‘when I was a teen wolf’ (She and I); ‘when struck/from one racquet to another / like a bullet (Tennis Ball); ‘when I was happy’ (Untitled). These openings invest the poems with a sense of immediacy similar to that which Helen Gardner (again) called ‘the vivid imagining of a moment of experience’.
Another ‘metaphysical’ aspect of this collection is the habit of wondering, or supposition, that informs many of the poems. The opening poem, Aphrodite, begins ‘if there was so much love in the world /would the carnal function / wither like a frosted bud’; similar speculative strategies inform the openings of Camp and Sleeping Beauty –‘if you were expecting giant /or a beast/ then I apologise/ but the princess is always woken by the hero’s kiss’. From a more distant end of mythology, Pan begins with the poet wondering ‘what is it about Pan, that gets the women’. The poet’s ratiocinative powers are never lost sight of, which means that the sensuous corporeality of his subject matter is illuminated, in a rewarding way, by a thoughtful, sometimes a humorous, rueful, or ironic process of enquiry and, ultimately, for the reader, of revelation.
Cleopatra, in the passage from which title comes, is in fact using the characteristics of the lover’s pinch to describe the working of something much more sinister, namely ‘the stroke of death’ which, like the pinch, she says, both ‘hurts and is desired’. Many of the poems in the collection touch casually, almost incidentally, on death. The ‘petite mort’ of consummated love, with the achievement or non-achievement of which the poems are principally concerned (as in Snakes) inevitably links up with death itself, glanced at in a continuum of allusion that includes Sleeping Beauty’s coma, the anticipated demise of one of the lovers in Winners and Losers, and an acknowledgement, at the end of Hourglass, that ‘all flesh is mortal’.
Gareth Writer Davies in one of these poems (Plant-Wife) claims always to have been a good gardener, cultivating love as well by the same methods (watering, cutting back, waxing, trimming, and adding iron.) The poems themselves have been given the same attention. The Lover’s Pinch is a most enjoyable collection, worthy of a place not just on the poetry shelf, but on one (or both) of the bedside tables too.