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This review is taken from PN Review 116, Volume 23 Number 6, July - August 1997.

WOODWORK DICK DAVIS, Touchwood (Anvil) £7.95
DICK DAVIS, Borrowed Ware: Medieval Persian Epigrams (Anvil) £8.95

In two of the several homages In Touchwood, Dick Davis compliments Auden for 'minding our manners and metres', and Edgar Bowers for being '[d]iscerning, undeceived, distinctly dry'.

As is often the case, these alliterative formulae say as much about the eulogist as the eulogized. For Davis is, like the first poet, scrupulously attentive to customs and iambs; like the second, his tone is sapient, illusionless, and sometimes bitingly sec. 'Undeceived' also points, of course, to yet another model: Larkin, whom Davis can occasionally rival for sheer pissiness. Witness 'Middle Age', the first section of which bleakly grouses:
 

We miss out; we don't mind; we make
  less fuss.
Living? Our poems can do that for us.


Judging from this couplet alone, one might conclude that the book should have been called Ouchwood.

But when Davis gropes his way back to bed, as he does in 'Comfort', there's no micturition: 'I stumble back to darkness, warmth and you,' Davis coos, cozily if rather blandly. Affection and catholicity balance out his spleen in such poems as 'A Monorhyme for Miscegenation', whose sumptuous title looms like an oasis in Davis's Sahara of minimal naming ('Still', 'Flight', and 'Late' are the tight-lipped rule). Of mixed marriages, Davis writes:
 

Their intricate accommodations
Make them impossible to clone:

For gross, gemütlich kindness, for
Love's larky, lively undertone,

For all desired ...


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