PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
Mark FordLetters And So It Goes
Letters from Young Mr Grace
(aka John Ashbery)

(PN Review 239)
Henry Kingon Toby Martinez de las Rivas
(PN Review 244)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Tim Parksin conversation with Natalia Ginzburg
(PN Review 49)
Next Issue Sharif Elmusa on Mourid Barghouti Lorna Goodison Christmas Poem Brian Morton Now Patricia Craig Val Warner: a reminiscence John McAuliffe Bill Manhire in Conversation
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
PNR 250 Poetry Archive Banner
Monthly Carcanet Books
PN Review Blog

This article is taken from PN Review 88, Volume 19 Number 2, November - December 1992.

Against the Grain Neil Powell

THE WORD WHICH continually recurs when one thinks about Donald Davie is 'Dissent': theologically, he was born into it, has returned to it and written about it; intellectually, it will do to describe his stormy relationships with the prevailing literary, political and moral climates of his time; and, of course, he very frequently provokes it in others. At the start of his book of 'Recollections', These the Companions, he worries about whether he should call himself a writer, a poet, a critic or a teacher. He might have settled for 'dissenter'.

Yet so persistent a temper of dissent - one, moreover, which devotes much time and energy to arguing with itself - may have odd consequences for a poet, one of which is to question the notion of being a poet at all. This is what happened in the note of 24 July 1957 which Davie appended to his poem 'With the Grain', a much-quoted piece of writing which is usually described as vulnerable and revealing, and taken at face value. It is, I think, subtly though perhaps not deliberately misleading. In it, Davie admits that he is 'not a poet by nature, only by inclination' since his mind 'moves most easily and happily among abstractions, it relates ideas far more readily than it relates experiences'; and he suggests that his poems written up to that time were not 'natural' poems 'simply because the thought in them could have been expressed … in a non-poetic way'. Nevertheless, ...

Searching, please wait... animated waiting image