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This article is taken from PN Review 1, Volume 4 Number 1, October - December 1977.

In the Distance Clive Wilmer

ONE SHOULD not, I suppose, be at all surprised that Dick Davis and his first book, In the Distance, have met with such resolute indifference from the literary establishment. For one thing, at first sight, this sparse little book could hardly be said to contain an embarrassment of riches: out of some fifty-odd poems, twelve are just four lines long and many of the others are only a line or two longer. Then, on closer inspection, the poetry turns out to be about as unfashionable as one could imagine. Mr Davis is indifferent to most of the orthodox requirements of 'modern' poetry: the speaking voice, dramatic tension, concreteness of vocabulary, avoidance of the conventional epithet, 'organic' form. Instead, form is a matter of disciplined artifice; and all things 'localized' are set at nothing. Indeed, one of his main themes is the desire to reach beyond the clutter of detail that makes up our quotidian existence. He is concerned above all with essences-which particulars tend to obscure - and, in consequence, the poetry puts its trust in artifice and abstraction. This is not to say that he fails to see the possible limitations of such a position. In his longest poem, 'North-west Passage', the vision of the mariners extends so far that it fails to take in the contingencies that finally destroy them:

And waves disperse their dreams of gold
Who had not thought the world could be
So small, so comfortless, so cold. ...

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