The Oligarch Loses His Patience, Claudia Daventry
Templar Poetry, 2015 £5.00

Dynamism in the detail

This pamphlet is packed with elaborate poems. The wealth of Claudia Daventry’s language and form are exceptional. I’m reminded, a little, of watching Theo Jansen’s ‘Strandbeest’ perambulate across a beach. The power of these glorious creations is in their detail.

In ‘The Snug’, for instance, Daventry creates a heightened kind of concertina-effect. A man and woman encounter each other, in uncomfortably close proximity, in a pub snug. This scenario is not unfamiliar. Perhaps what interests me more is the poet’s particular approach – her microscopic cataloguing, in the moment, of so-much unspoken communication.

The poem consists of two fourteen-line stanzas hinged around one moment of direct eye contact. The whole thing starts in rapid-fire, which gets us immediately on alert: ‘Where were you born, he said, I said, in Fife, / which was a lie’.

By the ‘hinge’, where the two stanzas meet, we understand what he’s seeking from her is something quite specific:

I want to know, he said, leaned in and scried
the pupils of my eyes for injury,
for telltale evidence, for marks and scars

This then runs, without a full stop, straight into the second stanza, but the line break marks a pivotal shift. Here is the moment where we leave behind him-pursuing-her, and arrive instead in her-perceiving-him. Here’s how the second half starts:

and locked me in his pewter stare, his rain,
where, like a shilling dropped in a well –
the dark splash, its ripples that spread out

It’s also incredibly clever the way this almost literal description of his physical eyes, then pools seamlessly into the mental activity of her forming interpretations:

I saw the knuckles of the big fists
that made him taste the sour-penny red
of his own blood, felt the heat of shame

– and so it continues, writing out a whole perceived history in miniature. Read the poem: I won’t spoil the story. But it’s in this incredibly layered and intricate detail that, for me, this poetry wields indisputable power.

Charlotte Gann