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The End, Gareth Writer-Davies

Arenig Press, 2019     £5.99

Open ending

The End is a personal and personalised look at something that will come to us all. It doesn’t deal with the sort of mortality that’s inevitable but distant. It’s a response to an expected end (with a rough idea of how long there is to go).

In fact, it focuses on coming to terms with a grim diagnosis. Through the poems we see the speaker vacillate, often humorously, between questioning, bargaining, acceptance and rage.

Interestingly, we start with a link to birth in the form of ‘Christmas Lights’. This is where the mock-serious bargaining begins:

I will try to be good

please don’t send death
in his fat red suit

The pleading tone is maximised by ‘God’ as a melodramatic one-word line and all those earnest words (‘try’, please don’t’).

The poem ‘Request For Prayers’ concludes ‘pray / to save me from the incinerator’. ‘Fixed Price Offer’ sees more bargaining with the deity:

Name your price and I will reflect upon it, in the light of any other
offers received.

As the collection continues, we move from bargains to rage — there’s an entire OPOI to be written about ‘Jericho’ and its anger:The cover shows a full colour picture of an old church with old graves (grassed over) and headstones. There's a blue sky with a couple of clouds. The title and author's name appear in a translucent whitish band near the foot of the jacket. The title is in large black caps. The author's name is sky blue and lower case.

                                       I want to shout
that the fucking coffee made a fucking ring on the table.

There’s one to be written about use of trees, too, but I’d rather skip to, er, the end and concentrate on the final poem, the eponymous ‘The End’ where we close things out with:

a breath and press play

That ‘play’ clearly suggests movement forward (rather than ending). What’s also notable is the absence of punctuation, not just in that line but in the publication as a whole. There are almost no full stops in the whole pamphlet. I could only count seven, and two of these were in a cento, so they belonged to someone else. (The other five were in a single poem: ‘Fixed Price Offer’.)

The omission has to be deliberate. Is there really no end?  We could infer all kinds of possibilities. But I’m going to hope the lack of full stop is a sign that there’s more to come from Gareth Writer-Davies

Mat Riches

The prospect of death

This is a pamphlet that hits hard with its uncompromising title and gloomy cover image of an ancient church among headstones. The poems within deal frankly but wittily with a cancer diagnosis and its consequences, as the author comes to terms with the prospect of death, step by step.

Writer-Davies writes with a dark irony from the start, pleading with a God he doesn’t really believe in to spare him. At Christmas time he imagines death, not as the Grim Reaper but as a horror Santa Claus (‘Christmas Lights’):

I will try to be good

please don’t send death
in his fat red suit

Pleading and denial seem to be the main modes of coping early on, as in the poem ‘Diagnosis’ (‘what I want to hear / is / I’m sorry, there’s been a mistake’) but as time passes, the poet confesses the fears that prey on him. Images of bones and screaming owls appear. Stripped of the logic of normal life, ‘Thought Alone Can Make Monsters’, as one poem title puts it. This title, and maybe the imagery in ‘Once More Owls’, seem to allude to Goya’s etching The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, one example of the many cultural allusions worked into these poems.

Later, the poet looks on his fate with a humorous detachment, though it is grim. He presents himself as ‘The Anatomical Man’, dissected with all the inner workings on display:

upon the sloppy viscera
I look down

as to what is to come

It is only towards the very end of the volume that a ray of hope appears. In ‘That Summer’, Writer-Davies is able to look back at the worst period of his illness as something overcome: ‘& having expected to be dead / I poured a large one instead’.

Having taken the reader through a series of painful experiences and emotions, Writer-Davies concludes with an unexpected celebration of life. Death is inevitable in the end but fatalism is not the answer.

Dennis Tomlinson