This week we feature the brilliant Welsh poet Gareth Writer-Davies. Gareth was a Hawthornden fellow in 2019 and has been repeatedly recognised for his rich, witty and reliably enjoyable poetry. As ever, we produce his work poems, kindly written for Finito World, after the Q&A.
Tell us about the relationship between your work and your poetry.
I would say that my various careers have given me structure, an ability to hit a deadline. Serious artists and writers know that you need to “turn up” so that if inspiration hits you have the tools to hand whether that be an easel and brushes or pen and paper. And of course the workplace provides material, not only in the people and tasks but also in the idiosyncratic jargon and sometimes the locales. I’m a big fan of poets keeping themselves engaged in other work, it makes the brain take diversions and supplies contrasting stimuli. Whether the work be a library or bank or steel mill (all places where poets have earnt their money whilst continuing to write) a writer should be part of the world wherein the people dwell.
Conversely, what role did your love of poetry have in giving you confidence in the workplace?
I always felt confident in my written work and that I can make myself understood. It also helped me to put the workplace into perspective in a way that perhaps a deeply religious person might also. Work is not nothing; it takes but it also gives and to have something beyond what might be quite a mundane series of tasks provides motivation as well as ptting food on the table!
The government has recently said that poetry should be optional at the GCSE level – a significant demotion in its importance on the curriculum. What is your view on that and what do you feel the impact will be?
I don’t think is a good idea. Especially when we are surrounded by so much poetry in the form of lyrics, rap and even advertising; whilst not everything in a poem should be studied to death (the feel of a poem, something that is not quite defineable is part of its purpose and charm) these forms need to be unpacked and understood in terms of motivation and where they are leading us. These are good brain tonics, experiments in form that enhance structural thinking and teach us empathy for others. These are important in all jobs and are too important to discard.
Was there a particular teacher when you were younger who turned you onto poetry?
I did not come from a bookish household, so I had to be something of a self starter. I had relatives who as working class Welshmen would take their turn at a family gathering to recite poetry they had written, my Uncle Edwin being particularly good. He was a milkman and a teacher to me. In school there were several teachers who inspired, introducing me to Eliot, Shakespeare and Milton; their example of keeping the faith in poetry was important to me.
What’s your favourite poem about the workplace?
Filling Station by Elizabeth Bishop
I’ve made up mortar and laid bricks
I wrote a poem in couplets
I’ve torn down trees and planted seeds
I plucked a metaphor from weeds
I’ve tried journalism
I used my imagination
I’ve been a salesman of many things
I know meaning
I’ve taught class and been taught a lesson
I continue my education
I’ve worn uniforms and three-layer masks
I stick to my task
These are a few of my occupations
They gave me this poem
GARDENING WITH A CHAINSAW
I wanted to tell her that chainsaws rarely work
spending ninety per cent of their time
being fed oil, the torque strengthened
the plug scraped free of soot and the chain adjusted
do the wood chips fly like confetti
as trees kiss the vertical goodbye
waving, swaying, then crashing to the shagpile forest floor
the desire to cut and chop, make something from the wild
we gather cabbage tops, think on the big gesture of a copse
like a half-built shed or a thrown bouquet
the chainsaw bides its time as it leaks upon the shelf
upon the oily tongue of blade
like a bull who’s just seen a cow
I curate a smile, turn the key in the lock
walk out into the sudden garden of quiet devastation