Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

John Davidson

When I was at school we studied a book called 15 Great British Poets- or was it 25 Great British Poets? I forget- and Google isn't helping me remember- which featured generous selections from the chosen names- who were presented in chronological order from Blake to (I think) George Barker. Barker was an eccentric choice but we liked his True Confession because it's filthy. Some of the other choices were eccentric too. Edwin Muir, for instance. And John Davidson. I don't think Davidson should have been admitted to the pantheon when Swinburne and Kipling weren't, but, all the same, I'm happy to have made his acquaintance. Forty Bob A Week is a terrific poem- related to Kipling's Barrack Room Ballads in its use of the vernacular and less disciplined but quite unforgettable. He wrote an enormous amount of stuff- poems, plays, novels, post-Nietzschean philosophy, lots of hackwork- most of it now unread- and out of that huge pile of words a few verses have extracted themselves and are still current.

His contemporaries seem to have liked him, but never took him quite as seriously as he took himself (the toupee may have had something to do with this). He believed in suicide as the ultimate act of self-assertion against an unpitying, godless universe- and acted on this belief by drowning himself in the sea aged 50. The Missing poster issued by the police noted that he affected a goatee and a monocle and "looked like a Frenchman". He has been called the "first modernist" but wasn't. T.S. Eliot admired him. It was an odd life, but by the standards he set himself, not an unsuccessful one.
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