The smoky, noisy streets of Cardiff in 1890 provide the setting for the latest volume from leading poet Damian Walford Davies. With its busy port and industrial hinterland, the rapidly expanding town provides rich pickings for a successful architect, but a commission to replace three dockland terraces of houses with an elegant new square brings him face to face with the town’s dark but enticing underworld of poverty-driven vice, dirt and brutality. While his wife in their respectable house wraps herself in mourning for their stillborn child, the architect becomes increasingly estranged from her chilly, middle-class world and ever more obsessed with the haunting vision of a mysterious, abused docklands child, a girl – real or ghostly? – constantly, fleetingly glimpsed as the new square rises from the demolished streets. Gradually the elusive narrative emerges as the obscuring smoke and darkness are broken by sharp shafts of unforgiving light.
Full of the strong smells, sounds and colours of life in rough Victorian street and genteel parlour, at once sensuous and repellent, these poems take the reader on an uneasy journey into Cardiff’s murky history. With its themes of juxtaposed lives, of loss, temptation and desire, of strong passions and of casual violence that leaves its indelible mark on the future, the dark underdrawing of Docklands maps the lost streets of a reimagined town in constant flux.
When much new poetry looks no further than the poet’s navel, this kind of imaginative leap is a tonic.
(The Telegraph Poetry Book of the Month - February)
In these poems we taste, smell and hear the city, and we see the shadows behind the grandiose civic architecture of the British Empire.[…] Docklands is a meticulous study of place, time and atmosphere, which opens the reader’s eyes to a city behind the city, and to lives behind our own.