– Reviewed by Pat Edwards –
Cry Baby is an intense little book, written in crisp, stunted lines. I cannot help but be moved and assaulted by the bravery of this concise and honest writing. Starting with the title poem, Writer-Davies explores his own arrival, as the boy his mother may have wished was a girl, with a father sadly unable to be the best husband and family man. The pamphlet features very relatable childhood episodes, with mostly jolly jaunts and adventures in cars and trains. However, subtle hints of under-lying unhappiness soon reveal a father who “put his temper into managing (my) mother.” In ‘Tonguesmith’, Writer-Davies exposes his father’s willingness to express an opinion, and his skill at charming women.
Many poems in the book show the poet toying with identity. ‘Elocution’ cleverly uses repeated letters and capitalisation to give a sense of what it is to have the way we speak manipulated, and ‘Wood Pigeons’ further explores the importance of class, as does ‘Piano Lessons’. The status symbols of cars, television, musical ability all remind the reader of how much value parents of a certain generation placed on being accepted, and on fitting in with societal norms.
The poems are never far away from dark ambiguity, and from the struggle of the mother, sister and Writer-Davies himself to survive and escape. This is never more evident than in ‘Swimming At Aberdovey’, where the mother is saved from certain death, real or imagined. The pamphlet features moments of warmth, even humour, but the mother finds that her struggles become too much. In ‘Fur’, the selling of his mother’s mink coat suggests the folly of her trying to play “her part”, and be a person she could never really aspire to be.
Writer-Davies displays considerable skill in his careful, earned placement of words, resulting in short, powerful poems that pack meaning into every syllable, every space. He may have been “made in a black iron bed”, but he was shaped by rich experience, and he tells us so eloquently: “I spoke back”.