Monday 23 May 2011


When I got this book I found it contained a piece of writing that I have read before and been back to many times to mull over and read again. I saw it first in the anthology Text 2 and I've seen a version of it exhibited, it must have been in the 2009 Text Festival. Called 'Untitled' it comprises 6 'Plates' which are brief apparently descriptive texts such as you would find on an art gallery label:

Plate 1 James Davies, Text 1 (2006).
Text on paper, variable dimensions,
Collection of the artist.

Next to 'Plate 1' is a printed square outline or box containing the same text, beginning 'James Davies'. So on the page we see two columns, one a list of three 'Plates' and the other column a display of three boxes containing the same texts, enlarged and reset. Over the page this layout and content is repeated in a similar display. The layout is similar but the content is not identical. The numbers change and 'Plate 6' is a 'Study for Text 4'. There is an emptying of the expectations we have for art and for poetry to signify. I'm used to that being managed in various ways but this is a particularly pure and conceptual form of written abstraction. It has a playful recursive emptiness that is appealing and witty. There is a very sure and confident touch in the switch from the genre of the descriptive label to that same material reset and exhibited or objectified as content in each typographical box. I mean it's confident to leave it at that and repeat the process six times without adding anything else, no quotes from Wittgenstein or other see-heres, just the thing itself. Beautiful.
The opening of the book is a sequence of 'Unmades', this is the first one:


Written, typed, altered, deleted


You'd think that this was a dead end but Davies manages 31 witty variations, his 'Unmades', title after Duchamp, remind me of Tom Raworth's sequence 'Stag Skull Mounted' in Moving 1971, especially the last poem in that sequence '7.40 PM. June 29th. 1970'. So much has been removed from the normal equipment of the poem that it comprises only (only) a highly literary intelligence at play. Because of this cut-down quality the titles become bizarre, ludicrous, fantastical, banal all at once. I love it.

James Davies, Plants, Reality Street, 80 pp, £8.50, 12 dollars US, 9 Euros.
The poems quoted here for review are copyright James Davies 2011. The book cover is by Simon Taylor.

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