Jonathan Davidson

Jonathan Davidson

Jonathan Davidson was born in 1964 and grew up in the Didcot, South Oxfordshire. He has lived for many years in Coventry and now lives in Birmingham.

He won an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors in 1990 and his first collection of poetry, The Living Room, was published by Arc Publications in 1994. This was followed, seventeen years later by Early Train (Smith|Doorstop, 2011). He has also published three poetry pamphlets, Moving the Stereo (Jackson's Arm, 1993), A Horse Called House (Smith|Doorstop, 1997) and Humfrey Coningsby: Poems, Complaints, Explanations and Demands for Satisfaction (Valley Press, 2015), and an e-book Selected Poems (Smith|Doorstop, 2014). His combination of memoir and criticism, On Poetry, was published by Smith|Doorstop in 2018.

He has had eight radio plays broadcast on BBC Radio Three and Radio Four, along with radio adaptations of Geoffrey Hill's Mercian Hymns and W.S.Graham's The Nightfishing on BBC Radio Three. His stage adaptation of Mary Webb's novel Precious Bane was produced by Interplay Theatre and toured extensively in 2008 and 2009. He has produced six poetry-theatre works, his most recent touring shows were The Hundred Years' War (touring in 2014/15) and Towards the Water's Edge (touring in 2016/17), both co-productions with Bloodaxe Books and the Belgrade Theatre Coventry.

He is director of the project management company Midland Creative Projects Limited, Joint-Founder of the Birmingham Literature Festival and Chief Executive of Writing West Midlands. He is Chair of the National Association of Writers in Education.
Twitter @jfdavidson1964



Jonathan Davidson has a loving, observant and wry regard for the frailties of the human condition. He makes fresh something we thought we knew; writing of the everyday the way Vermeer might be said to paint it.’ — Maura Dooley

‘These are thoughtful, lucid, deceptively simple poems; but their eye is clear and their approach graceful. Sometimes concealing a darker melancholy, they find truths in the prosaic details of our lives – such as bike frames and Sunday papers in the garden.’ — Stuart Maconie

‘Distant and yet close, intimate and yet somehow objective, the quiet power of these tender and true poems pulls you in. Davidson is as interested in the haunting strangeness of nostalgia as he is in the oddly humanising effect of the mundane. And he often finds in the ordinary something joyous and surprising. This is a remarkable collection.’ — Jackie Kay

'These poems are carefully crafted, even artful, almost exquisite at times in the ways they precisely deploy the language of the everyday and images of ordinariness. Davidson documents the personal importance of everyday things in such a way that what might be thought trivial is discovered to be essential, and what might be ignored as commonplace finds it own voice.' — Noel Williams, Orbis

'Through unobtrusive deftness, we glimpse lives of fellow travellers, such as his father, salvaging roadkill ‘wrapped in The Morning Star / saddle-bagged’. Davidson, noting ‘dark-eyed sloes’, or shopkeepers’ ‘print-stained fingers’, has an eye for detail as keen as any travelling detective’s. He is equally skilled at recapturing forgotten intensities of childhood, ‘water like fire, freezing’, and the hungry flow of a cyclist’s teashop talk... Progress through the quiet riches – and profound surprises – of Early Train is time well spent.' — Poetry London

'...a poetry that surprises, that shows craft and judgement and dexterity, and deploys sudden poignancies, charges of sadness' — Stride Magazine







Leaving the house in half-dark, I am going
without goodbye, pulling the front door shut 

with a muffled clunk. During the night,
at two and then at three o’clock, the four 

and then the six year old had clambered up
into our narrow bed. We’d all slept sound 

in the same moonlight from the street lamp
marooned across the bay from our harbour, 

and the sea of leaves that turned in the trees
was a fierce squall that filled our dreaming. 

As the night went out, scouring temporary
channels in the sand, we would, one by one, 

wake up. I was the first, and before I left
to cycle to the station, I took a photo 

of the three of them, in the five-thirty light,
to remember the lie of their bodies becalmed, 

their faces and voices, their words and replies
washed up on the further shore, to remember
what it was we became when we lived together.


— From Early Train




Jonathan on his work 

Early Train – a late book…

I have been reading and writing poetry all my life. I have a battered copy of ‘Poems’ by Walter de la Mare, which my Mum must have read to me countless times as a young child. We were a working class family but she had had a poem published herself as a young woman (in the Liverpool Echo) and our house was full of books. My Father was a factory worker, life-long Communist and a voracious reader. Poetry largely passed me by at school or rather went underground as I wrote obsessively throughout my teens. Contemporary poetry caught me by accident. I came across the poem ‘Why Brownlee Left’ by Paul Muldoon when I was nineteen and working as a wages clerk. From then on I hunted and gathered poetry from all corners and I still have a taste for poets who are unknown, disregarded or unfashionable.

Looking back, I realise I have a love for a particular form of ‘Englishness’; not in any way nationalistic but that explores the uneasy place we occupy. Peter Didsbury is for me an enormously significant poet; completely his own man, relatively unknown, quietly responding to the world with a tone of voice that is never too comfortable. And WS Graham I have been reading for twenty five years (I adapted his ‘The Nightfishing’ for BBC Radio Three), in equal measure beguiled and excited by what he was doing with language. ‘Mercian Hymns’ by Geoffrey Hill is also a tremendously important poem for me; I like its gloriously theatricality, its learning and brusqueness, its mystery and, increasingly, that it is a poem about a great Midlander.

I do not write an enormous amount of poetry but when I do write it is almost always in the hours of darkness. I need to have had a working day and to have fulfilled my contract with the world and with my family before I can write. And I find writing poetry very difficult; as I have grown older I have become a sterner critic of my own work. And I suppose reading more widely, one meets so many wonderful writers that it is harder to summon up the courage to offer your poems to readers. This explains, partly, why it has taken seventeen years to publish a second collection. For many years I would say I had taken early retirement from poetry, attracted by the handsome remuneration package and gold watch, but that was simply a ruse to confuse the opposition: I was writing away but without the pressure of publication or performance.

‘Early Train’ consists almost entirely of poems written in the last two or three years. Much of it is about living as a family. Between my first book and this I have had two children and moved about the country and done various jobs and been forced to manage a life much as everyone else does: getting and spending – money, energy, time, love. There are many poems that speak of the world beyond this, but what forces out poetry is living on the normally passive fault line that is a family. And I like things also, inanimate objects, which because so much poetry is confessional or introspective often miss out on being the subjects of poems. I am proud of my poem about bicycle frames and the one about a tenor recorder. And there are flights of fancy, poems where I simply took an image or memory or idea and drifted off with it. These are poems that have no designs on the reader at all. Take them or leave them.

Two poems in ‘Early Train’ are about Coningsby and he will be the subject of my next collection. Little is known about Coningsby other than he was a great seventeenth century traveller and was last seen setting off on a trip to Venice in 1610. He had been all over Europe and Asia Minor but somehow missed Venice. Whether he got there or not we do not know; he vanishes from all records after this date. Well, as the two poems in ‘Early Train’ suggest, I have my own views and I have given myself permission to travel with Coningsby wherever I wish and at any point in history. For the moment then, Coningsby is me and mine. For notes on the real Coningsby, make your way to All Saints Church in Neen Sollars and all will be revealed…

Titles by this author

  Early Train
Early Train

  On Poetry
On Poetry

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