Dangerous Dog by David Francis
Silverhill Press 2018, rrp £7.99 

REVIEW By Andrew Myers

When I met David Francis at a Slam Dunk poetry event a couple of years ago, he lent me a tenner so I could buy a book of poetry from one of the acts that evening. It was an act indicative not only of the man’s kindness and generosity, but also of his passion and commitment to poetry, all qualities present in abundance in his debut collection of poetry, Dangerous Dog (2018, Silverhill Press). 

It was at another Slam Dunk event that I first heard David’s poetry. Subsequently, I followed him on Facebook, as he took the rather brave step of publishing works in progress online. We don’t have many things to thank Facebook for, but David’s poetry might be one of them.

It can be the case that poems that are effective in performance or on social media don’t always repay close, attentive re-reading, but that’s certainly not the case here. I’ve been living with David’s poems for a few weeks now and I keep coming back to them, finding new layers of meaning and connections.

The title Dangerous Dog raises expectations of a certain aggressive, punky aesthetic, which is certainly present, but the collection is richer and broader than that, even surprisingly traditional in places. The poems explore a truly impressive range of themes and moods, from the small-scale and domestic in poems such as ‘Asleep: Breathing Observed’ and ‘Burberry Tie’, to meditations on humankind’s place in the universe and the nature of freedom.

There’s a concreteness to the writing, and a gift for visual imagery. The poems are grounded in a wealth of specific detail, so when David does move into more abstract areas, it feels earned. He is also a musician and some of the poems have been turned into song lyrics, and back into poems again, a process that probably accounts for the metrical discipline and rhythmic vitality of many of the poems. There’s also a music in his control of sound.

The voice is varied and flexible. David assumes different voices without ever descending into pastiche. But a clear identity is retained throughout. 

It’s quite a masculine collection of poetry – male anger is a recurring thread – but David does subtly deconstruct masculinity in some unexpected ways.

In the more private poems such as ‘Once Again With Care’ and ‘Asleep: Breathing Observed’, I had the feeling of eavesdropping or even intruding on someone’s most vulnerable moments. 

And the way ‘The World’s Greatest Lover’ – a picaresque tale of a Scouse Casanova – is juxtaposed with the more sinister ‘Shh’ makes us think twice about the stereotype of the male seducer, very timely in the #MeToo era.

David is a proud anarchist (it was practically how he introduced himself) and while he mostly steers clear of overt polemic, his ideas infuse every word of the collection.

The ‘title track’ ‘Dangerous Dog’ is like a key to the whole book. Images of confinement (there’s a recurring motif of car interiors throughout the book) are juxtaposed with images of nature. The dog is dangerous indeed, not for the reasons you might expect, but for the way it offers us a vision of how free we could be. This is a theme picked up in the final poem, ‘Saturday Night Murmurations’.

The most ‘on-the-nose,’ explicitly political poem is perhaps ‘Heritage’. Don’t read this one if you have National Trust membership. David speaks of grinding prisons and castles into dust in lines that remind me of Blake’s ‘London’. But he cleverly undercuts the polemic – in the fourth section, the rage subsides and the poem reaffirms the importance of kindness and living life through human relationships. 

Dangerous Dog works incredibly well as a whole. The sequencing of the poems reveals threads and connections which enrich the meanings of the individual poems. 

The idea that we have been abandoned by religion, expressed in ‘Religion is Stupid’ in the language of a childish tantrum, is echoed and amplified later in the more sophisticated ‘Gardens’, which for my money is a stone cold masterpiece, a reinvention of the pastoral culminating in an anguished existentialist cry that recalls Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

One of the questions I use as a way into a poem is ‘well, is it basically optimistic or pessimistic?’ Well, according to my calculations, 37% of David’s poems move towards optimism, not a bad figure in these times. There is a heartening amount of hope and reconciliation in this
book and ultimately this is the most politically progressive idea of all. 

Dangerous Dog is available from local bookshops or through:
www.silverhillpress.co.uk


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