About Stevie

By Firenza Guidi

There are sometimes strange correspondences.

Since I first met Stevie Davies, in February 1999, she has been a constant source of inspiration for me. It isn't just a matter of ideas, representation, a liking: her writing provokes such a creative rush it compels me to do something about it. After that first talk and readings from Unbridled Spirits and Impassioned Clay, my desire to go back to those words was more like an ache than a desire. I went out and bought her book. A hardback. The result of that first encounter was a performance trilogy called In My Mouth, created in Cambridge last year and inspired by her historical and fictional depicting of abuse of radical women in Cromwell's times. With The Element of Water it was again the same feeling of correspondence. Without really planning it I found myself totally sucked into the last years of the Second World War as I was creating a performance in Denmark. The number of coincidences and correspondences between our work was uncanny. I plunged into The Element of Water with a thirst-ache.

The way she writes catalyases images, modes, sensations.

She doesn't try to sell the whole story: she latches on to a detail, a gaze, a vision and stays with it until she has exhausted it.

She goes straight to the wound, the crevice, the crack in the flesh and digs into the opening, deeper and deeper. Her writing has a filmic, breathtaking quality. Writing which unravels the image as if it happened here and now right before my eyes. Writing which is present, unresolved, leaving all possibilities open. Writing which is sore, dangerous, vulnerable, in-the-moment. From a wide shot she zooms in, magnifying the pain without pain, without judgement, without wallowing without turgidity: image—words—pain, a fusion, a perfect synthesis.

Michael negotiated his bike through wagons and prams, as they laboured through the beauty of the spring woodlands. Then a girl unloosed lank hair, which tumbled down her back from its roll, and, singing, suddenly pulled her blouse up over her head in one lithe movement. Stop it, just stop that rude nonsense, the mother grumbled feebly, a token resistance, because decency takes a while to die and you have to say something. But the girl's bared breasts caught the light and Michael's eye; he braked, mesmerised to watch her brief rupturous dance, arms gracefully extended, whirling on the spot. And singing. Mind gone, he presumed, raped or whatever, along the way. Come on, Effi, put your things back on, the mother pleaded. Be a good girl for Mummy. And she stopped, staggered disorientated and, catching Quantz's eye, flashed him a smile that would have been tearingly beautiful; would have been, except that her teeth were entirely gone. No teeth. No teeth and called Effi. Mind gone.

(The Element of Water, 3)

Her writing is at once sensual and cerebral, at once pure and dirty. It's tormented and tortuous, yet it follows an uncompromising true line. Her vocabulary is unpredictable, surprising, uncompromising: her syntax bends to no rule. The prose often becomes relentless, startling. She uses words as a physical, sensual act: her words don't sooth, they don't serve, they destabilise, they devastate, they keep secrets, they hook you with images passing by your face like intercity trains. The adrenaline shot of a virtual image-trip, done with words. A thought-process that spirals from small, ordinary, harmless detail to the depths of depravity:

Gold teeth turned to currency. Melted crowns and bridges in vaults. Hair bagged in potato sacks for use in lagging, mattresses, lining for winter uniforms—such hair fell as clumps from barbers' shears working round the clock, two minutes per head-shush, shush, it swished down, swags of women's hair that fell dusty and lustreless.

(The Element of Water, 97)

The Element of Water was by my side throughout the making of Vinyl [see Jeni Williams in NWR No. 53]. It owes a lot to Stevie without it being a direct borrowing. It's more a series of symptoms, a human map, an unknown territory she treads before me and cajoles me into. Like all truly inspirational writing Stevie's work doesn't describe, it doesn't prescribe, it doesn't conclude. You finish her book and you find that she has generously, unselfishly handed to you the beginning of another, new creative life.

F. G. New Welsh Review No. 53 Vol XIV/I (Summer '01)