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,
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: imagewordspain,
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.
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 uniformssuch
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.
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)