Mixed Messages

This is my 21st book and tenth poetry collection, split into three parts with black and white photographs (paperback), colour (kindle version) to illustrate some of the themes / poems.

“This new collection’s voices are wonderfully varied, powerful and haunting. Divided into three sections, Lewis touches on a number of diverse themes; anti-racism, Africa and austerity, to name just a few, before finally leading us back to the all-encompassing wrapper of the natural world.

The poems will provide an uncomfortable social document for some readers but will become an anchor of a particular time and place for others. There is such maturity here that sometimes we feel that the poet is only brushing lightly across the surface and could, if he wanted to, tell us so much more.

Lewis offers us detailed observation, confession and brutal honesty in equal measure. Once again, here is a well-thought out cultural statement about this crazy world we all inhabit.” – Mark Davies


Published as a paperback and e-book in July 2021 by Publish & Print.


Sample poems:

 

Domestic Bliss

First I crush the garlic,
then add some ginger followed by the onion paste.
My stomach aches as I stretch up to the cupboard,
rummage for red peppers that reflect my face.
When he raped me last night he smelled of sweet tobacco.

Next, I finely-chop the bruised tomatoes,
thinly slice the skinless chicken,
sprinkle fenugreek, mustard and cumin seeds.
A quick twist of turmeric,
a handful of coriander and a few fresh curry leaves.

I start on the rice as the pot bubbles and froths.
While I use a can opener on a tin of coconut milk
it occurs to me to change out of these bloody panties
in case he blames me for… I forget what.
The plates can be warming while I make the bread.

OK, everything seems to be good now.
It’s nearly time to make the Masala chai.


Canned Meat

‘Stay down,’
our mammy growled,
as the fat man
smelling of Coca Cola
waddled into view.
His shirt straining
against a kopje of a belly
while sweat hung on the air
mapping out a clear path
like a wounded elephant.
His Tilley hat and scarf
incongruous like a radio collar
as he fuses to the contours
of thoughtless hate.

Suddenly out of left field
the real killer springs,
rifle hanging as if by a single
hair of a horses tail.
We crouched lower,
becoming the yellow grass,
miss a lungful of oxygen
as two loud bangs
silence the crickets
for a brief second,
before running
and laughing
and flashes of light
from a small box.

That was a long time ago.
When we were torn
from her warm bosom,
given plastic milk bottles
and cold zebra steak.
Now we are sheltered,
caged from harm
until it becomes our turn
to run free one last time.
My brother says Androcles
was just some fairy tale
that mothers told their children
to help them sleep
safe and sound at night.

I have to believe he’s wrong.


Boris and me

‘Hi buttie, how’s it hangin’?’

‘Yes, well, of course, rather splendid actually.’

‘You ever make it to Westminster then?

‘Oh no, forgot about all that yonks ago I’m afraid.  But tell me, what became of your grand ambitions dear boy?’

‘Ah, I did a few things mate, ya know, after school like.’

‘Marvellous, do tell… yes, pray continue…’

‘Well, let me see.  I toured with the British Lions; that was pretty cool.’

‘Rugger eh?  Oh no, I’m afraid I’ve been terribly dull on that front, bit of a slack bob me.  What other capers have you got up to then?’

‘Oh OK then, I flew for the Red Arrows for a little while, then travelled the world making wildlife films, you might have seen me on the TV, speaking to the UN, campaigning for tiger conservation yeh, I was always into wildlife and stuff wasn’t I?’

‘Oh jolly good show old sport.’

‘So what about you, come on don’t be shy?’

‘Mmm, well, yes, I’m alright I guess.  The old heroin was a bit of a bugger of course, and now it’s the demon drink…’

‘Oh dear.’

‘Yes, frightful bore actually.  Bit of a bind being so tight all the time and as you can see I haven’t aged well.’

‘Sorry to hear that butt.  Yeh, you’re a bit of a porker now aren’t you, lol.’

‘Ah yes, we make our own choices I suppose.  Got diabetes type II for good measure as well.’

‘So where are you living then?  Are you working?’

‘Oh, I’m on the estate still.  Council knocked the old flats down.  Not in gainful employment, oh dear no.  I get a grant for vodka you see.  Rather rough stuff if I’m honest but the Asian gentleman in the Spar is simply devoted to me.’

‘Ah shame me ole mucker.  Well I must be off, got a book launch champagne lunch to get to.’

‘Oh golly gosh, how thrilling, yes of course.  Spiffing to see you.’

‘Aye, take care Boris, see you around no doubt.’

‘Yes absolutely.  We must grab some sups when I’m not feeling so seedy.’

‘Yeh, ta ra then twat, see ya.’


I wrote the following words many years ago but have decided to include them here as they go quite well with some of the topics touched on in the book. Free speech, cancel culture, racism – all in the news and relevant today. Adapted from Martin Niemöller’s famous words, I think we need to be very careful about which direction we are going:

First they came for free speech, and I did not speak out—

     Because I was not on Twitter or Facebook.

Then they came for the vloggers, and I did not speak out—

     Because I was not on YouTube.

Then they came for the webmasters, and I did not speak out—

     Because I was not online.

Then they came for the photographers, and I did not speak out—

     Because I was not on Instagram.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.


Reviews:

“For me, this latest poetry collection from Dave Lewis is his best yet.  A remarkable treasure chest of real emotion, observation and clarity by a multi-talented writer who’s travelled far from his native Wales.  Missing nothing, his words convey truly memorable imagery, complimented by equally vivid photographs. Following T.S. Eliot’s spot-on opening quotation is the book’s dedication to Lewis’ daughter, Eve.  ‘Afterwards,’ his penultimate poem to her, is deeply moving.  Here’s someone who’s not only seen it all, but is alert to both his own and his his country’s futures.  Eve is indeed blessed, in the equally moving poem, ‘Freeware’ beginning with… ‘A tiny lump of me…’

‘Mixed Messages’ is the first of this wonderful collection’s three sections, followed by ‘Savage Paradise’ and finally ‘Frogs Calling’, with neither a word wasted nor easy cliches, and ending with ‘Some very brief notes on some of the poems’ which proved fascinating.  Yet another tour de force from a gifted writer and also fine publisher I’m proud to know.” – Sally Spedding

“Poetry can be deceptive. It is at its best when it is concise, when it portrays something with minimal words and much beauty. Sometimes a poem can seem, on initial reading, to be simple, to have limited substance. It’s only on re-reading it or letting it settle in the mind that you realise that what appeared to have little complexity is, in fact, complex and examining several facets of what you took it to be about. Robert Graves had a long relationship with the poet Laura Riding. She encouraged him to simplify his poetry, to strip it of artifice. As a result, his poetry has an illusory simplicity. It is only on reconsideration or over time that the intricacy and depth of meaning becomes apparent, and you are astonished at how much the work contains. ‘Flying Crooked’ appears to be little more than a description of a butterfly but reveals itself to be a profound observation on the meaning of life and how it should be lived. This is talent. The simplicity is the product of craft, meticulous work by the poet to make the complex understood which often appears too easy but is actually rare. Reading this collection of fifty-four poems published by Dave Lewis earlier this year, I am struck by how his poems, like Graves, appear simple but are the product of talent and craft and have subtlety, complexity and depth.

Dave Lewis is a Welsh photographer, writer and poet who founded the annual International Welsh Poetry Competition, the International Poetry Book Awards and runs the indie publishing house Publish and Print. ‘Mixed Messages’, his latest collection, is organised in three sections.

The first section, ‘Mixed Messages’, takes on tough topics such as domestic violence, racism, drug addiction, often in the setting of Wales. Each is written from the perspective of and told by its character. These are confident mature poems presenting us with things other poets would shy away from. He has the ability to enter the life and challenges of others with clarity and raw empathy. The opening poem, ‘Domestic Bliss’, shows us a woman subjected to domestic violence who has been raped by her partner. It is more powerful because of the terse, matter of fact telling as she prepares dinner after the assault. A later poem ‘Discoloured’ returns to the topic with the same economic descriptive style and with some wonderful poetic imagery.

A swaddling of ecstasy at soft dawn,
Love-warm. Damp. Coddled.
I awoke to find my LPs in pieces-
jagged vinyl strewn like night puddles
on the moonscape of the carpet.

An angry expose of racism in Cardiff is not afraid to tackle a darker side of Wales today –

this multicultural capital / with prejudice on every street corner.

As with all good poetry, Dave takes us inside the experiences of others. These are political poems in the best sense of the descriptor, they do not pontificate but enable us to understand and feel what it is like to be another person.

He is not afraid to take on the hypocrisy of white middle class socialists. ‘Janus’ (we are reminded in the notes at the end of the book was the two-faced Roman god) is based on once left-wing friends who now occupy comfortable, liberal professions –

I sometimes catch a glimpse
of them eating and drinking in designer rags,
still clinging to those University lies

‘Every room is another room’ is a deeply moving account of loss from the perspective of a grieving wife. ‘Independent Living’ is an account of the life of a homeless busker. ‘Pandemic’ uses the vehicle of our recent challenges to think about so many others we have faced and failed to manage with acerbic humour.

Oh dear.
Well as the old saying goes:
‘You can’t educate pork.’
So listen long pig and listen good
‘Sort it out or it’s dinosaur time for you.’

If Dave can take us into the lives of others, the opening poem in the second section, ‘Savage Paradise’, takes us even further by entering the experience of a lion being hunted, reminding me of the poems of Joanna Lilley. Dave plumbs his experiences of Africa so effectively in these evocative poems, you can feel the heat and smell the elephant dung.

The final section, ‘Frogs Calling’ moves to a gentler category with poems reflecting love and the natural beauty of our homeland. ‘Ten Thousand Footsteps’, an evocative poem of the Welsh landscape, contains word-use and images that remind me of Dylan Thomas (you don’t get to write that too often)! Lines like –

Until the church of the sun
beckons worship for precious seconds

or

as your red hair ballets
colour across a cold blue sky

There is similar wordplay in a poem about the Avon Taf such as –

Dawn mist witches over heron’s feet and until the sun lights a trout trail

Several poems such as ‘Degrees of Separation’ examine the impact of time, of love and lost love –

I’m guessing you know what I want. It’s what we all wish for. A second chance at living, at watching the clouds and swallowing the red pill.

and the routine sadness’s that we face as life passes –

when a phone call to Africa
Made an almost satisfied man cry alone.
I often think how life
is so goddam wonderful 

but it don’t last long.

The stature of these poems may be gauged by the fact that among the reviews on the cover is one from Brian Patten. Dave Lewis is a poet of Wales, and one that Cymru can be proud of. His work has the courage, power and honesty too many poets today lack. It is poignant, and achieves that illusion the best poets achieve, to appear simple and straightforward whilst being the complex and insightful product of true craft. The range of his topics is broad but the driver behind them is empathy and humanity. He writes from this perspective, not from ego or from the need to be saying something self-aggrandising and he writes with a meticulous simplicity and lack of pretension.” – Josh Brown, Portsmouth Poetry


Amazon Best Seller

During the first week of the book’s launch:

#3 in Poetry charts