Luke Davies, Allen & Unwin
I was gobsmacked by Interferon Psalms so I’m glad it has won the inaugural Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry announced in late July.
For months I’d been wondering why these Psalms, which very deliberately use mock biblical language and tell of Davies’ treatment of his hepatitis with the drug Interferon, got under my skin so effectively.
“I’m 99 per cent sure I’m atheist but at other times I experience the world as God-soaked,” said Davies on receiving the award.
The comment shed light.
In his review in the Sydney Morning Herald last August Peter Craven said Interferon Psalms was a “book-length poem about the grace of God. It is a brave and bracing book and everyone should read it.”
Davies spent 16 months on Interferon to help treat the Hep C he had contracted as a result of previous heroin addiction. The treatment wipes out red and white blood cells and reduces the oxygen in the system so the body shuts down.
The book also charts territory relating to the breakdown of a relationship and the dislocation Davies felt having moved to the US from Australia.
Brought up as a Catholic, Davies says the book is both “celebration and lamentation”.
He also says he wrote the poems in the style of priestly incantation because it “seemed to feel good as I was having the treatment”.
The poems are dark and mesmerising. “Depressing,” said a friend of mine. A bit like Job, I’d say. But how else to write about illness, mortality and “why me?”?
Depressing or not, Davies’ writing is bone-grindingly good.
The seagulls made frenzy by the cliffs. The notion that one/needed a certain IQ to experience one’s loneliness with God was the fashion of the day./The bitter irony of the eremites./Being in your head does not mean being in your being.
Davies is a reasonably well-known novelist and screenwriter but hopes his poetry is what he’ll be remembered for.
If you want to know more about living with Hep C and seeking treatment similar to that which Luke Davies went through, read Meera Atkinson’s absorbing memoir here: https://griffithreview.com/edition-17-staying-alive/my-mount-everest