I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how he or she spends the day.
October 1, 2016: Jon Davis
He’d been thinking of her and reading Human Wishes, thinking
that what he wanted from poetry was a species of rigorous tenderness,
unsentimental, maybe even brutal. Brutal in its failures–the attempted
(the fumbled) touching and the long aftermath of gazing.
You can find these wonderful lines about what we want from poetry in “Pinon & Moon” from Jon Davis’s most recent book of poetry, Preliminary Report, published in 2010 by Copper Canyon Press.
It’s been way too long since we’ve had a poet here, since we’ve sprinkled these pages with stars. I’m not comfortable writing about poetry or introducing a poet. But I’m diving in to that which I cannot see. The pleasures of art. The dangers.
In my own writing, I want the language to be interesting. I want the words to speak to each other. Words like notes sung through a saxophone, soft-edged and thick with feeling, gestures toward openness, loneliness blowing its little riffs through the voices. I want my sentences to sound good to the ear. But in poetry, isn’t it more the line? Jon wrote in an interview that using the sentence as the line is a favorite procedure of his.
And sadness flames up from somewhere in the chest.
And burns there, fading and flaring, almost unbearable.
Until the earth tilts.
Until sunlight brings color to roses, and birds begin to stir.
Pam Houston describes Jon as “A poet who recalls Levis in all the best ways, but is very much his own man,” and in May, at the Writing by Writers‘ Methow Valley farewell dinner, she read every word of Jon’s two-page poem “Loving Horses.” Yellow aspen. Quaking leaf. Metal barn creaking./Dust like rain against the roof. I returned home, pulled the collection, which I had bought at Pam’s suggestion back in 2012 but never read, off the shelf. Since then, I’ve been carrying the book with me–from Columbus to Provincetown, to Florida, and back to Provincetown, to New York, to North Carolina, and back to Provincetown. I wanted to give you an excerpt from “Loving Horses,” but after reading the poem yet another time, I can’t excerpt it. Its power and beauty come from the whole, from the way it’s built by repetition and metaphor and detail and movement from general to personal to
Just look at him
In his own words, Jon has an “intense focus on minutiae.” He writes about mothers and fathers and about child versions and adult versions. He writes about ordinary moments and about the sirens. He writes about his daughter and horses. He writes about the present moment and why. He writes about the sadness soaking into the words like hand cream and about the sudden shocked song of the living. But he also writes about the possibility of our miraculous reach. His is a poetry anchored by the markers of our time.
Because I was nineteen & had heard Janis howl,
heard Jimi slipping the guitar’s needles under the skin of the world,
heard him conjure a panic of fiery spears that he hurled into the Woodstock sky.
Because that’s what you do when you’re nineteen.
He was the co-translator, along with the author, Iraqi poet Naseer Hassan, of Dayplaces. He wrote, “The translation work has made me see how every poem is an imperfect translation from experience both real and imagined.”
From “Against Structuralism,”
The shadows we cast
& mark our passage here.
But in the midst of our insufficiency, we have choices. From “The Modern Condition,”
Where to go from here?
Into the darkness, child. Darkness of oblivions. Of worry and disharmony. Of
chatter by the watercooler. Airports and cell phones. Scotch and soda.
The comforting prison of a schedule.
Into the light, child. Light that whitens every page. That illuminates the
In addition to being a poet, Jon is also the Director of the Low Residency MFA in Creative Writing at the Institute of American Indian Arts where’s he’s taught since 1990. He has served as Writing Program Coordinator for The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and as the Sante Fe Poet Laureate. He is the author of six chapbooks, a limited-edition letterpress collaboration with the artist Jameson Chas Banks, and two other full-length collections of poetry in addition to Preliminary Report—Scrimmage of Appetite, for which he received a Lannan Literary Award in Poetry, and Dangerous Amusements, for which he received a G.E. Younger Writers Award and the Lavan Prize. We in our horse natures, galloping on, Susan said, galloping on.
Come back on OCTOBER 1st to read how JON DAVIS spends his days.