Got Poetry?

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by Ed Davis on February 22, 2012

An Invitation

Would you join me on Thursday, March 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center in Troy, Ohio for an evening of poetry? I know you’re very busy—and I know poetry’s a tough sell. Maybe you’re sometimes disappointed when you read modern poetry—surreal, allusive and just plain weird as it can often be. Me, too; and maybe my poetry will strike you the same way. I hope not. True, I write it mostly for myself, but when it comes time to choose a few for pubic delivery, I promise to keep you, my audience, firmly in mind: to try to make you laugh or cry a little, to make you feel the amazing grace as well as confusing lunacy of being human—and to aspire to the music of language.

I promise not to read for more than an hour; with poetry (fiction, too), less is often more. Weather and health permitting, I’d love to see you there. Refreshments will be served afterward and there’ll be time to chat.

The Challenge

Being asked to read your own original poetry in public is a great gift—but it is also a responsibility I do not take lightly. Especially deciding what to read.

Revisiting my first chapbook, Appalachian Day, published by Samisdat in 1985, I was pleasantly surprised to find those old poems not nearly as awful as I’d expected (I wrote one of them as a college junior—that would’ve been 1973!). Most, though, were written in the eighties, and even though I had to read a couple of them with one eye closed, I discovered at least one poem in the small collection still excites me enough to consider for the Hayner reading.

Then I visited Haskell (Seven Buffaloes, 1987): West Virginia dialect poems, the first of which I “wrote” around 1986, when I was in my mid-thirties. After coming home from a long, stressful day of teaching one afternoon, I put pen to paper and suddenly here was this ninety-three-year-old man speaking—he sounded a lot like my Grand-dad, who’d been dead less than five years then. So I just let him talk through me for a chapbook’s-worth of poems. While I confess to having some of the same dialect-squeamishness as Paul Laurence Dunbar (whose early successes were with his black dialect poems), I confess there’s still a place in my heart for this old guy; his dramatic monologues have sometimes pleased a poetry audience, so I’m not ruling out reading a Haskell or two.

Poet, Heal Thyself

As soon as I accepted the Hayner gig last fall, I knew that I’d read from my latest chapbook, Healing Arts (Pudding House, 2005). The book’s concept of including both performing arts (music, dance, drama) as well as medical arts (both “folk” and formal) still appeals to me, and I’ve gotten a kick out of reading some of them aloud to gatherings. Surely I can glean three or four from the book’s thirty-two pages. “Flummoxed and Fretful, the Blind Poet is Bludgeoned Gumptionless, Stumbles, Awakens, is Blessed, Walks On” seems a likely candidate.

The Uncollected

But I admit to being more excited about sharing brand-new work, the result of my ten-month-long poetry experiment. Sifting through the nearly 250 poems has been interesting. Plenty humbling, for one thing. There are many clunkers, to be sure, but the real kicker was finding poems I’d completely forgotten writing, some that I question whether I actually did write—yet there they are in the little moleskine journal my father-in-law gave me.

I’ll conclude with a new one that I read during my interview with Conrad Balliet on WYSO a couple of Sundays ago:

BOOTS

Like a lover, I squeeze
inside their safe spaces
until they just feel right.
Unlike others, these fit tight
as second skin the first time
I set my size elevens into them.
Hugging ankles, they point me
firmly in the right direction.

We’ve crossed a lot of water,
plunged down banks, strode straight
down drought-dusty July roads.
Their soles have gripped stone
spiriting me up to bluffs
where they kept me grounded,
though my arms wanted to fly.

Waiting patiently in the back-
seat floor while I drive,
their silence suits my own;
we ask each other no questions,
seek neither kindness nor mercy.
The love that leather engenders
is better without expectations.

Look: there they sit in sunlight,
sweat and creek water drying,
seam stitched back after bursting,
leaking only a little now,
letting me know that, like me,
they’re not going to last forever,
but they’re plenty good enough
for right now.

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