There are certain things I’ve always wanted to do: learn to play the cello, win an NEA grant, be famous for single-handedly slaying a vast army of Orcs, publish the poetry of Peter Davis, etc. (See that segue there?) I first discovered Peter’s work years and years ago when I came across a poem in MARGIE called Winter with Abraham Lincoln, about the narrator going sledding with (you guessed it) the late Abraham Lincoln. The poem starts out funny and surreal then, before you know it, turns wonderfully poignant as Lincoln (whose pupils were leaks in a ship’s hull) mentions out of the blue that he has a dead son and the narrator has no idea how to comfort him. It’s a short poem that has haunted me for going on ten years.
Quite by chance, Peter and I became colleagues a few years ago. I had occasion to read more of his work and saw that he has lost none of his trademark blend of lyrical experimentation and stark humanity. (He is also a generous soul who plays a mean guitar, but that’s semi-beside the point.) In this edition of our Poetry Feature, we see Davis doing what he does best: namely, pulling the rug out from under you, but doing so in a way that you end up thanking him for it. It’s tough to describe Peter Davis poems, except maybe by talking about what they don’t do. They don’t shy away from poking fun at the stereotypical arrogance and conceit of writers. They don’t follow the rules, but they also don’t break the rules just for the sake of breaking them. And perhaps most importantly, they don’t end where you think they’ll end… but odds are, you won’t mind. Hell, you might even thank him for it!
In this issue:
Winter with Abraham Lincoln
The Situation Often Referred to as Poetry
According to All the Dead People
Sleeping in a Tree
Because I’m Lazy
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