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Curtis Perdue on Peter Davis

Poetry! Poetry! Poetry! (Bloof Books, 2010)

by Peter Davis

Reviewed by Curtis Perdue

 

“So you like reading I imagine. And you’re interested in poetry. You are probably a college undergraduate or an MFA candidate or someone interested in poems about birds or you like rhyming and whatnot.”

Peter Davis’s second book, Poetry! Poetry! Poetry!, is a collection of prose poems in which each title announces its existence as a poem and addresses a particular, often peculiar, audience. The consistent, unabashed persona that Davis writes in creates a rhythm that often echoes the pace of the reader’s thoughts—it is fluid, sometimes quick, and difficult to control. Some poems are very short—one word—and others go on for a page, but the dry and dark sentiment remains throughout: “I am very appreciative that you’ve taken the time to read this poem. I hope you like it. Let me know what I can do to improve it,” from “Poem Addressing the Reader and Expressing a Beautiful Hope.”

Poetry! Poetry! Poetry! isn’t shy. The book functions as a commentary on how we read poetry, how consciousness can make what it wants out of any given poem, and how the ego is at odds with the creation of art. Take, for example, the first few sentences of “Poem Addressing the Selfish Nature of My Thought Process”:

 

What you are looking for in this poem baffles me. I am interested because I am interested in

myself. I would like to see you thinking deeply about me and what I have to say. I feel that by            

understanding your thoughts about me, I might be able to better understand myself, which is what           

I’m most interested in.

 

Readers are permitted to parade-around inside a mind at work on things it’s afraid to work on. An artist tries to find out who he is, why he’s doing what he’s doing, and if it’s worth it.  This collection amounts to one big poem, which confronts things that don’t belong in poetry: the anxiety, frustration, disquiet, and uncertainty of this Poet-as-Career business. It questions the value and purpose of an MFA, the role Academia plays in the “poetry market,” and what the life of a poet should consist of. Though the speaker repeatedly begs for his work to be validated and reviewed in a reputable journal, the book offers much more than gloom and desperation. There is a quiet hope arising from the cynicism and sarcasm. The book secretly celebrates the possibility that a poem can interact with and affect the reading public.

Many poems are light (“Poem Addressing Babies”), affectionate (“Poem Addressing My Children Regarding My Intentions As An Artist, Especially In This Poem”), and ridiculously funny (“Poem Addressing People Reading This Underwater” or “Poem Addressing The Cast Members of Beverly Hills, 90210”). The book meddles with our expectations. Some of these poems aren’t afraid to fail—they don’t acknowledge conventional poetic techniques and are unapologetic about it—and as a result, they succeed.

The prose poem, wrote Russell Edson, “seeks sanity whilst its author teeters on the edge of the abyss. The language will be simple and the images so direct that often times the reader will be torn with recognitions inside himself long before he is conscious of what is happening to him.” This is exactly the case with much of what is said throughout Davis’s book; however, according to “Poem Addressing People With Certain Expectations About Poetry That Are Not Fulfilled In This Poem,” which consists of one word, in order for the reader to be torn, he or she must “Change.” Davis disrupts our elitist poetic identities and insists we put our aesthetic differences aside, so that we may enjoy each poem and recognize the pieces we are torn into as a result of letting go. This refers not only to how we approach the poems in Poetry! Poetry! Poetry! but to all poems.

Some readers will be resistant to Davis’s unbridled frankness and casual tone.  But he knows this, and he addresses them: “Some people have ideas about outstanding poetry that don’t include this sort of thing, these sort of words, ordered up like this.” One would think such consistency and repetition of form would cause Davis’s approach to lose its edge. Not the case. The unadorned language and his straightforward way of instructing the reader how to think, and where to go with those thoughts, unexpectedly attack the unconscious. Davis builds a platform for our imaginations to fill in the blank. These poems, as described by Jen Knox’s blurb on the back of the book, are naked. They desire to be dressed up. They make us work in odd ways to reconstruct the relationship between writer and reader.  In “Poem Addressing How We Read This,” the last line instructs, “Just relax and enjoy how beautiful this last part is.” That’s it! That’s all we get. Peter Davis is able to say so much without saying, essentially, anything. The book burrows inside us, directs our attention toward how we read and respond to poetry.

 

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