I should start by saying that I’ve never cried over a poem. Being the sentimental loaf of bread that I am, you’d think this would have happened by now, however, it took Christina Davis’ “The Raven’s Book” to get me there. I was reading aloud her entire poetry collection mostly because I love the way the words sound in my mouth, but also because it was recommended to me by a friend. I was fine until I reached, “The Raven’s Book” and then my affinity for birds kicked in, and somewhere hidden beneath my rib cage, just below my heart a lump started growing. It traveled the usual path as my eyes got watery; up through the sternum and then into the throat. It never reached my mouth, but my voice started to quake and stutter and all of a sudden I was a small storm in the middle of my bedroom.
The poem starts with,
“Are you still there? I didn’t know
there could be this much room. Such a short word, No,
but how long they’ve been saying it.”
Maybe that doesn’t break you as soon as you read it, but I was lumping. First off, it’s incredibly hard to use a question mark in a poem without coming off as an exclamation point user. What I mean by that is the writing judges and lawyers have come down with the rule that people should only get five exclamation points in their writing, in a lifetime, especially in dialogue. A period usually does justice to whatever you want to say if you’re writing is powerful enough to do tone without the help of marks.
In the IV section of the “A Raven’s Book” she says,
“Then I waited and continued to wait and made a mess
of your things
to be among them.”
Just that phrase, puts death into reality. Not that death isn’t lurking between those small dark cracks of your closet door in the night, but we don’t often smell death, or mess among his new found treasures. When Didion wrote, The Year of Magical Thinking, she talks about being unable to throw away her husbands shoes (because if he came back he would need them). When my father used to leave for work before I was awake – I would go into his bedroom and slip his tweed suit jackets over my shoulders. The silk on the inside was smooth against my bare skin and each smelled like his cigarettes. There’s a picture of me cloaked beneath the jacket – my body being lost in his – with a dead cigarette in my mouth. I must have removed it from the ash tray and slung a tie around my neck as well. Someone thought it was funny and snapped a photo for me to look at now. Now, with my English degree I can say, I was just using miss as a verb.
I think this is the power of Christina Davis’ poetry. I’m sad to realize that I haven’t known her for years. That this pixie elf of a woman hasn’t written more than just this book. The last sentiment of mine is kind of funny because I believe people should have at maximum three poetry books inside of themselves and that pages shouldn’t be wasted just because you want to get to eighty right now instead of writing more powerful poems and publishing later. Davis’ clearly hasn’t done that. She’s worked in the Poet’s House of NYC and was the curator of the Woodberry Poetry Room for a while. She’s even more than a big deal. Studying at Oxford and then receiving residencies at Yaddo and MacDowell Colony, I’d say she’s poetry in her blood at this point.
I know a lot of you probably don’t read poetry recreationally. Sometimes it’s because poetry has this rumor going around that it’s “too hard to understand” or it’s “high-brow.” Personally, I think poetry came up with that one all on its own – poetry in his hipster glasses and jackets with elbow pads. You’d never see him caught dead in white sneakers, or keds. Poetry wants desperately to be a man of the people, and yet he wants also to drink champagne on a balcony somewhere with people who have wine cellars instead of people who have fall out shelters. (I’m assuming here that people with fall out shelters read poetry. That means Kansas should be the number one poetry state, but instead at the moment, it’s probably Iowa or Seattle). And for anyone who still feels this way about poetry after reading Christina Davis’ collection Forth A Raven then I will do something fantastic (at the moment I can’t think of anything creative). Her lines are fluid, and easy to understand the idea of what she’s getting at even if you don’t understand the exact imagery. Plus, sometimes poetry just needs to be spoken instead of read and then it all becomes clear.
If you didn’t know by now, I like stories that hurt. I like to be broken, bent over and sobbing, when I finish a piece of writing. It isn’t always a literal sob, but I like to be angry for a whole day. One of my favorite books of all time, God-Shaped Hole, left me throwing things around a basement that wasn’t even mine. I think that this collection could stand on it’s own as the last words people read before an alien attack. I think I would be proud if the apocalypse came and people learned about us through the words of Christina Davis. I’m not giddy over this, and I won’t exclaim my love for these words like I would a piece of fiction because I’m still reeling, and honestly, I’m still trying to figure out her style so that I can use it with my own voice. (Thus why I haven’t finished another book in a few days). There are writers out there who you quit writing for because you know they’ve already said everything that you wanted to say, and then there are writers at which you just bow down and thank every bucket of sorrow that you have.
Now that I’ve successfully babbled on about Christina Davis, alien encounters, and the world of poetry at large, here are a few poems, and lines that I loved.
Here is one of the best end lines in the history of poetry: