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Friday, April 5, 2013

BPR LIT TRIP 5 with Chad Davidson


In “The Death Poem You Asked For,” the Steiny Road Poet thinks that Chad Davidson is messing with the reader or at least the you to whom the poem is addressed. The poem, one of two by Davidson published in volume 40 of the Birmingham Poetry Review, hints  in the beginning line with the word ironic—“Largely ironic, the image persists”—that things may be contrary or opposite to what one would expect. Certainly in a journal where the featured poet, Claudia Emerson,  sets the tone for elergy and BPR editor-in-chief Adam Vines and his staff have selected numerous poems dealing with loss through death, grief, and the celebration of departed friends and well-known contributors to our culture, one might guess from Davidson’s title that this poem will be a memorial tribute.

In this one-stanza-long free-verse poem of 25 lines written by an omniscient narrator most of the verbs are in the present tense. Some man known to the you—the narrator refers to this acquaintanceship in these words “the last year you cared about him”—is imagined as a prophet with “hair done up for the summer,” wearing “the severe garments/in the capital city of the unloved.” This man at some literal dark hour seems to be mixed up with political intrigue, blackout dates, rush hours, squadrons of mosquitoes, and harassment of a priest. However, the narrator indicates:

…Whatever he does,
he does it everywhere: in the gleam
of a Pontiac up on blocks, in tight jeans
and the legs within, in Cincinnati somewhere,
where a couple of other things happened
last year…

And whether it is everywhere or a dull place like Cincinnati where not too many things happen, this man seems to be stalking the you.

…he’s outside your door now,
peering through the peephole, eyeing you
eyeing him, asking, with the nonchalance
of an alchemist hovering over his cauldron
of lead, What shall I make you, dear?

This leads the Steiny Poet to wonder again about the persisting image of this man and the irony of it. Should the reader assume he is a larger-than-life ghost meriting discussion in the presence tense, located just on the other side…of You’s door, a mysterious man who might be able to turn lead into gold as any alchemist worth his salt might do? Or is Davidson, through his omniscient narrator, messing around and not producing the Voodoo necessary to expunge this annoying man from You’s life?

If the conundrum bothers you, Dear Reader, then focus on the Davidson’s lush turn of phrase:

self-absorbed as a child’s tongue,
desiring nothing but to hear itself
in the furious sameness of its fuselage.

The Steiny Poet loves the idea that the body of the child is named as fuselage. Here Davidson is talking about a temper tantrum the man is having. Later when Davidson declares that this man does what he does everywhere, the Steiny Poet couldn’t help thinking about how the layers of symbolic language had given this man a flying body like one that describes the interior of an airplane.

Here’s another example, perhaps a little less complicated, but it ventures into an area the Steiny Poet would identify as metapoetics:

Or maybe he turns some priest
into a beggar rattling his coins,
or hacks off like a butcher the gristle
of his sentences.

If one assumes that the sentences being spoken in this part of the poem refer to some unidentified priest, then the main character of  this poem is some how editing the indigestible words (gristle) coming from the priest. It is writerly comment on what one would assume is an oral scene where the priest is talking versus the main character reading and marking up a text. This edgy disconnect is what the Steiny Poet would label metapoetics.

Chad Davidson is a challenging read but slow down and bother. This poet is worth the effort.

1 comment:

Emily Shearer said...

Karren, it's wonderful to see your editorial mind at work here. Reading the way you process Chad's work helps me understand how you have seen my own poems. This understanding will be very useful as I continue to write and RE-write new works. Thanks!