John Paul Davis is one of the featured artists in Hot House: A Summer Poetry Extravaganzaon Thursday, July 31 @ Organic Modernism, the second in a series of events produced by 3Po3try NYC.
INTERVIEW BY THOMAS FUCALORO
What one word describes your writing style? Indescribable. Seriously: if I could boil it down to one word, I wouldn't need to write the poems in the first place. Poetry reaches, with language, for that which language cannot accurately describe.
What's your idea of the the perfect poem? When I'm reading, one that makes my heart beat faster. When I'm writing or performing, one that makes my readers/listeners' hearts beat faster.
What's your best writing moment? What's your worst writing moment? The best moment comes about thirty seconds after finishing a draft. I read back through it and think "Look at this beautiful thing I made" and I marvel at the little victories and accomplishments of craft.
The worst moment comes about three minutes after completing the first draft. I think "oh God, why did I just do that?" and I see all the flaws and worry that I'm a horrible fraud and soon as people read or hear the poem, they'll realize the emperor has no clothes.
Then I remember I'm just John Paul Davis and that I love writing poems and I start revising.
If you could steal one line from any poem, what would it be? How do you know I haven’t already stolen a line from a poem?
What time of the day do you mostly write? Mornings. I'm a morning person and my brain is worthless after about 4PM. But I'll wake at 6AM to write.
What do you do to get into your writing sessions? Depends. Sometimes I take a workshop. I attended Megan Falley's amazing Poetry Of New York Camp a few weekends ago and she has this uncanny gift for writing prompts that really push me toward the risky places I'm apprehensive of going myself.
My Saturday routine is to wake around 6, and be writing by 7. I'll usually camp out in a coffee shop til about noon, then take a break, move to a local bar where I've been going to write for the past 3 years. The staff all know me and let me spread out on the bar. I'll alternate between reading poems and writing or revising. I’ll spend 5-8 hours on a Saturday doing that, and if I'm lucky, Sunday as well.
What's the weirdest place you ever wrote? An airplane bathroom. I had an idea while sitting there, mid-flight and thank god I had my iPhone, which has the Pages app on it, and I was able to begin the poem and not lose my idea. I love my iPad and iPhone for that - because those devices boot up so quickly, I'm usually only 30 seconds from having an idea to writing.
What's the weirdest thing you ever wrote on? I once wrote a line I wanted to remember on my own arm, and I’m probably the weirdest thing I know.
What book changed your writing forever? I don't think I have this experience. I feel like writing is a conversation, and all the books I've read, even the ones I haven't enjoyed, have helped shape my aesthetic.
But there is a Wendell Berry essay called "Why I’m Not Going To Buy A Computer" that is not about writing which affected my politics surrounding why I make poems and for whom. In that essay, Berry offers a list of guidelines he uses to determine if he's going to buy and use a new tool. One of them is: "It should be repairable by a person of ordinary intelligence, provided that he or she has the necessary tools." I remember latching on to that phrase "a person of ordinary intelligence" and I realized that’s how I visualize my audience. I don't want to write to the elite. I really don't care about contests or awards or getting published by a big name press. I try to align my poetic aims with my primary spiritual aim - which for me is to grow in unconditional love and loving kindness. That's the most important thing. So I want my poems to either be helping myself or someone else in that work. I want to write poems the way Bruce Springsteen writes songs - well-made, beautiful, with attention to craft, sometimes joyous, sometime sorrowful, but always written so that everyday people connect with them.
What poet, dead or alive, would you like to be friends with? Wendell Berry. Or Jack Gilbert. Or Anne Sexton. Or Yusef Komunyakaa. Or Li-Young Lee. And actually I’m really blessed to be friends with a lot of amazing poets. Sometimes I'll be in a room with my friends and be overcome by this incredible sense of gratitiude.
Do you have any writing superstitions? Not really. I believe that writing is like any other romance: I have to show up and spend time with my writing. If I show up to the date, then sometimes sparks happen. Sometimes it's less ecstasy and more mundane, but it's still love.
John Paul Davis is a curator of Page Meets Stage. He was a founding member of Real Talk Avenue, and is the former editor of Bestiary Magazine and Em Literary. Find his poem "Department of Homeland Insecurity" in the latest great weather for MEDIA anthology I Let Go of the Stars in My Hand