Jordan Davis, selected by Katie Degentesh

Introduction to the work of Jordan Davis

I always expect Jordan Davis' poetry to amuse me, slightly confuse me, and deliver a clear, bell-like, emotional resonance with an edge. It never fails:

"Words attack me. They attract me, which is the same thing / If you're a target."[1]

The hallmarks of his attractively conflicted verse are simple: sincere, heartfelt, often self-deprecating emotions delivered via language and scenarios whose meaning is not entirely accessible. His poetry is informal, conversational, at times disjointed in the way that conversations can naturally be. Somehow his lines always add up to a blend of emotional accessibility and situational obscurity that seems both well-constructed and off-the-cuff.

He's the most obvious heir I know to the New York School's lineage, but his verse is slippery enough that the mantle has managed to pass him by and settle in places that, to be honest, feel less worthy to this reader, as no one else nails the clarity/obscurity divide so well.

His first and so far only full-length book, Million Poems Journal (Faux Press, 2003) owes debts to both the New York School and L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E. Where lines from it might read like a subconscious thought:

"yikes I'm white! / Disturbed and amused by gold lipstick on someone"[2];

lines from his more recent work tend to be more of an evolved, conscious version of the same:

"How much worse than being talked about/ is it to be painted?"[3]

Either way, when I read Jordan, I wonder why nobody else writes like this today. His verse is the first thing I think of when I think of what seems to me to be a properly evolved New York School—not the mostly childish, generally stoned or purposely impenetrable work that what we refer to as the second and third waves today. His poems sound like New Yorkers trying to talk to each other, and though New Yorkers' communications may often fail to resonate with each other, his poems never do.

—Katie Degentesh

[1] "Sonnet," Million Poems Journal, p. 58

[2] "Anything Suddenly", Million Poems Journal, p.9

[3] "Drone", published in Coconut 

Jordan Davis

It must be a different life
to take the boy
to a store where bolts
on the wall flutter
as the bell precedes
"Can I help you" —

At the point of sale
to answer
"How's it going"
with a sound like
a sheep at the onset of rain…

Mezuzot by the elevator,
throb and whipcrack
in the fluorescent bulb,

the jacket song
of "quiet there…"

Hey excited feeling,
take off your shoes
and play with me a while.

The little list
packing its brief
interruptions into a soft
someone studying
up against you…

Soda can with gerber daisies,
take your process to the Alps.

Mint is on the baby's mind
looking up at lamby clouds
through dried-tear eyes.

Launch the more or less
into the side of the sun.

The please freak
sees through the explosion
of "nice pinata disguise!"

O insight you make me
loot for walking.

Briefcase on my lap,
are you my long lost desk?

The pen goes
where it feels
books pave the easement,

I go where I feel
something soft ignoring
the percussion of bone,
all the unyielding languages
play with

standing in the crowd
and waiting for the morning.

Smoke of the wedding
thirty miles off—

along sodium shadows
up broken sidewalk
the soft smell
of beer flowers
alarms away.

The speed and halt
of the bow
prop up
the pow—

If you meet the Buddha
on the road, ask him why
I get the newspaper,

mosquito bites on my knuckles
and the soles of my feet—

Jordan Davis

Look at these shiny things! my poems say. Then, listen to them. Smell taste touch. Sometimes the shiny thing is fire.

The work I've loved since I was a baby poet was so brutally good hearted I almost didn't notice how much it talked about pain, loss, confusion, suffering, and death. It can be easy to miss. All of the detractors of that work and most of its fans miss it too.

Words carry feeling. That fact alone makes it astonishing that anyone reads poetry. Music carries feeling too, but it's much easier to pretend to be the person feeling what the melody suggests than it is to accept that what a poet says applies to one's own case. Music stops. Poems keep being there. Landlords, take note.

I pray for the muse every day; she ruined my life.




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