Saturday, January 5, 2008

What I'm Rereading: Forth a Raven

I picked up Christina Davis' book of poems Forth a Raven when I was at AWP last March and have been reading and rereading it ever since. It is a quick read, filled with short intensely spare poems. The themes revolve around what makes us human and therefore how we approach our own mortality. While the poems are filled with the first person and clearly emerge from personal experiences, there is little self-narrative thread here, and the poems expand outward to include the reader.

Both Susan Mitchell and Tom Sleigh compare Davis to Emily Dickinson on the back cover copy, and both the sparseness of the poems and the electric images warrant that comparison. However, I would say that I see Walt Whitman here as well. In the poem "In Search of a Jury," the speaker says, "Am I not many and sweet / as the bushes, doesn't the gnat enjoy me // in plenty of places?" In these poems I see an attempt to include the multitudes of all things living, animal, vegetable, human, etc.

My favorite thing about these poems is Davis' use of questions. Nothing is certain. Everything is being probed and explored. In the title poem, Davis writes, "Every question // I have ever asked could be ground down to // Do you love me? Will I die?" What is more basically human than this, the need to be loved and therefore remembered? Sometimes I forget that it is good to admit the questions rather than trying to pull off a wisdom not yet earned.

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