In honor of National Poetry Month (you are celebrating, aren’t you?), it is my pleasure to have John Davis, Jr. as my guest on Southern Creatives.
Would you classify yourself as a Southern poet? Why or why not?
I would classify myself as a Southern poet, largely because so much of my poetry comes from or is influenced by The South. Also, much of my work has been carried by publications in the southeast (Deep South magazine, Real South magazine, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, etc.). The images, idioms, and allusions in my poetry could also be considered Southern in many cases, though many are universal.
What is your process of writing a poem?
This depends on the inspiration. If I have a first line that strikes me, I start there and begin to explore it through a first draft. However, if a new comparison or analogy comes to mind, I might use a two-column chart (T-chart) to brainstorm ideas. Once in a while when I feel a topic needs intense exploration, I’ll try free-writing about it. When the words start to assemble themselves in my mind during prewriting, I begin a draft. Usually I have about three or four hand-written drafts on a white legal pad before I get to the computer. From there, the draft goes through at least one more major revision before I show it to someone for feedback. My first readers are people without any “literary” background, because I like for my work to be deep enough for scholars, but approachable enough for everyman.
You’ve started a new project on your website – Epiphanies. In Epiphanies Part 3, you say “The lesson for poets and writers everywhere? Look back to look forward.” How has that idea worked in your writings?
Reflective poetry has often been some of my best. The first poem I had published by a consumer magazine many years ago was entitled “Memory of Fast Eddie’s Pier, Summer 1989.” That piece, a remembrance of fishing with a friend who later died in an accident, taught me the value of artistic distance – having space (time or otherwise) from a subject to write about it effectively.
In another entry on your site, you mention that you will always be a “poet educator” – tell us more about that.
I currently teach at a private, college-preparatory boarding and day school for international students with mild to moderate learning differences. The five years I have spent at the Vanguard School have been some of the most rewarding for me as a teacher and writer. My students give me inspiration, and hopefully, I reciprocate. As I move toward full-time teaching at the postsecondary level, my hope is that my love of the written word carries over to my pupils, no matter what their level.
Who is your favorite poet/ what is your favorite poem written by someone else?
Wow, there are so many! Perhaps my favorite poem to teach is “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden. It allows students to see so many of the great literary devices in action, and it always fuels discussion. My favorite contemporary poet to read for enjoyment is Robert Wrigley. His poetry resonates with elegant simplicity.
Which of your poems is most significant to you and why?
Many of the poems in my first book, Growing Moon, Growing Soil, dealt with my late grandfather’s influence on my life. He was a World War II bomber pilot, a citrus farmer, and perhaps my biggest fan. “Shadow Work” is the piece that does the most justice to him, I feel.
How are you celebrating Poetry Month?
I am tweeting excerpts of my poems on Twitter every day in April. I would love some more followers! Look me up @poetjohndavisjr. At my school, we have also invited guest poets including Erica Dawson, G.M. Palmer, and others for readings and guest lectures.
Many thanks to John for being my guest on Southern Creatives and helping me celebrate National Poetry Month. And, because I am equal opportunity, I am also going to go wash my car and eat some cabbage ;-p