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Emerging Poet: On Jordan Davis

Written by

Susan Wheeler
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Year

2003
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Jordan Davis's poems call up many arenas for me. He was editor of The Poetry Project Newsletter several years ago, and indeed there is a whiff of the downtown/Tulsa/beats/New York School tradition for which The Poetry Project has been a haven. But there are also strains of Marcel Janco, Paul Reverdy, and Matsuo Basho; of W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice as well as Tom Raworth and Jeremy Prynne; props to the American transcendentalists; and an assimilation of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E inheritance. The mix is a rich one, and wholly his own.

Most characteristic are his longer poems, such as the 1998 chapbook-length "Poem on a Train." Frequently casual and talky on the surface, their underpinnings reflect a slice of a day in a sentient, reading, economic, sexual, class-rooted, spiritual self--precisely observed as the world is precisely observed by that keenly observant self. The effect is smart and generous.

But his modes are many. The poet who has written this line, "On the paper of the sea draw a shield in blue ink for me," has also written this one: "It's funny to still get nervous." His short aphoristic poems have the sleek delivery systems of edamame pods: "He gave me a description. / He don't have a description." is "Daguerrotype" in its entirety. Other poems have learned from French surrealism or from Oulipo practice or from the straight lyricism of James Wright. There is a modesty in the "I" that does not exempt it from the wry eye turned on the rest of the world.

Among a younger set of New York poets, Jordan is well known for his poems, as well as for his co-hosting of the "Poetry City" reading series at Teachers & Writers with Anna Malmude and his co-editorship (with Chris Edgar) of the terrific journal, The Hat. But he has not yet published a full collection. His chapbooks, Upstairs and Poem on a Train, are obtainable from Barque Books in Cambridge, England; two others are available online at Mightwords.com. He went to Columbia University, where he received The Academy of American Poets prize, and he is an editor at Teachers & Writers Collaborative; he also teaches writing in public schools. Word has it his every morning begins over The Financial Times.

In the wonderful poem "Winter Magazine," too long to reprint here, he writes, "Your mother did a grand job / Says the woman out first of the elevator." So did his--whether she be Bernadette, or Dorothy P., or Muriel, Walt or Emily, or any one of his many forepersons--by him. Jordan Davis's resolute focus results in phenomenal poems.