Simple, direct, and confident in his voice, Austin Davis’ new poetry collection The World Isn’t the Size of Our Neighborhood Anymore eschews opacity and achieves a basic human connection that reminds me of the point of poetry.
Paraphrasing Zadie Smith, who was herself paraphrasing someone else, I agree with the concept of writing being an exercise in creating a reality framed by your desires. I suppose that explains in part the affinity I feel in reading Davis, because I find my desires for what this world could be so often framed in his work. It feels so easy to live in. It’s an easy voice to commune with. Reading Davis feels like sharing a drink with a friend who escaped the confines of youth to discover just how beautiful, just how devastating, the world becomes in adulthood.
In “I Don’t Remember Being Born on Mars,” Davis summarizes the ache and isolation of growing up and losing a certain grasp of what you thought the world was like when he writes, “God is only alive / if someone falls to their knees.” Shortly after, he dwells on a relationship in “cigarettes / silence”, which is not only the most formally inventive poem in the collection, it also burns brightest, itself a cigarette dwindling into the silence of an ashy afterthought while yet retaining its heat. I believe it is a unique disposition of the best artists to never move on from things. Else, why write about them? Yet in the writing, the artist can achieve resolution while paradoxically opening the reader in ways that betray the artist’s resolution. Poetry is always Pandora’s box for someone.
While some poems feel rougher about the edges, Davis is never boring, able to conjure flaming realization in such a line as “Everyone knows God / catches flame faster than the Devil.” And later, tackling the topic of school shootings and toxic masculinity, he is most prescient when centering emotion by saying, “What I’m trying to say is, / I know you’re afraid.”
In his last poem, as seasons change and time vanishes like ripples on pond surface, he ends at peak form, again illustrating core emotions in growing up, moving away. The death of something leading to something else, the unknown pulling at our minds. “The flowers / tip their hats at us / in the breeze / as we tell ourselves / we’ve felt this way before.”
It is easy to recognize I have felt similar emotions from other work, perhaps even in stronger doses than when reading Davis. But that recognition does nothing to detract from this wholly human, heart-string-dancing poetry that not only connects the dots from one heart to another, it makes us grapple with things that often feel beyond our ken or our control. While the grappling may not provide an answer, I hope that I never tire of being asked by poets such as Davis to do the grappling.
The World Isn’t the Size of Our Neighborhood Anymore is published by Weasel Press.