Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Billy Mills reviews Jordan Davis' NOISE (2023)

Billy Mills was good enough to provide a first review of Jordan Davis' recent NOISE (2023) over at his blog, alongside a slew of other reviews (including a non-above/ground press title by above/ground press author Buck Downs). Thanks so much! You can see the original review here. As he writes:
Davis’ own Noise is published in Ottawa by Rob McLennan’s above/ground press. Davis is a New York poet, which is to say that he is a poet of hard surfaces, with he shades of Ashbery and O’Hara floating around somewhere beneath them, which is intended as praise; we all have our forebears. Where the comparison is most true is that everything you need to read a Davis poem is in the poem you’re reading.

In many of the poems here, Davis’ language reflects the somewhat random nature of reality as a source of delight:

The Ultimate Team Chart

Given how much of time pearls.
Now, take a walk from the subway
to your last place of residence.
The changes to the roster of local retail.
A couple you always noticed
with a new dog, facial scars.
The thick light of a humid day,
swelling of the river. Love the car
comparing subwoofers. I love
the givens of a neighborhood,
the opportunities (declined) to become jaded.
My art is what’s eating your shoes.

This is a kind of quantum Heraclitus; you both can and cannot enter the same neighbourhood twice, but what marks Davis out as a poet is that refusal to become jaded, an ability both to see and to articulate the extraordinary in the everyday, the aliveness of things. Which is not to deny an innate scepticism that also informs his work:

What separates us from the animals?
I’ll answer with the animals: a fence.
[from ‘Think Tank Girl’]

But then again you cannot celebrate the messy totality of the world without including the warts. It is this acceptance of complexity that drives these poems:

I keep thinking I have something
to show you, like noticing
what I was thinking when I wasn’t thinking
which was partly what you were saying,
something about happiness and sex and something
you wouldn’t think I would think, noticing
how quickly once around the park was becoming
sunrise flickering on the edge of your collar.

The interweaving of the personal and what, for want of a better word, we might call the philosophical, is made possible by the syntax and rhythm of the lines. In particular, the stop/start stress patterns frame the process of thinking through:

I keep thinking I have something

to show you, like noticing

I was thinking when I wasn’t thinking

which was partly what you were saying,

Of course, others may read differently, but however you parse it, the language of prosody, of metrical feet and regular patterns, is inadequate to the movement of these lines, with long runs of unstressed syllable bumping up against paired stresses. And his musical range is wide, as evident in these taut lines from ‘The Moon Outshined by Cigars’:

Two arcs joined at the ends
a thin scree. The sink
gills up Bromeliad

Or these more relaxed, but no less intricately patterned, ones from ‘Periphrase’, one of the longer poems here:

People are like plants; I’m trying to get you to propagate,
But I can’t do it with just poetry –
And by the way unless you have a child nobody’s going to believe how beautiful I say you are.

But enough. He’s a poet. Go read him.

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