The below is an excerpt of Andrew Kuhn’s interview of Carol
Ann Davis. Full interview text is available in the book How a Poem Can Happen, or upon special request.
Carol Ann Davis read for the Katonah Poetry Series on December 2, 2012.
Andy Kuhn: Did your father’s passion for rocketry and the exploration of space have anything to do with the dreamy and speculative and expansive side that comes out in your poetry?
Carol Ann Davis: The short answer is yes, his curiosity about the world, his desire to understand the way things work and where we are in the universe, all of that is inherited, if I have any of it in my work, and it’s nice you think I might! Thank you!
He taught me celestial navigation—one of my first published poems was about that—and he always wanted NASA to go to Mars. Now that we’re exploring Mars, I’m so happy; he would love it. He wanted that so badly, and to go back to the moon. So yes, I think that the idea that we are very small and our smallness is in some ways a metaphysical comfort, if that’s a philosophy that undergirds the poems, it’s certainly something he imparted to me. We also went on a lot of night walks at the beach (which was at the end of my street) looking up at the stars and finding the Little Dipper, the Big Dipper; all of it sort of a way of shifting and finding perspective. That informs my poetry, I think. Maybe that’s the expansiveness you’re talking about.
I’ve only just recently started to write about this time period in a conscious way, and there’s a new poem in APR this month of mine, about space, about that time. I think it’s funny how long it takes to begin seeing your childhood inside some larger context, and mine is certainly that era. It’s one of my contexts, and my father, for a lot of reasons even besides that, is a huge influence—as is natural. Another big aspect of his life was church; I grew up Southern Baptist going to church three times a week and he was always a deacon. He was a man of science and of faith; I like that he held those two seemingly contradictory ideas in some kind of conversation, a kind of happy mystery he lived easily inside. He was tolerant of mystery—an essential aspect of poetry.
AK: Your first book of poems, Psalm, is a meditation on your father and his loss. Can you say a little about that collection, and what writing those poems was like for you?
CAD: Well, the collection is pretty self-explanatory: it traces a narrative arc from his death to the birth of my first child. My father died and within a year I was pregnant—in the immortal words of Babe: Pig in the City, the rare sequel better than the original: I was stranded. I couldn’t go forward and I couldn’t go back. So I wrote my way through grief, into this new experience of pregnancy. For some weird reason, the two experiences spoke to each other. It helped me to understand both experiences to write about them. That’s important, I think, to say: I write poems to better understand my life, internal and external. The poem is a by-product of trying to live mindfully. I don’t know if that makes sense, but the being a good person, the living better, is the important part, and the poem is the helpmate to that.
Writing these poems basically got me through that time. Looking back at those poems I can see some of what I was going through; at the time I didn’t know and couldn’t have told you. I can make sense of the poems in retrospect but at the time I felt I was wrestling with unknowns.