H. Fairchild on Chad Davidson
B. H. FAIRCHILD is the author of four books of poems including Early
Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest (W. W. Norton & Company,
2002), which received the 2003 New York Critics Circle Award and the
Gold Medal in poetry from the California Book Awards, and The Art
of the Lathe (Alice James Books, 1998), which was a finalist for
the National Book Award.
CHAD DAVIDSON is an assistant professor of English at the University of West Georgia and a recent recipient of the Thayer Fellowship in
the Arts from SUNY and the Walter F. Dakin Fellowship at the Sewanee
Writers Conference. His poems have appeared in DoubleTake, Paris Review,
Passages North, Pequod, Colorado Review and many other journals.
PAUL RICOEUR NOTES that it is the natural rhythm of poetry historically
to wing between periods of high experimentation--imaginative wordplay
relatively disengaged from actual experience--and the subordination
of language for language's sake to an authentic, or authentically
imagined, interpretation of the world outside ourselves. Inasmuch
as literary theory of the past thirty years has an ongoing influence
on American poetics, it would seem to favor the first kind, and to
my mind the poetry of Chad Davidson offers a counter-rhythm somewhere
between the two.
Perhaps rhythm is the appropriate metaphor here since Chad was a professional
musician when he took his first poetry class from me over a decade
ago, later studying with such exceptional poet/teachers as Bruce Bond
and Ruth Stone. Certainly poetry is a kind of play to him--serious
play, as W. C. Fields said, was serious business. But play or work,
one of the most pleasant kinds of amazement is to see a student poet
move--rapidly, in this case--out of the divided worlds of pure experience
and pure thought (Chad was also a mathematics major at the time) into
the body/mind world of poetry, ultimately to achieve such grace and
articulateness as to make it seem as if it were a world of his own
devising (well, perhaps with only the ghost of Wallace Stevens disappearing
over the horizon).
Both the spirit of play and the fact of ingenuity can be suggested
from merely a small sampling of his titles: "The Taxidermist's Wife,"
"To My Left Ear Canal, Deformed at Birth," "Cleopatra's Bra," "The
Contents of Abraham Lincoln's Pockets," "All the Ashtrays in Rome,"
"The Kama Sutra's Banished Illustrator." Someone once said that at
the very least a writer--any writer, poet or otherwise--must be interesting,
and conceptually, verbally, and in his surprising yet fluid syntactical
shifts, Chad is never not interesting, and never short on wordplay,
even if it involves that runt of the litter, the pun. From "Cleopatra's
It is one thing to uphold one's passions,
another to retain them. That thin seam
between impassioned and fashion: it could be
anyone's intimacy, just a rigid form
What use is Virgil to those who want a wonder
bra? Keeping abreast of fashion in Rome
must have weighed on Dido, Cleopatra.
Favoring the open tercet but ranging far and deep from classical free
verse to Hopkins' curtal sonnet, Chad is as adventurous formally as
he is verbally and might be described, with some humor but absolutely
no deprecation intended, as a low formalist (to borrow a term that
I believe Robert Pinsky, in a casual moment, invented). But Chad is
always metrical, though often in a boldly improvisatory fashion. Fully
employing his musician's ear in an earlier virtuoso piece entitled
"The Clavier to Peter Quince," he shifts from tercets to tetrameter
couplets to pentameter quatrains in alternating rhyme and concludes
with heroic couplets. Like Keats in "The Eve of St. Agnes," it's something
of a technical display, but what a display, not only forgivable but
desirable in a poet of Chad's formidable skills and developing style.
In much of his most recent work, he demonstrates a maturity of craft
and imagination that I believe will eventually prove him to be one
of the most accomplished poets of his generation. In "The Last Decade
of the Fifteenth Century," when "everything seemed possible because
everything would end,"' he beautifully orchestrates a concise and
ironic elegy to waning aesthetic energies and "the inevitable departure
of time / from the very hands that created it." And although in the
fine sonnet "Cockroaches: Ars Poetica" the language is somewhat more
subdued than usual, it serves all the better this witty, terse commentary
on creatures whose "hidden grace" of "endless procreation" subverts
notions of life's brevity and art's longevity.
It has always seemed to me that the one quality indispensable in a
poet beginning to reveal clearly the awesome distances of his full
potential is that "astonishment" in the very fact and mystery of being
that Heidegger located in Holderlin, Rilke, and Trakl. Roethke says
somewhere in Straw for the Fire that the poet's first obligation is
"to live in a perpetual astonishment," and this is what I now find
in the work of Chad Davidson. From the spiritual explorations of "Prayer
in Fever" where "sickness is clarity" and the "body / questions why
it must consume itself," to one of his most successful poems, "Consolation
Miracle," where moonshine "swell[s] in goat bladders" and "the slender
/ throats of coke bottles," the little miracle of poetry happens in
stanza after stanza, announcing the arrival of a poet of abundant
gifts and of considerable astonishment.
Source: American Poet: The Journal of the Academy of American Poets,
Fall 2003, page 26.