Santa Fe: Jon Davis Reading 5/23/13

Jon Davis is an unassuming man.

He is tall, thin, wears glasses. Every time I’ve seen him he has been wearing a loose-fitting linen shirt. Maybe I’ve only seen him in warm weather. He wears bright turquoise earrings. This stands out. The studs seem part of him.

Jon Davis is quietly hilarious.

At his reading May 23rd at Collected Works he opened with a quick anecdote of him playing basketball with some teens in Marfa, Texas. Beyoncé was visiting the town and while playing they discussed the singer’s hotness. He used this as an intro to his short story ‘Pop Star’. In that tale he talked about a town readying themselves for the arrival of someone so famous and rich that they become a deity. They clean, buy the mayor a new suit, a tuba ensemble performs for her arrival.

There was no punchline. But it hit like a perfect joke. Davis reads his poems like he is telling you about his day. He doesn’t put on ‘poet voice’. This is meant to be a fun time for all in the room, himself included. It’s refreshing that some one who has won two NEA grants and a Lannan Literary Award is so easy with his work.

Jon Davis is an elusive poet.

His three full-length books were published in 1987, 1995, and 2010. Most recently he has been writing flash fiction.

His latest work seems divided into two camps. A group of poems based on a stay in Ireland. Those revolve around tradition, death, and the ephemeral nature of cultural shifts. They are closer to his older work.

The second group is represented by a chapbook, Thelonious Sphere, published by Q Avenue Press this year and his flash fiction. There is a playfulness here missing in some of his other work. The poems are based on the life and music of Thelonious Monk. They focus on the balance of life and career. Art and commerce. They use music language as metaphor for relationships.

…the lean woman who walks
ahead then behind, the long black coat she breathes
into the fur collar of. He is the bass climbing the keyboard.
She is the sway, blue note, minor second–

Nature finds its way into the poems in surprising ways. In “Monk & Train” applause turns into rain. “Monk Plays Stride” sees the stretching of notes turn into the anticipation of fall into winter.

Toward the end of the reading, Davis read some work between flash fiction and poetry. These pieces were concerned with technology, the internet. YouTube. His poem “Bellville Electrocution” is about the Harlem Shake internet meme. Specifically about the origins of it.

He ended the reading with “The Poet”. A sort of ars poetica. A poet washes up on a shore. Is asleep or in a coma. The town props him up in the square and he becomes a tourist attraction. People dress him in crazy outfits and pose for pictures. They make him what they want. Meanwhile, the poet is dreaming of fighting an ocean current. Of fighting for life. He swims in storm-filled sea, that is a poem aching to emerge.

Davis writes a mix of funny and serious, poetry and prose. It pulses with a life that feels real. Like a part of him shown to us. Dana Levin introduced Davis as “The best writer writing today.” I have to agree.


Jon Davis is the author of Preliminary Report (Copper Canyon, 2010) He directs the Low Residency MFA in Creative Writing at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM.

–Michael Wilson