Sage art history professor Melody Davis releases second poetry book
Melody Davis is a professor of Art History at the Sage Colleges. She began writing at age eight. Holding the Curve is her second published book of poetry inspired by her childhood in Pennsylvania and her experiences while living in New York. Read her reflections about Holding the Curve below.
What inspires you to write poetry?
Breathing. I try to practice breathing every day. On better days, I manage.
The word "inspires" comes from the Latin, in spirare, to breathe in. So, when I say breathing inspires, I am being literal, though it's humorous now, because when we say inspire, we mean it in the sense of spirit. Yogis understand in spirare about as well as any, I've found. To me, it's not what "inspires" but what doesn't, and I can't think of any exclusions there, except maybe terror, but after that passes, then we breathe again. Poetry is like breath, quite simply. I write because I breathe. It is a process of survival. The question I ask myself is not why write, but how can one not?
Obviously, you drew upon your personal experiences when writing Holding the Curve. Can you share some of those personal experiences that influenced your writing of this collection of poems?
I stared at patches of light as a kid and frequently had the sensation of the world "sinking in" visually, like ink. I must have been a strange child, but my external demeanor was always called "mature." I had a whole world going on in my head, a "daydreamer," teachers said. I think I was waiting for a time when I had enough skill to speak from that place, waiting for a language. I understand now that when people aren't entirely focused, perhaps it's because a whole other realm is quietly carried in the imagination, and its voice is stronger. As an educator, I want to allow students to have an opportunity to find forms or language that builds bridges between worlds they carry and those to which they need to adapt. This is the strength of art. It allows us to breathe in two places at once, to remember and use everything.
Do you have a favorite poem in this particular book or is there something special that comes to mind when you think about Holding the Curve, and the process you went through while writing it?
I like all my poems in the book! It's not fair to pick favorites. As for the process, a line or a phrase will leap into my brain. That's where I start. I call them "handles."
If you had to describe Holding the Curve in a few sentences, how would you describe it?
Holding the Curve was a difficult child. It went through five major revisions, had as many titles, and was a finalist in a collection of contests, including the National Poetry Series. When I began to think of the book as a journey, with the title poem as a hinge, it took a more successful shape. As a typical American, I'm restless, and this book is about journeying to and from my cultural and relational centers, which are often in antagonism. More and more this country is polarized between cultures that simply do not speak the same language. I speak between different cultural centers that have nothing to say to each other, that don't even hear each other speaking. This is the journey I'm talking about, these oscillations between the pull of values, irreconcilable but not silent.
Holding the Curve describes a journey, forward and back, between axiomatically different cultures – rural, traditional, Bible-belt Pennsylvania, where I grew up, and the New York world of professionalism and art culture, where I was educated and lived. What unites these places without much in common is the English language. My book embarks on a journey of accepting what is not acceptable in one place or the other, of accepting experience as irreconcilable but necessary, and transition as an always present constant. I guess you could say I'm always breathing in two places.
Davis is in the process of completing a scholarly manuscript on historical narrative stereography entitled, Doubling the Vision: Women in Narrative Stereography, the United States, 1870-1910. It is due to be published by the University Press of New Hampshire/University Press of New England in 2015.
Davis’s artwork is being featured in the Sage College of Albany Art & Design Faculty Show, Perceptions, currently showing at the Opalka Gallery. She will host a reading and book signing for Holding the Curve during a reception at the gallery on Friday, February 7 at 7 p.m.