This Old Poem #74:
Peter Davison’s Peaches
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 12/5/03
Davison- the name just SCREAMS ‘DEAD WHITE MALE’!- Doesn’t
it? It’s hard to believe he’s 75 years old. If you Google him & look for
photos all you will see are those from the 1950s, when he was young & virile
& stiffing willing poetesses like Sylvia Plath. Next to notching last
century’s most famous poetic suicide on his belt PD is most known for the
decades he served as poetry editor at the Atlantic Monthly- guiding that
venerable magazine’s slide from hotbed of relevant poetry to tar pit of
irrelevance. Even more disastrously he was a book editor at several prestigious
New York publishers, likewise presiding over the industry’s neglect of the
art, & its subsequent slide.
Perhaps the most telling things about PD is his view on the art, itself. Here’s a snippet from an interview he did a few years ago with the Christian Science Monitor: http://www.csmonitor.com/atcsmonitor/specials/poetry/p-interview.html#reads
Interviewer: A lot of people feel that the MFA program is the worst thing to happen to contemporary poetry; others feel it’s a real blessing. What’s your opinion?
Peter Davison: I don’t think it is the best thing that has happened to poetry, and I don’t think it is the worst. I have a very mixed view of the whole function of it. The problem, for me, with the writing programs is that they produce a terrible uniformity of product. For instance, it's a little better now than it was two or three years ago, but something like 70% of the poems I receive seem to be written in the present indicative.
More and more poets whom I have talked to about this are astonished by the fact that that is what they are doing. They are not even aware that they have limited themselves to one tense and one mood of the verb. And that they are constantly producing a sort of spectator poetry in which the poet is looking at himself: ‘I go out, I look at the wires, there's snow on the wires, a blue jay sits on the wires and knocks off some snow, God I'm lonely.’
That's a classic example of what Donald Hall would call the “McPoem”. It is not only that the range of emotion is very narrow, but the range of the language is very narrow. That's what distresses me. Why is it that the industrialization of poetry in the educational process has made the language become so squinched, narrowed down?
A few months ago I found myself, to my distress, having to write an article about the poet laureate of the United States [Robert Hass], whose poetry I admired and published a great deal many years ago, and whom I admire as a person very much indeed. But as I read his poetry, I realized that he, too, had succumbed to this spectator situation and that the function of the active, vivid verb in his work was diminished, not to the vanishing point, because he is still a very good poet, but it was a disappointing performance based on what one had expected of him and what I think he once expected of himself.
Here is a good example of what is so wrong about most poetry &
criticism that wafts out today. On the + side, however, we have PD actually
naming a poet that’s bad (Robert Hass- although in a qualified manner), yet he
looks to a doggerelist (Donald Hall) as some reassuring backup, all the while
all 3 poets (PD, RH, & DH) all practice the very McPoem-like poesizing they
decry. & notice how the interviewer’s query is never addressed. Go ahead
& read the many poet interviews online & you will see that this is
standard operating procedure. NEVER directly answer- ignore; or at least evade
Then, again, what else would 1 expect of a man who is so thoroughly drenched in ‘the system’?:
Peter Davison, in
addition to being poetry editor of The Atlantic Monthly, where he has
served in various editorial capacities for fifty years, has had a long and
distinguished career both as a poet and as a book publisher.
Born in New York City in 1928, Davison is the son of the English poet Edward Davison, who had emigrated to the United States a few years earlier, and who had a long career as a teacher, initially at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where Davison was raised. Educated at Harvard and at Cambridge University in England, Davison became an editor at Harcourt, Brace at the age of twenty-two, moving to Boston in 1955 to work at Harvard University Press and then the Atlantic Monthly Press, where he remained for the next twenty-nine years, latterly as its editor-in-chief and director. He edited books for his own imprint at Houghtin Mifflin from 1985 to 1998.
His career as a poet began in 1963 when his first book, The Breaking of the Day, was chosen as the Yale Series of Younger Poets volume for that year. Since then he has published ten other books of poems, most recently Breathing Room (2000). He is the author of an autobiographical volume, Half Remembered: A Personal History, a work of biographical criticism, The Fading Smile: Poets in Boston, from Robert Frost to Robert Lowell to Sylvia Plath, 1955-1960, and a book of essays, One of the Dangerous Trades: Essays on the Work and Workings of Poetry.
Certainly not anything good nor memorable- & could he be any deader, whiter, or maler? Which brings me to:
mouthful of language to swallow:
What English can do: ransack
I really hate these moments. A poem is so bad, yet I waste time explaining why. Breathe easy, it’s only 2 stanzas. OK- here goes: we start off with the overworked idea of swallowing or eating language itself. Then we get an overwhelm of poorly constructed alliterative images. End stanza 1. Stanza 2 tries to untangle the nonsense that is presented in the run of alliterations. How? Basically that English is an odd language. We then riff on that fact & relate it, somehow, to peaches. How? Because peaches make the speaker laugh with their warmth & fuzziness. We then get an unintentionally comic yearn of infruitive love to the peach. Basically the poem is a mess, with no real humor or ‘lightness’ to alleviate it.
How to fix a poem like this? Frankly, I cannot do it with concision & rewriting. This is a poem that would have to be wrecking balled & totally put on another trail. The best I can do is by giving it a title culled from the original poem’s penultimate line.
Clench Me Into The Sweetness
mouthful of language to swallow:
OK- PD has
beaten me. On to truly lighter things. PD is not only the name of 1 of Po
Biz’s darker lights, but also a ‘poet’ who happens to juggle, dance, &
act. Don’t believe me that a doppelganger for the dude who did Plath exists?
Click here http://poetofmotion.com/ &
see for yourself. Compare his c.v. with the DWM’s:
What English can do: ransack
dancer, actor and poet: Peter Davison presents a kinetic celebration of life
unlike anything you've seen before. From a rhythmic mix of juggling and
drumming; to dynamic choreography set to music; to amazing interactions with
household objects; Peter Davison transforms the stage into a magical world of
Since winning first-place at the 1982 National Juggling Championships, Peter has toured internationally, appearing in a variety of venues including festivals, theaters, schools, corporate events, and television. He has captivated audiences of all ages, performing amazing feats of dexterity with inimitable personality, grace and humor.
27-years of performing experience, diverse training, and creativity have made Peter Davison a unique presence in the performing arts.
Final Score: (1-100):
Peter Davison’s Peaches:
TOP’s Clench Me Into The Sweetness: I(ncomplete)
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