For the past ten summers Jack Davis has worked as a Lookout Observer at a remote fire tower in the woods of northernmost northern Alberta. He also works with the street animal charity, Animal Aid Unlimited, in Udaipur, India. He lives in Parry Sound, Ontario.
His first book is the poetry title Faunics (Pedlar Press, 2017).
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Faunics is my first book and, as I write this, is yet to be released yet, so any changes remain contained in my head and nervous system at this point. We’ll give it some time.
I’ve been writing steadily for over 20 years but without having published, and therefore “finished” one thing and moved on to the next, it’s difficult for me to judge or compare one period to the another. It certainly has changed and moved and continues to move away from the I of the lyric poem toward what is outside me.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
A short attention span and no feel for narrative, maybe? Poetry has always stayed close in feeling and potential to painting and music for me, offering the uncanny possibility to try and use language to access what comes before language, before speaking. This is what keeps me writing and reading poetry.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I take a geological approach to writing: everything takes a long time. Individual poems will start out of a small fragment of sound or image, or a single word, but it’s not unusual for that seed to stay in a notebook for years before the next or the preceding line or the context fall into place. My process is fragmentary and operates through patience, accretion and long fallow periods of thinking and listening interleaved with reconsiderations and rewritings. Nothing’s ever really finished. Even the poems in this new book are still moving. I like that.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
The sound or associations of a single word is often the germ around which a poem will begin to take shape and or at least attract other words, like notes in a melody. I definitely think and write with a larger project in mind. Things begin intentionally as parts of these larger compositions or eventually reveal themselves as belonging to another project, or the start of some new series, as they come together.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I have yet to do a public reading, but I’ll admit the prospect of being the centre of attention in front of an audience strikes fear into my reclusive, introverted heart.
I’m somewhat reluctant to associate poems I’ve written with my own voice, let alone my face or biography. My voice has less to do with these poems than the voice of the private reader, reading to herself. That, I think, is the proper voice for any poem.
I am, however, looking forward to the opportunity these readings provide to meet and talk with other writers and readers who share a love of language and books and perhaps I will be a convert to public readings yet.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I ask questions more than I answer them in my work. Questions are always more vigorous and open to revelation, insight and wonder than the closed face of an answer. I want a poetry that catches thinking in the act—like coming upon a wild animal in the woods that you share eye-contact for a moment before it startles and scatters.
In this collection I’m concerned with, among other things, considering animals as they are—as subjects and ends in themselves. I attempt to do this by paying attention to them as an observer and cohabitant of their environment as well as considering their subjective conscious experience within this environment. I am fascinated by the near inconceivability, for humans, of thinking without or before language and the extraordinarily complex and abstract thought processes native to many animals. In less overt ways, I’m also interested in exploring the moral implications of seeing animals as the are and recognizing their agency and subjecthood in a life and environment we, at best, can share, but have no defensible claim of ownership over.
In my current work I’m interested extending this critique of anthropocentric ideas about nature and admitting the vital agency of the natural world as a collaborator rather than simply a subject in my attempts to conceive, read, divine, observe and attend to it.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I’m not much interested roles. The writer should be able to write for herself, to write whatever she wants to write, whatever moves her or inspires or compels her to want to make something out of words. That, I think, is how most of the writing that moves and attracts me gets made.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
In the case of editing Faunics, it was vital and illuminating. I was fortunate enough to be paired with my friend and preternaturally talented writer and editor, Stan Dragland. His questions and notes consistently challenged me to clarify and re-examine my choices from the smallest detail to the overarching arrangement of the manuscript. His contribution was indispensable to making this book.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I’ve always liked Robin Blaser’s admonition to “[d]econstruct meanings and compose a wildness of meaning in which the I of the poet in not the center but a returning and disappearing note,” but I’m starting to prefer the possibilities of a scale in which that note disappears all together.
10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
No routine. If something comes I try to follow it and find out where it’s going, or take whatever spark that I stumble upon and see if I can make some heat out of it. I find that the longer I can go without speaking in any given day or week, the better chance I have of being able to hear or find that starting point for a poem and follow it through to a point in which I can set it aside and come back to it later with fresh eyes. These ideal conditions are difficult to achieve in normal life, but I’ve found working at night gives me some of what is conducive to my ability to write.
Within 10 minutes of reluctantly leaving my bed each morning I can be found walking the dogs in the wooded area next to our house. If all is right with the world, the mail will have been delivered by the time we get home, and I will have a new book to join me with my coffee.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I go for a walk. This is almost always effective for me in finding a solution to a piece that’s not working. In my new book, “Variations on the Decomposing Fox,” was almost entirely written over many walks on the trails at the Ontario Camp for the Deaf where I rented a cabin for a week last January to finish my manuscript.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Pine trees, red and white, in a wind.
13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Faunics is definitely grounded in the braiding together of the two dominant conversations of my interior life: with nature and with other books. I find it difficult to separate these voices when I’m writing, but it often seems a sympathetic, or at least productive, hybrid to me.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
There are so many and they come in cycles or seasons or have been dominant at various points and fallen away. I speak of and to many of these writers in the poems of Faunics, but some poets that have been important include Paul Celan, Ernst Meister, Lorine Niedecker, Roy Fisher, Ronald Johnson, George Oppen, William Bronk, Pam Rehm, Harriet Tarlo, Karen Mac Cormack, Anja Utler, Maggie O’Sullivan, Tim Atkins, Karin Lessing, Jan Zwicky, Guy Birchard, Mark Truscott, Phil Hall, and Nelson Ball.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Live in the Arctic and/or respond to my correspondence in a time frame of less than years.
16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I would’ve liked to have been a composer or a painter, but I lacked the self-discipline or real talent to follow through on what where both passionate interests at one point or another.
My writing has, until this point, been such a private and personal pursuit that I’m not sure that it has bent the branch of my life to much of a degree. I suppose if I didn’t write that the time it occupies would be quickly and quietly filled with reading and unrecorded thoughts.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I think it came more easily to me than drawing or music and so presented it self as the path of least resistance to a desire at articulate whatever was behind those early creative compulsions. I was also very fortunate to have teachers who took the time and interest to encouraged me in my writing, which makes a world of difference.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
In lieu of a film, I’ll offer three books I’m reading or have recently read. I just finished Martha Baillie’s wonderful novel If Clara. I’ll nearing the final pages of Barbara Caruso’s two volume “A Painter’s Journey,” which is full of insights not only into her own art and process but also into the art and poetry world of Toronto in the 1970s. And I’m currently enjoying Fenn Stewart’s smart and engaging poetry collection, Better Nature.
19 - What are you currently working on?
I’m looking very closely at a small section of Northern Ontario forest floor and wondering if I can translate it into a language that doesn’t include me.