06 September 2012

online finds 9/6: an interview with poet doris davenport

Welcome back to the Online Finds series with Our Lost Jungle. This week, I'm happy to share an interview with poet doris davenport. doris has been patiently working with me for a while now on this interview, for which I am so grateful. I'm more grateful, on top of this, for her wonderful responses that I think any writer will find greatly inspirational. Enjoy! (A note: doris's answers are current as of July. doris also noted that her use of the lower case "i" and lower cases in her name is deliberate, and asked that this be honored in her interview, a request I am all too happy to abide by!)

doris davenport
doris davenport is a writer, educator,  literary & performance poet who grew up in the Appalachian foothills of Habersham County (Cornelia) Georgia.  She is the oldest of seven siblings and the first member of her family to attend and finish college. And she kept attending colleges: she has a Ph.D. from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA. Her dissertation is "Four Contemporary Black Women Poets (A Stylistic Study): Lucille Clifton, June Jordan, Audre Lorde & Sherley Anne Williams."  She has an M.A. (English, State University of New York, Buffalo) and a B.A. (English) from Paine College, Augusta, GA.  Presently (or, at the time of this writing) davenport is an Associate Professor of English at Stillman College, a historically Black college in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Some of davenport’s major interests and hobbies include teaching, voracious reading, dance, photography, watching corny syfy movies, health & fitness, travel and, of course, writing.  davenport is also a long-time member of Alternate ROOTS, the organization for activists and artists, based in Atlanta Georgia. 

davenport has been a writer since about age eleven; the first book she read, loved, and was transformed by  - at age six - was Alice in Wonderland. She has published reviews, articles, essays, and books. ascent (2011) is her eighth book of poetry. Her advice for aspiring writers: write daily; revise relentlessly and read passionately.  You must read the work of other writers, especially poets.

What are you currently working on?
Currently? Seriously?    i would have to say nothing at the moment, except my daily “poemetes” – little short (sometimes long) Haiku-like poems that i compose (on my cell phone) as i walk along the river each day.  However, i “intend” to start working on poems for my next book of poems, sometimes in the next few weeks.

Can you tell us a bit about what it means to you to be considered an Affrilachian poet? What is “Affrilachian” to you, and how does it or has it motivated your poetic “voice”?  Just reading this question, makes me smile . . . and shake my head.  i have addressed this topic / issue / identity so many times, until i just want to say, “Please see my essay / interview / etc.”  But – for you: i am from a small, segregated town in Northeast Georgia in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains.  Long before that term (“Affrilachian”) was coined, i knew that the mountains and my precious mountain communities defined me in my core as a person, a poet, and anything else that i would or could be.  Actually, i do have a performance poem about this passionate relationship i have with (my) mountains but i ca not find it right now so these inadequate words must suffice. The simplest way to put it is, the foothills of Northeast Ga, the mountains of Western North Carolina are my spiritual base and foundation. i love those areas like most people love other people.

You engage so much humor, and seemingly effortless transitions in voice, in your poems. I’m thinking of a poem like “Sally’s CafĂ©” (in Madness Like Morning Glories: Poems). Where do you draw inspiration for the characters and/or personas in your poetry? 
. . . from the people themselves.  Many of the poems in “Madness” were published (by the Sautee-Nacoochee Community Center in 1995) as “Soque Street Poems.”  That earlier version has several introductions that explain – the people, most of the people in those two books, are real, actual folk whom i knew and grew up with, and interacted with, and was inspired / aggravated / loved by, for most of my life. The “personas” in that book are the actual African American Affrilachian people of Northeast Georgia, or based on those people. Humor, varied forms of collective, interactive, spontaneous communal “art” was an important part of our lives.

Oftentimes writers or poets consider themselves as having “arrived” at becoming a writer. How long have you considered yourself a poet?
For all of my conscious life, since i was about fifteen years old, i have worked at, have been, and have considered myself, a poet. (Otherwise, i may not understand what this question means.)  Still i  would not say i have “arrived” – whatever that means.  i am always in the process of becoming a poet, an endless, joyous, challenging, daily activity and experience.

Who or what are you currently reading? 
Currently re-reading Frantz Fanon’s “Black Skins / White Masks” and J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.”

A lot of poets have some pretty heavy fears or anxieties when it comes to their writing, or their profession. What is one of your biggest writing “challenges,” and how do you try to overcome it?
Probably procrastination and cynicism are my biggest challenges or roadblocks.  To overcome those, i keep writing and immersing myself in the eclectic work of other artists.  Then too i am perpetually inspired, renewed and motivated by people like you and requests such as yours for this interview. (Honestly. Thank you.)

If you could share a piece of advice for other poets, what would it be? 
Read perpetually and voraciously and widely.  Write – daily, if possible. Keep writing. Keep writing, AND revise constantly and  assiduously!

Below is one of my favorite poems from doris's collection Madness Like Morning Glories (used with permission):


New Orleans streets. Rich in song,
story, madness, voodoo & magic.
Not, however, the only place. Still,
seems like it's allrighter there. Other
places, you got to get permission. Well, i got
permission, now.
Now, i got a permit.

Soquee is a Cherokee word for the Hill,
cross the railroad track, in Appalachian foothills,
where madness runs like the Chattahoochee River.
Like kudzu in the mind.

Sak-wi Yi.     Sounds inflected
in rhythmical air
in a sacred place.

Don't mess with the sacred.
It will get you.


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  1. Thank you for this interview with my wonderful friend doris. Her friendship is one of life's treasures.

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by! It was my pleasure and privilege to interview doris---that she was willing to share her wonderful insights is still glorious! And how wonderful that you can share in both her words and her friendship! :-)


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