Assistant professor of English Peter Davis recently published “TINA,” his third complete poetry book, in April 2013. In 2010, he published “Poetry! Poetry! Poetry!”, and in 2006, he published “Hitler’s Mustache.” For an inside look on “TINA,” read the interview below conducted by English department intern Daniel Brount.
1. What was your inspiration for the book?
Well, I guess there were two points of inspiration. First, was just the idea of how much a line of poetry changes when addressed to a specific person, and not just a general poem-reader. For instance, take these famous last lines of poems and see the difference caused by name: “The woods are lovely dark and deep and miles to go before I sleep, Bob” or “You must change your life, Tiffany” or “The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream, Mark.” The second point of inspiration arose as I wrote these poems, which I addressed to Tina (Tina being a name that is both funny and beautiful). That idea was that Tina was like a muse. Like the classical muse of poetry that I don’t believe in. Everyone likes the idea of the muse, I think, but the problem is that the muse is a squirrelly friend. Being an artist in this society means constantly being seen as a weirdo who serves very little purpose. The muse keeps a person up at night. The muse is beautiful because she makes you work, but she’s temperamental, at best, and at worst she completely destroys your life, at least in terms of having to co-exist with the real world. I fell in love with being an artist roughly at the same time I fell in love for the first time. I was 15. It was a wonderful, heartbreaking time.
2. How would you describe the subject of the book and Tina as a character?
She’s not so much a character as she is a name. For instance, there is no character Tina who I had to make sense of. Instead, Tina is and was whatever I said in the poems. Which is to say, maybe, that art is made out of thin air, invented from nothing. On the other hand, if I were casting a sitcom in which Tina would play a part, I’d look for a character willing to be in a bad, long-term relationship, funny, mean, unpredictable, never loved enough, clingy, bitter, crafty, etc. etc. You know, everything that art and people are. Sort of like George Costanza. But also, of course, really lusted after and loved.
3. This is the third poetry book you’ve published. Is your writing process different for each book? Do you generally have a plan when you begin, or does it fall into place as you write?
It’s always different, but it’s also always the same. For instance, I always eventually end up in front of my computer, typing. That happens with all the books. And usually it’s quiet when this happens. Usually I’m in my basement. But how I actually go about writing in my head is different. It’s hard to describe, but I don’t think it’s a terribly unique feeling– people probably experience this sensation in all sorts of other activities, other ways, described in another manner. As a writer, for me this sensation is like sort of falling into a new space in my head. Like sort of turning a corner and suddenly seeing something from a new angle.
When I can do this, I feel like writing and get very excited about it and start writing a lot. Again, that part is the same. But in my head I’m only writing because I have fallen into a new crack in my brain, and I am floating there trying to make sense of the new surroundings. It’s a good feeling to have because writing a new book isn’t a chore of any kind, it’s just exploration of this newly found space. It doesn’t happen all that often, but it when it does, and if that place feels weird enough for a very long time, then, presto! A book! There’s never a real plan, at least not until it’s half written or so. The first month or two I just walk around saying to my wife “what am I doing down there (meaning the basement)?” and a year or so I later I just start to feel that I understand that new space and I’m ready to move on. I start to feel more and more like it’s something that happened in the past tense, that it’s over with. I usually write a little more because I don’t get it at first. But then soon it becomes totally apparent that I’m done, and I move on.
4. What have you been working on since “TINA” was released?
I like to make music too, and so I’ve been making some music. It’s all low-fi, homemade stuff called Short Hand. I am just finishing up a new record called “Punk Heart” (it should be done in a few weeks). BTW, a person can download all my music for free, or just listen to it, at my website, artisnecessary.com.
I have another book of poetry done that I’d like to publish. But that’s an epic poem on the history of the Nazis, so it could take a bit.
For more from Davis, check out his website at http://artisnecessary.com/.