This week’s installment of Ten Questions features Geffrey Davis, whose second poetry collection, Night Angler, is out today from BOA Editions. The book, which won the 2018 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, is both a love letter to a son and a meditation on parenthood, family, race, and loss. “The poems in Geffrey Davis’s Night Angler sing in both ecstatic joy and tremendous lament,” writes Oliver de la Paz. “Poetry and prayer have never shared so close a breath.” Davis is the author of a previous poetry collection, Revising the Storm (BOA Editions, 2014), which won the 2013 A. Poulin Jr. Poetry Prize and was a finalist for the 2015 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Poetry. Davis has won the Anne Halley Poetry Prize, the Dogwood Prize in Poetry, the Wabash Prize for Poetry, an Academy of American Poets Prize, and fellowships from Bread Loaf, Cave Canem, and the Vermont Studio Center. A native of the Pacific Northwest, Davis teaches for the University of Arkansas MFA in Creative Writing & Translation and the Rainier Writing Workshop low-residency MFA program at Pacific Lutheran University.
1. How long did it take you to write Night Angler?
It took me almost four years to have a full first draft of this book—and then another year or so of revisions and restructuring to get it ready for production.
2. What was the most challenging thing about writing the book?
In the middle of drafting the poems that would become this collection, I realized I was essentially working on a book-length love letter to my son, though not all the pieces address the child directly—one that chronicled and questioned and sometimes intervened upon certain (parental) desires for breaking cycles and discovering new rituals for family. While the stakes and timeliness of the book’s address meant that I couldn’t have waited to write the book, I had no idea of when/how to place it into my son’s hands once it was finished. However, just days after advance copies of Night Angler arrived, as sometimes children have the grace of doing, he simply took that impossible in/decision out of my hands. I was taking a late afternoon nap and woke to him reading aloud to my wife from the book. It’s been a long time since I’ve tried that hard to fight back tears so that the voice across from me would keep speaking.
3. Where, when, and how often do you write?
My writing practice tends to be pretty unpredictable, pretty sporadic, and is usually dictated by a particular image, observation, question, etc. seeming louder or more urgent than the general noise of the day—or than the night. Lately, I’ve been writing more often in the middle of the night.
4. What was the most unexpected thing about the publication process?
That the ending of it rang so clear—to me, anyway. With my first book, Revising the Storm, although I was submitting it to prizes, I still felt like someone had tapped me on the shoulder while in the middle of working and asked to publish it. I was so grateful to Dorianne Laux, who selected it for the 2013 A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize, and to BOA Editions for inviting me to recognize that book’s doneness. Who knows what would have happened to its shape and voice had I been allowed to keep at it like I was prepared to!? Because I deeply needed that collaboration the first time around, I wasn’t expecting to feel the ending of Night Angler for myself, and definitely not as unmistakably as I did.
5. What are you reading right now?
I’ve been reading more graphic novels and science fiction lately. I loved Victor LaValle’s Destroyer (an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) and am finishing N. K. Jemisin’s The Stone Sky, the third book in her Broken Earth series.
6. Which author, in your opinion, deserves wider recognition?
I’m always excited to put a Julia Kasdorf book into people’s hands, especially her collection Poetry in America, and I love talking with new people about Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon’s Open Interval.
7. What is one thing you’d change about the literary community and/or the publishing business?
I appreciate interviews like this for the opportunity to discuss process and reveal struggles, but I wish our books, as art objects, had better ways of showing more of the practice and work and failure that go into making them.
8. What is the biggest impediment to your writing life?
Time. And presence—in particular, distinguishing between the importance of staying present in moments of lived connection and the urge for investigating new possible poetic connections.
9. What trait do you most value in an editor?
Articulating precisely what about a piece of writing they believe in, and why.
10. What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever heard?
As an undergraduate writer, the poet David Biespiel invited me to understand that there are things a poem needs that will not feel poetic.