In preparation for this Featured Voice presentation, Canopic Jar’s Rethabile Masilo conducted a virtual interview with poet Joyce Ellen Davis
Rethabile Masilo: Do you have any writing rituals?
Joyce Ellen Davis: Because my brain seems to shut down in front of a keyboard, I write best with a pencil—in bed, or in the Laz-E-Boy rocker in front of the TV, whenever the urge strikes. When my boys were little, I used to go out and sit in the car in the driveway with the doors locked and the windows up. True story. Now I still write first drafts with a pencil, but I can revise at my computer, with a can of Pepsi for inspiration.
R.M.: When did you know you were going to be a writer? Was there a specific moment at which the coin dropped, and you just knew?
J.E.D.: I wrote my first poem in third grade when my dog Lucky was run over and killed. It was a sort of out-of-body experience. I observed myself from some distant point, thinking look at that poor little girl, crying into her dog’s collar. Her dog is dead. How sad she is! So I wrote a poem about it. It wasn’t until the seventh grade that I really decided to be a writer. I began a novel, that ultimately became my poetry book In Willy’s House—many years later. It won a prize and was my first published book of poetry.
R.M.: What do you think of how poets become poets? For example, what would you tell an aspiring poet? Please talk to a fictional fifteen-year old (who’s interested in being a poet) about this.
J.E.D.: A few years ago my granddaughter, Ashley, (about 15 at the time) was writing a school assignment in an English class, and she asked me the same questions. Here was my answer: Why I Write Poetry.
R.M.: Your poems speak about stars, about the cosmos, quite often, and you ably weave that theme with religion into a tight poem. Please tell us why this is important.
J.E.D.: My religious beliefs (I am Mormon) often speak of stars, the universe, the nature of light, and creation. I am intrigued by Mormon scripture that tells me “worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose…” and “were it possible than man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations.” So it is an integral part of who I am. My BFF Janet tells me I write too many poems about stars. She is probably right. But I’ve become acquainted with a poet who was also an astronomer and an astrophysicist, and she wrote marvelous poetry about stars, and dark matter, and evolution and such in her book “A Responsibility to Awe.” So maybe there can’t be too many of these poems.
R.M.: Where does “inspiration” come from? Does it come (if so, what brings it?), or do you go out after it?
J.E.D.: Inspiration comes from AWE. You don’t have to “go after it.” It’s always there!
R.M.: Some poets, such as Donald Hall, revise to the point of almost never considering a poem done. Charles Simic has been documented as having said: “Even when I’m stretched out in my coffin they may find me tinkering with some poem. Even published poems I won’t leave alone.” Billy Collins, on the other hand, says “I don’t revise very much. I write the poem in one sitting. Just let it rip. It’s usually over in twenty to forty minutes.” How long do your poems gestate? Do you tweak them a lot? If so, at what stage do you?
J.E.D.: I’ve only had ONE poem come perfect, in one sitting. It was short, only a few stanzas. It took about 15 minutes, while I was cooking breakfast for my visiting parents. I’d crack an egg, and write a little. Stir a little, and write a little more. Put the toast in, and voila! It was done. But it most always takes at least 3 or 4 drafts before it’s perfect. 😉 I often do a lot of research, too. And I always read, read, and read some more! Sometimes just touching the poem of another poet helps. Osmosis, maybe?
Thank you Joyce. Canopic Jar is very pleased to have you as a Featured Voice!
Joyce Ellen Davis is from Salt Lake City, Utah. She was born and raised in the heart of the Mojave Desert in California. She traveled for two years as an actress with the Bishop’s Company, American Repertory Theater before settling down to college life and graduating from the University of Utah. She is the mother of five and grandmother of eight outstanding people. Her first novel, Chrysalis, won a $5,000 publication award from the Utah Arts Council and was nominated for the American Book Award. Her second novel, Life Mask, was published in 2014. Her poetry books include Pepek the Assassin and A Book of Fours. More of her published work is available through Lulu.com.