The Na/GloPoWriMo Interview with Peter Davis
Peter Davis’ newest book of poetry, Band Names & Other Poems, has just been published by Bloof Books. His previousl collections are books of poetry are Hitler’s Mustache, Poetry! Poetry! Poetry!, and TINA, also published by Bloof. His music project, Short Hand, has released 9 records, from 2005’s Good Enough to 2018’s ill fish. He lives in Muncie, Indiana with his wife and kids and teaches at Ball State University.
1. Why did you start writing poetry? Why do you still?
It’s basically just for a lack of knowing what else to do. It’s hard to be a person in this world and to know how to spend your time and what to do with your own weird little life. I think I have a strong desire to express what’s happening in my mind/body/life, but I also feel like it’s really, really hard to identify (with words or sounds or pictures or anything) exactly what needs to be expressed. So, I try to figure that out and poetry is one of the ways I go about that.
2. What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve gotten? The worst?
This is an interesting question. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of much writing advice I’ve
gotten, good or bad, even though I know I’ve gotten tons of it. I’ve had some really terrific
teachers at different points in my life but in all cases I think their example was more important
than their advice. The more I think about it: I think the worst idea I ever received was that
writing should be “authentic,” as if it were possible to NOT be yourself, as if it were possible to
truly escape yourself. If only! The best writing advice is when Frank O’Hara writes that you
should just “go on nerve.”
3. How did your new book come into being?
For many years one of my favorite things to do is to find band names in the regular course of language. For instance, just in that last sentence there could be “For Many Years,” “Many Years One,” “Names in the Regular” “The Regular” “To Do Is To,” “Regular Course,” “Of Language,” etc. etc. (and that’s not even beginning to remix any of the words in that sentence!) I think of really good names as being like little poems. One day (during National Poetry Month coincidentally) I wrote a list of about fifty band names. It was easy and fun. It occurred to me that I could write an infinite number of “good” band names—that in this universe there is room for endless bands and band names. I thought, could you really write an infinite number of good band names? And how many would I have to write to prove to myself that I really could go on forever, to prove it could just keep going and going and going? I settled on the number 10,000. But I wrote a few more than 10,000. Closer to 10,050. Those last fifty or so were just me showing off to myself.
4. Is there a generative prompt, practice or ritual that you find particularly helpful, or that you would recommend to students, friends, or other poets?
As a generative prompt, a person could look through this interview (or anything!) for potential band names. (For instance, in that previous sentence there could be “Generative Prompt,” “A Person Could,” “Could Look,” “Look Through,” “This Interview,” “Or Anything” “Anything for Potential,” etc. etc.) Then/or, a person could just spend some time writing band names. For me it seemed about right to write about 10,000 band names. As a practice or ritual, a person may (or may not) want to write quite a bit more, or quite a bit less, than that. For me it was helpful in the sense that now I no longer wonder about whether I could go on forever or not. Having said that, I’m not sure I’d recommend this to students, friends or other poets. I guess it all depends on how much fun you’re having while you’re doing it — on how much you enjoy making tiny poems.