An Interview with John Davis Jr., Author of Middle Class American Proverb


    Bio:  John Davis Jr. is a Florida poet and educator. His works have been published in literary journals internationally, and he holds an MFA from the University of Tampa. He has also been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. 

     What was your inspiration for Middle Class American Proverb?

A great deal of the inspiration came from my rural Central Florida upbringing. The people, the values, and the geography of this area inspired many of the poems, with good friends and members of my family playing central roles in several of the pieces. My late grandfather, especially, makes several appearances throughout this volume, as his voice continues to ring in my thoughts regularly. Other poems detail episodes from my 28-year struggle with Epilepsy. As one who has had corrective brain surgery, I can now say thankfully that seizures are a part of my past rather than my present, but the ghosts of those years occasionally surface for inspiration.

    How long did it take you to write it?

Most of these poems were completed over the two years I was enrolled in University of Tampa’s low-residency MFA program. Some were “holdovers” from the years prior, however. I would say that this collection represents about three years of work total, with the last two being the main stakeholders in its content.

     Is this your first book?

This is my third book; my first book came out in 2005, and it was self-published. Growing Moon, Growing Soil: Poems of my Native Land, was completed just after the birth of my first son, and in retrospect, many of the mistakes I made both in writing and publishing have been refined by the years and experiences since that time. My second book was a chapbook entitled The Boys of Men. It was published by Kelsay Books of California earlier this year, and its poems deal exclusively with themes of fatherhood and mentorship. It was written primarily as a gift to my sons, and its launch party was limited to family and friends. The poems in that collection are some of my most personal. Middle Class American Proverb represents the best of my works thus far, and I’m very excited to hold its finished form.

     In your opinion, how do you think this collection will contribute to the literary world?

I believe that this volume reveals a slice of life known only to a few: rural, native Florida. As a sixth-generation Floridian, I have the unique privilege of understanding this particular region and its history with ancestral depth. This heritage and honor wind through the entire book.

     What is your favorite poem in this collection and why?

Such a tough question! I have several favorites, but I’ll narrow it down to a tie between two: both the first and last poem in this collection are very meaningful to me: “The Meaning of Wauchula” is a tribute to my hometown, and it incorporates images and memories that are especially poignant. In contrast, “Meeting Frost in Paradise” is a tribute to one of my earliest influences – Robert Frost.

     Do you have any readings planned in the near future?

I have two upcoming events – one will be at Wauchula’s historic train depot, and another at Lakeland’s Harrison School for the Arts. Both will be launch events. I also have a speaking engagement in November at the Other Words Conference in St. Augustine, where I will be addressing the theory of Metacreativity as it was used in the production of Middle Class American Proverb.

     Who will you give the first copy to?

The first copy will no doubt go to my wife, as she has endured my writing career over the last 12 years with great patience and utmost faith. She has been my first reader for most pieces, and a voice of reason when my thoughts became too “literary.” The first copy is definitely hers.

    When did you begin writing poetry?

I tried without much success to write poetry as early as middle school. I was maybe 12, and I wrote poorly rhymed and awkwardly metered pieces about nature. I was trying to be Frost and failing badly. What I would consider my first “real” poems happened in college. I’d taken American Literature, and the works the professor chose opened up a new channel in my mind. I began seeing everything more deeply (as trite as that sounds), and my first published poems were inspired.

     What is it about poetry that compels you?

In some ways, poetry is how my mind communicates. If something strikes me as beautiful or awful or bittersweet, I innately view that subject through poetry. I’ve written fiction and nonfiction as well, but for subjects that are most precious to me, poetry inevitably is the answer for expression.

     Do you remember the first poem you ever wrote? If so, what was it about?

My first poem was about seeing a deer in early morning woods. It was one of the poorly rhymed pieces I referenced before. I recall the lines “…moss hangs ‘round like a widow’s veil,/blackened sky turns pink, so pale…” Enough said.

     Who are some current poets that you admire?

I especially like the works of Robert Wrigley, Rodney Jones, Kevin Young, Claudia Emerson, Allison Hedge Coke, and of course, those poets whose beautiful words are on my book’s back cover: Erica Dawson, Peter Meinke, and Donald Morrill.

     In your opinion, what makes for good poetry?

Good poetry is constituted by connection. Does the poem relate something that provokes a strong reaction from me, the audience of one? Do I feel something? Nothing? Do I not know how to feel in response to this experience? All these questions are answered by a good poem. It should connect me to its content in a memorable and re-readable way.

     Can you write us a quick poem about the place you're in right now?

My sons click on the Discovery Channel
while on our glass door, suctioned evening lizards
mouth-trap fat-winged moths and mayflies
beneath the yellow doorstep light:
A warm and welcoming warning.

     Is there anything else you'd like to say?

This is the place for thank-yous: Without the support and time afforded me by my family and my employers, this book would not be possible. I’d like to express gratitude to my community, my friends, and my church for their ongoing encouragement, and above all, I thank God for granting me the words to write.