Sunday, April 19, 2020

THROUGH THE GATE WITH DEBORAH L. DAVITT

Hello and Good Morning, Everyone!

I recently had the absolute pleasure of reading Deborah L. Davitt's collection, The Gates of Never, and once I finished it, I knew I had to chat with her some more about the book. For those of you who might be unfamiliar it,  The Gates of Never is a speculative collection that fuses history, mythology, and magic with futurism, science, and science fiction. Personally, I felt like I learned so much about mythology as I was reading these poems, and even with the stories that I was already familiar with, seeing how Davitt interpreted these myths or these creatures was really fun and it kept me turning the page fairly quickly as I anticipated what was next.

But don't just take my word for it! Here's what others are saying about it:

“With The Gates of Never Deborah Davitt offers us a sumptuous exploration of the cosmic and the mythic, the historic and the familiar. Her lines hum with memory and imagination, forging a distinctive landscape of voice and omen, whether it’s taking on sea wolves or ancient empires, the mysteries of the human heart or a single leaf. This is a finely-tuned collection for those who dare to dream deeply in a vast cosmos.”–Bryan Thao Worra, NEA Fellow in Literature.

Rich in humanity and mythologyDeborah Davitt‘s stunning poetry collection THE GATES OF NEVER overflows with eloquence and dark beauty.–Christina Sng, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of A COLLECTION OF NIGHTMARES

In The Gates of NeverDeborah L. Davitt plumbs the everyday and the eldritch, ancient past and technological future, the dance of bone and skin, of seed and flower, of eros and thanatos: bodies cleaving — flesh joining and also splitting, stone and metal changing and reshaping — to form old and new lives and entities, based in magic and myth as well as rocket fuel and neon, a startlingly familiar amalgam of the sacred and the profane. Davitt’s exquisite poems will set your imagination on emerald fire.–Vince Gotera, Editor, Star*Line and the North American Review

So now that we've certainly got your attention, take my hand and follow me through the gate as we learn more about this fabulous collection and the brilliant author behind it.

With iron spikes and mermaid tears,

Stephanie M. Wytovich


SMW: Tell us about your collection. What gave you the idea to create in this fantastical, speculative world, and in your opinion, what does it represent at its most literal and figurative heights?

DLD: Hi, Stephanie! Thanks for giving me the chance to talk about my collection! The Gates of Never is a collection of my poems that were published or written in the first two years of my poetry-writing adventure, so they span from about 2015-2017 in my poetical output. (Words that just five years ago, I would never have dreamed that I would write.)
I wanted to put them together in some form more substantive than being scattered between some twenty different venues, online and off, and so I started looking at how to shape them into a collection.

Having read a few modern poetry collections, I think that where most of them fall apart for me in in two places—either having only one note or tone, where I believe in variation and contrast as important artistic devices—or having jarring shifts that don’t contribute to an overall sense of narrative or direction. So it was important to me that the collection as a whole have subsections—each “gate” represents a thematic grouping. And that the collection should feel dynamic—that it should move. And since I write in different eras and on topics from history to fairy tales to science fiction, that sense of dynamism comes from moving from the past into the future.

SMW: What was your favorite part of the collection to create and explore, and then to play devil’s advocate, what was the hardest for you?

DLD: Since I wrote the poems all at different points in time, and only brought them together as a whole later, hmm. I enjoyed creating each of the poems individually. Form or free verse doesn’t matter—form for me is a copilot, and while I might not wind up where I thought I would, with form holding part of the wheel with me, I sometimes wind up someplace more interesting than my original goal. Free verse lets me hold absolute control of meaning, and I play freely in both.

But since these poems weren’t directly intended to be read side by side in their original conception, the hardest part was the ‘scrapbooking’ process—finding which could sit beside each other. Could comment on each other. Could echo or deny each other. Could create a sense of narrative whole with each other. That was harder, but in its own way, I found it very rewarding. It makes you take several steps back to really judge your own work and go, “Hmm. Is that one as strong as I thought it was? Does that work beside that one?”

SMW: What drew you to the historical and mythological references in the book and do you have a favorite? And to piggyback on that, how did you go about researching for it when you were first getting started?

DLD: I adore mythology. Sometimes I wrote about things I already knew quite a bit about—the Russalka, the banshee, or some of the Greek myths that I directly compare/contrast to the moons of the solar system (Ganymede in “A Mask of Ice” is a captive of an abusive gas giant, both the boy stolen by Zeus and the moon covered in ice; Enceladus in the eponymous “Enceladus,” is a captive of Saturn, but she’s about to birth dragons. . . or become just another shattered, ephemeral ring.)

But other poems came about when I was reading about other cultures. I was reading about Maori facial tattoos and what they’d originally meant in their culture, and the real and very respectful traditions of preserving heads, which reminded me of things I’d read about teraphim in very early Israelite traditions.

Now, in most of the places you’ll see them referred to as household gods, little idols, but I’d also read Tim Powers’ Three Days to Never which posits them as the preserved heads of dead sons. You can wiki the origins of the concept (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teraphim which might be specious scholarship, but who knows.) The two concepts latched together in my head as respectful ways of treating the dead out of two disparate traditions isolated from each other by time and geography, and that landed for me, in how we treat our own dead, and how we cling to them and their memory.

SMW: Gates are a staple in your collection. What do they represent to you?

DLD:Gates are places of passage, places of transition. You can pass through a gate in either direction, but once you’re through, you’re in another place, another time. And yet, for me, time is all of one piece, and the past is always with us. Even as we stand in the future, the ghosts of every generation before us dance in our DNA. We deny it at our own peril.

SMW: Something that I see a lot as an editor is either a heavy reliance on free verse, or a strict adherence to technical form. As someone who writes in both, what do you think the advantages are to challenging oneself to try out different type of poetry?

DLD: Well, as I said earlier, free verse allows me direct control over my meaning. So when I start writing a free-verse poem, I have a set goal for this poem, and I know more or less what I want to say, but sometimes, as I’m writing, it’ll change under my fingers anyway. I’ll find a repetition, a phrase, an image that I want to use to create structure, and poof, there’s a poem.

Form is, as I also said earlier, frequently my copilot. Sometimes the demands of say, a sestina, with those immovable words in their rigid order at the end of each line, forces the story I’m telling in those lines to go a little different than I expected, and that’s fine, because . . . as Pratchett told us, the fifth element is Surprise, and I would be a worse writer if I didn’t sometimes surprise myself. Surprise is delight. Surprise is letting your hind brain and the form do some of the work, and either being pleased with the shape of what you’ve wrought by the end or feeling the need to do a little gentle tinkering.
Now, I’ve worked with a fair number of people in a little poetry workshop/contest thing I’ve run for the past three years to know that this doesn’t work for everyone. I think it’s the difference between “pantsers” and plotters in prose. Some people have to do a rough draft of what they want the poem to say and then nail it down in every particular, or they don’t feel like they’ve done it right. And if that’s their process, more power to them!

But it’s not my process at all! Sometimes, by letting go and not overcontrolling the process, I find I get some of my best results.

And sometimes, I’ll write a poem in form, frown, and then rewrite it in free verse, stare at both versions for a day or so, and then kick one screaming out into an editorial slushheap. I can’t tell you which one is “better.” I can only tell you which one I like more. It’s up to an editor to tell me if they like that one or not. Hah!

SMW: Something that I’m always drawn to as a reader is the hybridity of poetry, especially in regard to genre. This book weaves between history and fantasy and science fiction, so I was wondering what advice you had for writers who are looking to dabble in hybrid poetry, whether in relation to genre or form?

DLD: Erg. The hard part isn’t writing it. It’s selling it. I have had relatively little luck with literary journals but . . . heck, most literary journals don’t pay. Most genre magazines do. The trick is becoming self-aware enough of what genetics each of your poems has, so that you can fling them at the markets more likely to enjoy them.

And some of that comes from getting to know the markets. Trying the editors out with . . . two, three, five, seventeen batches of poems (most poetry markets accept submission packets of 3-5 poems each time, so don’t just send one, unless that’s what the guidelines say. Always send poems in  packs. 

They’re social animals. They get lonely in their cage in the queue. And even if an editor doesn’t like poems 1-4, poem #5 might catch their eye. So why not send them all together, instead of waiting 90 days between submissions of one. . . poem. . .at. . . a. . . time?

Once you’ve gotten a couple of personals, you’ll start to get a feel for what a given editor likes or dislikes. And then you can tailor your submission packets a little more towards that perception of their tastes. Though they’ll perennially surprise you. I’ve sold poems that I thought were the weakest in their packet, while the editor never even mentioned the one I thought was the best.

We are our own worst judges.

Then you grab the four that came back as rejected, slap another friend in with them, and submit them elsewhere. Ideally, the same day, hah.

So the advice for hybrid poetry is . . . really the same advice for writing or submitting anything else. Write what you know, in your own voice. Submit, submit, submit, evaluate where you’re at, where a market’s head is at, polish, write more, submit, submit, submit.

SMW: What speculative poetry books have you read lately and/or are on your TBR list? Anything specific that you’re particularly looking forward to?

DLD: I am a huge fan of John W. Sexton’s Inverted Night. Each poem feels, mentally, like bubblewrap under the fingers. There’s a near-tensile strength to the diction, the inversions, in every poem, that makes me want to pop them and let the meaning ooze out over my fingers. I’m a fan.
T.D. Walker’s “Small Waiting Objects” is also excellent; I find reading her poems is a tonic for the stressful times we live in.

Both poets reveal something about me, lol. I was a technical writer for twenty years. One of my paramount obsessions in writing and language is clarity. Even when Sexton’s inverting things and challenging the reader’s preconceptions, there’s a precision and clarity to his language that I really enjoy.

SMW: What is next in store for your readers?

DLD: I have another collection, this one all written as one contiguous narrative flow of poems, out making the publishing rounds. If I don’t get traction on this one in the next year, I might lean towards self-publishing it. I love it, and really want to get it in people’s hands.

I also have literally dozens of short stories out there, either published or waiting to be published, and several novels that, should the world ever let me sit down and write for more than a half hour at a time again, I need to get back to. You can find all of my many things at www.edda-earth.com/bibliography.

BIO:

Deborah L. Davitt graduated first in her class from the University of Nevada, Reno in 1997, and took her BA in English Literature with a strong focus on medieval and Renaissance literature. In 1999, she received an MA in English from Penn State.

Since then, she has taught composition, rhetoric, and technical writing, and created technical documentation on topics ranging from nuclear submarines to NASA’s return to flight to computer hardware and software.


Her poetry has garnered her Pushcart, Dwarf Star, and Rhysling nominations and has appeared in over fifty journals; her short fiction has appeared in Compelling Science Fiction, Galaxy’s Edge, and  Flame Tree anthologies.

In 2019, her first full-length poetry collection, The Gates of Never, was published by Finishing Line Press.

She currently lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and son.

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