I hear ... the darkness...
the neighbors would
call the cops
if they saw me
sitting in their yard
talking to my imaginary friends
and drawing faces in the mud…
(Austin Davis, “Water Lily”)
the world is thick and slow
god is churning us in his hands like wet clay
hoping his universe will resemble something
of a vase after it leaves the kiln
a hearty soup or an electric blanket
might just kill me
(Austin Davis, “107 Degrees”)
Bukowski? Nah. His writing might have whiffs of “the bull of poetry,” with Death and destruction standing by, watching and waiting... but Austin Davis is no Charles Bukowski.
Indeed, what Austin Davis does should be a religion, if it isn’t one already: Help, create, repeat ...
A rising star of HARK Valley (aka “The Desert”), young Davis has published two books of poetry: “The World Isn’t the Size of Our Neighborhood Anymore" (Weasel Press, 2020) and "Celestial Night Light" (Ghost City Press, 2020).
But that’s not enough: The senior at ASU leads Arizona Jews For Justice’s unsheltered outreach program, AZ Hugs For the Houseless.
And he has released “Street Sorrows,” a jazz-poetry EP with musician Joe Allie.
HARK Valley asked him about how he has come to publish so much, at such a young age. Rejected Writers, don't be too disgusted: he says he has had "hundreds of rejections," which hasn't slowed him down:
“I honestly just started sending my poems out to magazines and contests! My first poem was published in Sleet Magazine when I was 15. It was such a cool feeling to see that someone had resonated with something I’d written. So I kept going. I wrote and read religiously and submitted my work with that same urgency and ferocity. I wanted to be heard. I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of rejections along the way, but that’s just part of the game. Gotta keep going, always.
"Eventually, I had amassed a body of work I was proud of. So I started looking for publishers and sending it out. My first 2 books were published by Moran Press. Stephen Moran believed in my work right from the beginning, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. 'Second Civil War' was my follow up collection, and it was made up of all political poems about gun violence, racism, sexism, voting rights, immigration, capitalism and more. This was my first introduction to writing about social issues, and it made me realize how much I wanted to use my poetry to enact positive progressive change. Following those books, I didn’t publish a collection again for over a year. I spent a lot of time living. My next book was called 'The World Isn’t the Size of Our Neighborhood Anymore' and it was published by Weasel Press. This book dealt heavily with memory and nostalgia and trying to become the person you want to be as you grow older, get hurt and make mistakes.
"I went on my first tour when this book came out and it was incredible. My friends and I hopped in my van and spent a week on the road, reading poems at coffee shops and libraries."
The adage “know what you write, and write what you know” is a good one -- but it helps if you know some really interesting, gut-busting stuff, like Austin Davis does.
HV asked him if his work with the homeless spills over in his writing.
“Oh, yeah. Definitely,” he says. “Every poem on ‘Street Sorrows’ is about someone real, and real experiences we’ve had. I’ve been with countless people during overdoses and heat strokes and mental health crises. People have handed me guns and asked me to kill them. Women have called me at 2 in the morning and asked me to come pick them up on the streets because a man was trying to assault them. I’ve broken up fights. I’ve been punched in the face. Just last week I stopped someone from killing another person with a glock. I’ve seen people die. I’ve hugged friends in the morning and seen them die in the evening. People have told me they're still alive today because of us. The streets are a whole different world, and we need to talk about it. These people are our neighbors. They’re valuable and necessary and they deserve to feel loved and cared for. No one should die on the streets. No matter what. Even if you’re an addict, addicts still deserve food and water and shelter. And a hug. That’s my philosophy, anyway.”
Talk about weight on your shoulders: Austin Davis knows - even on days when the blues are crushing him - that if he doesn’t get out there and connect with some of these people … they may be gone.
“I often struggle with my mental health. Some days I feel terrible. Some days I don’t eat or drink anything. Some days it takes everything I have to get out of bed and keep going. But I love the work I do, and I know it’s important. I make a commitment to my friends on the streets each day that I’ll be there for them, and that if they are in trouble and call me, I’ll be there. People have my number written on the inside of their tents in Sharpie. A friend told me a few days ago that he’s only trusted 2 people in his life and I’m one of them. That’s what inspires me. It truly an honor and a blessing to be able to do this work.”
He gushes with optimism for his writing and performing path:
“I’m excited for the future. In July, 2020, a chapbook of my poetry called ‘Celestial Night Light’ was published by Ghost City Press. I couldn't tour, because of the pandemic, but this book was released for free online, with all tips going to Black Lives Matter. I’m going on tour again in September, to support ‘Street Sorrows,’ my new spoken word-jazz album with Joe Allie, and I’m currently putting the finishing touches on my next full-length book.”
Big, bright dreams…
Chunky, dark poetry...
I nod and laugh and think
about how we’re both going to die
some night in our sleep
and we’ll never see it coming.
The leaves have no idea they’re going to fall,
the fish have no idea they’re going to be eaten
by an unhappy family around a big oak table...
(Austin Davis, “Tell Me About Your Day”)