Written for ENGL 463, students were to create an imaginary poet and write from their perspective.
Elizabeth Davis (1906-1982)
An only child, Davis was born to wealthy, upper-class parents, Harry and Jane Davis in her family brownstone home in New York City. Her father was a businessman with ties in publishing. She began writing from a young age and at the encouragement of her father and mother, and was published with the help of her father’s ties in Poetry in 1920, when she was 16. She attended some of the best women’s schools in New York, including the Brearley School and St Joseph’s College for Women. In 1923 she entered an engagement with the son of her parents’ closest friends, James Brown, an up-and-coming publisher. Unhappy and trapped, she
Davis broke her engagement six months into it and boarded a train out west, her money coming from some of her poems, and sympathy from her mother. In her travels in the south and Midwest, she grew an adoration of plant life, and studied under top horticulturists. She then entered an affair with Anna, fiancé of her horticulture mentor, Albert Vera. Her poetry from this period in her life went unpublished, unlike her studies of plants, but in newly discovered journals, she wrote of connections between plants and her love of Anna. She never married. She died in 1982 from natural causes.
A selection of poems from Ms. Davis’s journals:
The grass felt coarse like her hair.
As I ran my fingers through it, I imagined the blue horizon waves of sky and clouds like brush strokes. I’d find it on my pillows—seeds of grass scattered, left behind.
The bed sheets were the sea:
I’d fold silk over silk to bring her body to me and we’d unmake the sheets we’d smooth in the morning—Pick them up and air them out and watch white waves roll.
When an insect’s wings kissed the skin of my cheek they were like wind chapped pink lips like a kaleidoscope.
Purple thistles brushing my shoulder were her teeth, gently nipping, leaving purple.
Anna, was purple.
The gravel slipping under my shoes was Anna leaving, sharp stones digging into the soles, tripping me.
I lost myself in her while she lost herself in thought,
Deeper into the woods.
I now only know prairie of the West. I no longer knew the pine, sycamore, and oak of the East.
Anna painted blue horizon waves while I plucked the gold grass
from the plain; I’d feel its soft tassels containing seeds,
I wish we had grown like the grass
Rooting deeper into the fruitful soils, but she dreamt of indigo skies over
Cerulean waves and all I saw was gold.
Her hair, the grass, the Kansas wheat.
I lost myself in her.
On the morning of the third week,
I convinced myself to bathe and imagined the droplets of water on my shoulders to be the soft touch of her fingertips. I reasoned she’d come back today.
I counted on my fingers the weeks it had been while glittering soapsuds floated around me:
1, 2, 3…
The pothos on the windowsill answered my question, its leaves brown as Anna’s eyes, and wilted.
As the cloudy water swirled down the drain, I apologized to the plant, stroking one of its leaves with my thumb, “It’s okay. She’s coming back today.”
I can see twinkling stars in his eyes when he looks at me across from the table at the Gala
when I excuse myself to the powder room.
I stay too long and count the veins on the potted Pothos plant
The low murmer of elites, clinking glasses, laughing, gossiping when I get to my seat reminds me of the plant’s connectedness. The social circles are intertwined like water running to the Pothos’ roots.
I am a lowly cutting not rooted in soil. When James reaches for my hand, I don’t feel connection, water, anything to initiate my roots’ growth. But I sip my champagne, its bubbles like the stars in James’ eyes and smile back at him, feigning stars in mine.
I created my imaginary poet as a way to explore themes in nature and learn more about plants. I specifically wanted to visit the gardens for this, but unfortunately they were closed. I had never been to the Konza before, and it ended up being perfect for inspiration, and my image of Elizabeth’s travels grew more rugged and she became more of a frontier woman. For me, the process of writing in a different voice was easy and putting myself into her shoes was easy, but I think we have similar styles and this is what makes it so. I can’t imagine her style being different from what it currently is because she seems to be to take inspiration from the more modern styles of her time and go to more of an open style, rather than a closed style. I really wanted to incorporate imagery and play with metaphors and new ways of seeing plants in these poems as a way of doing something new then, because I don’t believe there is too much contrast between her voice and mine. I have found in her voice, sound elements naturally occur, particularly in the first poem I wrote in her voice. Upon work-shopping it, my group members pointed out these sounds, something I did unintentionally but I found so cool. In my own writing, I would also like to continue these elements. I love poetry that also explores sexuality, particularly in new and creative ways and I although I am heterosexual, I wanted to explore the perspective of a gay identifying, or at least a woman attracted to women. I would still like to explore this more, as I loved finding ways nature could create tension and comparisons to love.
I honestly really struggled in beginning to write, and this is something I struggle with frequently. Once I got rolling for a poem, it was easier, but writer’s block presented itself more than writing, unfortunately, which was really frustrating. The poem I am most happy with is Stars. I feel like Elizabeth’s voice really comes through in the poem and I wanted to explore her thoughts before she left New York.