From Our Current Issue: Q&A with Teri Ellen Cross Davis

Over the past two months, Little Patuxent Review has hosted two popular readings. In the video above, from our reading on January 21 in Columbia, Maryland, Teri Ellen Cross Davis reads her poems, “Knowledge of the Brown Body,” a response to poet Saida Agostini’s “Harriet Tubman is a Lesbian,” and “Ode to Orgasms,” which was published in LPR‘s Winter Issue (available for purchase at this link). Below the jump, Davis answers questions about her experience at our reading on March 17 in Bethesda, Maryland, and gives insight into her life as a poet.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis is the author of Haint, published by Gival Press and winner of the 2017 Ohioana Book Award for Poetry. She is a Cave Canem fellow and has attended the Soul Mountain Writer’s Retreat, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. She is on the Advisory Council of Split This Rock (a biennial poetry festival in Washington DC), a semi-finalist judge for the NEA’s Poetry Out Loud and a member of the Black Ladies Brunch Collective. Her work has been published in many anthologies including: Bum Rush The Page: A Def Poetry Jam, Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, DC, The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks and Not Without Our Laughter: poems of joy, humor, and sexuality and The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 2: Black Girl Magic. Her work can be read online and in the following journals: ArLiJo, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Delaware Poetry Review, Fledging Rag, Gargoyle, Harvard Review, Little Patuxent Review, Natural Bridge, North American Review, MER VOX, MiPOesias, Poet Lore, Tin House, Torch, and Sligo Journal. She is the poetry coordinator for the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., and lives in Maryland with her husband, poet Hayes Davis, and their two children. Her website is www.poetsandparents.com.

Q: How did the reading go for you on March 17?

The reading was great. I enjoyed hearing Ian Anderson’s work, and I always enjoy hearing Steven Leyva’s work. He has such great control and perspective. And the fiction pieces were truly engaging.

Q: Does your work sound or feel different when you read at a reading versus to yourself?

I have to find the right rhythm when I read at a reading–and if I have read and worked on the poem enough, that rhythm should be easy enough to fall into and move with for the duration of the poem.

Q: What was your process for this work?

For the work on Not Without Our Laughter, there was a lot of back and forth and finding the right tone and pace. For the newer work–I have just been revising a fair amount, trying to get the language to be clear and true.

Q: Who are some of your inspirations?

Lucille Clifton, all day every day. But I also love Linda Pastan’s work, how matter of fact it is, like Lucille’s, but still very economical and precise and guided. I also love Rita Dove’s work–Mother Love is still hands down a big favorite of mine. I appreciate how Terrance Hayes and Tyehimba Jess push themselves in their work. I love Ross Gay’s tenderness. I am can really go on, I like finding new poets and diving into new work.

Q: What are your goals for this next year?

I want to finish a section for what will be a new manuscript. Recently I realized that I am more than half way to a new book! I have a residency at Hedgebrook this August so I am really hopeful about getting new work written and revised and fingers crossed, hope to leave there with enough for a complete second collection.

Q: What are you working on now?

Right now I am in a creative stretch, there is lots of writing and editing happening for me. I find myself writing about race and gender but obviously coming at it with not only my lived experience but my fears for those around me, particularly my children and husband.

Q: Can you share a little of the history of the BLBC?

Sure, we get together, talk and laugh a lot and support each other. We had a great trip up to the Massachusetts Poetry Festival last year which included the longest drive to Boston. Everyone also found out how much I love caramel. I really love caramel.

Q: What’s your work with Split this Rock?

With Split This Rock I am on the advisory council, so we work really hard to figure out a line-up of poets that reflects the goals of the Split This Rock. I appreciate the recommendations from such a diverse group and how I get a chance to learn about new poets and in turn, can provide those poets with a platform in this festival.

Q: I notice your husband is also a poet. Must be a literary house. Too literary, at times?

Never too literary! We quote a few poems back and forth with each and to each other, we are our first readers, and we both support the time and space we need for us to work as poets while being parents. We have been married for 18 years now (it will be 18 years in August) and honestly, I cannot imagine any other relationship that feeds and supports me like this one. I know so many talk about poet and poet relationships but for us, it is about the home we have created, the people we have created, and the joy we create and sustain. Having mutual loves in poetry, music, cinema, etc, makes it so much easier to connect on various levels and keeps us pretty happy and centered in our relationship.

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