Per­sonas non grata

Pasatiempo - - In Other Words -

of Guadalupe and how her im­age is of­ten ap­pro­pri­ated by the most vi­o­lent mem­bers of so­ci­ety.

“In or­der to cul­ti­vate roses, you need to prune them, which can be good or bad,” she said. “You may prune it back so far it won’t grow. You can do that by scar­ing it to death. But I’m not say­ing that women are pruned and that’s bad. It’s mul­ti­va­lent. As girls, we grow up learn­ing about what to be afraid of. My mother never told me to be afraid of men, but you learn that bad things can hap­pen. The book is my at­tempt — as a woman, as a poet, and as a hu­man be­ing — to con­nect to some­thing that seems so unimag­in­able.” It’s been 15 years since the pub­li­ca­tion of Davis’ last book, Scrim­mage of Ap­petite, and in that time he — a pro­fes­sor at the In­sti­tute for Amer­i­can In­dian Arts and a Lan­nan Lit­er­ary Fel­low — has be­come bet­ter known for the work of his het­eronyms than his own po­ems. (Het­eronyms refers to imag­i­nary char­ac­ters cre­ated by po­ets that al­low them to write out­side their usual voice and style.) In a CSF Poem-Palooza de­ba­cle cov­ered a few years ago by The New Mex­i­can, Davis pro­voked the ire of at least one lo­cal poet who saw his adop­tion of mi­nor­ity per­sonas as in­sult­ing. Davis has won the ad­mi­ra­tion of oth­ers, how­ever, who view his game as an up­end­ing of con­tem­po­rary con­ven­tion and a com­men­tary on the nar­row­ing that can hap­pen when iden­tity is con­sid­ered more im­por­tant than craft.

Re­cently, a friend of Davis’ daugh­ter’s at­tended a po­etry read­ing in San Fran­cisco pre­tend­ing to be Malin Wup­tke, one of Davis’ 25 ac­tive het­eronyms. She caused a stir sim­ply by be­ing an un­known en­tity in a closed so­cial group. “It’s hard to flip the lids of the jaded hip­per-thanthou Bay Area po­ets, but lids were flipped that day,” said Cather­ine Meng, host of the read­ing and co-edi­tor of Mrs. Maybe, a po­etry jour­nal that pub­lished Wup­tke. “I keep com­ing back to the why of it, or re­ally the ‘I’ of it: Who is speak­ing? Who is the I? Who is the poet? It calls into ques­tion our in­sis­tence on know­ing the an­swers be­fore­hand in­stead of ap­proach­ing the po­etry cold. It made the au­di­ence ques­tion its as­sump­tions and re­ally lis­ten.”

If this sounds heady and heavy into the rar­i­fied air of “po biz,” as the po­etry pub­lish­ing in­dus­try and as­so­ci­ated world of academia are known, then take in­stead the story of J. Har­lan Rip­ping­ton, cre­ated to stir the po­lit­i­cal wa­ters of Face­book. Be­fore he was “dis­ap­peared”

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