Personas non grata
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”