Voices from thin air,
by the Facebook powers that be, J. Harlan was a naive, oddly softhearted, stunningly conservative racist with a profile picture any discerning adult should have identified as fake. “At first I just wanted to get on Facebook and say crazy things on right-wing pages,” Davis explained. “On an anti-environmentalist page, J. Harlan wrote that ‘If God wanted the world to last forever, he would’ve made it out of plastic.’ He signed on every morning with ‘Back ‘ Back into the Facebook wars!’” As J. Harlan’s friend list grew, Davis started seeing him as the central character in the first Facebook novel — a militant right-wing Christian at the outset who would gradually succumb to temptation by clicking on rate-a-hottie links. “There was going to be a fall from grace. But he said some horribly racist things to a friend of mine, and the next day it was like a neutron bomb had gone off — a hole everywhere he’d made a comment.”
Davis’ primary alter ego, Chuck Calabreze, also has a Facebook profile. Chuck makes controversial comments, and then Davis argues with him. Chuck was born when Davis wanted to parody post-New York School poets popular in the 1990s. “He began submitting his poems to Countermeasures Countermeasures, the magazine I edited with Greg Glazner,” Davis said. Then he began writing letters to the editor that challenged every editorial position we took.”
Chuck became a regular contributor and, over time, much more. He performs at poetry slams and even gives guest lectures at IAIA, and he is the author of several poems, including the title poem in Preliminary Report Report, which was inspired by urban poverty in Nairobi and turned out to be much too serious for Chuck, so Davis took it back.
Not all of the poems in Preliminary Report take a satirical stance. There is a deep seriousness to the work that makes Davis slightly uncomfortable because of the current wave of “cool” poets and de-emphasis on meaning. “It’s a trend. How can poetry, the least cool of all arts, be cool? I’m a little embarrassed that I have so many poems that mean things, for this time. I’m kind of a dinosaur. I work really hard not to mean anything, and I can’t.”