Voices from thin air,

Pasatiempo - - In Other Words -

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.”

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