Walk into poet and longtime islander Carey Hunter Davis’ house, and the first thing to catch one’s eye is a display of bird feathers and nests in all shapes and sizes made from mud and twigs and often dressed in a cloth of soft moss.
Davis collects these abandoned creations when out walking, with her attention fully attuned to the natural world. Her observations often form a question and make an impression that she later crafts into a poem and catalogues alphabetically.
So when laughing girl press required a 20-poem submission for publication, Davis selected work that all began with the letter “A”. The poems accepted, the collection needed a title. Given where they came from, Davis called them “The A Poems.” She will read from her book at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28, at Vashon Bookshop.
The impetus to write poetry has been a lifelong force for Davis, who wrote her first poem in the fourth grade. Though she has penned a couple of novels and several essays and has had her poetry published in collections, it is words in the form of a poem that she returns to again and again.
“I always thought if I could just get this one poem out of my head, then I could go on to write something else,” she said, “but then another one shows up. That’s just what happens.”
It’s what happens when one is both an observer and engages the potency of the imagination. Davis’ work arises from that union. She calls it re-imagining.
“I like to think about all the small things that happen in your day, like when I would go bird-watching, and then when I walked to the garage there was a little mole, and I never paid any attention to it. I like to honor that,” she said. “I call it re-imagining. For instance, with those yellow signs that say children crossing for schools, I imagine where that girl came from, and I go from there. I tend to save words I like or thoughts and knit them together. Right now, I was thinking about my brother who had polio, so we (children) thought he could become a pirate because he had a crutch. We practiced for him to become a pirate, and then when he got better and wasn’t a pirate, we were sort of disappointed. But I could keep that in a poem and imagine him as a pirate.”
Because the poems in her new collection are related by title only, the subjects vary greatly — from the conundrum of deer on the island to avocados.
As for seeing the world though a poet’s eyes, Davis likes to think of it as an opportunity to see both sides of things or connections between things, such as in the following poem:
Angel Trumpet Vine
Winter starches the ground.
Time to bring the brugmansia
to my daughter’s room who
won’t be coming back any time soon
from California where the angel vine
Words, Davis said, allow her to see more. For her, writing poetry is also about trust — trusting that if she doesn’t know the answer to “just let it be, and often the words show up.”
Out of that alchemical mixture come her poems, a process that can sometimes hint at the magical, not unlike the awe Davis feels before a perfectly formed bird feather or nest.
“The bird nests are so fantastic,” she said. “They are beautiful and utilitarian, and they use just what there is. One is made from the cotton of a parka. They are incredible and perfect circles. The feathers, too, are amazing. It’s about being able to touch that magic that happens naturally.”