I am proud to share this amazing guest blog post from author and poet Kathy Davis for her upcoming blog tour for her book, “Passiflora”, which I will be reviewing on May 10th. Please enjoy this wonderful post the poet shared with us all.
Inspiration and the Cabinet of Curiosities
Imagine a stash of foreign objects that people inhaled or swallowed—by accident or on purpose—and had to have surgically removed from their throat, esophagus or lungs. Buttons, hatpins, bones, nuts, nails, screws, a doll’s eye, dentures, a Christmas ornament, keys, opera glasses, a crucifix and more. You can spend hours exploring a collection of 2,374 of them in the Chevalier Jackson Collection at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, many neatly displayed in drawers whose contents you are welcome to examine.
Jackson was an otolaryngologist in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who developed methods for removing obstructions from airways and food passages. He saved and cataloged everything he removed (and the stories behind them)—a quirky obsession (his middle name after all was Quixote). But don’t writers do something similar? I have an equally weird collection of oddities stored in my journals—unusual objects, places or stories I was drawn to record, some of which emerge in my writing, including a few of the poems in Passiflora.
My father inherited a shoebox of photographs taken at a family graveside funeral during the Roaring Twenties, picture after picture of people lined up behind a casket mounded with flowers. But someone had snipped off the top half of each one so that the family and friends gathered were only shown from the waist down and couldn’t be identified. Who was it that the scissor-wielder was trying to hide? Years later, I described the photos in a piece for a fiction-writing class. “That’s so creative!” the instructor said. “Who would take pictures at a funeral?!” I was too embarrassed to say that, well, actually my family did, and tucked the idea away out of shame until a variation of it emerged in the poem “Starlings”: Her own mother careful/to cut faces from the photographs.
“Ruins, Trophies, Palms” was inspired by a warning a friend received from her neighbor that a wolf had been seen just off their country road. “Don’t go outside,” the neighbor said. “It’s too dangerous!” A practical, yet intrepid, person, my friend was skeptical. We don’t have wolves in Virginia. Venturing out, she did find a wolf, but one that a hunter had preserved through taxidermy and was using for target practice. It was full of bullet holes—an image just itching to find its way into a poem.
Not looking where I was going, I collided with a stranger one evening in the French Quarter in New Orleans. When I turned to apologize, I was startled to see a woman who had painted her hair and body white and was naked except for two white ceramic fig leaves glued over her breasts and a white drape from the waist down. She frowned and quickly moved on while I gaped. Later, I saw her posing as a Greek statue in Jackson Square, dollar bills collecting in her cardboard box. Her image emerged in “At the Boundary of Desire.”
The Gospel Chicken House in “Revelations” operated for over 35 years in the county where I live. The owners equipped the long low structure of an old poultry barn with the sound equipment, seating and concession stands needed to hold a Saturday night music ministry for several hundred attendees, most of whom considered it their church. I visited once before it closed to listen to that night’s band and enjoy a hotdog and some pie. Much of the evening’s experience made it into the poem: Welcome to Saturday night live/at the chicken house. Yep, that’s how they opened the show.
There are other little oddities from my “collection” scattered about in Passiflora. The number on the ambulance I followed in “Battle City” was, as described, the unlucky 13. (Who thought that was a good idea?) And Sarah Cannon in “Mrs. Cannon Passes the Parthenon on Her Way Home from Work” truly was a hillbilly comedian on stage and an elegant pillar of Nashville society in real life, a duality that still fascinates me. I don’t have my curiosities stored tidily in drawers like Jackson—they’re jotted down haphazardly in a mismatched assortment of notebooks—but I value them no less. And they help make writing fun.
Kathy Davis is a poet and nonfiction writer who received her MFA from Virginia Commonwealth
University. Her poetry manuscript, Passiflora, won the 2019 Cider Press Review Book Award and was released in February 2021. She is also the author of the chapbook Holding for the Farrier(Finishing Line Press). Her work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Barrow Street, Blackbird, Diode, The Hudson Review, Nashville Review, Oxford American, The Southern Review, story South and other journals. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and been a finalist for Best of the Net and the Conger Beasley Jr. Award for Nonfiction. After raising their two boys, she and her husband moved to an old farmhouse outside of Richmond, Va., where she tends a wildflower meadow when not writing.