Interview with Davis McCombs, Featured Poet (Summer Solstice Issue)

July 7, 2016 0 Comments Uncategorized 3754 Views
book cover image.

Cover image courtesy of University of Utah Press.

Below is an interview with our featured summer issue poet, Davis McCombs, where he discusses a range of places, exigencies, and influences for his writing. We hope you’ll check out our issue next week (out on the 14th). We will be reprinting poems from lorehis most recent collection. Grab a copy today!

Look for an announcement on the blog, social media, and our newsletter! Major thanks to Davis from all of us at KHQ for this excellent interview!

Where do you tend to write/ where do you write best?

I used to think that I needed to be in certain places in order to write, but I’ve found over the years that, much to my relief, I’m flexible. I seem to go through phases. I have often joked that I wrote my first book sitting in a Noah’s Bagels in Redwood City, California. It’s only partly a joke.


Do you have a writing group or community of writers you share your work with? Who are they?

For the poems in my new book lore, just out from the University of Utah Press, my wife, poet Carolyn Guinzio, was my first and only reader and critic. None of the poems in that book would have happened without her.

Just knowing that she would soon see the poem I was working on at any particular time, that she would be honest with me about it, that she would hold the work to the highest standards, gave me the courage to quickly jettison a weak line, an easy image, the sentimental turn.

I have an almost frightening ability to delude myself, to believe, even for an extended period of time, that a terrible line or stanza is actually good.


What do your best poems have in common?

The best ones, I think, have two, possibly related, qualities in common. The poems I’ve written over the years that I continue to stand behind and that continue to please me are those in which I managed to say something that I had been thinking about and trying to say for a long time. It’s also true that those same poems ended up saying something I didn’t know I wanted to say when I started out. They are simultaneously the product of rumination and inspiration. Writing a poem like that always fills me with both relief and excitement.


What kinds of things inspire you to write your poems?

People. Places. Animals. Plants. Disappearing or threatened things. Nearly forgotten ways of being and talking and doing.


How do you begin a poem? Do you find yourself writing first lines as such, or do you write lines and return to them?

I so often get the openings of my poems wrong at first and it so often takes me a long time to see it. On more than one occasion I’ve had the experience of laboring over a messy, frustrating draft, only one small part of which seems to be working, and then finally discovering that that one small part is actually the way the poem should begin.

Once I figure that out, the rest of the poem seems to fall into place under the new opening line or lines; it seems to rewrite itself in order to live up to, or meet the challenge, of the new opening.


How often do you write? Every day?

I don’t write every day, every week, or even every month. I have yet to let a whole year go by without writing a poem, but I don’t think it’s out of the question.

I wish I could say that the long silences didn’t fill me with panic and despair, that I had learned over the years to trust them and to know that the the mulling and the pondering and the contemplation are essential parts of the process. In my best moments, I do know that, but in the middle of a long drought I’m often, to be completely honest with you, convinced that I will never write again.


What poets do you continually go back to?

Seamus Heaney, Lucie Brock-Broido, Les Murray, Dickinson, Keats, Wordsworth, Coleridge. These are the poets who are always in my thoughts, whose poems pop into my as I’m walking down the street or shopping or weeding my garden. I don’t think a day goes by without one or more of these poets and their poems crossing my mind.


We’d like to thank Davis on behalf of the whole staff for the interview, and we hope readers will check out the poems and grab a copy of lore today!


About the Author

Davis McCombs is an American poet. He attended Harvard University as an undergraduate, the University of Virginia as a Henry Hoyns Fellow, and Stanford University as a Wallace Stegner Fellow. He is also the recipient of fellowships from the Ruth Lilly Poetry Foundation, the Kentucky Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He is the Director of the Creative Writing Program, University of Arkansas. McCombs’ work appeared in The Best American Poetry 1996, The Missouri Review, Poetry, The Kenyon Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and other magazines and journals. McCombs grew up in Munfordville, Kentucky. From 1991 to 2001, he worked as a Park Ranger at Mammoth Cave National Park. He is married to the poet and photographer Carolyn Guinzio.

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