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Angela Ball

The New York School Diaspora (Part Seventy-Three): Jordan Davis [by Angela Ball]

FOR A DOLLAR I'LL TELL YOU WHAT YOU ARE DYING TO HEAR, WHICH IS ALL OF IT

The social impulse and the roaches and the throb
no one brings me what I heard.

The window's great --
along with your four walls, you are more gorgeous
than an afternoon

I don't watch that kind of fucked up.

The presidents walk across the broken windows.
Stop thinking like I need a thing.

How much worse than being talked about
is it the war or the collision of galaxies.

‘He flew into the bonfire to celebrate
being on the roof of my heart,’
Sunset light on my phone.

                                         - Jordan Davis

Jordan Davis's third book, Yeah, No, was published by MadHat in 2023. His poems have appeared in Poetry and The New Yorker and his reviews have appeared in Slate and the Times Literary Supplement. He is a former Poetry Editor of The Nation.

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                                                                      photo by Adalena Kavanagh

The New York School Diaspora (Part Seventy-Three): Jordan Davis

Jordan Davis’s “For a Dollar I’ll Tell You What You Are Dying to Hear, Which is All Of It” is an unruly poem that challenges usual ratios between clarity and mystery.

It begins with three self-conscious entities “The social impulse and the roaches and the throb,” representatives of our urge to mingle, our vermin, and our pain or excitement or both—and the frustration of feeling as though we’ve lost the plot: “no one brings me what I’ve heard.”

We seem to be inside a house, one worthy of praise: “The window’s great-- / along with your four walls, you are more gorgeous than an afternoon.” I love the familiar comparison (“more gorgeous”) applied to something utterly abstract: “an afternoon.” (I first read such a comparison on a teabag tab: “You are as beautiful as the universe,” so grandiose, so funny, yet somehow ravishing.) 

Then a one-sentence stanza that, for me, serves as a kind of reset: “I don’t watch that kind of fucked up.” It might apply to what we see next.

Again a proud entity: “the presidents”—who “walk across the broken windows.” What? And the window was “great”! Catastrophes attract our leaders, who have the opportunity for empathy.

Visiting, they offer the stricken ‘anything they need’--sweepingly useless.

The stanzas are now clearly reverse magnetized, repelling each other as much as a villanelle’s are locked within a minuet. 

This one tells a purely unnecessary truth: “How much worse than being talked about / is it the war or the collision of galaxies.” But how I first read it—as war or colliding galaxies being worse that finding oneself the subject of gossip—is inaccurate, because of the word “it.” Two statements have been joined without a clear relationship, as though an ordinary sentence in New York is being interrupted by disaster.

Then this beautiful sentence:

     ‘He flew into the bonfire to celebrate

     being on the roof of my heart,’

     Sunset light on my phone.

The quotation is Shelleyan in grandeur, combining ecstasy and mayhem, like an opera.

Who says it? No clue. Who responds? The poet’s phone, perhaps switching to “evening mode.” We are torn between sublimity and usefulness, with no time left to decide. This is unexpectedly blissful.

What is the takeaway? We are. Thanks to Jordan Davis’s stirring poem, we move ahead, somewhat electrified. -- Angela Ball


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Radio

I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark


from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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