Lauren Davis is a writer who lives on the Olympic Peninsula. I first met Lauren when we were both MFA students at Bennington College. Since that time, Lauren has published two chapbooks of poetry, and, most recently, a full-length collection, Home Beneath the Church. “Lauren Davis is the poet you need to be reading,” says Kelli Russell Agodon, and I couldn’t agree more.
Home Beneath the Church includes deeply personal poems about the body and then moves into writing about religious spaces. Clearly, the body is one such religious space, perhaps even the holiest. But there are also churches, French basilicas, grottoes reserved for anchoresses and saints. And there is also the outside world: the forest, the bay, the moon, and everything that lives and endures in that outside world. Davis finds the holiness in it all.
Lauren agreed to answer some questions about Home Beneath the Church as well as about the writing and publishing process. Come back tomorrow for a writing exercise inspired by Lauren’s new collection.
DL: So many of the poems in Home Beneath the Church explore deeply personal material about your body and particularly your health. I often feel that we poets are inherently confessional, but can you talk about the process of writing these poems?
LD: I sometimes wept while putting pen to paper. One thing that kept me going was my absolute rage at the shame that surrounds women’s bodies. There was nothing for me to be ashamed of in these poems, and yet, I struggled. I found this struggle infuriating, so I pressed forward.
DL: Do you have advice for writers who are attempting to write about the body? Were there other poets or specific poems you referred to for guidance?
LD: Read, read, read. That’s my advice. Somewhere someone has taken the plunge, or they’ve taken a similar risk. I turned many times to Sharon Olds and Jason Shinder. I also made use of therapy. There’s so much to unravel when we talk about bodies.
DL: One of the questions I’m asked the most, especially by poets early in their career, is how to not sound overly prosaic. What kind of craft elements do you employ to identify and modify those prosaic turns of phrase?
LD: We’re not supposed to be overly prosaic? That’s news to me! I often find the opposite situation in new writers. They’re writing in such a complicated or elevated manner that the music, imagery, and meaning gets lost. But my advice, whether the new writer is dealing with either side of the spectrum, is to read, read, read. There is no substitute. And read living poets. Give the Greats a rest for a moment. Come back to them in a couple of years. For now, find those writers that are winning awards and branch out from there.
DL: In my conversation with Rosemary Royston last month, she said that it took her about six years of reorganizing, resending, and hoping before she found a publisher for her most recent collection of poems. How long did it take you to write and shape this collection? What was the submission and publication process like for Home Beneath the Church?
LD: Oh, Lord. Who really knows how long this took? Five years? And forty-eight rejections, I think. Each rejection helped shape the book in its own way. The publication process was a little rocky. We entered the pandemic shutdown, and I just took my hands off of it. Full surrender. And I could not be happier with the final product that Fernwood Press delivered.
DL: I know you have another collection of poems already in the works. If it’s not too early, can you tell us when that will be available? And what are you working on now?
LD: When I Drowned will be available in Winter 2023 through Aldrich Press. At the moment, I’m working on a novel titled The Sleeping Cure, and I’m seeking a publisher for my short-story collection The Milk of Dead Mothers.
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My next post will feature a writing exercise inspired by one of Lauren Davis’s poems in Home Beneath the Church, as well as more information about where you can hear Lauren read this spring.