The very first poem Jon Davis ever wrote was an imitation of “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” by Wallace Stevens, which is famously difficult to analyze for meaning, though people try. A lifetime later, Davis still has no idea what the poem means, and he doesn’t care. He thinks understanding is overvalued, while the pleasure one can experience reading a poem doesn’t get enough attention. “There was no reason for me ever to read ‘The Emperor of Ice-Cream,’” said Davis, who directs the low-residency master’s of fine arts program in creative writing at the Institute for American Indian Arts and serves as Santa Fe’s current poet laureate. “In high school, I avoided reading everything, and then I worked construction for seven years. We had almost no books in the house, but we had this anthology of verse — I remember it had a gold cover — and ‘The Emperor of Ice-Cream’ was in there. I fell in love with the words and the sounds in it. And then I wrote a terrible imitation of it because I’d torn my calf muscle and I didn’t have anything else to do.”
From then he was off — reading, writing, studying, and eventually teaching poetry. To date, Davis has published three full-length books and four chapbooks of poetry. He also frequently writes poems that are published in literary journals under a variety of alter egos and pseudonyms, and he quotes these poets as if they were separate sentient beings. When asked whether he thinks it’s true that no one reads poetry anymore and all poets are basically writing for other poets, he said, “Chuck Calabreze has a joke about everyone in the audience of poetry readings being poets who just want to be seen and recognized.” Chuck Calabreze is Jon Davis, but Chuck’s been holding his own since the mid-1990s, performing his work around town and blogging about the state of poetry in America. Though they disagree on the purpose of poetry and what makes a good poem, Calabreze and Davis share a sense of humor. Trying to keep them on topic or get a straight answer out of either of them is a challenge.