The California State Poetry Society is delighted to present Georgia Jones-Davis, our 2021 Annual Contest Judge. The following is an email interview with Georgia - she had a set of questions to work with and wrote a lively, coherent and fascinating narrative. You will find her biographic note after the interview, followed by the Annual Contest Submission Guidelines. Enjoy!
WHY DO YOU WRITE POETRY?
The quick answer would be that I cannot NOT write poetry, I am compelled. A phrase might hook me. Sometimes reading poetry suddenly suggests a thought, a feeling I must put on paper (or in the computer).
The longer answer goes back to my college days in the 1970s. In a class on contemporary poetry, one day I was suddenly taken by a small, lyric poem —maybe three stanzas of four lines each— ﬂoating in the white space on the page.
The words of that poem lifted me into a stratosphere of a new, mysterious emotion, almost like hunger. The imagery beckoned toward a wordless world of shape and shadow that I suddenly knew existed between the syllables of our spoken language. The poet was speaking words that could not be expressed or even heard in everyday conversation.
The poet was Denise Levertov. I don’t recall the exact poem. But that was the moment I knew what I wanted to do with my life: ﬁll a small portion of the white space on a page with tightly packed words expressing the unsayable with “truth and beauty.”
HOW YOU WORK AS A POET?
I do not show up to my desk on a daily basis. I wish I did, and I had a great friend who was a novelist who wrote 1000 words ﬁve days a week, no matter what. She admitted, though, that was poetry is a strange and elusive critter and maybe not a good candidate for such formal rigor.
I read about three poets or books of poems at a time, nightly. I write, two or three a week, in the mornings.
Rumi said to pick up an instrument and play before settling down to write. So I ﬁddle around a bit (not literally), neatening or organizing my writing space, listen to birdcall or music or wind or a neighbor’s voice. Then I reread the poems that I read in bed the night before.
Sometimes I encounter a poem so powerful I have to literally copy it into my notebook. The act of copying a poem by hand has a magic slowness to it, an absorption of the poem’s properties and energies. It can be a a good way to begin to write.
Poems seem to arrive wordlessly and quickly. I just start writing and something comes. Or it doesn’t. Sometimes simply nothing happens and the words and the feeling go away and poetry feels like a huge mountain I’m not capable of ascending. Where do my poems come from? I have often asked myself. They can seem like vague little visitors from another world.
Cover of Georgia's first poetry book, Blue Poodle (Finishing Line Press)
WHAT DO YOU VALUE IN A POET’S CRAFT?
What I most enjoy in a poem is surprise — a newly encountered image, an unexpected verb, a phrase that I don’t think I have encountered before, a point of view or narrative that is just diﬀerent. I like when the poet steps away from the spot light and lets the poem and the poem’s narrator take over. From my years in journalism, I have to come to value succinctness and never using too many words if the words aren’t needed. I like lyrical poetry and free verse, and I enjoy internal and slant rhyme.
I am drawn to short lyrics and the “workshop or anthology” length poems that are no more than one or two pages long. I love brevity. I like to be left at the end of a poem with a sensation of the mysterious power of language and its impact on our imaginations.
I like poems that do not preach. “We hate poetry that has a palpable design on us,” Keats phrased it something like that in his brilliant, beautiful letters that tell us so much about writing poetry.
ARE MFA PROGRAMS AND WRITING WORKSHOPS GOOD FOR POETS?
Yes and yes, depending on your needs. Community, constructive editing suggestions, making contact and friends with other poets, learning from the masters — these are the beneﬁts of such programs. MFAs might help a poet get a job as a creative writing teacher (so many poets are academics these days).
I would like to see more poets from “out in the ﬁeld,” — poets who work at all kinds of jobs— from plumbers and farmers to wine-makers and Amazon staﬀers to school nurses …. veterans and scientists … I’d like to hear more voices from outside university English departments.
Sometimes one’s best teacher might still be found between pages of a book— an outstanding voice from another time —Countee Cullen, Elizabeth Bishop, William Carlos Williams, Sylvia Plath.
WHAT ABOUT POETS WRITING TODAY?
American poetry today is a widely cast net of voices of all background and ages, men and women, straight and gay and trans, native born and immigrant — from Ocean Vuong to Terence Hayes to Nobel Prize winner Louise Gluck. When I pick up the Kenyon Review or Poetry magazine, I’m introduced to unknown voices with each issue. Poetry is rocketing far ahead of my own knowledge of the contemporary ﬁeld.
Cover of Georgia's second book of poetry, Night School
WHO AM I READING RIGHT NOW?
The pandemic year has been a time of much house-bound quiet and I have been reading and learning about the great masters of Haiku, Basho, Issa and Buson. I love the translations of Robert Hass and Sam Hamill.
I grew up in New Mexico and again am living in the high country again, but spent most of my school and working years in los Angeles.
In Los Angeles I was reading the poems of many Angelenos I was meeting and came to discern a particular LA tone—, urban, noir, cool, Hollywood, beach-town, canyon, tough, competitive voices from many cultures all swirling in the same humongous urban pot, inspired by many similar sources but translating them in distinct ways.
The poetry scene in Santa Fe is very diﬀerent from LA. We live at the edge of vast, dangerous wilderness, and the poetry reﬂects the onslaught of nature right outside one’s front door, a reminder of the earth’s geologic history, a spirituality outside of traditional Western religious
traditions, the verbal rings of Spanish, Tewa and Navajo languages. Poets are more forgiving of emotional vulnerability. The natural world and its ferocity dominate.
In addition to Haiku, I’m currently reading the work of Native American poets such as U.S. poet laureate Joy Harjo, M. Scott Momaday, Luci Tapahonso; also 2020 National Book Award winner and Santa Fe poet, Arthur Sze.
IF I WERE TO DO IT OVER AGAIN …
… I would have become adept enough at a foreign language to read it and understand its subtly, humor and cultural references so well I could translate poetry from that language. W.S. Merwin pointed out how useful a tool translation is in learning to write well in English.
ABOUT GEORGIA JONES-DAVIS
Georgia Jones-Davis grew up in northern New Mexico and southern California. She attended UCLA, where she studied art history, ﬁlm and graduated with a degree in English and History.
Georgia worked as a writer, reviewer and editor at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and Assistant Book Editor of The Los Angeles Times. Georgia freelanced for many publications, including The Washington Post, New Mexico Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Chicago Tribune.
She is the author of two chapbooks, “Blue Poodle” (2010) and “Night School” (2015), both issued by Finishing Line Press. Her poems have appeared in numerous publications including West Wind, Nebo, Brevities, The California Quarterly, The Bicycle Review, Eclipse and South Bank Poetry, London.
Georgia currently lives and writes in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
SAMPLES OF POEMS
CALIFORNIA STATE POETRY SOCIETY ANNUAL CONTEST 2021
The contest submission period is now open, from March 1st to June 30th, 2021. We are delighted that a distinguished poet and experienced editor, Georgia Jones-Davis, agreed to serve as CSPS Annual Contest Judge, while Joyce Snyder continues in her role as the Annual Contests Chair.
The cash awards are $100, $50, and $25 for 1st, 2nd and 3rd places respectively, plus publication in the California Quarterly 47: 4 (2021 Winter). Winners will be announced in September.
Please upload poems and pay the contest reading fees via our website http://www.californiastatepoetrysociety.org
Send a cover letter with all poet information and a list of the submitted poems, plus one copy of each poem with no poet identification to:
CSPS Annual Contest Chair
3371 Thomas Drive Palo Alto,
Reading fees: Members of California State Poetry Society and/or all member societies of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies (please indicate which Society you are belong to), $3.00/poem; Non-members of any NFSPS-affiliated societies, $6.00/poem. You may also send fees for the contest to PayPal, to CaliforniaStatePoetrySociety@gmail.com,
Requirements: The length of poems should not exceed the limit of 80 lines (two-pages) per poem. Up to now, we did not have a limit on the numbers of poems submitted, but, please, do not send whole books! For the California Quarterly, the limit is 6 poems, so we might keep it at that.