Breathing Room: Poems

Breathing Room: Poems

by Peter Davison

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"Peter Davison, for years, has pondered with clear insight the perspectives of affection, attachment, loss, and memory, his language spare and his tone classical and deceptively quiet. The poems of this new collection look at the same world with surprise and speak of it with a startled and startling freedom, feeling 'entitled to / the liberty of breathing easy'--a…  See more details below


"Peter Davison, for years, has pondered with clear insight the perspectives of affection, attachment, loss, and memory, his language spare and his tone classical and deceptively quiet. The poems of this new collection look at the same world with surprise and speak of it with a startled and startling freedom, feeling 'entitled to / the liberty of breathing easy'--a freedom that brings with it the old clarity and eloquence."
--W. S. Merwin

The poems in Peter Davison's exuberant new collection contemplate the paradox of growing old--of having a mind still "a juicy swamp of invention" in a body beginning to falter.

Both intimate and generous, these poems celebrate the cycle of the seasons, of death and rebirth: snapping turtles lay their eggs and new ones hatch;  a ruffed grouse drums his spring mating dance. Memory is central: a mother's lost face; a father's voice that "plumbed the marrow of poetry as tenderly / as if a darling had crept into his arms"; a wife's "rueful eyes, cornflower blue." And the poet pays tribute to the literary life--to reading, to the precise moment a word rises to consciousness, to getting over Robert Frost, to the mind of Sylvia Plath.  

These are poems that expand time for us and deepen place, whether Davison is taking us on a path along a limestone cliff under canopies of holly and ivy, or is revisiting the instant while recovering from surgery when it becomes clear he is going to heal.  "To learn poetry," Davison writes in his foreword, "we need to take poems into our breath and blood, and that requires us to hear them as we read them, to learn to read with all the senses, especially with the ear." Breathing Room gives us a splendid array of poems that we want to read with all our senses.  

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
After more than 35 years of poetry collections, memoirs, criticism and editorial work, Davison announces that the poems of his 11th collection "mostly assume a single poetic form," one he borrows from the late work of a greater ombudsman, William Carlos Williams. But where Williams's achieves an intuitive elegance through triadic-footed tercets that matched the breath, Davison's free verse tends to go slack along with the material it carries, like the old pal the speaker catches "calculating/ whether life with her might not be/ very convenient, considering her parent's/ money." More at home as a naturalist than a nostalgic storyteller, Davison strikes a keener music when strolling through a "Seaside Summer Quarry" ("Sentried by sabers of iris,/ bared granite rocks/ jut up// from the soft starry beds of/ emerald moss") or observing how "Falling Water" will join "its first// brook and amble off into the yielding/ soft-shouldered marsh past fat roots of/ lilies to linger among the slick fronds// of algae paddled by ducks." Davison, however, is more prosaic when taking on the relationship of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, whether problematically adopting Plath herself as the speaker in "Sorry" ("When I woke up my cheek was full of maggots./ In the hospital they broke my head/ with lightning bolts. Everyone was so kind.") or, even more presumptuously, collaging snippets from some of the couple's more famous poems (Hughes's "Lovesong" and Plath's "Daddy" and "Edge") in a "Ballad" commemorating their "immortal mismarriage,/ their language// splintered and splayed/ in the throes/ of brutality." The effect is not cathartic, transgressive or celebratory in any sense. Davison opens his book with "No Escape" and closes it with the very same poem (only in italics), but readers may have already gone out the back by then. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
"Poetry composes, not as modern Western music often does but for the human breath," says Davison, an award-winning poet and editor of the Atlantic Monthly. Nothing revelatory here: Charles Olson put forth a nearly identical thesis in 1950. The poems feel equally staid: Davison's memories of childhood, family, and lost loves are of passing interest, and the moment he veers from specific events, the poems deteriorate into trite generalizations, as when they're addressed to a distant "you." Other pieces pontificate, while still others, such as "Prayer to the Verb," are too whimsical to be considered serious. Forays into nature are ambitious (as in two poems adopting the snapping turtle's voice) but once again uninsightful and disappointing. Despite ten previous books of poetry, Davison has had more influence as an editor than a poet. Recommended for comprehensive collections only.--Rochelle Ratner, formerly with "Soho Weekly News," New York Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Megan Harlan
Davison is on firmest ground in his careful observations of the natural world and on the nature of poetry -- like the playful title poem, in which he advises us to ''accept promptings from / every source'' -- which provide a breath of fresh air.
New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Random House
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Read an Excerpt

Ruffed Grouse

The buds let fly a pungent spring flavor,
and the sunlight fanned across
the bare ground for unperching.

Restlessness crept in, a necklace
around the male’s long neck, below where
his beak would open to sing,

if he were the kind to sing. His
back gathered itself to lengthen and
widen. He needed more room now

and soon found it in a clearing he had been
keeping his eye on, with a
hollow log planted at one edge.

Now he had to wait only a day or two
until something in the air called, Time!
before he’d start to grow. His clawed toes prepared to

tick on the leaves, his strut to shorten. His
hidden shoulders would soon begin their
burgeoning, beyond wings, into the

great hissing ruff. The tail would stiffen, and within
his chest new lungs would at last open. Now
his pace would march him

strut by strut toward the hidden music, to
mount the hollow log, shuffle
his feathered feet, and drum drum drum
drum drum till the whole forest shuddered.

Meet the Author

In addition to ten volumes of poetry, Peter Davison has written a memoir, Half Remembered (1973, 1991); a book of literary essays, One of the Dangerous Trades (1991); and a narrative of literary history, The Fading Smile (1994). He has also published literary and travel articles in a wide variety of periodicals. A former book editor, most notably at the Atlantic Monthly Press (1956-1985) and Houghton Mifflin (1985-1998), he is now poetry editor for The Atlantic Monthly. Born in New York City in 1928, son of the poet Edward Davison, he was educated in Colorado, at Harvard, and at Cambridge. He is married to the architect Joan E. Goody. He lives in Boston and Gloucester, Massachusetts.

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