Peter Davis addresses the world one receiver at a time. In his third book, TINA, released by Bloof Books early last year, Davis once again provides an easily identified locus of characterization and examination, but Tina is addressed with a complexity that belies who she really is, or even how she really is. Davis is sly, and in the bald way of his language-making, introduces the reader to Tina as a traditional romantic muse. Tina is tenderly made love to with the humorous reverence of a teenager in the first poem “Making Out,” with the speaker feeling around for a nipple under Tina’s shirt, optimistic for the ease of access a front-clasping bra provides, telling Tina that if he rounds the bases he “will be / successful or you will adjust / position or something else / will just happen, Tina.”
What is the purpose of muse and subject? Muse and object? Davis goes beyond the unrequited odes and lovelorn salutations. We are perhaps carried by the tide of 21st century rejection of old-fashioned pining and Tina quickly morphs into something other than a Laura or Julia. Tina becomes an inner subject, an addressee who appears when one is left thinking alone in the shower, on the subway, silently griping at an anonymous stranger in a parking lot. The language Davis uses in TINA gives readers the itch on the brain that recalls something-familiar-but-not-quite, the unpredictably insular quality of Davis’ train of thought paired with the universal memory of talking to someone in our heads.
The personification in TINA is briefly named—when the speaker of the poems acts out second-hand, he refers to “Kyle,” and it is such a degree of self-awareness that positions the poems as less meditation and more performance. Indeed, the collection is peppered with morsels of observation, such as in “A Note About Orange”:
Orange is not
a color you want
to get on your
bad side, Tina.
Orange is always
like “I’ll fuck you up”
I’m gonna stick you.”
What self-conscious thinker overcomes the embarrassment of deeming such a message as important? But the warning about orange is made vital by Tina’s existence, and Tina’s existence is made necessary by Kyle’s need to wheel his thoughts upon a captive canvas. Tina is cajoled, counselled, exasperatedly reprimanded, but the voyeur of these missives to Tina also benefits from these conversations. Tina, as the muse of this poetic collection, was invented to make Tina necessary. Kyle may as well be a stand-in for any of us.
Despite the mental snapshots each poem reveals, the trajectory of TINA is intuitive and fulfilling. A collection that features admonishments (“Seriously, Tina, grow up! We’re all / tired of your histrionics!”) and admissions (“I feel spooky, Tina. / I feel deadly and flat.”) could be without end or aim, but Kyle begins to extract himself from his addiction to Tina by the later half of the book. Rather than charge at Tina, the poems become testament to the parts of Kyle that he feels are important. From “Mother’s Day”:
Tina, I have been lucky
to be inside my wife
and watch my kids expand her belly
and see her explode with them.
She is not a skateboard but I am
free when I am sailing on her.
I look at her and the sea waits.
My ollie, sometimes, is
perfect, Tina. When it is, she snaps into the air
and when I land
my feet are just glued.
The tender dead-pan of Davis’ words brings sincerity to the humor in his poems. So the speaker’s voice is often inexact and insistently conversational—so what? Does that mean the speaker of the poems is any less serious about the minute accruals referenced in these poems? The last poem of the collection, “The Egyptian Revolution of 2011” capsizes into the mundane, and in doing so uncovers a humbled revelation:
I just love my kids. I mean what does love even mean
when you’ve got my kids involved. I’m so glad when it’s
a snow day and they get to stay home from school. I think
it’s fucking great when there’s a snow day. I think it’s great
when they’re home. And in this moment when they’re
not here and I’m alone in this house I start writing
and what do I start writing I start writing how
I love my kids. I am amazed at myself, really. I mean what
can I do, as a human? I can love my kids a shit ton is one
thing. I didn’t know I could be so loving. I never figured
I was unloving, I just didn’t know I’d love my kids so much.
Tina is important to TINA because she is the muse that compels a record of the interior. What Davis ultimately validates, however, is that the inner voice that speaks—no matter to whom—is a voice worthy of performing, a voice that testifies.
TINA is available from Bloof Books
Ginger Ko studies at the University of Wyoming’s MFA in Creative Writing program. Her poetry and reviews have appeared in Toad, smoking glue gun, Anti-, TYPO, inter|rupture, and HTMLGIANT. She is originally from Los Angeles.