Writers on Writing #86: Laura Davenport
On Literary Relationships
It’s six a.m. in Savannah and the email I’ve been waiting for arrives, the subject simply “poem.” My husband is in Prague for five weeks at the Prague Summer Program, and by now he’s been up for hours, writing, going for a run along the Vltava River, now sitting down to a leisurely lunch. We talk daily, chatting for a moment here or there, but I look forward most to these emails that give me a window into what he’s thinking, what’s really going on.
I never thought a relationship with another writer would work, at least for me. The few men I dated who claimed the title seemed self-important, dabblers, and their approach to craft was not the same as mine. I was afraid to share my work, as much of it came from my personal life. (And in college—God! I bordered on confessional!) I was reluctant to reveal a side of myself I knew instinctively they would not understand.
What I see now is they were writers, not readers. My literary relationships now are based around one fact, and it isn’t publications. We read each other’s work with the respect it deserves. Sometimes that means confronting uncomfortable truths, or pushing someone out of a rut.
It’s competitive. Reading his lines awakens something in my brain, and by 10:30 a.m. I’ve fired one back at him. In Prague it will be late afternoon, and he’ll be finished writing for the day, enjoying a cold beer. The afternoon light will make him reflective. His poem earlier was about language, and touch, and that reminded me of a storm that passed through days before, bending the live oaks. But when I’ve finished the draft and come out of whatever trance I’ve entered, I see it’s about loss. The poem is sad. The poem misses someone. I hit send.
Our lives do not revolve around poetry. I, in particular, have a regular 9-5 job I enjoy. We go to dinner, work in the yard, talk about our friends and family. But when there is a week we are both writing, I’ll get an email. Subject: poem. Message: Drinks? Our date night is our workshop of two, and when we really go at it we spare no hurt feelings.
I know what lines he’ll like, what lines he won’t. I write them anyway. I tease him about his horrible titles. Sometimes he takes my advice, sometimes he doesn’t. I don’t edit myself, and neither does he. But talking about our work is another way of talking about ourselves, our partnership, negotiating our separate and shared paths. We push each other, in writing as in life, to grow. My husband loves me because he loves my work, the voice I only use on the page. He gets me. When we talk about a poem together I feel well and truly heard. And through his imagery I can see what he remembers, what’s important to him. Through his syntax I can understand his sense of order, and of time.
The poem he sends back is filled with such personal memories I blush reading it. Not for publication, that one. But he is saying he received my message, he understands, that we are in this limbo of separated lovers together. Later when we chat over Skype, I tell him about that summer storm, the ants that have invaded the azaleas, the weather in Savannah. I tell him I liked his poem, but the title needs work.
Laura Davenport's poetry has appeared in Meridian, Crab Orchard Review, New South, and Best New Poets 2009, among others. She is the recipient of the Meridian Editors' Prize and the Richmond Magazine/James River Writers' Best Poem Award. She received an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2010.