Book Review: Revising the Storm by Geffrey Davis
Revising the Storm
Poems by Geffrey Davis
BOA Editions Ltd., April 2014
Reviewed by Michael Luke Benedetto
Winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize, Geffrey Davis’s Revising the Storm reverberates with the voice of a young man emerging from a boyhood plagued by hunger, loneliness, and pain into a new life as a man who finds peace in reconciling with the past. The cyclical passage of life, love, and responsibility from father to son is measured in its varying degrees, starting from the opening poem, “What I Mean When I Say Farmhouse,” where the speaker’s father “walks along the tired fence, watching horses // and clouds roll down against the dying light,” wanting “to become one or the other.” Though beautifully rendered, this scene foreshadows the suffering caused by an absence so strongly felt throughout this collection.
Often in couplets or tercets, these poems are haunted by a lyric “I” seeking to define the self and the chaos of the surrounding world. So many titles begin “What I Mean When I Say…,” “Write the Memory of…,” or “The Epistemology of…” that an entire life and the forces that shaped it are brought into vivid focus for the reader and speaker alike. Straightforward, narrative language belies the sudden wisdom that springs from simple moments, as in “Unfledged”—which opens with an epigraph from Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays” to set the mood—where our speaker recalls helping his father on a roofing job in a poor neighborhood: “I studied / my father, from the ground—the distance he kept / between us his version of worry.” Or in “Divorce Means” where, once again, our speaker searches for meaning and while doing so asserts, “Our moments / remain infinite for having happened.” As talented as Davis is at telling a compelling story through verse, readers will stop for far longer than punctuation warrants in order to fully appreciate a single couplet.
As a collection concerned so fully with growing up and fatherhood, there is a definite arc through this book, a distinct chronology. From “The Book of Father” through “Diaspora” and finally “Here a Coursing Wall, There a Slanted House,” the three sections of Revising the Storm build upon one another and out of one another until the reader begins to see glimmers of calm amidst so much hardship. The poem “Venison” begins, “In my previous life as a deer, I honed my brand / of nervousness, balanced instinct and memory.” Though many of Davis’s poems revel in the beauty of nature, the speaker’s empathy for the natural world and its non-human inhabitants is strongest here. As “the boy who wished and wept for birds” (“More Than Forgery”) and one who exclaims in “Ode to Trout,” “O my coy darlings, still you wear for me / the possibilities of this world’s / wasted pallet,” Davis clearly displays his affinity for birds and fish, two creatures so easily able to depart the world and troubles of men if given proper freedom.
A mother crying alone in her kitchen, a hungry boy unable to sleep in his bed, the unbearable weight cast by an absent father—these quotidian and universal miseries are by no means exclusive to the world of poetry, but when rendered in verse by a talented poet such as Davis, readers bare witness with new eyes. Revising the Storm is a considerable collection replete with the dark troubles and misfortunes of life that only serve to make its moments of beauty that much brighter.
Michael Luke Benedetto is a writer and editor who lives in San Diego, CA. His work has appeared in the Long River Review and The Essay Connection.