Conversations with Speculative Poets: Deborah L. Davitt

The Conversations with Speculative Poets Series features interviews with writers of science fiction and fantasy poetry. For the seventh post in this series, I spoke with poet Deborah L. Davitt about her book, The Gates of Never (Finishing Line Press 2019). 

Deborah L. Davitt was raised in Nevada, but currently lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and son. Her poetry has received Rhysling, Dwarf Star, and Pushcart nominations; her short fiction has appeared in Galaxy’s Edge, Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Pseudopod. For more about her work, including her Edda-Earth novels and her poetry collection, The Gates of Never, please see www.edda-earth.com. You may contact her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/deborah.davitt.3 or Twitter @davittDL.

T.D. Walker: The Gates of Never is a collection that returns to desire again and again. We see the physical desire of lovers, as in “Blossom” and “The Gargoyle.” There’s a desire to live and create life as in “The Pyre” and “Creators.” And we even see celestial desire in “Enceladus.”
Was this a theme you saw in the poems early on in crafting the poems for the book? And since these poems connect your 21st century audience with mythic and ancient figures, did you view desire as a connection point between poem and reader?

Cover of The Gates of Never by Deborah L. DavittDeborah L. Davitt: I assembled the book out of things I’d written separately, over the course of about two years’ real time. One of my long-term interests is Eriksen’s Crises–a theory of human development within each of our lifetimes. At each stage, we’re faced with a crisis point, and failing to negotiate those crisis points in a positive fashion can lead to a sort of stunted existence. Folks can look up all the stages for themselves, but I do a lot of work in “intimacy vs. isolation” and “generativity vs. stagnation” so to say that the poems tend to talk about desire . . . yeah, they do. Quite a lot of them reflect the yearning for intimacy, the fear of isolation, yet also the fear of/desire to be subsumed or consumed by the object of that desire. The balancing point each individual has to strike between being part of a “we” yet also remaining an “I.”

As to the mythic stuff–mythology and history are ongoing pre-occupations of mine. But so are science and futurism. For me, time is all of one piece, and the more we understand the past, the more capable we are of shaping and understanding the present and the future. So “desire” wasn’t picked out as a way of understanding the past. It’s more like I . . . see commonalities between past and future, and try to illuminate them, partially to educate a modern audience, and partially in an effort to strike passion in that audience for that past (or that future).

Which is a long way of saying “no, but also yes.”

TDW: Each section of the book has as its title the name of a gate: “The Gate of Sandstone,” “The Gate of Marble,” “The Gate of Wood,” “The Gate of Steel,” and “The Gate of Stars.” What drew you to structuring the book as such? And does the idea of the gate as a passageway play a role in the way you’d like readers to progress through the book?

DLD: I started with the concept out of Greek mythology that there are two gates through which dreams issue, the gate of horn and the gate of ivory. And it’s always struck me as surprising that the dreams that were true or prophetic came through the gate of horn, whereas the fanciful, fluff dreams came through the gate of ivory. (It turns out to have nothing to do with the value of the materials; it has to do with the word for ‘horn’ being close in sound to the Greek word for “fulfill,’ and the Greeks enjoyed a good pun.)

Once I established that dichotomy, I looked at the other poems I had available, and started sorting them. The Gate of Wood, for instance, is the category for poems that are closer to folktales and fairy tales. The ones that take us into the woods, where grandmothers might have betrayed their grandchildren to a wolf-spirit for a shot at immortality, or show us how fairy tales and magic die as industrialization leaves marks as black as coal on the white snow, and the queen no longer has a spindle to prick her fingers on, etc. The Gate of Steel is more about magic in modern contexts. Gate of the Stars is pure science and science fiction poetry–though I do like to lace in the mythological references there, too.

It’s inescapable in my stuff, because time is all one big piece, and literally everything connects.

TDW: The poem I enjoyed most in the collection is “Once Human,” in which the two central figures from the present are reclaimed by gods from a distant past. She turns into a mermaid while he turns into a centaur. Both fail to adapt to the requirements of the lives they once led. Can we read this as a metaphor for what old stories can do for (and to) new readers?

Image of poet Deborah L. DavittDLD: I’m so glad you like that one! It’s one of the pieces that’s got a wry, sly sense of humor to it. It hearkens back to some of my Edda-Earth novels (alternate history, Rome never fell, all the gods are real, and whoops, at one point, humans start getting transformed into creatures out of mythology due to the deaths of several gods and the unleashed power that warps the world). I took that same concept, but applied it to our world, and what would happen to a modern relationship if yes, suddenly, and without anyone’s consent, two people were warped and changed physically in such a way that their lives together couldn’t continue in the same fashion.

If you want to read it as a metaphor, I can’t stop you! That’s the joy of poetry once it gets out in the wild, into other people’s minds. They find things in there that the author didn’t intend, because of their own experiences and connections. I’m definitely not in the “The Author is Dead” camp, but there’s an interesting place between Authorial Intention and Audience Interpretation that can be fruitful, lovely, and amazing.

TDW: Are there collections that share the same themes as The Gates of Never that you’d like to recommend to readers of Luna Station Quarterly?

DLD: I’m really not aware of anyone writing exactly what I’m writing. The field of speculative poetry is huge, so you’ve got people like Holly Lyn Walrath writing feminist modern stuff with a speculative edge in Glimmerglass Girl, and Michelle Muenzler writing horror-tinged poems that verge on the edible in her work, and Saba Razvi exploring ancient manuscripts and Islamic meditations and magic and mythology in her works, so . . . look them up, get hold of their bibliographies, and try an assortment of what they’ve written for online venues. Then maybe go buy their books.

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