Davis Outlines Plans for Poetry Room

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Curator of Poetry in the George Edward Woodberry Poetry Room Christina Davis talks with a student during one of her weekly "Reel Time @ The Woodberry" events. Davis' plans for the Poetry Room include a series of readings by poets and other speakers.

November 12, 2008 - Understanding a poet's "voice" is crucial if students are to grasp the literary significance of any work. But through a new series of programs at the George Edward Woodberry Poetry Room, Curator of Poetry Christina Davis is hoping to add another layer to that analytical mix, offering students an opportunity to experience poets' actual voices.

Armed with the Poetry Room's collection of nearly 7,000 recordings of poets, Davis last month launched "Reel Time @ The Woodberry," a weekly series of informal gatherings which invite students to the Poetry Room to listen to poetry recordings and discuss poetry in general. The idea, she said, is to allow poet's voices to be encountered beyond "the isolated experience of headphones."

"Poetry readings are inherently communal experiences," she said. "I had one student say to me, ‘I don't want to leave Harvard without hearing these voices.' And, I agree: I really don't want these voices to languish on the shelves." Reel Time, she said, is an occasion for students to gather to explore the radically different reading styles that poets have adopted over the last century and to question the role of the author's audible rendering of his/her poem in our reception.

An accomplished poet who published her first collection of poems, Forth A Raven, in 2006 and is now working on her second book, Davis' poetry has appeared in American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Colorado Review, Jubilat, LIT, The May Anthologies, New England Review, New Republic, and Paris Review. Davis has also spent several residencies at Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony.

Davis previously worked for Poets House in New York, where she was responsible for public relations for the 50,000-volume library and literary center. She holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania, and an M.St in Victorian Literature and M.Phil in Modernist Literature from Oxford University.

This semester, her hope for the Poetry Room is to build momentum and curiosity around the Poetry Room through the weekly "Reel Time" events and a new monthly series of presentations, "Woodberry Works-in-Progress," which offers attendees an opportunity to engage with artists and scholars who are in the midst of creating significant works. Davis plans to kick off the series December 11th with a presentation by Professor Al Filreis of the University of Pennsylvania on PENN SOUND, an Internet-accessible archive of poetry recordings.

Davis believes her creative, playful approach to student programs has helped stimulate interest. During a Reel Time gathering held on Halloween, for example, Davis played recordings of William Butler Yeats, whose self-described ambition was to "play with all masks," and paired him with John Berryman's Mr. Bones.

In 2009, Davis' plans for the Woodberry Poetry Room extend beyond the "Reel Time" series. Davis said she is organizing a reading series that will continue the Poetry Room's mission of recording poets at the outset of their careers, as well as chronicling different stages of writers' output. The reading series will feature a range of voices from "National Book Award winners to poets who have just published their first book," she said.

With her self-described "populist approach to poetry," Davis appears to be gaining traction among students. The number of students using the Poetry Room as a quiet study area has grown in recent weeks, she said, while others have begun using the space as a poetic meeting place.

"From those few events, it seems students are returning to explore on their own, which is what I was hoping for," Davis said. "We have had a huge spike in visitors among students, and professors are beginning to hear about using the audio collection. We had four seminars in the last week alone. And, I'm immensely heartened that students have begun to use the room not only to study others' work but also to write their own poems. There is no greater privilege than to be in a room in which new voices are emerging."