Anatomy of a Love Poem with Teri Ellen Cross Davis

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Show Notes

In honor of Valentine’s Day, poet Teri Ellen Cross Davis discusses the challenges and joys of writing love poems while sharing the creative process behind “The Goddess of Interracial Dating,” which appears in her collection a more perfect Union. She also discusses the value of writing groups and residencies, literary magazine submission strategies, the art of persona poems, making her own superheroes, returning to her writing self after having children, and more.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis is the author of a more perfect Union, winner of the 2019 Journal/Charles B. Wheeler Poetry Prize (Mad Creek Books, 2021) and Haint (Gival Press, 2016), winner of the 2017 Ohioana Book Award for Poetry. She is the poetry coordinator for the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. Learn more by visiting

Mentioned in this episode:



Laura Maylene Walter (00:00):
Can you also define poetry while you're at it? That'd be great, thanks.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (00:02):
<laugh> Exactly, exactly.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:08):
Welcome to Page Count presented by the Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. This podcast celebrates authors, illustrators, librarians, booksellers, literary advocates, and readers in and from the state of Ohio. I’m Laura Maylene Walter, the Ohio Center for the Book Fellow and author of the novel BODY OF STARS. Today we're joined by poet Teri Ellen Cross Davis, who is the author of HAINT, winner of the 2017 Ohioana Book Award for Poetry, and more recently, A MORE PERFECT UNION, which won The Journal / Charles B. Wheeler Poetry Prize. She is a Cave Canem fellow and works as the poetry coordinator for the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. She's here today to give us an in-depth look into her process for one of the poems in A MORE PERFECT UNION. Teri, welcome to the podcast. Thanks so much for being here today.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (01:00):
Thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited to be here.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:02):
Well, first things first, let's talk about your Ohio connection. Can you tell us where you're from?

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (01:08):
I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, St. Luke's Hospital, which no longer exists, <laugh>. That's how, that's how Cleveland I am. So I was born and raised in this area in the Lee Harvard area of East Cleveland, of east side of Cleveland, I should say, but not technically East Cleveland, just technically Cleveland. And I attended school initially in Cleveland and then in Warrensville Heights High School. And that's where I graduated, was from Warrensville Heights High School. So I know the whole Cleveland area, lots of it.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:37):
And you have a beautiful poem in A MORE PERFECT UNION, 3939 Strand Hill Road, Cleveland, Ohio, about returning to a family home years later. And, and it's, it's a wonderful poem. So I'm just going to recommend that to listeners who might want something with a little bit of Cleveland in it, in the collection. So today we are posting this episode on Valentine's Day. And in honor of this day, we're going to take a look at one of your poems and really take a deep dive into your process. But before we do that, I wondered if we could talk a little bit about love poems in general. You had mentioned to me in an email that you had a conversation with the late poet Charles Simic about writing love poems. I'm wondering if you could share a bit about that conversation and what you two talked about.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (02:21):
Oh, yes. So in the series that I run for the Folger Shakespeare Library, we had invited Charles Simic and Charles such a great, gracious, kind, gentle poet to invite and to have the pleasure of knowing. And unassuming, too is another word that I would definitely use to talk about Charles Simic. So he's coming off stage and I'm rushing him to our book signing and he's saying to me in passing, ah, you know, and it's just so hard to do this. And I was like, okay, explain more. And he couldn't in that moment. So about a year later, oddly enough, I just emailed him out the blue like, Hey, so what was it that you were talking about that night? And out of the blue, he responded right away, oh, just how hard it is to write love poems, <laugh>. I was like, oh, talk more, talk more.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (03:13):
And so it just began this whole thing of, well, it's so difficult because there's so much emotion involved and how do you take a step back from the emotion so you can write with clarity so you can write in a way that will engage the reader and get across what you need to get across without them having lived your experience. And that's really the crux of any great poem to me, is how do we communicate in such a way that the reader can feel like they too are living your experience, living that epiphany, having it all come together in the ways that it obviously came together for you as the poet when you wrote it down, depending on if the poet's, the narrator in the poem or not, right? It's all truth is beauty, beauty, truth, all will know. And so it just became like how difficult it really was to write a good love poem.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (04:00):
And his poem was "My Beloved," which I asked him to read that night. And that's what started the whole thing because it was one of my favorite love poems by him. It is difficult to write. And I love how in the poem he engages with trying to write this poem and then he just says, oh, the heck with it. Let's move on to this. Oh, this is too much. Let me move on to this next thing. And it gets to the truth of what it is when writing a love poem or even kind of a poem that's got, that's so erotically tinged as My Beloved is to me as a reader, to balance that sensuality with clarity and to create language or work language in a way that allows all of that to get across to the reader.

Laura Maylene Walter (04:38):
Yeah, and that's, that's a great poem. I'll be sure to link to "My Beloved" in the show notes. You know, our listeners might be coming from all different experiences with poetry. They might have different conceptions of what a love poem is or isn't. So what would you like to share about what you would define as a love poem? Cause I think it's not always as constrained and some people might think right, in terms of being, you know, very flowery and romantic. So how do you perceive of a love poem?

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (05:04):
That's a great question, <laugh> for me

Laura Maylene Walter (05:07):
I know it's a big one. <laugh>

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (05:08):
<laugh>. Exactly. No, just no small question there.

Laura Maylene Walter (05:11):
Can you also define poetry while you're at it? That'd be great. Thanks, <laugh>.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (05:14):
Exactly, exactly. There's so many different types of love, right? Filial and romantic love and platonic and then the love a parent has for a child. So I've written many poems that get at the heart of my love for my children and poems that have gotten at the heart of, in many ways, kind of my love for my husband who's the poet. And that's, you know, how we met. And poetry has become the foundation of our marriage. It's all about telling the truth, but telling it's slant, right? I'm thinking of Dickinson, but it's kinda about telling the truth, but telling it's slant. But it's also about how true can you be to yourself in that moment? How vulnerable can you be with yourself, yourself in that moment? And what survives on the page that translates all of that into a poem that carries its weight is a being of literature, as a, as a container of literature, but also that carries its weight as a container of all these emotions that we've now kind of stuffed into it.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (06:18):
To me, a love poem is what manages to get that clarity across. As we talk about this, all I can see is just a certain slant of light. All I can see is like a sunbeam coming in. And that's what's inherent in love poem, right? It's that sunbeam itself, that one beam of light in a cluttered floor. That's the love poem, right? It's how do we get that clarity and have it cut through all the clutter? And so that's what makes a good love poem to me, is something that cuts through the clutter and allows your heart to remember why, why it wants to be.

Laura Maylene Walter (06:46):
That's so beautiful. That makes me want to go home and try to write a love poem. So <laugh>.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (06:51):

Laura Maylene Walter (06:51):
You're inspiring me. Well, let's turn to one of the poems in your collection. So you have selected a poem from A MORE PERFECT UNION. Can you let us know which poem that is? And would you please read it for us?

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (07:02):
Sure. This poem is "The Goddess of Interracial Dating," and she is one of many of the nine goddesses I created for this particular collection. She references a few different things, but she has a lot of fun <laugh>, all these goddesses do in my mind <laugh>. That's their purpose of being, not just fun, but to bring us to different truths. So "The Goddess of Interracial Dating":

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (07:30):
I whisper caramel / to his refined / white sugar dreams, / melt the butter, / swirl the cream. / Let the salt of you / settle into the crevices / of his molars. His tongue / a bulge in the pocket / of his jaw, a tethered muscle / chasing a taste just out of / reach—a body he doesn't own. // I take my responsibility seriously / but I cannot overcome his stupidity / when he says Black people always seem happy. / I'm there when he walks you / by the water fountain, / his deep voice, a seductive plea. / Tenderness when he dips his fingers / into churning waters, I part / his lips, tongue seeking to stir / caramel. You are never his jungle, / his dark continent to conquer, / but my high priestess to entreat. / If he wants melanin's cape to cover / his offspring, he must take down / your braids, grease your scalp. / When he peers into the burnished / amber of your eye, know that I / have bound and anointed him / with the dream of caramel, / he must kneel to honor it.

Laura Maylene Walter (08:47):
Thank you so much. Well, I would love to hear how this poem came to be, and I know sometimes that's hard to define since creativity can be so amorphous and unexplainable <laugh>. But you did mention this is part of a series of goddess poems. So can you try to take us back to how you first got the kernel of the idea for this poem, maybe where it fit in that series and the genesis of this poem?

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (09:12):
Oh yes, because there were several goddesses that did not make the cut, <laugh>. So every goddess had to prove their worth. And with this one, it's a combination of things. My husband's biracial, his father is black, his mother is white. And I at the time, a lot of the things that I referenced here, someone actually did say that to me. Irish gentleman from Utah I was dating at the time, who said, oh, I love Black people. They're always so happy <laugh>.

Laura Maylene Walter (09:38):
Wow, amazing. Geez, <laugh>.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (09:41):
Yeah, at that point I was just like, whew, okay, back up just a little bit. Let's think about this. I don't think you're at the same level my I'm at right now if understanding where we are in America. And this is all the time. I was 16 when I was paging and I was actually living in DC where some of these instances came from. And then there's another gentleman I had a crush on and all these things. He took me to this fountain, then we talked, he too was from Utah. Hmm. Utah. That's a central point. And it was just amazing to me how little people knew of my own culture. Even though my culture's American culture, even though my history's American history and how little they knew of how weighty those things can sit on a kind of fledgling crush. Like to have to navigate a crush is one thing, but to have to navigate a crush through the very turbulent waters of race and understanding is a whole other thing.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (10:33):
And that's a lot of ways in which that goddess had to come into being, because it's hard work to do that and try and figure out your self-worth, how to divide your self-worth from any possible ideas of are you being fetishized here? Are you being made to be exotic? What is the real reason for this person dating you? Do they actually like you or are they trying to prove a point to friends? Or is this performative allyship? You know, like there are so many things you have to, and not to say that everyone has to go through this, but for some people this is part of the gauntlet. And so I felt like this goddess needed to exist because somebody needs to hold your hand when you're going through that gauntlet trying to figure out does he really like me for me or not? Or does she really like me or not? You know, it's just like, is this person really into me or are they really just into my culture, my color? And then not only that, I begin to think about the depletion of the ozone layer, right? <laugh>. Because,

Laura Maylene Walter (11:27):
The natural next step <laugh>.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (11:28):
Exactly, the natural next step. Because melanin does offer some protection against the depletion of the ozone layer. And I begin to think about was climate change is occurring <laugh>, and as we're getting a depleted ozone layer and melanin offers this protection, well, if you want your genes to survive, you might just want to introduce some melanin into the population and keep it going. And it just might be the thing that might protect your children, you know, or your grandchildren or your great, great great grandchildren. So it was like, here are all the reasons why as a people we should be all mixing <laugh> and have it all come together. And I got this from a study from the National Institutes of Health, right? Like this is a legitimate study because it does take people with melanin a little bit longer to have sunburn. And I noticed this even with my husband who's way fairer than I am and how quickly he'll tan. I'll tan, but my tan will stay for months, you know. And it's not the same with him. He's so fair and he has to be very careful. He has to use a higher, you know, SPF some, you know, than I do because my melanin offers me some general basic protections. Not, you know, everything but some. And so just to begin to think about that and think about it in a kind of genetic carrier way, like what could help a society down the road as the ozone layer depletes melanin might help.

Laura Maylene Walter (12:45):
That's so fascinating. I'm going to look for that study when I find it. I'll link to it in the show notes for this episode. But I love that line if he wants, "if he wants melanin's cape to cover his offspring". And it's so fascinating to hear some of the thought process that went behind that. You know, you could read it on sort of a metaphorical level and also on this literal level of actually offering protection from the sun. And of course the irony in that when in this country that is usually a source of vulnerability versus protection. So that's, so I love that, it's so rich. Yeah. Can you talk about the writing process for the poem? You have the idea, you have these concepts you're thinking about. What does that look like for you to sit down and write a poem? And I'm such a prose writer by the way that, you know, <laugh>, you might be able to tell, tell me your poetry secrets. But,

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (13:31):

Laura Maylene Walter (13:31):
What was it like for this poem in particular when you actually started writing it?

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (13:35):
You know, I had the second half of the poem first, and it took me a while to get to the first half. I needed something, some hinge to set me off something to connect it all together. And so the bottom half of the poem, the second stanza is the part of the poem. Most of the goddess poems are kind of in a monostich, just like one long stanza, down the page. This is a rare one that is in two stanzas because I wanted to get to the scientific process of making caramel, caramel, caramel, which I go back and forth Midwest or not <laugh>.

Laura Maylene Walter (14:07):
Yeah, I know.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (14:07):
So, so sometimes it's caramel. Sometimes it's caramel.

Laura Maylene Walter (14:10):

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (14:10):
Because I thought the process of it, of making it also reminding me of the blending of race and skin textures and colors. Right? Because you start off, you have to fold in the milk to get this light brown color, but then if you don't, you can also do it.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (14:26):
And I make a lot of caramel popcorn, so I'm always making caramel. But you can also use like your dark corn syrup and dark brown sugar and you can still get it. And so I just thought, oh, it's really funny that cream and sugar make this one thing that is my Achilles heel, which is caramel. I can have caramel all day every day. And the fact that you have this kind of color mixture happening, this swirl happening, right? And then that led itself to this is how this poem needs to begin then, because I already had these elements of the thing that was actually said to me, and again, I still remember how angry I was when that was said to me and how I had to walk away.

Laura Maylene Walter (15:05):

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (15:05):
And then also underneath all of what was said to me in that moment was the fact that I really liked that guy. You know, I had a crush on that guy and now I had to rethink a lot of what he was doing and saying and trying to discern whether or not his intentions toward me were actually romantic or something else. And so to pull those two together, that's somehow it's like the process of creating caramel, I guess, you know, the two things had to come and be melded together. And I had to really dive deep to figure out, well in the end, what does melanin really do for us? You know?

Laura Maylene Walter (15:41):
Yeah. And it's always so jarring when someone reveals themselves in a way you didn't expect, right? When you have to reframe your whole perception of someone and their experiences and how their experiences and beliefs are leading them to maybe a different place. So, wow. Yeah. That's really intense. So what was your revision process like for this poem?

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (16:02):
Well, I'm the beneficiary of being in a writer's group for almost 14 years, right? We meet once a month basically. And for a while they were even meeting at my house when my children were young, so I could nurse <laugh>, nurse my baby, handing my baby off to my husband. I'm like, okay.

Laura Maylene Walter (16:19):
<laugh>. Nice. Yeah.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (16:19):
So many of these poems, if not all of them, my writing group has seen in some form. So like I said, I'm the beneficiary of having them as, as a great writer's group and having that kind of feedback, that crucial and critical feedback at least once a month. So that was part of the revision process. The other part was just trying to go through and think about the personhood of the poem and how to reach out of the poem off the page and how to make that work. Whether or not I wanted to put this in second person, first person, and third person, I had to go back and really revise that and figure out what made sense, how to get the goddess's voice right. You know? Hence the, the first two lines and the second stanza, I take my responsibility seriously, but I cannot overcome his stupidity.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (16:59):
It was like, so how does this goddess work? And this is, you know, she's like, I'm here to do all the things. I want him to think about you. And the way that the tongue remembers that there's a piece of caramel in the crevices of the molars. I want him to always be thinking of you as a muscle push. As a muscle memory, right? As a muscle memory to be made a muscle that goddess knows how she wants to be thought of, but she also wants to protect her at the same time. And that's why she builds the woman up. She's like, "you're never his jungle, his dark continent." All the ways in which black women's bodies have been talked about and treated, you know, as some dark continent come you're not that. You're so much more than that. You have the power. And that's what all these goddesses do, is they give you the power, because that's what I've wanted. That's what I've been missing. That's what I want to give to all women, all women <laugh>. I want them to have power. I want to empower women's voices. And so I wanted this goddess to take this moment where you could feel really fragile and fetishize and exoticize all these things and say, Uh uh, no, no, no. You have the power. It's on him to get his act together. If he wants his offspring to survive genetically, like ozone layer, <laugh>, you know, so.

Laura Maylene Walter (18:14):
I love that.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (18:15):
Yeah. It was about trying to give power to all women presenting as women. There's a lot in the society that gets dumped this way. And so sometimes you need someone to push you back up, brush your shoulders off and say, no, go get out there. You've got this.

Laura Maylene Walter (18:29):
Can you talk a bit about embodying this goddess and other goddesses in your collection? And does a poem come together differently for you in that way than if it is a poem where maybe there's a little more of you in the speaker of the poem?

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (18:42):
Oh, it definitely comes together in a different way with these goddess poems. They're all persona poems. And I love persona poems because I get to take one small sliver of a feeling and just magnify it a hundred times and go for it. I also have to do it in a way that respects the idea of the persona and fills out the persona as well without taking anything away from it. So all of these goddesses were created in my mind to do that, like I said, to empower. And in this one, it's just always making sure I left enough trail markers, enough crumbs that when I came back to revise it, I could slide right back into that moment, into that powerful feeling. The other thing I should mention too is I grew up as a comic book lover. So The Uncanny X-Men, 1987, Chris Claremont, those were my days.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (19:32):
And I loved all the origin stories of the comic <laugh>, you know, of different superheroes. So this gave me a chance to play with that and to be like that and you know, to be my own Stan Lee, you know, like I could do this. I could make my own superheroes by making these goddesses in these poems come to life. So much of that was trying to make sure that each goddess had that kind of power, that kind of strength. And I should say I'm, you know, I'm 5'3'', so having power and strength is something I'm not going to lie, I've kind of dreamt about all my life, you know, it'd be nice not to need help to get something from the top shelf <laugh>. And so I wanted that embodied in those poems, that kind of power that didn't stand down.

Laura Maylene Walter (20:14):

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (20:15):
And didn't take crap from anyone. And so it was a fun exercise to live in the fantasy of having that on the page.

Laura Maylene Walter (20:23):
Absolutely. Maybe I'll wake up one day infused with a new superpower. That would be great. <laugh>. So one more process question. You mentioned your writer's group. Can you share with us how that group works? Is this a group exclusively of poets? Do you share your work in advance? Tell us about how this works.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (20:41):
I would say we're all there for poetry, although, you know, other people may write other things, but we're all different types of poets. Like one is more of a formalist, one is highly, highly intelligent, and writes these really witty poems that just bend into themselves. Another person is a publisher and she writes more prose poems. So we all write different types of poems, but it is a poetry workshop group. And when we meet, we normally send poems ahead of time. Sometimes it's that day, that's me guilty, <laugh>. Sometimes it's that day, other times it's a couple days ahead. But then we'll read the poem once and then the poet is silent while we all discuss the poem. And because we've known each other for so long, we know all of our tendencies, all of our pitfalls. And so we can say, okay, hey, check for your tenses here, but here you can work on this rhyme pattern here.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (21:30):
And I see you're working in a sonnet, so what do you want to do here to make this iambic pentameter ? What do you want to do for this line to make it all fit? So that's the benefit of working in a group that you've known for 14 years. That's how it all works. There are times that having a group like this has made me write more because I feel as if I need to produce something for the group. And that's been good because there are times when you just feel like I don't have it in me.

Laura Maylene Walter (21:57):
I was just talking with a friend about this, about how some writers, they use an MFA program and they're really productive in an MFA, and then maybe after that they're not, or if they haven't been in an MFA, you know, really struggling to keep working consistently. And my advice is usually find some kind of writing group, either online or in your local town, because I did that as well. When I was younger. I had moved to Cleveland, I'm not from here originally, and I just started joining every publicly open writing group I could find. And it gave me that deadline. If I want my work to be discussed too, I need to submit it by Friday or whenever. And that was so helpful. So I think that's good advice for writers. So speaking of advice for writers, a question writers always ask me that I can never personally answer, so I'll give it to you, is when you know work is done, even though I'm kind of using air quotes with done, because I think as writers a piece, we could always maybe think about a piece in a new way or make changes. But with this poem in particular, about how long did you work on it and how did you arrive at a point where you felt the poem is in its form that I wanted to be in? How do you come to that part of the process?

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (23:04):
The funny thing about these goddess poems is like, I had the whole collection basically written except for the goddess poems. And then I went to the community of writers in California up in the mountains. And so I had a week and I had to produce a poem for my workshop there. And so that's when these goddess poems started tumbling out. In fact, one of them actually woke me up in the middle of the night, like, like the lines were just coming in my head. So I was like, okay, whew. All right, must write this. So the revision process for this was unique in that I could then go leap from page to page to page from persona to persona to persona, but still feel like I was brimming with that kind of power. It's almost like I touched the live wire. It was just all like coming through me.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (23:50):
And so at that point, I could easily slide into the different personas because it was all about power. All this had been building up in my head and knew these goddess poems had to be done to finish the book. And so even the goddess of interracial dating, that story had been floating around my head since it happened. You know, it is a trauma that I could not let go of. And now I finally can because I put it in the poem. And that's perhaps why it was floating around my head for so long, because I just, it needed a release, it needed to make an example of what happened and pass this on. Like, okay, just so you know, someone says that to you, they might not be on the tip of really getting to know you <laugh>. So I basically revised a lot of these in that first week in which I wrote them, but then continued to revise them until I submitted them to the Wheeler Prize the end of that year.

Laura Maylene Walter (24:45):
That's amazing. Yeah.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (24:46):
All of it was very quick. But normally my revision process is anywhere from three months to three years. It just, you know, you can always come back to it and still tinker. Even now, there are poems in HAINT, in my first book that I go through when I read them, I'm like, I'm silently making edits.

Laura Maylene Walter (25:01):
Yeah. Yeah. I just gave a reading last week and my book was so marked up with changes. Part of that might be for prose. It is I think different reading it out loud than reading it to yourself and poetry is a bit different, but yeah, absolutely. I will do that for the rest of my life. I will constantly be making edits.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (25:17):

Laura Maylene Walter (25:18):
Well, to talk about the larger collection a little bit, the official description, which I will just read, is poems at once, angry and tender, explore motherhood, race, sexuality, and a Black woman's complicated relationship with her country. It's February, of course, it's Black History Month. And right now we're recording this at a time when the news cycle is heavily focused on Tyre Nichols. Your collection of poetry covers so much in addition to the Goddess poems. So I'm wondering if you could just tell us about the whole collection as you see it.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (25:50):
This book was permission <laugh>. You know, the first book was, I couldn't believe I actually did a book <laugh>. And then the second book is like, oh, so we did a book, let's go, let's go for it. Let's go for all the things that I love. So if I love comic books and I love mythology, which is the other part of that too, then yeah, let's write these goddess poems. And if I have these poems about raising children, which the first book kind of dealt with the process of infertility for most of the book and kind of growing to a stage of owning one's body, owning one's identity. So to get here, there was a maturity that had happened in my voice, but also all of a sudden there's a kaleidoscope that happened in my vision because everything's split up into different rainbows because now there's this child and now there's this child, and now there's this marriage that's now I'll be 23 years married, you know, as of this year.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (26:41):
You know, so it's like all these, these things were happening at once. And at the same time, throughout most of this, I've been the curator of the O.B. Hardison Poetry Series at the Folger running this poetry program, having poets come through every year, finding poets to bring through. So all these things happened and melded into the ball of me and came out this way because sometimes poetry is the best way that I have to deal with the mini hurts in knowing that Tyre Nichols call for his mother, my son, who will be 12, which is the same age of Tamir Rice. So all those things, they sit on you every day and this is the only way they can come out in a way that doesn't hurt as much.

Laura Maylene Walter (27:22):

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (27:22):
The way that says, I can scream all I want on the page, knowing I can't in person. I'm also not just a mother, or not just a wife, or not just a daughter, or not just a sister. I'm all of these, you know, Whitman said it, you know, we contain multitudes. And so I had to try and grasp and grapple with these multitudes. You know, I'll still listen to Duran Duran in excess any day, you know, as much as I listen to the Sugar Hill Gang and Led Zeppelin and Jimmy Hendricks and Anderson Paak.

Laura Maylene Walter (27:58):
Prince and and Led Zeppelin have appearances in the book. Yeah. And also Ireland and Paris and the preamble of the Constitution are all in this book. And so yeah, definitely contains multitudes when it came to ordering the collection. You mentioned that the Goddess poems were some of the last ones that were written. Did you already have a sense of where they would fit into the collection? How did you go about ordering all the poems?

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (28:21):
It was tough. I put the manuscript together at one point. I put all the goddess poems together. A friend of mine was like, no, don't do that <laugh>. She read the manuscript. She's like, no, you need to balance this out. I always feel like it's a famous thing for me, cause I always see all the posts do it. You lay the entire book out on the floor and really you read through it from top, you know, first line, first word of one page to the last word of that page to the first word of the next page. And just kind of create these links together in your head. And if there's a kind of emotional landscape, an emotional map that you can create with these poems and allow someone to follow through it. And so that's what I had to do. I had to figure out where were the goddesses needed, when did anger come into the conversation to a point where it needed to be addressed? And so, yeah, let's do that in that third section where it's like, that's it. I'm digging into America here, I'm going to write this poem that suggests revolution. And, and the goddess anger has to be somewhere near that, you know? And so,

Laura Maylene Walter (29:18):
Yeah <laugh>.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (29:18):
Exactly. It's like it all had to, the goddess of cleaning had to come in here somewhere and it's like all of it had to make sense. The goddesses had to be in conversation with the other poems in the book. And that was the best way.

Laura Maylene Walter (29:29):
And so this is one of your books, but I know you've, you've also published very widely in literary journals and anthologies. And I should say just full disclosure for our listeners that I guess it, it was several years ago at the time I was the editor-in-chief of Literary Cleveland Gordon Square Review and we published one of your poems, it was our poetry editor, Ali Black, who is also a Cleveland poet. She's great. And so we were really honored to publish your work and I can link to that in the show notes as well. I believe it was "The Embers of Eve." But can you talk a bit about publishing individual poems and journals and how that process has maybe shaped your work or influenced your work? Just how you go about it. Do you have a certain strategy for submitting poems? Just tell us how it works for you.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (30:12):
Normally I wait until I have a nice little treasure trove of poems to select from. And then I can do like a big submission where I'm submitting to like oh four or five different places at once. My ideas kind of spread them out as far as I can to see who bites, but it's also marrying the submission to the journal and making sure it makes sense for that journal. I was so excited to get in the Gordon Square View just because I'm, you know, when I left Cleveland, I was at the beginning of my poetry journey in many ways. It was right before I went to Cave Canem for the first years. Like I left Cleveland in '98 and went to Cave Canem in '99, but I just joined a poetry group there. So it meant a lot to me to have my poetry self recognized in my hometown because it's all the beginning of that, but not the end of it, you know, or the, and process me cause I'm definitely not at the end of this journey.

Laura Maylene Walter (31:05):
Oh yeah.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (31:06):
<laugh> And so it is, it's about trying to marry the right piece with the right journal. And it's about, for me, if I can get enough together, I can send out, keep my Excel spreadsheet together of who has what and where.

Laura Maylene Walter (31:20):
You have to be organized writers. Yep <laugh>.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (31:22):
Uh oh.

Laura Maylene Walter (31:23):
It must be tough for poetry cause as a prose writer, the record keeping is tough too. But some journals might take three poems, some might take five poems. Oh my goodness. Yeah. That would, that would be a lot to keep track of.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (31:32):
You don't want to end up in that situation where you have to yank a poem last minute, then that journal's looking at you like, hey, I don't know about you.

Laura Maylene Walter (31:39):
You got to be professional. Exactly.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (31:42):
<laugh> So that Excel spreadsheet is very helpful, but it's always interesting. It's always surprised me, I should say sometimes when these poems have shown up in some of these journals, like, oh my gosh, like that's me. You always have that imposter syndrome.

Laura Maylene Walter (31:56):
I always think in acceptance, they're going to write back in two days and say, oops, wrong person, we hit the wrong button. You know <laugh>.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (32:02):
Same, same. You're just waiting for the other shoe to drop. You're like, I knew it's going to drop when

Laura Maylene Walter (32:07):
This is what it's like to be a writer. We're used to doom and rejection. So.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (32:10):
Exactly. <laugh>. Exactly.

Laura Maylene Walter (32:13):
I know you've done a lot of residencies, so I don't know if you just want to quickly share what they've meant to your writing practice.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (32:19):
Oh my gosh. Well, Cave Canem has meant everything to me as a black poet, it gave me such a foundation and a home Hedgebrook meant the world to me as a woman. It just, going to Hedgebrook was like, oh my gosh. It was like, heaven.

Laura Maylene Walter (32:31):
I've never been there, but I've seen pictures and it looks like utopia.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (32:34):
Yes, it is. It is totally <laugh>. And I'm trying to think, and of of course the community of writers, I have to because they're, and having a chance to work for Sharon Olds one night, and then Brenda Hillman the next day, and Gregory Pardlo, like, it was so helpful for these goddess poems to come into being. And I'm trying to think, there have been some great places, but those jumped to the top of my head. And of course, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts was the first place I went to after weaning my child. So it was like right when these poems began to really explore themselves. And I could feel myself coming back to my writer self after motherhood, after back to back babies and breastfeeding is a whole deal. It's like, there's so much. But yeah, all those places are incredible. There are others I've been to and they've all been helpful on this process and I, I am a big fan of residencies because I feel like it's really when you get away that you can write in my mind when you don't have like the dog looking at you when the dryer's not beeping, when somebody's not coming up to you like, mommy, I'm hungry.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (33:31):
And you're like, okay, you know, like, I really need to write this poem and I can't have any interruptions. You have to feed your artist self as much as you feed your partner self, as much as your parents self, as much as you feed your sibling self. All these things you have to feed your artist self. And the best way to do that is a residency.

Laura Maylene Walter (33:50):
Can you tell us a bit about your job at the Folger Shakespeare Library as the poetry coordinator? Tell us about what you do and and how long have you been there?

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (33:57):
I started in October of 2005 and, so I like to say I've been there for a teenager. So at this point it's 17, it'll be 18 years this year. And what I do is kind of a dream job for poets. I'm not going to lie to you, because it's like my whole office is surrounded with poetry, books and broadsides from handwritten poems from poets across the decades. And my job is to curate the O.B. Hardison Poetry series, which means that I bring in poets from all over the country, sometimes all over the world because DC is an international city with the presence of embassies who are in many of those embassies like the Irish Embassy are very willing to help and promote their arts here. So you can sometimes get some assistance to bring poets and have people come. Even with Charles Simic, I remember the ambassador for his country took us out to dinner that night that he read at the Folger.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (34:49):
So it's like, my job is really just to read as much as I can figure out what kind of trends are happening. That's the pressure I put on myself because I want to see what trends are happening and bring people who are doing interesting things. I try and combine emerging and established poets. So people walk in and say, well, I walked in for this poet, but I walked out not knowing that poet. And now I know that poet and I'm in love. That always makes me happy. And to also at this point now, Folger poetry in itself has began to expand to respond more to the theater. So I just did this past summer, I did three readings in response to a Midsummer Night's Dream and a workshop on dream poetry. And I just curated and did a workshop on sonnets, but sonnets from DC writers. So we can look at the long-standing tradition of the sonnet and what happened when Shakespeare got ahold of it, and how he changed it, how the British changed it from the Italian version. And then what does it mean to have so many poets of color and writers and women taking the sonnet now and moving it around, making the American sonnet like Wanda Coleman did, and Terrance Hayes following in her footsteps. It's really a fun job. <laugh> You know, like almost feel like I have to apologize <laugh>, it's so unique.

Laura Maylene Walter (36:04):
I feel that way about my job here. You know, writers have to have jobs unless someone is just independently wealthy. You have to have a job. And this kind of job where, as you said, you get to keep up with trends and see what's out there and really stay involved in the current conversation of poetry and, and what people are writing and working on. That is a gift. Well, can you tell us anything about what you are working on now?

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (36:28):
I've been doing a lot of poems that speak back to the environment and that give a voice to the environment. With these last few years of working from home, I've invested a lot of time into gardening, which was always something that I was interested in. The idea of nurturing and tending a thing is something I do well. I love to nurture and tender. So there's a lot of poems that respond back to nature, that look at nature and race. I'm also looking at more poems that talk about the Constitution. I was a Congressional page when I was 16, which is how I came to be in DC initially. And to know basically pages from every state in the entire union. Every state. So being here, working in the Capitol Building, going to school in the Library of Congress, I was surrounded by the artifacts of our government and had a deep overriding belief in the government, which had been sorely tested.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (37:27):
So as I began to acquire new awareness and to learn more about the history of America, and I was in international affairs when I was in grad school as well as, you know, an MFA in creative writing. And so all of that has come together to lead me to a point of, okay, what I did with the preamble is kind of just the beginning of what I wanted. There's so much more in that constitution that I think we need to pull out and question and think, and there's so much more as a nation that we need to pull out and think and really consider how do we want to move forward? What's the best way to move forward and are we doing the things that benefit our society short-term, medium-term, long-term?

Laura Maylene Walter (38:06):
Absolutely. Well, I think that is actually a perfect note to end on. Again, Teri's book is A MORE PERFECT UNION, which is published by Mad Creek Books at The Ohio State University. And is there anywhere you'd like listeners to know where to find you online or anything else coming up you would like to share?

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (38:23):
We have a website, my husband and I, I'll be doing a reading in as part of the, with the National Gallery of Art. I'm very excited about this in September. If you're in DC, it's the Wilmerding Symposium at the National Gallery of Art. So I'll be creating some ekphrastic work in response to some artwork at the National Gallery of Art. And I'm looking forward to some time at Ragdale this summer.

Laura Maylene Walter (38:48):
We all need, I think, the goddess of uninterrupted writing time. I think that would be perfect.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (38:52):
Yes. You need to pop up and I'll put something on her altar right

Laura Maylene Walter (38:55):
Now. Yes, yes, please conjure her for us. We need it. Thank you so much for talking to us on this Valentine's Day episode about love poems and your poetry and process. Thank you so much. Thank

Teri Ellen Cross Davis (39:05):
You so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Laura Maylene Walter (39:10):
Page Count is presented by the Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate, and leave a review for Page Count wherever you get your podcast. Learn more online or find a transcript of this episode at, follow us on Twitter @cplocfb, or find us on Facebook. If you'd like to get in touch, email and put "podcast" in the subject line. Finally, follow me on Twitter and Instagram @LauraMaylene. Thanks for listening, and we'll be back in two weeks for another chapter of Page Count.

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