For Todd Fleming Davis, metaphor is always a moment of transformation.
“With a simile, we create distance,” said Davis, a poet, educator and the Week Seven poet-in-residence at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center. “If I say: ‘My dog’s face is like my great-grandmother who lived in Kentucky, and each day met her husband at the mouth of a river,’ suddenly, we’re transformed from the dog that’s in front of us to the mouth of a river.”
The key part of any simile is the word “like,” Davis said, and the artifice that the word establishes.
“If we remove the word ‘like,’ we’re saying that that face is the grandmother’s face,” he said. “That’s a moment of transformation.
Davis said he wants attendees of his Brown Bag at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 9 on the porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall to see how metaphor creates this sometimes magical transformation on the page. His lecture is titled “Poetry as Transformation: Metaphor and Mythmaking in Contemporary Poetry.”
“What I’m going to end up doing (in my Brown Bag lecture) is reading passages or complete poems from contemporary poets to the audience,” he said.
Davis will call attention to specific examples of metaphor from the poems he reads — “for example, the poet Donika Kelly wrote her first book, Bestiary, and one of her poems is called ‘Love Poem: Centaur,’ in which suddenly she is a centaur. Donika Kelly is a lesbian, African American woman — not a centaur at all. But in the poem, for us to understand what love is like for her, she becomes a centaur.”
He will focus on the metamorphosis that can happen through metaphors.
“I want people to see the range of contemporary human experience in these moments of transformation,” he said. “Many of these moments use the primary tool at the root of poetry: metaphor.”
Davis’ latest book of poetry, Coffin Honey, came about because of a poem in another of his collections, “ ‘Taxidermy: Cathartes aura.’ … Cathartes aura is Latin for turkey vulture,” he said. “That poem is the poem where a young boy is assaulted by his uncle. That was in my previous book, Native Species, and that boy’s story just kept haunting me. I couldn’t leave it behind.”
A friend of Davis’, the poet Katy Hays, read the poem and said that she wanted to know more about the boy and what happens to him after, and if he’s healed in some way.
“It’s a very important collection to me,” Davis said.