Olena Kalytiak Davis, The Poem She Didn't Write and Other Poems

The Poem She Didn’t Write and Other Poems
Olena Kalytiak Davis
Copper Canyon Press, $23 (cloth)

If love is fickle—and it is—poetry is its fed-up preservationist: overworked, underpaid. In her first full-length collection in more than a decade, Olena Kalytiak Davis takes intimacy to task, exploring the sexual modality through a candid inner voice, unyielding in its dealings with humanity’s need for connection: “we have holes inside our souls, / but mustn’t we begin by filling others’? / . . . fuck. we didn’t read again for weeks.” In Davis’s poems, carnal knowledge has found its bone, exes mark the spot, and post-confessional meta-meditations ride the F train. With her allusions and throwbacks to traditional forms, modes, and techniques (sonnets, aubades, anaphora, etc.), Davis jackhammers a niche into the contemporary scene (“the new style is the old style: from behind”), even offering her own spin on Robert Lowell’s ‘ALL’S MISALLIANCE’ (from his “Epilogue”). Although division exists between self, poem, and experience, they strive for convergence: “O Poem, we could have been so good together!” Dynamic tension reverberates between the author and her art, suggesting love is a solo endeavor of the psyche, an abused euphemism to obscure the primal urges we attempt to fulfill and loneliness we attempt to forestall by appending our affections to others. Keen and strategic, the desire for self-satisfaction often outshines romance, resulting in “meretricious love.” However, these poems speak from a bruised self who can’t help but extend, from “the muskeg of my lust,” an ear in hope of an echo: “in the short torn negligee of my self / -neglect -respect and my wreaking / gore-tex sneakers // . . . let all my loves and lovers have the courage to show up.”