Winner of the Pavement Saw Transcontinental Award
6x9, perfect bound
Printed in a limited edition of 1046 copies
Steve Davenport's work has appeared in The Iowa Review, Fiction International, 580 Split, CutBank, and many other journals, as well as the anthologies Red, White, & Blues: Poetic Vistas on the Promise of America and Boys Don't Cry?: Rethinking Narratives of Masculinity and Emotion in the U.S.
Recipient of an Illinois Arts Council prose award, he is the Associate Director of Creative Writing at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the Creative Nonfiction Editor of Ninth Letter. From Bethalto by way of Hartford, he lives with his wife and many daughters in Urbana.
Uncontainable Noise is wildly alive: a collage that is part shoot-out at the poetry corral, part love story, a collection that overmodulates fearlessly into new domains of tone. Steve Davenport has created a new world that is ribald, violent, reverent, and thoroughly word-drunk. The myth of the Western is inlaid with dream songs till "the good news is frontier." And there's plenty of that edgy quality--frontier--in these pages. Davenport's playful, linguistically rich poems--sonnets, yodels, yawps, howls, cool parables, badass laments--are inventive, surprising. Anyone who loves language and imagination will revel in this exuberant, truly uncontainable, first book. --Alice Fulton
The energetic poems of Uncontainable Noise ride and drink and sex across three different relationships, moving, in the course of the book, from pain to happiness with an obsessive, iterative drive suggestive of the pleasures and burdens of love. The language here remembers itself, sends roots forward into other poems, words and lines recur and loop, as you would expect in any fundamental working-through. While catharsis is too small a word for what is achieved, it suggests how deeply these poems reside in the poet. And while this is largely a chronicle of failure, it is also a vindication of our attempts to touch, to speak, for as Davenport writes, "you can't change the naked fact: that you're waiting/for something you can't name or find in hips alone." --Bob Hicok
Q: When and where did this project, Uncontainable Noise, begin?
A: Ten years ago. In an apartment I was renting in Decatur, Illinois. Second floor of a Victorian. A back room. Wooden chair two, three feet from a window looking out at the small yard, garage, alley. It wasn at a project then. Just a guy trying to stay in his wooden chair long enough to get something done.
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Q: How did the project-that-was-not-a-project begin ?
A: In voluntary constraint. Carefully measured syllabic lines. One sonnet and then another and another until I 'd written enough of them, six or seven, that I had a sequence going on. Here is a contributor 's note I wrote very early on for Many Mountains Moving, maybe the first place to accept some of them: Memory tells me I was teaching Sharon Olds The Language of the Brag and reading the rock sonnets in David Wojahn's Mystery Train when her claims to hugeness and his wild titles formed a seed, a trigger. Bang, all in caps, a title of my own: "DRUNKEN ANNIE OAKLEY BACCHUS TONTO SONNET. " Bang, a first line: "Say you're drunk and ass deep in theories of desire. " Soon I'd built around myself fences for definition: the last word of every title sonnet, every line, including titles, twelve syllables long, the sequence an argument. And the voice through the slats: you go, cowboy: write big: swagger like some Hopalong Whitman through your fenced-in cornfield poetry. So I did. Eventually I dropped the caps, ass became knee, and I changed the title.
Say She's On Top Tossing The Moon Back Like A Shot
Say you're drunk and knee deep in theories of desire,
stereo cranked, and you know better than bourbon
what the thumping means, the violence under your skin
like noise in a drum, like Tonto caught in his name.
You know all about the absent object, how lack
motors desire and bodies seek dismemberment.
Say Annie Oakley's on top tossing the moon back
like a shot of vodka, and you make the mistake
of calling yourself the architect of rapture.
You're a poet, she says. Think Bacchus. Better spells
than shrines if you're talking hairy fist of werewolf
gathering at the center of nothing squeezing.
Otherwise your sonnets are blank shells, body bags,
and you're no cowboy of drunken love poetry.
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Q: Explain the title Uncontainable Noise.
A: Chaos and fences, suit, head, seeds, bellow, locked blood. The stuff in the book 's epigraph, five lines from Michael Ondaatje's King Kong Meets Wallace Stevens." Originally the title was Cowboy of Drunken Love Poetry, a title that pleased me and maybe one other person. It didn't really describe the entire project. It came too early in the process. Then it was Blood Noise, which I meant to suggest Ondaatje's bellow of locked blood, which I read as head, mind, body, seed, syllable, memory, voice, family, which means for me blood, both shared and spilled.
The Tomlovic son's washing the family
crime, our crime, blood and brains of a shotgun
murder-suicide off the walls of his family's store . . . .
(from Hartford, Illinois )
When it was nearly over, the accumulation of different forms arranged as they are now, I was persuaded to change the title to Uncontainable Noise, two words that point not to family specifically but to the thumping that gave birth to the book, the music in my head, the twelve-syllable lines I kept counting off by beating the thumb and fingers of my right hand on the sides of my jeans, the tops of tables, my head, trying to get at the noise in a drum. Rapture under threat of rupture.
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Q: Why Wallace Stevens and Georgia O'Keeffe and not, say, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans?
A: What's not to like about Wallace Stevens? The Idea of Order at Key West, Sunday Morning, The Snow Man, Men Made Out of Words. I like that he didn't hit his stride until later in life. And there he is in the Ondaatje poem, where he belongs in stature, with King Kong. As for Georgia O'Keeffe, what's not to like about her? Poets, for some reason, reference painters a lot. Though a Midwestern girl, she became a Western woman. That association provided me with the desert iconography I wanted to set against his Eastern or Otherness.
Wallace Stevens And Georgia O'Keeffe Go For Their Guns
Something sparked it. A lamp broke.
Coyote came in through the window.
Scorpion fell into the gravy bowl.
She stretched a canvas too tight,
and later when the frame snapped,
it was the perfect excuse.
All those flowers made Wallace sneeze.
He could never get comfortable.
The chairs were made of cow skulls.
Ghost Ranch was Georgia's.
He blocked the light, talked too much.
Hard to tell who threw the first shot.
I guess I could have used Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Despite their separate divorce records (he was her fourth husband), they lasted fifty-one years until death did them part. Four and fifty-one, compelling numbers, but too loaded with history. I wanted to move quickly: invent a pair, get them together, break them up. Rapture. Rupture.
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Q: What's the difference between a sonnet and a yodel, words you use interchangeably?
A: I 'm not sure. At first, I meant only to reference a form of song. All the better its cowboy connections. Later, as I kept building my tightly packed sonnets with the idea that rupture of form is both constant threat and inevitable result, I became interested in the voice-breaks in a yodel, the rapid shifts in register, the way the voice ramps higher and higher until it breaks and must drop down (chest voice) to ascend again (head voice). What I like about the yodel is its incorporation of the breaks, the tiny, controlled ruptures that seem extravagantly displayed to me yet are anything but extravagant because they're fundamental to the form.
. . . sonnets rupturing
like body bags,
like the thump
of the blood
or the jump
in our guts,
of the absent object
or Bacchus blowing
the walls off
a closed field,
that which is
in and out:
my terrible trinity
the next jail break.
(from A Hundred-Line Rooftop Sour-Mash Yodel Sonnet )
Perfect noise at the razor edge of jail break, the uncontainable click or bang that changes, opens everything. Smack-dab in the moment of that uncontainability. Rupture. Rapture.
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Q: What ?s the difference between a typical yodel sonnet and a paint bullet or a corked bottle?
A: I don't intend there to be much beyond the very obvious differences in physical properties. I want the same packed quality, the anticipation of explosion. I want it to feel like a loaded pistol, preferably one you didn't load and you don't know if the safety's on or off and it's right there on the cushiony, bouncy couch beside you, aimed at one of your thighs or, better, your hips. Toward that end, I carefully pack the sonnet full of syllables, twelve per line. I load it with projectiles and motion. I aim for shifts in register within and across the sonnets to give them my yodel stamp.
So I Send This Three-Word Burst, Poor Ink, Repeating
If I could load all I mean in metal casings,
in full jackets made to order, built from pictures
of my psyche, reverse time-lapse reconstruction
of the wreck to separate out the roots and shades,
a funneling back up out of the drain of self
in plosions of color streaking to the surface,
returned, called back, reunited, the sum of it,
all I mean, have ever meant, as if that could be
done in a word or a sonnet or a cartridge,
all of it loaded and locked like perfect meaning
in a magazine set to spray perfect bullets,
if I could, I would, but all I mean is too big,
too scattered, so I send this three-word burst, poor ink,
repeating: I want out, I want out, I want out.
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Q: Why no quotation marks or explanatory notes?
A: In A Note on the Notes, which you can find in her Collected Poems, Marianne Moore addresses borrowing, her career-long participation in the practice, and the hybrid form of composition that results. She wishes she didn't have to interrupt the poems or explain. After Eliot, explanations have become common. I decided to offer none beyond the language of the poems and my own Note on No Notes at the back of the book. And I mean what I say there. Contact me, and I 'll do my best to provide a source for a line or phrase you think borrowed. Here are the first eight lines of the opening poem in which I announce the aesthetic of thievery. I prefer to think of it as salvage work, using what I find in the beautiful, drunken wreck of my reading history, which is the story of my influences, to carve out my own space, arrange my own bones:
In your lizard-skin boots, reread the book of myths.
Dip it two parts whiskey to one part gunpowder.
Fall in tongues or fever, thieving the terrible.
Wake and feel the fell of dark, not day. What black hours.
Then saddle a sea horse and dive into the wreck.
Salvage all you can of the poets buried there.
Arrange their sea-smooth bones in fourteen broken rows.
Art is entrails spilled and a hand drawing itself.
(from Arrange Their Sea-Smooth Bones In Fourteen Broken Rows )
In a previous version, the first few lines were different. I had taken a phrase, coffee according to Hopkins, from Hemingway's Big Two-Hearted River and turned it into the twelve-syllable line Brew a cup of coffee according to Hopkins. I meant it as a tribute to the highly poetic nature of Hemingway's first book, In Our Time (originally every letter in arty lower-case), as well as a nod to the important sonneteer Gerard Manley Hopkins. A subsequent rearrangement, the one above, drops the allusion to Hemingway and switches up the allusion to Hopkins. I increase the number of Hopkins allusions-- fever (he died of typhoid fever) and terrible (the very next line, Wake and feel . . ., is a line I thieve, as in thieving the terrible, from one of his Terrible Sonnets)--even as I erase his name and decrease the chance a connection will be made.
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Q: So you're a thief or a poet?
A: What's the difference? I suppose I took T. S. Eliot at his word: Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal. Mine is a self-conscious, playful thievery (borrowry?) that results, I hope, in the construction of something new, something mine. I like to think I 'm playing three doors down from a karaoke bar. Some nights when the wind is right and your head's partly cloudy, you hear something weirdly familiar.
A maze ain't a maze if you can find yer way out
like it was
piss and yawp and howl and scrawl and
FELL OF DARK ANOTHER PHRASE I'VE STOLEN SONNET
but if you don't give folks a way out it's nothing
but a wall folding in on itself like entrails
and if that's what yer going to do you better
have pretty pictures to look at along the way
AIN'T NO WAY YOU'LL SHOOT YER WAY OUT OF HERE SONNET
gin and bourbon and beer and wine and vodka and
(from Another Hundred-Line Drunken Cowboy Sonnet )
It is and it isn't something you've heard before. It's a rearrangement of entrails spilled. And shared. A hand drawing itself drunk.
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Q: Why nine questions?
A: J. D. Salinger's Nine Stories was a formative experience. I should have put a little Seymour Glass in the book.
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Note on No Notes (from the back of Uncontainable Noise)
This book jimmies a few lids and doors to borrow a phrase here and there. If probity on faith is impossible and notes you must, then ask and I'll give up sources. I took no oath.