By day, Davy Knittle is a PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania, and by night he’s an award-winning poet. Knittle’s interest in and love of poetry was piqued during high school, when he was taught for a year by poet Yolanda Wisher. While much of Knittle’s life is dedicated to and his writing and his studies, he also enjoys simple things, such as cooking, running and watching A Chef’s Life on TV with partner and poet Sophia Dahlin. Some of Knittle’s favorite works of poetry are Jena Osman’s “Public Figures,” and Allison Cobb’s “Green-Wood.” Knittle’s own work consists of stirring and lyrical sequences, such such as this passage from his chapbook “empathy for cars / force of july,” a finalist for this year’s Anzaldúa Poetry Prize:
objects stay grounded easily
but not me – come on
two parts for thunder owe two parts
at once – soon to keep our need
Taeler Kallmerten: The way you organized your chapbook is interesting, can you explain your intentions of breaking your chapbook up into two parts? Can you explain the title to your chapbook “empathy for cars / force of july”?
Davy Knittle: I was interested in ways of riffing on a crown of sonnets, a sequence of sonnets that link the final line of one poem in the sequence to the first line of the next. While these poems don’t link in that way, I liked the idea of having a set of sonnets that connected to one another thematically and structurally. Each of these poems is made up of five stanzas that are 28 syllables each, with twelve poems in each of the two sets. Each set feels a little different from the other, at least to me. I wanted to use the same form to engage a couple of different kinds of moving through the poem, and of the space that each poem might make.
Kallmerten: What are you trying to communicate throughout your chapbook?
Knittle: I’m interested in exploring a kind of attention that’s not by any means singular to me or my work. I’m interested in the way people privately narrate experiences of public space–in what happens to a train station or a school or a public park if while you’re there you can’t stop thinking about something that happened four years ago or what you read in the newspaper or someone you miss or what you’re going to eat for lunch. I want to know more about how a neighborhood or a street or a single spot in a city is a unit of feeling. For me, these poems speak to some of those explorations, which I hope I get to continue for a long time.
Kallmerten: Describe some routines you have adopted during your creative process.
Knittle: I think my main routine is trying to change my routine to adapt to what makes the most sense for me on a given day or week or month. I do try to write every day, and usually I do, but that means a lot of different things, especially for this project, which was composed of fragments of a larger free form document that I wrote with the hope that I’d be able to build poems out of it.
Kallmerten: Can you explain what you learned about yourself after writing this chapbook?
Knittle: I’m not sure. I learned that I like writing poems as part of a larger project, which is something the poet Brandon Brown talks about as necessary to his practice–to start with a project that frames the writing. I hadn’t done that before, and so I learned that having a frame on the scale of the project was generative for me.
Kallmerten: What advice would you give to other creative-minded people who want to write?
Knittle: Try to do it more often than feels absolutely necessary. For me, there are a million reasons not to write, and so finding a way to return to my work out of some of the same general familiar obligation by which teeth are brushed and dogs are walked (I don’t have a dog, but if I did) is helpful for me. I find that if I’ve been writing at least semi-regularly, it’s easier to keep writing. I know that’s true of so many repeated things, of practice in general, but it’s felt different for me to know that than it has for me to build it into my life.
Kallmerten: What are you looking forward to working on next?
Knittle: I’m in the process of expanding this project to include two additional sections: a set of twelve fourteen-line sonnets (again syllabic, but not metrical) and a set of twelve sevenlings, where each line is twenty syllables. I’m looking forward to situating the poems in “empathy for cars / force of july” in a bigger family of poems with some of the same questions and curiosities.
Kallmerten: Finally is there a question you would like to be asked, or one you would ask another poet?
Knittle: There are so many questions I’d like to ask other poets. My academic work has been thinking, recently, about how city planning, poetry and criticism can interact–about what it would look like to read poems as a kind of planning theory. The poet who is the locus of that work for me is Leslie Scalapino, a spectacular poet, publisher and essayist who died in 2010, and who I never met, but have heard so many stories about from people who were close to her.
Scalapino wrote and talked often about the way poetry might participate in the public sphere, where she really believed it could work alongside other kinds of discourse, like criticism and journalism. Where, for instance, a poem might appear in a newspaper as an opinion piece. Today (and many days) if I got to ask a poet one question, I’d ask her what she thought a city that took her poetry as the framework of its plan and systems would look like, and if there were urban spaces that came close to doing some of the things she wanted a city to do.