Peter Davison Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

In addition to his life as a poet, Peter Davison carved out a distinguished career as an editor, including his many years as poetry editor of The Atlantic Monthly and as a consulting editor at Houghton Mifflin. Hello, Darkness: The Collected Poems of L. E. Sissman (1978), a posthumous collection edited by Davison, won the National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry in 1978.

Davison also wrote two autobiographical works: Half Remembered: A Personal History (1973), which recounts the story of his life from birth until his early forties, and The Fading Smile: Poets in Boston, from Robert Frost to Robert Lowell to Sylvia Plath, 1955- 1960 (1994), which offers his personal perspective on a significant midcentury poetry renaissance. One of the Dangerous Trades: Essays on the Work and Workings of Poetry (1991) is a collection of essays on poetry and poets.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Peter Davison’s poetic career was launched auspiciously after he won the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition in 1964. From the very beginning, his work gave evidence that he is heir to what might be termed the New England tradition of self-examination, a process marked by a penchant for using the outer world as a metaphor for one’s inner life. In this regard, he learned much from his early mentor, the American poet Robert Frost.

Davison also discovered his literary vocation during the 1950’s and 1960’s, when confessional poetry, a lyric mode of personal outpouring, was the vogue. His preference for formal regularities, however, distinguishes his work from that of other poets of the time, such as Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, because he has a tendency to use the artifice of the poem not to indulge in guilt and self-effacement and to risk drowning himself in his own feelings but to give shape to his emotions so that they can be clarified.

In the final analysis, Davison succeeded in charting a conservative course, punctuated by flirtations with topical subjects and free verse. He won the Academy Award in Literature of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1972, the James Michener Award of the Academy of American Poets in 1981, the New England Book Award for Literary Excellence from the New England Booksellers Association in 1995, and the Massachusetts Book Award in poetry in 2001.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Contemporary Literary Criticism 28 (1984): 99-104. A significant sampling of book reviews from the beginning of Davison’s career as a poet up to the publication of Barn Fever, and Other Poems.

Davison, Peter. Half Remembered: A Personal History. Rev. ed. Ashland, Oreg.: Story Line Press, 1991. The poet’s autobiography provides many insights into his life and writing.

Hewitt, Geof. “Peter Davison.” In Contemporary Poets. New York: St. James Press, 1996. A summary of the poet’s life and work with commentary by Davison and some critical analysis.

Ratner, Rochelle. Review of Breathing Room: New Poems. Library Journal 125 (August, 2000): 109. A brief review of the collection Breathing Room. Ratner traces Davison’s argument that poetry should be composed in keeping with the capacities of the human breath to an earlier contention by American poet and essayist Charles Olson in 1950. The reviewer favors Davison’s nature-inspired poems because they are more precise in detail and more demanding.

Rotella, Guy. Three Contemporary Poets of New England: William Meredith, Philip Booth, and Peter Davison. Boston: Twayne, 1983. This is the most comprehensive treatment of the first half of Davison’s poetic career. The author attempts to grapple with the themes and techniques of the poet’s first six books in an effort to define Davison’s place in the New England literary tradition. In this regard, Rotella contends that at the heart of Davison’s creative achievement is his nature poetry.

Young, Vernon. “Raptures of Distress.” Parnassus 3 (1975): 75-89. A laudatory piece on Davison’s relationship to other poets who write of the somber realities of life’s mutability.