Best-known as a musician and a spoken-word performer, poet Tanya Davis has now taken to the page with At First, Lonely. In this collection, she reflects on life's many passages: falling in love and out, falling in faith and out, the search for personal truth, the search for home. Davis' style is a one-of-a-kind blend of contemporary phrasing and profound personal expression. Her message, though, is universal - over three million people have watched 'How to Be Alone', a film adaptation of her poem created by independent filmmaker Andrea Dorfman. Tanya Davis' poetry is an intricate weave of lucid words and clear concepts, an interplay to challenge the intellect, crumble the walls, and open the heart.
Chronicle Herald Review of At First, Lonely
"Davis’s lyricism won me over"
By GEORGE ELLIOTT CLARKE
Sun, Oct 2 - 8:08 AM
Tanya Davis is a singer/songwriter who is also Halifax’s poet laureate. She has won the CBC National Poetry Face-Off twice, and so her real debut in poetry has been as a performer, not so much as an author.
Her first collection, At First, Lonely (Acorn Press, $18) , transfers her finally— finely — from the stage to the page.
The pieces are lyrics, word-songs, usually pages long (but the pages use a lot of white space, so poems are actually a bit shorter than they seem), with the meanderings and insights of heartfelt, thoughtful conversation. Reading Davis is a bit like sitting in Tim’s, overhearing someone tell of heartbreak or halitosis or hitchhiking, with a downto- earth vocabulary, intimacy, and the occasional striking image or idea.
Or it’s more like listening to coffeehouse Leonard Cohen or fancy-free Joni Mitchell: There’s a folksy, Beat persona at play, charitable and disingenuous, charming and disarming.
Fragility Understandable flirts with cliché: “Because your bones crack / and break / because your heart beats within a cage / and cages are to be escaped," but ends nicely: “When other houses become lanky skeletons / dust settling / remember your own / heart in a collection of bones."
The poem moves like a song, and is moving, especially if read aloud just so. It’s unfair to quibble with the conceit — the heart is in a cage, eh?
But that “cage" is actually protection for an essential and vulnerable organ.
How does, or should, one escape it?
“How to be alone" is another lyric, as chatty as a newspaper column (blush) or as catty as an editorial, that advises, among other things, “if you’re happy in your head then solitude is blessed and / alone is okay."
That’s a long bumper sticker.
Better lines are these: “But alone is a freedom that breathes easy and weightless / and lonely is healing if you make it." That’s a fridge magnet.
Pleasant it is to wade through platitudes and discover sudden, searing incandescence: “I have daydreamed about the days our skin was first waking / and of the love we made then / like we were scorched earth and it was raining."
Davis’s showstopper poem is To Mary Magdalene who wept. It’s a feminist, womanist revision of the Gospels, and it rocks, if with casual blasphemy: “The man wasn’t clean until you made him." Davis imagines that Mary M. offers J.C. this “defiant rebuttal": “Seriously Jesus, . . . feel this / a human heart beating / within the chest of a woman with whom you are sleeping / you are leaving and so, of course, . . .
I am weeping."
One could wonder about what other heart that Mary could have, if not human. But never mind. These are poems to enjoy — their simplicity, sympathy, and wistful nonsense. Whatever is not to like is cuddly.
Review from the Telegraph Journal:
"Mayor's poet laureate for Halifax, Tanya Davis, shines in her debut book of poetry."
Review by Mike Landry
I admit it, there was a time I wasn't a fan of Tanya Davis. Looking back, now, I'm not sure why. I was living in Halifax then, and I knew about her as both musician and poet. But for whatever reason I never gave her a chance.
I regret, now, that handful of years I missed the fresh-off-the-line laudry feeling of Davis' words. If you, like me once, have yet to welcome Davis into your life, don't hesitate. Do it now. Your heart will thank you.
After three Leonard Cohen-esque poetry/music albums since 2006, Davis, mayor's poet laureate for Halifax, has finally offered her poetry in book form. The title is taken from a line in Davis' 2009 videopoem collaboration with independent filmmaker Andrea Dorfman, How to Be Alone. To date, the videopoem has been viewed a staggering three million plus times on YouTube, and it is included in all its wisdom in At First, Lonely.
Even without the swing of her guitar, the beat of the bass and kick of the drum to sweep you in, Davis still sings in your head while you read her words in silence. Perhaps it's even more enthralling this way. Although there's no music to guide you, you know by her words and phrasing just how Davis would sing it.
Davis' poetry stems from a heart overflowing with honesty. Like her rural Prince Edward Island accent, she lays it on thick with each line and every poem. And on the page she can free herself from the conventions and manipulation of music to truly be honest.
Davis' honesty is both heartwarming and heartwrenching. Poems like Rugby made me gay, Some Sunday Morning Gratitude and Windswept French Girls made me smile.
But, like I do without fail at least once every time I listen to one of her records or see her perform, most of these poems made me cry. Three times, exactly, on a park bench, alone, on a warm, sunny day in King's Square, Saint John.
It would seem Davis' thoughts are infectious - as she writes inThis Tear is a Word, our tears are our "honest gift / that said 'here I am, this is it.'"
Tears and smiles linger with memories and fancied futures in these poems. Because, as she writes, "clocks and hearts keep going / even though we love, even though we hurt," Davis takes the good with the bad.
And she even goes further - taking the bad as the good, and sometimes the opposite of that, too: "But with suffering, joy. / To be born, so to know that you will die / and in between you will hurt a thousand times."
It was seeing Davis perform live in the fall of 2009 that changed my opinion of her. Fittingly, I was attending the concert alone and not in the best of moods. I picked a seat at the back, removed from the crowd, more excited about the headlining act.
I was hooked by the end of her first song. Just as the greatest children's authors can speak to the littlest of hearts, so too can Davis' poetry warm the most cynical, forgotten, withered or broken of adult hearts.
This is a book to cherish and, I imagine for some, maybe even live by.
Mike Landry is arts and culture editor at the Telegraph-Journal.