Weekly Poem: Michael Davidson reads 'The Second City'

Michael Davidson is a professor of literature at University of California, San Diego. Davidson has published five other books of poetry, including "The Arcades" (O Books, 1998). "Bleed Through: New and Selected Poems" (Coffee House Press, 2013) is his first book of poems in 15 years and will be on the shelves in December.

The Second City

for Cathy Simon

Even though there are motorized conveyances I am on foot; even though there is a map I negotiate the streets by landmark

there are no landmarks but a series of edges common to several cities

the hill is in San Francisco, the great shopping district with its glittering windows

and esplanade before the fountain is in New York and the river with its bridges is in Paris

I'm working on the park with its glass botanical gardens marble pillars in the distance

leftover from the exposition there is probably a hill from which I descend

and arrive at the "market district" below clearly indicated by the word "brick" like those on the west side of Buffalo

to make this descent is to parse the terrifying grid of hill cities, roads

dead-ending against canyons, barriers where a street careens into space and continues below

bearing the same name so that a second city rises out of the forgotten one

more pointed because not yet filled in by monument or palisade the place where water touches land

and forms a line the leaflike veins of streets it is too late

for the bus and I must walk from North Beach to the Bronx or something with a B

through the middle city the place a middle occupies when you are no longer familiar

and the buildings have only been seen by night from a car and by lights

I am afraid someone will address me in French and I will forget the word for myself

having so recently arrived and yet to be a stranger is to be swallowed up

without words without glasses bearing an envelope with a numbered series

in the second city I live out the dream of the first living neither for its access and glamour

nor dying from its disregard simply talking toward the twin spires of an ancient cathedral like a person becoming like a person

"Am I inventing the city or is the city inventing me?"

That is the question that absorbed Michael Davidson as he wrote "The Second City," a poem "about the city you create in your dreams." Fascinated by modernism, urban redevelopment and dreamscapes, Davidson focuses on cities and consumerism in many of his poems. This poem he believes is a bit more optimistic than the others.

"It's a city created by architects and urbanists who have fantasies of utopian uses for populations in groups," Davidson told Art Beat.

"And what are the materials out of which I'm making the second city? Of course, since I'm making it out of a poem, I'm making it out of language. So a lot of the lines are about how I need to go for a walk from one part of the city to another and it could be as distant as the Bronx or San Francisco but I do it by means of associations with the (letter) B, like brick. It's a city created in language."

Sometimes his brand of writing is considered "difficult poetry," but Davidson's advice is to keep trying. "Poetry like anything else requires training. You have to swim laps, you have to jog, you have to keep at it." Residing in England for the moment, Davidson is reading contemporary British poetry, perhaps for the first time. He said that at the beginning, he didn't understand the poems, but "little by little I'm picking up on themes, voices, rhythms, concerns"

"If you want to make a soufflé, there's going to be a lot of failed eggs. You have to keep at it."


Photo by Sophia Davidson

Michael Davidson is a professor of literature at University of California, San Diego. Davidson has published five other books of poetry, including "The Arcades" (O Books, 1998). "Bleed Through: New and Selected Poems" (Coffee House Press, 2013) is his first book of poems in 15 years and will be on the shelves in December. "The Second City" is reprinted by permission from Bleed Through (Coffee House Press, 2013). Copyright © 2013 by Michael Davidson.