Interview with Somerville Poet David Blair

On July 19, 2017, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times


Author of the poetry collection ‘Arsonville’

David Blair is a poet who is firmly rooted in Somerville, and on any given day you may see him walking the streets of our very walker-friendly city, closely observing, taking in the sights – and pondering his next poem.

Poet David Blair.

Blair grew up in Pittsburgh. He is the author of three books of poetry, Ascension Days, which was chosen by Thomas Lux for the Del Sol Poetry Prize, Arsonville, and Friends with Dogs. His poems have appeared in Boston Review, Ploughshares, Slate Magazine, and many other places as well, including the anthologies, The Best of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Devouring the Green, and Zoland Poetry.

I spoke to Blair on my Somerville Community Access TV show Poet to Poet/Writer to Writer.

Doug Holder: David, you use a quote by Alexander Ristovic, “Behind your back, if you turn, you’ll make out the sheep, trying to fly with their wooden wings.” How does this center your book?

David Blair: Well the things I write about are pretty much what I catch from the corner of my eye. This quote meant a lot to me when I started out writing.

DH: I get the sense that most of your poems are never far from grief.

DB: Well some of the poems in this collection centered around my mother’s death. Also, they were written when my daughter was born. There is a sense of happiness and grief happening at the same time. That’s the way life is.

DH: I often tell my creative writing students to unplug themselves, and go out into the world and observe. How does this work for you in Somerville?

DB: Going out and looking at things drive my impulse to write. I love Somerville. The city is a great place to walk. I have lived in Somerville for twenty years now, so I am well acquainted with the terrain. Years ago I worked as a waiter and manager at the now defunct restaurant Tallulah’s in Davis Square. I saw a lot there.

DH: In the collection Arsonville you exhibit a great eye for detail. You see the “rat town” kids on the subway, a woman with a lip like a couch, chin-studded dancers in some bar, and you are a scholar of the people and detritus found on and around Revere Beach.

DB: One of the pleasures of writing poetry is the concentration it requires. Details pop in my head. Settings, people, etc., suggest feelings. I like to write around things. I realize how hard things would be if you did lose hearing and sight.

DH: Who are some of the Somerville poets you enjoy?

DB: Lloyd Schwartz, Joe Torra, Julia Story, Tanya Larkin, and right over the border in Cambridge, David Rivard. All their work has a lot of life. Their work implies something much bigger. They describe a new world based on the old world, but with a new twist. There is something familiar in the unfamiliar.

DH: You examine both the glorious side and the underside of Revere Beach, in your poem Revere Beach in Spring. On one hand there is a beauty on the beach, as well as spent rifle cartridges, and condoms.

DB: I love Revere Beach. But with anything you love, you have to tell the truth. There is an ugly/beauty there. At the same time I am writing about the Jersey Shore, Orchard beach, etc.


Revere Beach in Spring


Forget that purple seaweedy

end of it, with the gross stuff

and the carnivorous sandflies

in the rattle of dried grasses,

obligatory pieces of dried shit,

the bad stories the phytoplankton

tell the sea worms, the messes,

the city having its squalid dream

that is hard to forget, Esmé,

but why would you? It’s April

and there are grandmothers

wrapped like Bedouins

with flat Irish mouths

and punky grandchildren

in the vast sands of different life,

the International flights hooking

down eight-hour early afternoon

loads from Heathrow, Paris

and Munich, enormous as rocs

flying over apartment buildings

their wheels down and wings up.

You get to the middle of the beach,

finally you can see some lighthouses,

the green and the gunmetal water.

It’s terrible to read biographies

of Sylvia Plath and look

at the pincer of her Winthrop

and the pincer of near Nahant,

peninsular from the subverted

bowl or crab body of Revere Beach.

The ocean tanker out towards

the open water of the bay

tilts to one side, a hat, and guys

who have been working outside

or drinking indoors list to the side,

and nobody is good looking

at all. To the seagulls with blood

mottles, this is one big Clam House.

They squawk about it. Have you been out

to the Clam House? Big surf clams

that whole beach, tilting over,

water dribbling out of them,

they try to get their stomach feet

back down into salt muck.

Practically too much clam.

People with strong guts,

the Japanese call them out

for soup and if they were smaller,

they would be cherry stone dozens

on some menus, but most people

figure they are deformed

by waste, tainted, tattooed, gangland

specimens, or bone-head mutants

who break the springs inside

the seats of tractor trailer seats

and have the 64 ounce cups of spew,

snuff tobacco-dipping, inbred

bumpkins of the liminal world

gone to seed, just dangerous

and yucky, like the time

I saw a spent condom next

to a faded rifle cartridge, a broken X.

For the clams, Revere Beach is hell

and Valhalla, dry places

pried open, broken down

into fragments, then sand,

soared up to the sky in the beaks

of Valkyrie gulls, while in distant

clouds, shrouded airplanes reflect

and glow upwards, angelic flights.

These things survived for awhile.


— David Blair




1 Response » to “Interview with Somerville Poet David Blair”

  1. Mary Hampton says:

    I love reading a “newcomer’s” point of view about Revere Beach. When I’m there, the “now” merges with the “then” somehow, especially closer to to Point of Pines.

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