TINA by Peter Davis
Bloof Books, 2013; 92 pp
Reviewed by Nathan Kemp
Peter Davis's latest book, TINA, is filled with humor and an obsessive quality that often invokes feelings of longing and self-doubt. Tina is the main obsession in this book. Though her identity is inconsistent and unpredictable, the reader forms a relationship of sorts with her.
Tina is an interesting subject that is addressed by the speaker (I assume that the speaker, named Kyle, is consistent throughout the collection, for the most part) in most of the poems. Sometimes the speaker loves Tina, sometimes the speaker lashes out at Tina, and sometimes the speaker tries to move on from Tina. From the first page, I had been under the assumption that Tina was the object of the speaker’s desire. I don’t know why: the speaker has a family and the speaker regularly calls Tina demeaning names (bitch, fucking dorky bitch, etc.). The more I read and looked back at earlier poems, I realized that there was no point where I could definitively say, “Yes, the speaker wants Tina to be his girlfriend.” I can’t make an argument that the speaker wants anything more from Tina than a shared experience, acceptance, and maybe friendship.
In “Making Out,” the first poem of the collection, however, the speaker and Tina get physical:
First, Tina, there is some kind of talk
or isolation or something that brings
us together. Then, in some
moment, we kiss. This kiss leads to
Kissing leads to touching and touching leads to an unpredictable openness that defines rest of the collection:
I will begin to rub
your underwear. Then I will
try to get my fingers between your skin
and your underwear. I will be
successful or you will adjust
position or something else
will just happen, Tina.
Davis’ poems are pleasing to read in a straight line. Some of his poems are shorter (not my favorites in the collection), some are longer (around a page, usually, though it was always a great surprise when they lingered onto a second page), and some are prose poems. I think this collection was designed to be read in a single sitting and revisited again later. The speaker’s relationship with Tina progresses in a trackable way throughout the collection, as does the speaker’s sense of self. There is a type of narrative arc throughout this collection—the kind that leaves me feeling fulfilled after I follow it to its finish.
Some consistent themes and images I noticed: mirrors, jars, facial hair, skateboards, God, imprisonment, family. The poems I liked the most: “Sylvia Plath” , “Emily Dickinson” , “Better Person” , “Mother’s Day” , “The Egyptian Revolution of 2011.” “The Egyptian Revolution of 2011” is an interesting poem because it’s the last poem in the book. The phrase “I just love my kids” is repeated frequently throughout the poem and is the main theme:
I just love my kids. I mean what does love even mean
when you’ve got my kids involved. I’m so glad when it’s
a snow day and they get to stay home from school. I think
it’s fucking great when there’s a snow day. I think it’s great
when they’re home. And in this moment when they’re
not here and I’m alone in this house I start writing
and what do I start writing I start writing how
I love my kids.
After reading the poem, I felt a wash of joy and pride for someone I don’t really know all that well. I mean the following sentence in the best way possible: the final poem read as a type of book dedication. After I made that connection, I thought, “Well, who did Peter dedicate the book to in the front?” It turns out, he didn’t make a dedication in the front, but opted for some awesome quotes instead. Is this final-poem-as-dedication a new thing? If so, I like it. I like it a lot more than proems (i.e. a poem before the manuscript starts as a whole).
TINA manages to be obsessive and casual in a way that feels incredibly genuine. I really can’t recommend the collection enough, especially to those unfamiliar with Davis’ work.