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Haunted Poetry

Adam Davis shares spooky and nostalgic poems during the English Reading Series.

Have you ever wondered how an object becomes haunted? Adam O. Davis, poet and author of Index of Haunted Houses, shared his views on the spooky side of life and how haunting is one of the most universally applicable terms to the human race. Davis’s poetry has won the Kathryn A. Morton Poetry Prize, the 2022 Poetry International Prize, and the 2016 George Bogin Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America. He currently lives in San Diego where he teaches English literature at The Bishop’s School. During his recent visit to BYU, Davis described a haunted object as something that once existed but is now gone (such as a living person, but this also includes no longer used objects such as a phonograph), which demonstrates the impermanence of the moment you are currently living in. Davis captured forgotten moments in his book of poetry and shared them on January 20, 2023, during winter semester’s first English Reading Series.

Davis shared his poem, “The Bell System,” explaining that the idea came from the three women who first gave their voices to automated telephone messages: Mary, Jane, and Pat. These women are dead, but their voices live on. Their dial tone messages ring out in empty space, and they no longer have anyone who speaks back to them. This idea that objects decay and people disappear into nothing fueled a nostalgic but powerful reading of Index of Haunted Houses as Davis continued to read poems from that volume.

Davis clarified that he didn’t write a book of spooky ghost stories; he wrote about the absence one feels when something goes missing in life. He talked about his childhood in California, driving past suburbs built for commuters that had been abandoned and became deserted (or haunted) houses. These memories served as further inspiration for his poetry.

After the reading, Davis answered questions about his writing process, explaining how writing is just playing with words, looking at the page as a laboratory where he conducts experiments. It’s a mix of mindfulness, spirituality, and childlike delight. He said, “We don’t have anything new in this world, so we have to find new ways of looking at it.” When you love writing, you steal time away to write and carve out words over and over and over again until you find the poem in the text.

Additionally, Davis shocked his listeners by stating that “the ideal poem is a house. You invite the reader inside, lock the door, and set the house on fire.” Poetry must maintain that element of surprise and uniqueness, finding inspired beauty by toeing the edge between the ordinary and the crazy.

Come listen to more riveting literature during the English Reading Series held Fridays at noon.