If you haven’t seen Davy Knittle ’11 around campus, it’s probably because he’s too busy writing to be seen. A leading light of the campus poetry scene, he has a hand in most student-run writing initiatives and recently spent the summer writing a collection of poems with an Olin and a Davenport grant. He sat down with us to talk about contemporary poetry, a childhood experience with crack, and Wesleyan’s secretive underground network of editors.
The Argus: So why do you think you deserve to be a WesCeleb?
Davy Knittle: Because institutions like Writing House, which I wrote the proposal for, and Writing Hall, which I helped run for two years, and Stethoscope Press impact how people’s lives function on this campus in a big way, and it’s so much more important because writers are silent. They’re writing.
A: So what’s going on this campus in terms of writing that we might not notice?
D: There’s lots of stuff of different publications: Ostranenie, the Hangman’s Lime, Stethoscope, the chapbook series that I run, which put out six student-written chapbooks last year; we’re going to put out six to ten more last this year. Mike Rosen’s starting a slam team, so there’s a lot of performative stuff going on. And my favorite part about being a Wesleyan writer is that there’s an underground network of editing going on. People will send each other texts that are being edited by a whole silent underground network. There are all these institutions, but the stuff that happens on the DL is the best.
A: Why does editing have to happen on the DL?
D: I mean, Stethoscope people’s work stuff as part of the process, but then there are just enough writers, especially in the senior class, especially poets that there are really good networks of people who just want to sit down and chill and look at each other’s work. And that took a lot of time, and there had to be a poetry community built; there had to be enough writers who felt passionate about writing to chill with each other and do that.
A: I heard you had some poetry published over the summer. Is there any truth to those allegations?
D: I had an Olin and a Davenport [grant] to research a collection of poems based on interviews with people who live in West Philly. It’s called Fabric Described By Buildings, and the collection was based on those interviews and field research I did, that was basically anchored to the heartbeat of West Philadelphia. Basically I consumed my summer trying to figure out how public character is created, how you get a sense of a community, what it means to live in a particular place, and then writing this book of poems, and distributing them all over campus. So that was an endeavor.
A: So what, if anything, did you learn about the public character of West Philadelphia?
D: I learned that, like in all of Philadelphia, it’s really convoluted, and no one can agree on its boundaries and no one can agree on its history, and to be able to encapsulate it in 12 poems, to the degree that that’s possible, is to contradict myself all over the place. So it works so well in poetry because that really twisted fabric can be built into poems that just move all over the place and create their own multifaceted, multisided network.
A: Why West Philadelphia? I assume it’s not only because of the Fresh Prince.
D: No, but that’s the thing, but that’s what people have been saying all summer. I say West Philly and they start singing the theme song over and over again. I grew up half-time there until I went to college. When I went to pre-school there, it was straight-up crack vial central. I remember being out on the street when I was like three or four, and asking “What is this stuff?” and my parents being like, “That’s a crack vial,” and I was like, “Okay, cool.” And then it was really revolutionized – Penn built a school and changed how the neighborhood operated completely. And I wrote about it because it’s my home, it’s where I’m from, and because it’s such an interesting case study in urban revitalization efforts in the last few years.
A: Okay, just one last question, and it’s a hard one, so you’ll have to forgive me. If you were a fruit, what fruit would you be and why?
D: I’d be a kumquat, because you can eat the peel, but you’re very aware of the process of eating the peel while it’s happening. You can separate the peel from the fruit as you consume them, but you’re very aware that you’re eating a peel. So I’d be a kumquat.