Boston, New York, and the Dress of Useless Treasures

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Monday night I leave for Boston. From Boston to New York. Than back to the beloved desert.

Touring with poetry is as awkward as it sounds. There is a lot of trading planes for trains, trains for buses, even the occasional hitchhiking (Yes, people still hitchhike, though I try to avoid this option.) I’ve gathered many stories along the way, some so true no one would believe them. I try to document some of these experiences so I might re-believe them when they popup as memories; I have countless photographs, sound recordings, and notebooks. I feel such analogy (for example blogging, Facebook, twitter, Instagram, and the list continues) is popular because we are all trying to figure out “if THAT really did just happen.” Social Media is Descartes monologuing on “The Passions of the Soul” only done collectively in the form of selfies.

Poetry is a little different from philosophy or analogues; I’m learning it is something beyond definition. It records everything except the actual event in order to kept the event ever present. There is no need to prove something “just happened” because with poetry the moment is perpetually happening. Poetry undefines; it follows possibility and I follow after poetry.

“Interesting” places I have slept because of poetry include: numerous floors, numerous couches (couches are great), sometimes there is a guest room (thank you Portland), construction sites, a ditch (long story), graveyards (spooky), a window ledge (Seattle), a park bench (San Francisco), on top of a pic-nick table (Paddington Station). There are locations without a place to stop. I keep safe by moving. I walk all night in such places. I have landed in locations that have felt like palaces and I’ve spent the night in a door-frame. I’ve been given generous honorariums and I’ve had people hand me a dollar thinking it might help me on the streets.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like this. In fact, I love this. I’ve learned so much about people and places by searching, sharing, and risking. I’ve seen how others live–what / who they love and how they love it. Unfortunately, I’m unsure if this travel-voyeurism has helped me understand what / who to love or how to love any better; with poetry there isn’t much knowing, there is just being.

This week I will be in Boston. I will be in New York. I hope to be with you.

I made a dress just for this trip. There is (maybe too much) information about the dress in the videos below. The poetry film is by my friend Karyn Ben Singer; it is set in one of my most beloved locations in the desert, Antiques at the Barn. The interview is by my friend Edwin Vasquez. I hope to bring a little of the West to the East. Maybe bring some the East back to the West.

To sum it up, I wanted to make you something beautiful, it might be just a bunch of junk but with poetry and you it might just be beautiful.

What is The Dress of Useless Treasures: An Interview with Edwin

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Friday, July 10
Nicelle Davis reading from In the Circus of You in the BASH reading series at Brookline Booksmith at 7:00 pm. With Carina Finn and Gabrielle Klein. Free and open to the public.

Brookline Booksmith
279 Harvard Street
Brookline, Massachusetts

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Saturday, July 11
Nicelle Davis reading from and Cheryl Gross projecting short films and images from In the Circus of You at Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Book Shop at 7:00 pm. Free and open to the public.

Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Book Shop
126 A Front Street
Brooklyn, New York

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Sunday, July 12
Nicelle Davis reading from In the Circus of You in the New York Quarterly Reading Series at 6:00 pm at the Bowery Poetry Club. Free and open to thepublic.

The Bowery Poetry Club
308 Bowery
New York, New York

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Welcome to the circus.

In the Circus Of You

Book trailer for IN THE CIRCUS OF YOU: An Illustrated Novel-in-Poems by poet Nicelle Davis and artist Cheryl Gross. The book will be released in March 2015: preordering begins in February 2015.

More information at

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I am not a barker. There is no kiosk here to see. No ticket vendor. No brightly lit sign, painted hand or enormous arrow that points to this place.

We are not attending the carnival or the midway but we are all gathered under the big top. We are the attractions. We view ourselves with equal parts delight and horror.

Out in the Midway, as the ride begins, it slowly lurches forward with us tightly belted in to our seats. It is a journey that promises much; fear, anticipation, and joy all wrapped together. We are pulled past windows where we are shown carefully created dioramas depicting Oddities that somehow both match and outstrip our own imaginations and orchestrations.

These tickets were bought a long time ago. Life is a freak show and all of us are participants. We jump from audience to performer as quickly as we wish to be separate from one or to belong to the other. We slide in and out of shadows, like   shape-shifters of compromise. We contort ourselves in service of the pragmatic, the mundane, or the bigger whole. We desperately wish we were seen as the magician, sorcerer or conjurer of our own illusions.

We are in awe of giants, coveting their power and perspective. We fear them for the same reasons.

I don’t have a tattoo. I appreciate the art. Even more, I understand the need to make a mark or public display of being an outsider. The act of covering my skin with an image has just never seemed to fit with the desire to peel back and expose the truth of living in that skin.

The broken knuckle from a forgotten fight that blooms from a finger is an awkward ornament. The scar that sits just above the knee from a reckless moment on a bike is a crescent moon drawn into the skin. Our scars, creases and configurations are the art that history makes of our bodies and illustrates our humanness.

As with any good sideshow, if we are lucky to look long enough, we end up seeing each other. We are a lucky audience to find ourselves in what is revealed in others.

As we catch our reflection in the peripheral mirror of vision, we recognize ourselves in the performer’s knowing gaze. We are what we are delighted by, when we are invited under the flap of the sideshow tent. We are freaks.

Cheryl Gross is an illustrator. Nicelle Davis is a poet. They met through the publication, Broadsided, which puts visual artists and poets together to collaborate and create literary-posters that are distributed across the world.

This process of collaboration almost always results in a revelation for each, because poets can’t anticipate what an artist will see in their words and the artist is always surprised by the power of words to suggest the image.

The power in this particular partnership illuminated and infused both the words and the images. The words are twined with the illustrations as though the poet and artist are sharing the same soul. As with conjoined twins the two share “In the Circus of You” as an expression of a unique bond that creates an additional intimacy, as though sharing arms, legs or a torso.

The collaboration you hold in your hand is joined by all of us who hope to recognize each other in our search for what makes us beautifully human, joyous in the expression of our differences and willing to celebrate the intrinsic connections between us.

Welcome to the circus.

Sneak Peek: In the Circus of You

We’re excited to give you a preview of the cover of the Rose Metal Press spring release, IN THE CIRCUS OF YOU: An Illustrated Novel-in-Poems by poet Nicelle Davis and artist Cheryl Gross. The cover features artwork by Cheryl Gross and was designed by Heather Butterfield. The book launches in March. Subscribe now to be among the first to receive a copy! Preordering will begin in February.
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Evie Shockley says of In the Circus of You:

“Nicelle Davis’ newest book mythologizes pain, makes grief, anger, disgust, and fear bearable by transforming them into finely wrought poems. These poems are filled with sharp edges, dissections, illusions, and images of flight, both in their language and in the ways they occupy the page. They are perfectly matched by the drawings of Cheryl Gross, who translates Davis’ poetry into an equally grotesque, equally eloquent visual language. In the Circus of You is a visceral spectacle of controlled excess; it dismantles the three rings we use to contain our most domestic horrors and shows us the way through vulnerability to release.”

Douglas Kearney says of In the Circus of You:

“Accompanied by Cheryl Gross’s illustrations of stretched flesh and biomechanical anatomies, In the Circus of You writhes in a fever dream of divorce, depression, and an undercurrent of poverty. Nicelle Davis directs a cast of disfigured pigs, desiccated pigeons, and circus freaks in poems whose forms are often cinched with wasp-waisted girdles or filed into jagged angles. Never simple oddities, these afflicted characters and music amount to a harrowing account of loss and how one has to fracture herself in private to appear unbroken in public. Don’t miss Davis’ acts of lurching grace and terrible beauty.”


Please Consider, beacause Thoughts are the Currency of Artists

Please consider picking up a presale copy of Becoming Judas.

Red Hen Press

Keeping copies moving is an important component of maintaining the poetry machine; without your support, my place in the apparatus is unable to function. Presale copies of Becoming Judas are currently available on  Every book purchased makes a huge difference for a writer and their press; by purchasing any book you are contributing to the lives and dreams of many artists. I humbly ask you to consider giving this book a home on your bookshelf.

If you would like to know more about Becoming Judas, Brenda Hammack wrote an insightful review of  Becoming Judas. I am grateful for her thoughtful words.

Becoming Judas the poetry film is online. Please watch this collaborative effort and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this work. The tricky thing about the”quiet arts” is I never know if anybody is out there, with me, in the dark.

Human Collage

Where to begin?

Last weekend was nothing short of amazing. I drove to West Hollywood to meet (in person for the first time ever!) Cheryl Gross. Cheryl and I have collaborating for the past 3 years. Together we have made three books (Circe, Becoming Judas, and In the Circus of You) and two films (Circe and Becoming Judas). All of our exchanges have been through letters, emails, Podcasts, and Facebook posts. (We live in an odd place and time, no?)

Cheryl has been a guiding light and an amazing friend—yet we had never met…until now.

Cheryl, (her best friend) Louis, (my dear photographer friend) Jason Hughes, and I met in a West Hollywood. In the back parking lot we began to make some impromptu art.

Louis is covered in tattoos; these tattoos create a second skin—a tapestry of love affairs illustrated. (One of his tattoos is part of a collaboration that Cheryl and I have been working on. You can see more about this process by watching the documentary Tatt-Talk.)

Jason took pictures of this living tapestry—I took the images and projected Louis (as art) upon my skin. Then, collage artists Dawn Fox and Pavlina Janssen added paint, glue, paper, nails, and tinfoil to the human canvas. Photographers Emily Fox and Charles Hood took photos of the layering. Layers.

We brought our own stories, intended messages, and experiences to the project. For me, the project was about exploring and exhibiting basic human rights—the right to be, the right to love. (It also was a love message to a dear friend.) Art often is layered even in its intentions–isn’t that a sort of magic.

Hopefully, whoever sees what we made will bring their own visions of what it means to be human. For me, this piece is growing into a web of connections–of understandings. I attempted to write a poema about it; I’ll keep attempting to write “that” poem.

Adding to the excitement–this project continues to grow! There is a strong possibility that this piece will become a performance in the near future. 🙂 Oh, happiness lives in possibility. There are still some details to work out, but if you are interested in seeing “The Human Collage” live, please mark Tuesday, November 27th in your date books. (We might be living poems at the Beautiful Boston Court!!!)

Best to all in hope and layers.

Place—a Pastoral of Amplified Flesh

Intersections of rivers and roads—fibrous—

vein and vessels spread beneath us—

as though we’re candles passing over

or hands plunging under

the unattainability of location. There is

a story omitted from every script –

territory synonymous with unsayable

events. Let me rephrase:

I knew a woman who burned finger sized

scars in her arms with erasers—

marking how she was pinned to an orchard—

the taking of all her fruit.

I knew a man who housed a virus—science

cut doors to his spinal cord.

Hands inside another. This man, woman,

were conscious at entry.

When they said, this hurts. No one stopped

the hurting.

A light passes over—How many hands

before a stopping place?

Photo by Jason Hughes

Next layer of photos by Emily Fox.

Virtual Borders

                                                                                                                                                This summer is vacation-less for me, however my poems (thanks to the amazing Cheryl Gross, Claudia Brieske, and Leslie Huppert) are traveling the world. It has taken me months to finally conclude that Beyond Borders is real. Because I’ve never been, I’m still have to convince myself that most of the world exists—it just seems too beautiful (even magical) to be part of our existence.

I have dreams of traveling one day—dreams of trains and planes, boats and budgie cords, hot air balloons and parachutes. I want to bring J.J.—to lead him through the torrents of story that are in every journey. But for now, poetry is leading the way (as it should.)

Best Summer to All!

For photos of my poems travels, please visit: Virtual Borders

Here is the project description:

Borders are generally seen as nonflexible barriers that restrain and give the illusion of keeping us out of harm’s way. Many borders involve human settlements and through this have the potential to be otherwise flexible. Their presence or non-presence is often based on cultural, social, political, religious backgrounds, and directions, which are always subject to change. This concealed reality is the reason why we refer to borders as virtual.

Virtual Borders is an ongoing project with different stations. The first station is in the Feste Dilsberg, an old castle-ruin from medieval times. It is located in the southwest of Germany, near the City of Heidelberg. For the first presentation in the Feste Dilsberg, we invited artists from different parts of the world to participate. We asked the artists to send videos, animations, and sounds that are connected to the theme of our concept. Whether it is metaphorical or literal, the concept is open to interpretation.

Examples: Borders between body and spirit/soul, real obstacles in landscapes like rivers, canyons and mountains, the border between life and death, borders between countries, between houses, fences, social borders/barriers, cultural borders, borders between races, gender based barriers, etc…