Contributor Spotlight: Interview with Mikayla Davis
Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: Your poem is focused on the Greek mythological goddess Artemis. When did you first encounter her and what brought you to writing a poem with her as the central theme?
Mikayla Davis: I’ve had a fascination with Greek mythology since at least fourth grade when my history teacher asked us to make life-size cardboard cutouts of a chosen God or Goddess. I had picked Zeus, and as the father of many of the others, I found myself swirling into the clouds of Olympus and all the stories within. I think more recently, however, my attraction towards Artemis as a character was based off of her identification as the virgin goddess, as someone who is not necessarily interested in sex.
A few years ago, I finally came to the realization that I was asexual, which is not really a label that gets a lot of attention. I wanted to write something about a character whose main focus wasn’t sex. I found this difficult to do as it seemed like everything eventually came back sex in some way, though, even if my character didn’t have an interest. Her brother, Apollo, is known to be quite interested in pursuing intercourse, so I decided to explore their relationship a bit more. This poem was the start of a larger body or work, where I explored how that relationship grew and what being asexual would mean in a family of highly sexualized beings…the Gods.
RR: Did you have to do any research in writing “Artemis jumps from the sky”? How did you develop the mythology along with the poem’s original sense of voice?
MD: As many writers probably say, the best research I do is just reading others works. When I was working on this I was reading constantly. Sandy Longhorn, Oliver de la Paz, Bradford Tice, Laura Read, Warsan Shire, Terri Witek, and a couple of anthologies of mythology inspired poetry. I was looking for books and poems that had an overarching story, or strong characters and voice. I wanted to be able to give readers the sense of an entire story, even if it wasn’t present in the poem. I wanted there to be that sense of history between Artemis and Apollo there. Otherwise, her actions wouldn’t have made much sense.
As far as the mythology itself, I did read up on Artemis and the many different myths that surround her. However, since I was putting her into a modern setting and giving her an entirely new twist, I wasn’t as worried as I could have been about staying true to any myth. Myths, like history, often only tell one side of a story. I was more interested in writing about what might have been left unsaid.
RR: Can you tell us a little about your revision process? Was this piece always formatted as a prose poem?
MD: “Artemis jumps from the sky” did start out as a prose poem. I had just finished “Names Above Houses,” by Oliver de la Paz, and I wanted to try my hand at them. I think the last time I wrote a prose poem was probably around 2007 or so. Once I’d written the first draft, I did break it down into lines, but it just felt more natural in the prose form, so I put it back.
My revision process mostly consists of reading my work out loud, listening to the rhythm or the words and making sure it makes sense grammatically, or in whatever form it’s in, since I don’t always use punctuation. I’ll change words to fit better with sound a lot of the time, or I’ll remove lines that don’t add anything to the story or repeat something I’ve already said. With this poem, I had a clear picture in my head of what was happening, so I wanted to make sure that the picture in my head was being represented on the screen. In the original drafts I got bogged down with a lot of extra imagery that just detracted from the reaction of Apollo, or prettified Artemis’s actions a bit too much. So I removed those.
RR: We understand you’re the poetry editor for the literary magazine Arkana. Has that role changed the way you think about your writing?
MD: I think it definitely has. When I first started writing creatively, I wrote mainly novel-length fiction. Or attempted to, anyway. I think because of that history, I have a tendency to put little introductions on my poems. However, reading work for a literary magazine has really hammered in just how important those first few lines of a poem can be. If I’m not hooked by that first stanza, then it’s likely I won’t be hooked by the end. It also made me realize that editors don’t have a lot of time to actually edit pieces they receive. I know I’m looking for work that’s already finished when I read, so I know my own work has to be as concise as I want submissions to be.
However, it’s also showed me that everyone has different aesthetics. What I like isn’t necessarily what my fellow team members like and so it has helped me to not get discouraged when I receive rejections. It just means that I didn’t have the right audience at the time. It has also made me realize just how much influence the world around us has on what I like, and what is being written about. We often get poems around the same time that are about the same things. I keep that in mind when I’m writing, because just like with essays, I need to know if this work needs to be immediate or if it will last on a shelf.
RR: Where and when do you like to write? Do you write every day or in chunks of time?
MD: I definitely do not write every day. I’m one of those people who likes to write when inspiration strikes. Unfortunately, that often pairs when I’m trying to do some important, time-sensitive task.
I think, though, that my favorite times to write are in between 3pm-4am. I’m useless in the mornings. I prefer to have a long chunk of time to write, so I can look up things and still have time to write after falling down a rabbit hole, or put on music and get into an emotional zone, but there are also times where I just write one quickly. I’ve found that right after a class where we’ve worked with poetry, or after a poetry reading or a slam, I’m often really inspired to write. Something about other people really gets my wheels turning.
The places I like to write vary quite a bit too. I’ve written outside by the poolside of my apartment complex while soaking up sun, or in class while my students are working on their own prompts. Sometimes I’ll write in a public place like the campus or in a dining facility. Other times I’ll just write at my desk. I suppose I’m pretty flexible in what my actual process for writing is. I just write when my body tells me to.
Mikayla Davis’ work appears in Issue 5.3 here.