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Book Reviews

Review of The World Isn’t the Size of Our Neighborhood Anymore by Austin Davis

austin davis book review

Austin Davis’s poetry collection, The World Isn’t the Size of Our Neighborhood Anymore, is an intricate and honest love letter to growing older. It pulls us deep into an abyss of memories that are warm and cold, caring and painful, benign and violent, but above all necessary. Weaving together both moments of nostalgia and yearning, you will feel as though you are a toddler, a child, a teenager, and eldery all at once. In short, you’ll feel human. 

With this keen attention to the human experience, Davis depicts moments from life that feel universal—connective and joyous—but also solitary, much like the distance between stars. His recurring images of vast objects—the night sky and space—paired with vivid close-ups of earthly experiences guide this sense. In the second poem of the collection, “Acid Trip,” the recurrent theme of longing for lost youth is illustrated with galactic detail:

As our blankets become a cloudless night
for us to pop open like champagne,

reach into my mouth
and feel the moon
rising up my throat.

Find the stars in my stomach
and spin the planets

on the 4th grade science fair project in my head.
We don’t have to wake up from this high tomorrow.
The sun only has to rise if we let it open our blinds.

In addition to leading you, hand gripped tight and warm around yours, through the sometimes uncomfortable expanse of longing and loss, and the growing pains that come with growing up, Davis accompanies the walk with some masterfully-wrought metaphors—metaphors that contain multitudes. In the third and fourth stanzas of “The Sunday Blues,” when the narrator is reflecting on the collapse of another day, and the moonlight is falling through their window:

but I feel like I’m on the outside looking in

in the same way the years in a wooden table
start to look like a solar system
when you’re just the right kind of sober.

The comparison of wooden whirls—nature, closeness, Earth—to a solar system—vastness, space, emptiness—is an illuminating insight, something that seems so obvious in hindsight, and yet you never noticed until Davis, in a stage-set baritone, reveals it to you. What’s more impressive is the final line: “when you’re just the right kind of sober” which acts as the perfect plummet back to Earth after the swift lift up to space.

Another impressive moment is found in the fourth stanza of “Toxic Masculinity:”

The dusty monsoon night
made the air feel like wallpaper
antiquated by time,
peeling through your fingertips.

Here, the metaphor’s emotional impact lies in temporal distortion, while still retaining the comparison of microscopic (here the walk to the alley) to something large (the monsoon), that is Davis’s style in this collection; air to time, to the past, echoes the history the narrator has with the uncle, which is represented, enforced, in eroding wallpaper. The situation is made stranger with the final line: why would the narrator scratch at the wallpaper or hold it as it peels? The act of clinging to a toxic past is a possible interpretation; another interpretation, perhaps, is clinging to a toxic family. 

Beyond metaphor, credit must be given to Davis’s imagery in general. A question we often apply to poetry is: ‘Where, in this poem, is the moment of greatest invention?’ In other words, where has language been twisted, or shifted, to create something new? In The World Isn’t the Size of Our Neighborhood Anymore, there are too many moments to count. Several descriptions really just knocked our socks off—because cliche is the only response we can muster to Davis’s originality. Two of our favorites came in the tenth stanza of the previously mentioned poem, “Toxic Masculinity:”

they took the word “sensitive”
and stuck a needle in its definition
the way they turned cold medicine into crystal meth
and smeared bubblegum lipstick
all over the manhood growing inside you.

And stanzas twelve to fourteen:

The television tells us we need to watch porn
and porn teaches us that the bed is the coliseum
and sex is a gladiator fight between a man
and the demons he’s trying to fuck back to hell.

We’ve been conditioned to believe
that having emotions is what girls do
while we watch football and piss on trash cans,

that we should never really open up
because if we do, everyone we love
would fall inside those chasms in our chests.

Can you tell that “Toxic Masculinity” is our favorite? This poem—perhaps more than any other in Davis’s collection—utilizes beautiful, original descriptions to convey an important commentary on the corrosive nature of traditional masculinity so pervasive in contemporary society, a commentary that reads like a continuous sequence of shoves to the heart.

But “Toxic Masculinity” isn’t the only poem that creates this effect. Every poem is pulled taut with emotions—love, acceptance, longing, ambivalence, loss—all of which are necessary to age, to grow, to become something strong and new.

There’s a lot more to say, but it would all be better if you read it yourself. Austin Davis’s world certainly isn’t the size of his neighborhood anymore; he’s expanding out to ours, and we couldn’t be happier for it.  

You can pick up a copy of The World Isn’t the Size of Our Neighborhood Anymore on the Weasel Press website, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon

We highly recommend you do.

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