by Davis McCombs
[featured in the bookclub Poetry Special]
From the back cover of the 2000 paperback edition (Yale University Press):
This years winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition is Davis McCombss Ultima Thule, which was acclaimed as a book of exploration, of searching regard ... a grave, attentive holding of a light by the contest judge, the distinguished poet W.S. Merwin. The poems are set above and below the cave country of south central Kentucky, where McCombs lives. The book is framed by two sonnet sequences, the first about a slave guide and explorer at Mammoth Cave in the mid-1800s and the second about McCombss experiences as a guide and park ranger there in the 1990s. Other poems deal with Mammoth Caves four thousand-year human history and the thrills of crawling into tight, rarely visited passageways to see what lies beyond. Often the poems search for oblique angles into personal experience, and the caves and the landscape they create form a personal geology.
Davis McCombs received a B.A. in 1993 from Harvard University and an M.F.A. from the University of Virginia in 1995. He was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University from 1996 to 1998. His poem The River and Under the River was featured in The Best American Poetry, 1996; other work has appeared in the Missouri Review, no roses review, and the Columbia Poetry Review.
In the poems in Bishops voice, McCombs gives us a language that is, necessarily, his own, and in doing it plainly and without emphasis he creates a haunting, echoing distance, a sound from some unidentifiable place. He presents a simplicity of words not of mind.