Breaking Barriers: ASU student Austin Davis redefines masculinity in poetry

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By Annika Tomlin

ASU junior Austin Davis has been an avid reader and writer his entire life, and that led to him publishing his two poetry books “The World Isn’t the Size of Our Neighborhood Anymore” and “Celestial Night Light.”

“I’ve been writing pretty much my whole life,” Davis says. “I used to write short stories and write them out on construction paper and staple them together and pass them out to my family when I was really young.”

Around middle school, a creative writing teacher introduced Davis to contemporary poets. They, in turn, inspired his writing style. He hasn’t gone back since.

Davis is majoring in creative writing with a concentration in poetry at ASU.

“Writing poetry, it just comes the most naturally to me,” Davis says.

“I like writing short stories as well, but there’s just something about writing a poem that feels natural to me—it’s like breathing or talking. Not to say it’s easy for me, because it’s definitely hard, but it just feels natural. It feels like this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”

“The World Isn’t the Size of Our Neighborhood Anymore” was released by Weasel Press in March, while “Celestial Night Light” was published digitally through Ghost City Press in July.

“(My first book) is kind of an ode to growing up in a time of great turbulence,” Davis says. “It’s about all the good times, the bad times and all the times you had to grow up too fast.”

Topics for his poems include love, heartbreak, loss as well as masculinity and the issue of gun violence.

“I think that was my first real entry point in trying to write a cohesive book,” Davis says. “I really wanted each (poem) going in to lead into the next, and I wanted it to feel coherent and full.”

“Celestial Night Light” is five poems free to download digitally, but tips go directly to Black Lives Matter.

“I wrote many of the poems in that book during quarantine, and a lot of it’s about my experience with love and loss,” Davis says. “I wrote it also in a time when I was struggling with my own OCD and anxiety.”

Davis also writes about masculinity and the toxic traits that social emanates.

Davis recently wrote a new poem called “Blowing on My Nails” that he hopes will be in a future poetry book releasing sometime next year.

“It’s a poem of me reflecting on my formative experiences in school and growing up and just about what I was told masculinity should be and what it’s not,” Davis says. “Just seeing all these toxic traits and growing from that, trying to be a good man, I guess.”

Davis paints his nails and dresses androgynously. Occasionally, he wears women’s clothing.

“Sometimes I wear makeup,” Davis says. “I really enjoyed exploring that this year. I try to say to other people to just do what makes you happy.”

Davis hopes his poems open the door to having a positive conversation about masculinity.

“I just think it’s super important to talk to boys about respect and consent and to tell boys that it’s OK to have feelings,” Davis says.

“It’s OK to be vulnerable, and it doesn’t make you weak and it doesn’t make you less of a man. I would actually argue that vulnerability is the highest form of masculinity. It’s the most open that you can be, and it’s the bravest.”

Prior to the onset of COVID-19 and during the release of his first book, Davis taught poetry classes to teens and younger kids. He spoke about mental health and how poetry can help.

“I think too often we think that we can’t be completely vulnerable or open—especially guys,” Davis says. “I think it’s really important to have these conversations, and even if I can do that in a small way, I feel grateful and blessed for that.”

Davis admits that getting into the right mindset to write poetry is something “you have to train your brain into doing.”

“I think for a while I wasn’t very patient with my writing. I tried to rush through a piece when I had an idea and try and put it exactly on the pages as it was in my head or try and force myself to write at a certain time every day. I found—at least for myself—that it’s important to just let myself write when I feel like I need to. I try not to force anything.”

Davis is working on co-authoring a spoken-word album that he hopes to have released within the next few months on platforms including Apple Music and Spotify. CT

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