Interview: The Transgressions of Austin Davis
How did you first get the idea for this book and when did you first start writing it?
I started writing first drafts of the poems in Lotus & the Apocalypse around 2 years ago. I had no clue what this book was going to become, but while writing these poems, eventually a narrative began to form about how the character of Lotus would feel if he was faced with the end of the world and one day left to live.
When I first wrote Lotus & Honesty, a poem that is now placed close to the middle of the book, the project really took off. I realized that Lotus is the part of myself I’m afraid of, guilty for, and ashamed of. We’re all a little fucked up, and Lotus is what’s fucked up in my head. Once I allowed myself to get to that point of supreme vulnerability with myself, the writing, editing and formatting was easy and flowed naturally.
I have OCD, ADHD, Tourette’s Syndrome and other mental health issues. For a while, during the time I was writing Lotus, I was in a pretty bad place. I wasn’t sleeping or eating. I felt uncomfortable in public but scared when I was alone. I got in two car accidents in three months. I was self medicating and flirting with self-destruction and really just not taking care of myself.
Writing Lotus & the Apocalypse helped me get through this low period in my life, and I just hope that someone out there will read this book and feel a little less alone too. We’re all humans and we all hurt sometimes and we should all take care of each other.
When did you know that writing was something that you wanted to do? What is it about being a writer that you love the most?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. Writing is something I need to do to survive, and it feels as much a part of me as my heart or my smile or the face on my head. Above all else, I love how magical writing and art is. Long after we’ve died, what we created on Earth can live on. Some of my favorite writers and musicians have passed away, but their art can still provide me and so many others with a hug across time and space. And that feels like magic to me.
I feel like writing is a remarkable tool to help people not only express themselves, but also to cope emotionally and mentally. I know for me I write to be and feel more authentic. What unique quality is there about you, about your art, that you feel represents your authenticity? How does writing help you to be more empowered in this sense?
Honestly, I just want to speak my truth in my poems and be as honest as possible. If you’re being honest about your faults and your shortcomings, the only place to go from there is a place of growth. And hopefully those who experience your art can feel some sort of comfort or understanding or hope.
I also wonder if there was any hesitation on your part in taking on this project. Not so much in terms of exposing other people, but exposing yourself?
When I was younger I was definitely a bit afraid of exposing myself in my poems. But in all my favorite poems, the writers are being naked in some way, and I needed to push myself and challenge myself, or I would’ve never written Lotus, let alone have it published. With Lotus however, there was no hesitation on my part to want this collection to be out in the world. Life is too short to hold yourself back.
Are most people disappointed with their lives?
Maybe I’m an optimist, but I’d like to think not. Even during our darkest nights, I’ve found that there’s always hope for a better future. I think the key to happiness is love. The love we give our partners, family, friends, children, planet, animals, and ourselves.
What kind of catharsis did you achieve, if any?
Writing Lotus was very therapeutic for me. There’s something freeing about getting all the bad thoughts out of your head and onto the page. It’s like you’re wringing your brain out like a dirty sponge, except in the case of making art, beautiful flowers grow from the black water that spills out.
How often do you think about death and in what spirit?
I think about death a lot. I run a homeless outreach program called AZ Hugs For the Houseless, which is my life and my passion. I love my friends experiencing homelessness with all my heart. On the streets I’ve seen some of the best of humanity, but I’ve also had to reverse overdoses, see people get shot, watch friends die, and be in many scary situations. You gain a completely new perspective on life and death and the fragility of existence when you’ve seen someone you’ve hugged get shot in the head.
Do you ever worry about being politically correct?
Nope. I write a lot about social issues and politics as well, and with these poems my goal is to help enact progressive change, even if it’s in a small way. You can’t help make something huge happen if you don’t take risks or bare your soul for all to see.
Now that your book is being published, is there anything around the narrative of the book that you feel is not being said? What do you wish people knew that perhaps they don’t?
At the end of the day, all I hope is that this book can help those who are in a dark place know that they’re not alone, that it can get better. That’s all that really matters, to create a little connection, a bit of togetherness.
Any other new or upcoming projects you would like to mention?
One goal of mine for Lotus is to eventually work with a punk band to make a rock opera. I’m planning to give that a shot after I get home from touring this spring. Along with that idea, I’ve been writing more songs lately, even though I can’t play any instruments and I’m a terrible singer. Sometimes creating something can just be for fun.
End of interview
Austin Davis is a poet, ASU senior, and the founder of AZ Hugs For the Houseless. Austin’s new book of poetry, Lotus & the Apocalypse, is forthcoming from Outcast-Press and will be published on March 1st, 2022.