Davis, Dick 1945-
Davis, Dick 1945-
Born April 18, 1945, in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England; son of Roy (an optician) and Marie Davis; married Afkham Darbandi (a nurse), 1974; children: Mariam, Mehri. Education: Kings College, Cambridge, B.A., 1966, M.A., 1970; University of Manchester, Ph.D., 1988.
Home—Columbus, OH. Office—Department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures, 300G Hagerty Hall, Ohio State University, 1775 College Rd., Columbus, OH 43210; fax: 614-292-1262. E-mail—[email protected]
Educator, writer, editor, and translator. Teacher in Greece, 1967-68, and Italy, 1968-69; Margaret McMillan College, Bradford, Yorkshire, England, instructor, 1969-70; Tehran University, Tehran, Iran, instructor, 1970-71; College of Literature and Foreign Languages, Tehran, instructor, 1971-78; freelance writer, 1978-80, 1981-85; Arts Council writer in residence at a school in Wiltshire, England, 1980-81; Northern Arts Literary Fellow at University of Durham and Newcastle University, 1985-87; University of California, Santa Barbara, poet in residence, 1985, visiting associate professor, 1987-88; Ohio State University, Columbus, assistant professor, 1988-92, associate professor, 1993-98, professor of Persian, 1998—, chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures.
Royal Society of Literature (fellow).
Arts Council of Great Britain grant, 1979; Heinemann Award, Royal Society of Literature, 1981, for Seeing the World; British Institute of Persian Studies grant, 1982-83, to translate The Conference of the Birds from Persian; Ingram Merrill Award for poetry, 1993, for A Kind of Love; Guggenheim fellow, 1999-2000; American Institute of Iranian Studies (AIIS) Translation Prize, 2000, for My Uncle Napoleon, and 2001, for The Conference of the Birds; Prize for "Services to Persian Poetry," Encyclopaedia Iranica, 2001; National Endowment for the Humanities Award, 2002, to translate Volume III of stories from the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, 2002; Distinguished Scholar Award, Ohio State University, 2002; National Endowment for the Arts Award, 2008, to translate selections from the Divan of the fourteenth-century woman poet Jahan Khatun.
(With Clive Wilmer and Robert Wells) Shade Mariners: Dick Davis, Clive Wilmer, Robert Wells, edited by Gregory Spiro, Gregory Spiro (Cambridge, England), 1970.
In the Distance, Anvil Press Poetry (London, England), 1975.
Seeing the World, Anvil Press (London, England), 1980.
Visitations, Ampersand Press (Colchester, England), 1983, published as Four Visitations, Aralia Press (West Chester, PA), 1985.
The Covenant, Anvil Press (London, England), 1984.
What the Mind Wants, R.L. Barth Press (Florence, KY), 1984.
Lares, Sea Cliff Press/Cummington Press, 1986.
Devices and Desires: New and Selected Poems, 1967-1987, Anvil Press (London, England), 1989.
A Kind of Love: New and Selected Poems, University of Arkansas Press (Fayetteville, AK), 1991.
Touchwood: Poems, 1991-1994, Anvil Press (London, England), 1996.
Belonging, Swallow Press/Ohio University Press (Athens, OH), 2002.
A Trick of Sunlight: Poems, Swallow Press/Ohio University Press (Athens, OH), 2006.
(With wife, Afkham Darbandi) Farid ud-Din Attar, The Conference of the Birds (poem), Penguin (London, England), 1984.
(And author of introduction and notes) Abolqasem Ferdowsi, The Legend of Seyavash, Penguin (New York, NY), 1992, revised edition, Mage Publishers (Washington, DC), 2004.
Borrowed Ware: Medieval Persian Epigrams, Anvil Press (London, England), 1996, Mage Publishers (Washington, DC), 1997.
(And author of preface) Iraj Pezeshkzad, My Uncle Napoleon, introduction by Azar Nafisi, afterword by the author, Mage Publishers (Washington, DC), 1997.
The Lion and the Throne, prose rendition by Ehsan Yarshater, illustrated by Stuart Cary Welch, Mage Publishers (Washington, DC), 1998, revised edition, 2005.
Fathers and Sons, Mage Publishers (Washington, DC), 2000.
Sunset of Empire, Mage Publishers (Washington, DC), 2004.
Abolqasem Ferdowsi, Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings, foreword by Azar Nafisi, Viking (New York, NY), 2006.
(And author of introduction) Abolqasem Ferdowsi, Rostam: Tales of Love & War from Persia's Book of Kings, Mage Publishers (Washington, DC), 2007.
(And author of introduction and notes) Fakhraddin Gorgani, Vis & Ramin, Mage Publishers (Washington, DC), 2008.
(Editor) The Selected Writings of Thomas Traherne, Carcanet New Press (Manchester, England), 1980.
Wisdom and Wilderness: The Achievement of Yvor Winters, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1983.
(Editor, with David Williams) New Writing from the North, MidNAG (Ashington, Northumberland, England), 1988.
(Editor) The Rubaiyát of Omar Khayyám, translated by Edward FitzGerald, Viking (New York, NY), 1989.
Epic and Sedition: The Case of Ferdowsi's Shahnameh, University of Arkansas Press (Fayetteville, AR), 1992.
Panthea's Children: Hellenistic Novels and Medieval Persian Romances, Bibliotheca Persica Press (New York, NY), 2002.
Three Poets in Conversation: Dick Davis, Rachel Hadas, Timothy Steele, Between the Lines (London, England), 2006.
(Contributor, with Burke Owens) Najmieh Batmanglij, From Persia to Napa: Wine at the Persian Table, Mage (Washington, DC), 2006.
Also contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals, including Southern Review and Agenda. Principal poetry reviewer for PN Review, 1975-86, and Listener, 1980-87.
Poet Dick Davis is a respected writer and scholar whose verses are distinguished by their adherence to classical notions of meter and rhyme. However, as a contributor noted in Dictionary of Literary Biography, "because of his British origin, Davis has not been considered as a New Formalist, even though his work has much in common with the poets of this movement. The most obvious shared characteristics are his devotion to the metrical tradition and his avoidance of the trendier ‘schools’ of contemporary verse practice, such as confessionalism and Surrealism." Nevertheless, Davis, according to the Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor, is not restricted by his faithfulness to classical forms, and his verses are consequently characterized by their wide range of themes.
Davis's collections feature poems that balance complexity with clarity, emotion with reason, and the abstract with the concrete. Counted among his influences are such poets as Yvor Winters, Ovid, Wallace Stevens, J.V. Cunningham, Edgar Bowers, Ben Jonson, Thom Gunn, Constantine Cavafy, and Emily Dickinson. Yet, according to a Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor: "Davis handles one or another of these influences in such a way that the emergent style is all his own, enriched though it is by a classical tradition to which he has the profoundest loyalty."
Davis was born and raised in Portsmouth, England. After earning degrees from King's College, he taught in Greece, Italy, and Iran. He also traveled widely, including visits to the United States and the Middle East, and his first collections were published while he was living in Iran. Teaching in Tehran for several years, he became seriously ill; the nurse who treated him, Afkham Darbandi, later became his wife, but the couple had to leave Iran just before the 1978 Islamic Revolution. Returning to England, Davis became a freelance writer for several years before returning to teaching.
His first collection of verse was the joint publication Shade Mariners: Dick Davis, Clive Wilmer, Robert Wells. In the Distance, Davis's debut solo effort, was then published in 1975 and revolved around the poet's desire to make sense of the legends of antiquity. In his study Carpenters of Light, critic Neil Powell noted Davis's "ability to make curiously rich and sensuous poems from plain language and strict metres." "It is wonderful to find a poet (English) whose poetry lives through its meter. His handling of it is masterful, and you are never aware of effort," praised poet Thom Gunn in his British Poetry since 1970: A Critical Survey. "And the language is exact but relentless, like the perceptions. On the basis of this book, I would say that Davis is one of the best poets around."
Five years after publishing his first collection of verse, Davis completed Seeing the World, in which he treats poetically the themes of travel, exile, and love, among others. A Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor commented: "Dick Davis's first book is so mature in style and theme that it is not surprising that his second book shows little change in technique or idea." Andrew Motion, writing in the New Statesman, noted that Seeing the World "is restrained, decorous and unwaveringly formal. So much so, in fact, that its emotional temperature only rarely rises above freezing. This isn't to say there's no feeling, but that the poems seal it behind their polished surfaces. And its remoteness is emphasized by the fact that his language is almost always stiffly archaic."
Devices and Desires: New and Selected Poems, 1967-1987 is a selection of Davis's work from throughout his career, including new poems. A Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor maintained in an essay that Davis's most important verse collections have also been his more recent: A Kind of Love: New and Selected Poems, Touchwood: Poems, 1991-1994, and Belonging. Of A Kind of Love, the contributor noted that "with a few important exceptions, the new work in these books tends toward the epigrammatic and the occasional; these poems carry the poet's themes of travel, exile, and life in the Middle East to suburban America, where Davis began teaching at this time," while in Touchwood "there is an informal sequence of short poems dealing with domestic life, his children, and his own childhood, in which he discusses, poignantly, the effects of its brutality on his life and on that of his brother, who committed suicide at the age of nineteen." Although a Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor noted that Davis avoids confessional poetry as a rule, the tragedy of his brother's death nevertheless informs the verses here: "These poems are among the most intense and moving in the book, the more so for their formal and psychological restraint."
Davis's Belonging has received both praise and criticism from reviewers. William Logan, writing in New Criterion, found the poet's verses to be lifeless and imitative. In stark contrast to Logan's opinions, Booklist contributor Ray Olson commented that Belonging is a fine example of verse. Asserting that Davis's "poems are full of fine emotion, intelligence, wit, and multinational culture," Olson appreciated the poet's adherence to traditional forms of meter, feeling that although they are "old-fashioned poems … they feel so contemporary." A Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor was especially impressed with Davis's interpretation of a Persian woman's marriage to a foreigner in the seventeenth century in the poem "Teresia Sherley." "Those qualities so abundant in Davis's work, of tact and imaginative sympathy, help him to create an unforgettable portrait of a woman distant, exotic, but credibly real,"
In addition to his poetry, Davis is an accomplished translator of Persian writings, as well as the author of several academic studies. He has translated the works of contemporary Italian novelist Natalia Ginzburg, and with his wife translated The Conference of the Birds, an allegory by the twelfth-century Persian poet Farid ud-Din Attar. An example of his original scholarly work is Wisdom and Wilderness: The Achievement of Yvor Winters, in which Davis discusses in depth the life and work of twentieth-century American poet and critic Yvor Winters, whose poetry has proved to be a major influence on him. By reviewing Winters's early and later poetry, he attempts to justify the poet's evolution from Romantic to Stoic—a philosophical position Davis shares with Winters. To address the aesthetic challenges he encountered, Winters wrote literary criticism, which Davis highlights in the final chapter of Wisdom and Wilderness.
In addition to his collections of verse and critical studies, Davis has edited scholarly works and contributed numerous reviews to such periodicals as Listener and PN Review. But it is for his poetry that many reviewers have been the most appreciative. As a Contemporary Poets contributor noted: "In Dick Davis we encounter a varied talent and one which … suggests a sound poetic future. And, provided Davis can still find things to say, it seems a future that is assured. For, clearly, his is a soundly based and intelligent talent."
The author has proven that he still has something to say with collections such as A Trick of Sunlight: Poems. Published in 2006, this collection of poems continues to address themes familiar in much of the author's work, including travel, the experience of being a stranger, love and its vagaries, the clash of cultures, and epiphanies associated with art. He also explores the idea and nature of happiness as a fleeting state that more often than not leads to disillusionment. He features a recurring theme of father-son conflict and the difference between heroes and kings, favoring heroes as being more honorable and noble. In addition, Davis writes from the viewpoint of someone who is growing older, thus facing the elimination of some possibilities in life while at the same time becoming free from the demands placed on younger people. "There is plenty to enjoy here in the brisk irony … and in a realist's way with words," wrote Jordan Smith in the Antioch Review. Noting that the author's "prosodic manners are immaculate," Booklist contributor Ray Olson added that "this guy knows how to write formal verse, without a dropped, stretched, or off-beat foot anywhere in sight."
Davis has continued to translate numerous books from Persian to English. He won the American Institute of Iranian Studies (AIIS) Translation Prize in 2000 for My Uncle Napoleon and in 2001 for The Conference of the Birds. My Uncle Napoleon is a novel by Iraj Pezeshkzad. The Iranian novel, a satiric look at love and family intrigue, was first published in the 1970s and was adapted into a successful television series in Iran. Writing in the Seattle Times, Valerie Ryan noted that "translator Dick Davis' preface is excellent."
Davis is also translator of Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings, by Abolqasem Ferdowsi (940-1020), who is considered to be perhaps the finest poet in the Persian language and a great poet in any language. Davis's translation is the most complete English-language edition of the great national epic of Persia, which was composed in the late tenth century. The poem, written over thirty-five years, tells the story of pre-Islamic Iran, from the mythic time of creation to the Arab invasion in the seventh century. It is "one (many, actually) of the world's great stories, in immensely attractive and reader-friendly form," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor of Shahnameh, adding that it is "essential reading." Ray Olson, writing in Booklist, commented that the book is translated "into clear, accessible prose." Davis is also a contributor to From Persia to Napa: Wine at the Persian Table, by Najmieh Batmanglij, a cookbook author. Davis's contribution is a look at the links between drinking wine and poetry in Persian culture.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Poets, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 40: Poets of Great Britain and Ireland since 1960, 1985, pp. 94-102; Volume 282: New Formalist Poets, 2003, pp. 50-58.
Gunn, Thom, British Poetry since 1970: A Critical Survey, edited by Peter Jones and Michael Schmidt, Persea (New York, NY), 1980.
Powell, Neil, Carpenters of Light, Carcanet New Press (Manchester, England), 1979.
Antioch Review, spring, 2007, Jordan Smith, review of A Trick of Sunlight: Poems, p. 395.
Atlantic Monthly, August, 1996, Phoebe-Lou Adams, review of My Uncle Napoleon, p. 93; February, 1998, review of Borrowed Ware: Medieval Persian Epigrams, p. 105.
Booklist, June 1, 2002, Ray Olson, review of Belonging, p. 1670; March 15, 2006, Ray Olson, review of Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings, p. 17; May 1, 2006, Ray Olson, review of A Trick of Sunlight, p. 65.
Guardian (Manchester, England), May 13, 2006, Azar Nafisi, review of My Uncle Napoleon.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2006, review of Shahnameh, p. 100.
Library Journal, April 1, 1987, Marcia G. Fuchs, review of The City and the House, p. 162; November 1, 2000, Ali Houissa, review of Fathers and Sons, p. 80; September 15, 2006, Shelley Brown, review of From Persia to Napa: Wine at the Persian Table, p. 80.
New Criterion, June, 2002, William Logan, "Falls the Shadow," review of Belonging, p. 75.
New Statesman, July 4, 1980, Andrew Motion, review of Seeing the World, p. 24; March 29, 1985, John Lucas, review of The Covenant, p. 31; September 5, 1986, Liz Heron, review of The City and the House, p. 30.
New Yorker, August 10, 1987, review of The City and the House, p. 78.
New York Times Book Review, October 13, 1985, Jeanne McCulloch, review of The Little Virtues, p. 25; September 13, 1987, Ann Cornelisen, review of The City and the House, p. 30.
Publishers Weekly, August 22, 1986, review of The Little Virtues, p. 85; June 3, 1996, review of My Uncle Napoleon, p. 64.
Seatle Times, May 5, 2006, Valerie Ryan "My Uncle Napoleon: Something Funny Is Going on in Tehran."
Times Literary Supplement, June 30, 1989, Lachlan Mackinnon, review of Devices and Desires: New and Selected Poems, 1967-1987, p. 715.
Fravahr.org,http://www.fravahr.org/ (September 16, 2006), N. Batmanglij, review of From Persia to Napa.
Iranian,http://www.iranian.com/ (July 24, 2004), Jahanshah Javid, "A Huge Conservation Project; Interview with Dick Davis, Translator of the Shahnameh."
Ohio State University Department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures Web site,http://nelc.osu.edu/people/ (April 1, 2008), faculty profile of author and author's CV.