DC Published Author Collective: Ethel Mortenson Davis

Poet and artist Ethel Mortenson Davis has published six books and one chapbook of poetry, and her poems have appeared in anthologies and literary magazines. In 2018, the Wisconsin Library Association named her book Under the Tail of the Milky Way Galaxy an Outstanding Book of Poetry by a Wisconsin Poet. 

Her books are available at Novel Bay Booksellers and OtherWorlds Books in Sturgeon Bay, Fair Isle Books on Washington Island, Lion’s Mouth Bookstore in Green Bay, and Amazon.

In what way does your connection with Door County influence your writing?

Door County is part of the landscape of Wisconsin, and I am very influenced by the physical nature of this area of water, lakes, forest, islands, cliffs and wildlife.

I am also a member of the Dickinson Poetry Circle that reads poetry once a month at the Unitarian Universalist church in Ephraim, the Door County Poets’ Collective and the Unabridged Poetry group that gets together at Write On. This involvement stimulates the writing process.

Talk about your writing process.

When I write, I take notes from words, phrases, sentences and images. Then I start handwriting the poem, creating a structure for the poem. After getting images and ideas down, I rewrite each poem 10 or more times.

I don’t have a specific time for writing, but write whenever I have an idea, even if it comes in the middle of the night.

What, to you, are the most important elements of good writing?

A writer should write about something that is really important to them. There must be mystery. A poem needs to take a turn that gives a meaning larger than the images or description seem to originally indicate. Symbols are important. Emotion is important. The poem has to use new, original word combinations, images or ideas. Intensity in all of the above is also an important factor.

Do you have any advice about the publishing process? 

Publishing requires a lot of persistence. My husband, Thomas Davis, and I also manage Four Windows Press, which publishes some of my books. It also published the work of other writers.

You have to be able to accept rejection slips without getting discouraged, understanding – since I’ve been a co-editor of both Bramble and the Wisconsin Poets’ Calendar – that editors get a huge number of manuscripts and have to choose from among some very good submissions that there is just not room to include.

What are you currently reading?

I am currently reading Bewilderment by Richard Powers; Looking North, a book about art from the University of Alaska Museum, edited by Aldona Jonaitis; and Garden of Things Lost, a book of poetry by Paula Sayword.

The Door County Published Authors Collective is a group that brings together and champions local writers.

We went past
somebody’s place,
and there were things
sitting all over
and kids
and a woman looking
out a window
at a cat,
and the kids
were in puddles
with their eyes in oceans,
and they were waiting
for a storm or something,
and the place
looked twice as junky
as it did when the snow was,
but it didn’t matter
because it smelled warm,
and the sky was heavy,
and life stood in the mud, open-mouthed.
Reflections of a Country Girl for her Mother
Once, when the creek
had swelled its banks in spring,
and I had run to meet its new boundaries
to build a raft
that could carry me down the Little Sandy
towards lands unknown,
I was sidetracked by a patch
of blue and yellow violets—
too many to let go unnoticed,
found among the wet and shady places—
and I forgot about the countries unseen.
And in fist-fulls I came running,
sharing them with you—
and you received them well,
arranging them in glass jars,
teaching me to love
the spring beauties and things,
the funny-faced Holstein calves,
and the timid chickadees
who came in December
to snatch your winter’s crumbs.
Love Song
When scientists discovered
the wings of a cricket
preserved in stone
from the Jurassic period,
they played its wings
and heard
an ancient love song
never heard
in our world before,
a new song.
This morning,
while driving home:
A colt had been flung
to the side of the road,
killed in the night
by a passing car,
its little body
nearly missed
because it was
so small—
small enough
to still be brought
to its mother’s belly,
its mother gone,
a love song