In Line Study of a Motel Clerk, Allison Pitinii Davis explores the complicated intersections among ethnicity, family, work, and loss that shaped the culture of Youngstown. The language and images are specific, and while some readers may well recall their own visits to the steel museum or the sounds of local bands and radio stations, these poems are not merely local. Instead, they invite us to think about the meaning of place — about how we come to be in particular places and how our lives are shaped by those who came earlier, from other places. These poems remind us that a sense of place is rooted in family stories, in the material spaces of small businesses and local bars, in words and memories.
—Dr. Sherry Linkon, author of Steeltown USA: Work and Memory in Youngstown (Univ Pr of Kansas)
This book refuses the notion that poetry is an enterprise of the elite. In Line Study of a Motel Clerk, interstate truck drivers, laundrymen, and desk clerks have as much wisdom and beauty to offer as Reznikoff, Spinoza, and Mayakovsky. Allison Pitinii Davis knows that the poet, too is a worker, “straightening / endings and beginnings / into a line.” As a daughter of converging diasporas, she is a “great bearer of keys,” opening doors to a family history that reveals the links between language and survival, between past and present, between the personal and the political. This is vital poetry of the working class, for whom “Saying nothing’s beyond / our means.” In carefully crafted lines that fuse passion and wit, Davis does more than pay tribute to her home, a place shrouded in dark myth: she dives into the wreck, questions her place there, and pulls up the truth.
—Rochelle Hurt, author of The Rusted City (White Pine Press)
What is it that connects us? The shortest distance between two points, a strand of DNA, a family tree, a trait, the literal road, the exit to the motel where we choose to stop for the night. Allison Davis’ Line Study of a Motel Clerk traces all of these paths–yellowed newspaper headlines to family heartlines—until the picture comes into an unflinching focus. In this marvelous debut collection the poems rev and roam, wander and wonder, they shake even as they sing.
—Catherine Wing, author of Gin & Bleach (Sarabande Books)
In this unforgettable debut, Allison Pitinii Davis tells the American story of two immigrant families: the Jews own a Rust Belt motel, the Greeks run a laundry; they ultimately merge to create the speaker of these eloquent, unsentimental poems, that remind me so happily of William Carlos Williams and Philip Levine. Line Study of a Motel Clerk is a story of transience and love—“the heart of it all + a free beer”—of looking almost too closely, forward through the windshield and back into the past. “There is a way to love things open,” Davis writes of the duplicate keys that hang at the Youngstown motel, awaiting the hands of temporary guests, “perfect copies/cut out//for their work.” Davis’s story is likewise familiar—but in her hands, loving and brand new.
—Kathy Fagan, author of Sycamore (Milkweed Editions)