Review: Coffin Honey by Todd Davis

cover of Coffin Honey by Todd DavisCoffin Honey by Todd Davis
Michigan State University Press (February 1, 2022)
147 pages; $19.95 paperback
Reviewed by Joshua Gage

In Coffin Honey, Todd Davis explores themes of violence and how people hurt each other. The book is broken into sections, each one reading like a short story told in narrative poems, which makes for some haunting connections between the poems. For example, the first section contains the poem “Taxidermy: Cathartes Aura” with lines like:

The bird’s spiraling descent
was unexpected, like when
his uncle touched him
in the cellar as he shoveled
coal for winter, telling him
he couldn’t have the fried
doughnuts sprinkled
with confectioner’s sugar
if he screamed
or told his mother.

Davis is tapping into some very real horrors in this collection, which makes for evocative and troubling poetry that lingers for the reader long after the book is closed.

These sections are separated by poems titled “dream elevator,” which touch back on some of the characters Davis has explored in the section. These add a mythic element to the book, as the boy in this section descends into 

a tunnel

                                    into vanishing




with past sins

The form of this poem, as well as the mythic imagery, works well to capture the nightmarish aspects of these narratives and really serves to haunt the readers.

There are other elements of myth throughout, such as in the eponymous poem “Coffin Honey,” which has lines like

The beekeeper raises a bee-box lid

                                                  scrapes bodies

                   from comb, wax filling

                             behind fingernails


                                                  in stickiness.

Here Davis is tapping into Greek and Egyptian mythology and folklore and using ancient symbols of death and passing to add layered nuance to his poems about human suffering and sorrow.

Overall, this is a moving collection of poetry. Todd Davis is able to connect with readers on a visceral level, exposing humanity’s capability for great harm to each other and the world. It’s a haunting book of very real horrors as well as mythic horrors, all in an accessible poetic style. This is a strongly recommended collection that any fan of poetry or horror poetry will want to read.

Davis is the author of five full-length collections of poetry: Winterkill (2016), In the Kingdom of the Ditch (2013), The Least of These (2010), Some Heaven (2007), and Ripe (2002); and a limited edition chapbook, Household of Water, Moon, and Snow: The Thoreau Poems (2010). He edited the nonfiction collection Fast Break to Line Break: Poets on the Art of Basketball (2012), and coedited the anthology Making Poems (2010). Davis is a fellow in the Black Earth Institute and teaches environmental studies, creative writing, and American literature at Pennsylvania State University’s Altoona College. 

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