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Poet Austin Davis finds solace in art with ‘Lotus & the Apocalypse’

Austin Davis
Austin Davis
"Writing for me has always been therapy," says Davis. "Oftentimes I feel like there’s hundreds of thoughts bouncing around my head and writing kind of centers it all. It allows me to get rid of all the waste, everything that I don’t need to worry about. And then all I’m left with are the thoughts that you should concern yourself with." His new poetry book, "Lotus & the Apocalypse," describes mental health struggles that David has battled most of his life.

A new poetry book by the Arizona-based author Austin Davis called “Lotus & the Apocalypse” imagines it’s the last day on Earth. The main character, Lotus, is scrambling to figure out the meaning of life before it’s too late. The book is a frank and emotionally raw portrayal of mental health struggles, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts. Davis himself has wrestled with similar issues and channeled his writing into a way to cope and heal. He spoke with KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius about his hopes for a greater sense of connection and community through art.

Davis will give a reading and hold a Q&A and open mic Thu, March 3 at 6 p.m. at the Liminal Café in Flagstaff.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255 or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

Ryan Heinsius: In this book you tread on some pretty dark ground. You describe alcohol and drug abuse and fairly deep mental health issues. But writing this book, as you’ve said, ultimately saved your life. How did it become such a life-affirming experience for you?

Austin Davis: Yeah, so I throughout my life I’ve struggled with OCD and depression and I also have Tourette’s syndrome. And over the last couple years it got pretty bad for me, especially I think in part due to the pandemic. We were isolated and I was feeling that loneliness pretty heavily, and the fear, you know. Writing this book, it allowed me to get these really scary, bad, dark thoughts out of my head onto something tangible that I could hold and feel and share with the people around me, the people that I love, other people, wherever you are in the world who are feeling similar to me. And in that aspect, yeah, it did save my life.


RH: Would you describe writing this book as a sort of therapy?

AD: Oh yeah. Oh, writing for me has always been therapy. Oftentimes I feel like there’s hundreds of thoughts bouncing around my head and writing kind of centers it all. It allows me to get rid of all the waste, everything that I don’t need to worry about. And then all I’m left with are the thoughts that you should concern yourself with. And those other ones, those are on the paper. They’re out of your head, they’re gone. You made amends with them, you fought them.

RH: You write, “Lotus hurts like the moon would hurt if it was in love with the sun. His friends don’t know what drugs he uses, or that he often thinks about dying.” How close is your writing to your actual personal experience?

AD: For me oftentimes, I will draw from a really raw emotion like, I just had a suicidal thought or, I don’t know how to escape this OCD spiral that’s telling me that if I don’t do this compulsion my mom’s going to die or something. And I use that as a place of honesty. That’s what writing and poetry is. It’s not rigid, it’s flexible, it’s fluid, it crosses boundaries, it crosses terrain. You can experiment in any possible way. I think that that’s what I really fell in love with when I was a kid with poetry because to me it feels like magic. And I know when I was a kid, I wanted to try to be a magician, try to create a little magic.

RH: Even though things are returning to a version of normal, many people haven’t yet returned to where they were pre-pandemic. You say making art was indeed key for you, but what can others do to try to regain a sense of themself?

AD: Yeah, starting with art, I think that it’s really valuable for everyone, whoever you are, just to try to make something. It doesn’t have to have any standards, you don’t have to show it to anyone. But that’s kind of how I started is I just wanted to create something. And sometimes it’s a poem, sometimes it’s a story, sometimes it’s a doodle on my hand, you know. It’s about being completely honest with yourself and the world about your faults, about your struggles, about the parts of yourself that you feel uncomfortable to talk about, and using that discomfort and that honesty to push yourself into a place of growth and to try to inspire others to push themselves into a place of growth.

RH: You speak a lot of empathy. How is having that sense of connection to others important?

AD: I think that we need empathy in all aspects of the definition, now more than ever especially. I think that in some ways we’re all kind of struggling. We don’t know what the other person’s struggle is; I don’t know what your struggle is; you don’t fully know what mine is. But we can connect through mutual understanding that we’re doing the best we can and that we’re going to get through this together and it’s going to be all right.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom as executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.