Trane’s Habit

For many, the prevailing image of poets is that of an ink-stained wretch, hunched over a manuscript, scrawling by candlelight.

Trane DeVore, on the other hand, is hip, confident and contemporary — the only candlelight he can recall in recent memory was that reflecting off his designer eyewear from a recent birthday cake.

DeVore, 34 as of this week, reads from his latest book, “Dust Habit,” at Petaluma’s Zebulon’s Lounge on Sunday.

The occasion marks a homecoming and farewell for the poet, who was raised in Petaluma and soon departs for a three-year professorship at Osaka University in Japan, where he will teach English.

In the meantime, DeVore is promoting “Dust Habit” in appearances throughout the Bay Area — the culmination of four years shaping the volume, published by the Penngrove company Avec Books.

“With anything I write, I think the actual production of the language involved usually takes the least amount of time, whereas the editing process is incredibly lengthy,” DeVore said.

“I would write bits and scraps here and there, and I would begin to see strange constellations arising between these bits of scraps. It’s these strange constellations that I found were producing almost other kinds of intelligences — not mine or anyone’s — but an intelligence in language to be found out there in the world.”

As suggested by the title, the notion of “habit” is infused throughout DeVore’s book. Like habits, there is a sense of ritual represented in repeated themes in the book. Sometimes poems themselves are repeated. The book’s title poem appears twice in two different forms, and two poems are titled “Weather.”

“I’m bad at coming up with titles, I won’t lie,” he jokes. “I don’t remember when the title came to me, but I do remember thinking about the concept of ‘habit’ a lot while I was teaching the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin,” said DeVore, who is a Ph.D. candidate in literature at UC Berkeley.

“Franklin conceptualizes the human not as a preformed object but as a result of the habits of actions that a human performs. What ends up happening is that the person ends up being defined by this kind of pattern of habits that is inscribed in their body.”

That said, DeVore is reluctant to attribute the genesis of his work to traditional notions of inspiration.

“Inspiration is a very romantic notion. It certainly doesn’t apply to me because I’m not a romantic with a capital ‘R,’ though I am a romantic with a small ‘r,’ I suppose,” he said.

” ‘Inspiration’ is not a word I would use to describe what happens to me when I’m writing poems. Although there are moments when I’ve been mulling around ideas and thinking about things — not coming to any kind of solution in terms of a poetic process — and then something will click.”

Among the subjects DeVore explores in “Dust Habit” is love — a subject he believes is often given short shrift in present-day communication.

“Quite a few of these poems are love poems in some sense, or at least they’re deeply melancholic so they must be love poems,” he laughs. “The ways that we think about love are severely curtailed in popular and social language.

“A friend of mine was complaining recently about this incredible pressure that she sees in this cultural move toward the notion of ‘snagging the man’ and ‘closing the deal’ and this idea that the ultimate good of love is some kind of weird contractual possession of the other. It’s very perverse,” DeVore said.

“There seems to be a kind of limitation in terms of what love looks like outside of a marriage or love that’s not part of some kind of formal romantic relationship. The kinds of love that can circulate between friends, for example, or people who are not lovers but who are in love at some level.”

It is DeVore’s frankness and interest in exploring such seldom-trod territory that attracted Avec Books publisher Cydney Chadwick.

“What compels me about DeVore’s work is its uniqueness. Frequently in the independent press world, communities are formed. In many instances the writing within these communities becomes quite similar. DeVore’s poetry, however, is iconoclastic,” said Chadwick, who also published DeVore’s first poetry collection, “series/mnemonic,” in 1999.

“DeVore’s poetry has become more assured and confident. It takes more risks.

“It’s personal, but not confessional. He writes about the everyday, and breathes new life into the use of metaphor. DeVore’s poetry is innovative, yet accessible — that’s difficult to pull off,” Chadwick said.

She likens independent West Coast presses such as hers to the jazz labels of the 1950s and ’60s because they are open to new talent.

“We indie West Coast publishers take risks on writers — because we think they’re that good, and that their work deserves a readership,” she said.

DeVore is happy to oblige.

“Here’s the thing, the world of small press is not a very large one. You don’t have a wide popular readership,” he said. “The advantage is that you know that you have a very serious reading audience and a very interested audience. It’s important to get the work out there.”

* * *
Trane DeVore reads from “Dust Habit” at 3 p.m., Sunday at Zebulon’s Lounge, 21 Fourth St., Petaluma. 21 and over. Free. (707) 769-7948; or Originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle.

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