Though his poems are spare and meditative, full of longing and wonder, Donald Revell is a funny guy. A self-professed buffoon, he prefaced his poem, “Elegy a Little,” at his University of Chicago reading last Thursday by explaining that, as a child, he donned rubber pants and sat on eggs to play chicken. The next day, Revell delivered a talk entitled “White Leaves In Heaven’s Tree,” in which he casually mentioned seeing an angel float like an oversize pillowcase in his backyard. His delivery was so lighthearted, almost nonchalant, that one could be forgiven for thinking it was meant as a joke.
Revell, though, believes wholeheartedly in his spiritual experiences and speaks of them with such easy-going conviction that it is possible to suspend disbelief when he recounts driving through Heaven, a pure white summer forest, on a family trip at the age of five. This early experience with paradise informs much of Revell’s poetry, and adds conviction to the sense of wonder that infuses his encounters with nature in lines like “The apple / there in her hands is God Almighty / where the skin breaks to her teeth and spills my freedom all over / sunlight turning deadwood coppery rose” from his poem “Zion.” Revell’s goal in writing is to return to the origin of his poems–his early paradise–a goal he believes is common among poets. “Whatever it is, paradise or a wound,” he explains, “you’re trying to recover from it and you recover by going back there.”
Charmingly, Revell is aware of how fantastic his early visit to Heaven may sound. He jokes that Utah, where he used to teach English before relocating to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is the only place where he can talk about paradise without being seen as crazy. “Paradise,” he quips, adopting the voice of an imagined Utah neighbor, “I love it there. I’ll bring the sandwiches.”