Poet & Professor Robin Davidson Introduces Readers to ‘Mrs. Schmetterling’
UHD Professor Emeritus Issues New Book of Poetry, Virtual Book Launch Slated for Dec. 5
By Mike Emery
Mrs. Schmetterling, let’s call her Judith, married.
She is neither great musician nor poet.
Not scientist nor historian. She is ordinary.
Those are the opening lines within “Mrs. Schmetterling,” the new book by acclaimed poet and University of Houston-Downtown Professor Emeritus Dr. Robin Davidson. They set the tone for the titular Mrs. Schmetterling’s journey of self-discovery. And contrary to the introductory lines, she is anything but ordinary.
It was just earlier this year that Davidson made reference to Schmetterling and husband Mr. Schmetterling in her translations of works by Ewa Lipska titled “Dear Ms. Schubert” (collaborating with fellow translator Ewa Nowakowska). In that volume, Davidson helped illustrate the enigmatic title character and her correspondence with the mysterious Mr. Schmetterling (or Mr. Butterfly) through a collection of poetic postcards.
Readers can now meet Mr. Schmetterling’s/Butterfly’s better half courtesy of Davidson. “Mrs. Schmetterling” (Arrowsmith Press) is out this week, and poetry enthusiasts can experience Davidson’s latest works during a virtual book launch at 3 p.m., Dec. 5. The event also will feature works and readings from poets Alexandra Marshall and Martin Edmunds.
“Mrs. Schmetterling” contains 22 poems by Davidson complemented by multimedia artwork by Sarah Fisher (including works adapted from her “Stain” cycle). The poetic evolution of “Mrs. Schmetterling” has been nine years in the making, said Davidson.
Readers will observe the title character’s growth from a conventional spouse to woman who gains more sophistication and independence through the course of the book. The character presents a slight contrast from her European counterpart presented in “Dear Ms. Schubert,” Davidson added.
“Mrs. Schmetterling may have roots in Europe, but her experience of adult life has primarily been American, and she is constrained, I think, by what is likely a more parochial perspective, and perhaps a more traditional role—hence her title, Mrs. not Ms.,” she said.
A new book is certainly welcome for Davidson’s loyal fanbase, as well as even the most casual of poetry readers. Following a year in which the arts were silenced due to COVID-19, new works can be cathartic to audiences.
“These past 20 months have been so very difficult for artists, and for everyone else in our world too,” Davidson said. “Everyone I talk with about their experience of the pandemic says they feel deeply changed, as do I. I haven’t thought about poetry in terms of being productive these past months so much as I’ve felt compelled to turn to it more than I might ordinarily, for sanctuary … to feel more fully alive in a time of unpredictability, anxiety, fear. Poems—reading them and writing them—restore me. They are thrilling and moving. They can be healing in many ways. I’ve seen that same impact of creative writing on my students in their responses to the pandemic as well. I am so very grateful to have poetry in my life.”
Davidson has dedicated “Mrs. Schmetterling” to Lipska (who inspired this book), poet Carolyn Forché, daughter Chelsea Lindquist and daughter-in-law Jamie Wise. Additionally, the closing poem, “Mending Pajamas” is written for poet Martha Serpas.
This weekend’s virtual book launch is just the first event to promote Davidson’s poetry. She said that she and artist Fisher will very likely participate in further readings and an exhibition of the book’s artwork in 2022.
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.
U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.