Now living in nearby Strathroy, Davey grew up in BC and studied at UBC where in 1961 he co-founded with George Bowering and Fred Wah the influential and contentious poetry newsletter TISH. His first volume of poetry, in 1962, was described as ‘the act of the moment’ rather than poetry as the commonplace attempt 'to express ... feelings.' In 1965 he launched the avant-garde poetry and criticism journal Open Letter, and, with the assistance of bpNichol, developed it into what many still see as Canada's most important forum for discussion and examination of innovative and experimental ideas and texts.
Davey obtained his PhD from the University of Southern California in 1968. With the encouragement of George Woodcock, he began writing literary criticism, a body of work from the 1970s to the ‘90s which would be described as 'the most individual and influential ever written in Canada.'
His most important early contribution was his withering 1974 critique, 'Surviving the Paraphrase,which discredited thematic criticism in Canada, including that of Northrop Frye, D.G. Jones and Margaret Atwood.