On Hope and Poetry

Finally sun here in the Midwest – real sun, hot sun – and a slight breeze that made for perfect outside reading weather. My choice for the day was to begin The Redress of Poetry, a book of lectures by the late Seamus Heaney. Since this is a signed copy (a lovely Mother’s Day gift from my husband), I was taking notes as I read.

Although I only read the introduction today, there was much to consider. Heaney spoke of what he called the frontier of writing,

“a line that divides the actual conditions of our daily lives from the imaginative representation of those conditions in literature and divides also the world of poetic language.”

In this respect, each poet is a pioneer of sorts – I like the idea of blazing a new trail every time I write a poem.

Another idea that made me smile, since I rarely draft from any sort of intellectual part of my brain:

“drafting should move from delight to wisdom and never the other way,” that a poem should begin with some “felicity of a cadence, chain reaction of rhyme, or pleasure of any etymology…”

But one of my favorite discoveries from this introductory essay was a quote from Våclav Havel about hope. Heaney shares this quote as a parallel definition of poetry:

“…a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul, and it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of a situation…it transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.”

Something to write for. Something to hope for.

Beautiful Damage: White Stag’s Psychologia Issue

Like most writers, I am enamored with the look and feel of print – the paper, the cover art, the font choices, the design. I read as many print journals as I can, and although I can’t afford to subscribe to all of them, once in a while, one stands out as really special. I must admit that I had never heard of White Stag until a fellow poet placed a poem of hers in the journal, and I decided to check it out. I was rewarded with heavy, glossy paper, a clean design aesthetic, a cover that gave careful attention to the theme of the issue…in short, all of the things I love about print materials. Not to mention that the carefully curated writing also impressed. Soon after, I was honored to have been a part of their Ars Poetica issue and immediately began anticipating reading what would come next.

The latest issue of White Stag is not only visually beautiful, it is full of poems that surprise. The theme of the issue (as well as its title) is Psychologia. As the editors explain, the issue sought writing that explores that “vast realities of the human psyche through chemical, traumatic, and physical effects on the brain, and through the phenomena of clairvoyance and dreaming.” Thus the issue unfolds a little like a dream, covering topics as diverse as vertigo, monsters, anorexia, memory, time, illness, and past lives. It begins with the evocative cover art by Belgian artists Mothmeister. Part fairy tale, part nightmare, the image evokes this dream world perfectly.  The title page includes the stag logo of the journal, and then the endpapers repeat the stag in a mirror image, letting the reader know that disorientation is to be expected.

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The issue opens and closes with prose poems by Jeffrey H. Maclachlan – we start with “Vertigo,” which captures the lack of control and terror that comes with the condition: “Falling and your brain grips its skull like a subway bar. Falling and there are no stops.”The penultimate poem in the issue is also Maclachlan’s. Titled “Television Test Patterns,” it outlines the effect of chronic pain on sleep – “My dreams were finally getting into make-out sessions, touchdown receptions, piano recitals. Now I only hear trains stopping. If I clamp my eyes tight enough, I can hear strollers hitting platforms with plastic thuds and subway rats pin balling between tracks.”

There are many standouts for me in this issue, including the spare, disconnected poems of Kelly Corinna, all titled “Dear Samantha” followed by a phrase that places us in time (Happy Valentine’s Day, September, December). They chronicle loss – of safety, of closeness, of life – ending with the haunting lines – “I was/one hundred pounds/then/I am less/now/it is/a combination of/magic and/poverty/see you soon/I hope”

Other favorites include both poems by Emari DiGiorgio. The first “When They Say You Have An Old Soul,” addresses the old soul living inside the body: “Does the old soul know the joy in coaxing/the deepest moan from body’s rusted cage?–/how strike is so close to stroke–the open/mouth of pleasure, the I’s prickly bayonet.” The second poem is a brutal, honest and chilling examination of the school shooting in Sandy Hook: “I want/to have kept my daughter home, permitted her pecan ice cream,/waffles–if I knew that breakfast was to be her last. I wish/that as soon as the gun was visible, she thought of feeding geese,/and when it was pointed at her, the trigger pop sent her straight/into sleep.”

So many of these poems dwell in dark and unfinished places, but they all carry images and bits of refracted light that show us a path through their damage. Overall, the editors have curated a fascinating collection that is well worth a read AND well worth holding in your hands.

You can purchase this issue (and others) of White Stag here:

http://www.whitestagpublishing.com/volume-iii.html

 

 

 

 

Into the Undertow

When I was first starting to publish my work, a small press editor named Kendall A. Bell not only published my work in the online journal Chantarelle’s Notebook, but also released my second chapbook Ordering the HoursSince Kendall has a new chapbook in the world, I wanted to spend some time reading his work and introducing it to you.

Into the Undertow by Kendall A. Bell – Indigent Press, 2016

Starting with a “desk chair that/ leans on the precipice/of a tumble,” Into the Undertow immediately welcomes the reader into a world that seems at the same time familiar and unsettling. The latest chapbook from Kendall A. Bell, poet and editor of Maverick Duck Press, titles its poems with the names of songs from sludge metal band Jucifer, and it purveys a sense of grinding through daily moments, never quite bright or clear.

The pull of the undertow is strong in these poems, the speaker seeming to swirl in a haze of menace. In “Amplifier, we are told “All I hear now is feedback,/a sour note. I cannot mute a nightmare.” In “Dissolver,” the speaker refuses a companion’s play in the snow, choosing instead to “hide from anything that shines too brightly.” On a day when more sleep beckons, the speaker decides to “peer out the door and watch the town spill at the seams. It is not soft…” As we read through the collection, the speaker moves us toward dreams of drowning in the poem called “Undertow,” dreams where the mere act of waking is a panic: “ Waking is paralysis, is continuation. The hands always haul me back below.”

There are also images in the collection that give the reader new phrasings for ordinary experiences: eyes that “flutter a Morse code of illness” in “Little Fever;” the comfort of a fleece blanket “a warming bastard” in “Lazing.”  With this, the poet slides us easily into the world of these poems, puts us behind the counter with the clerks rejoicing at the downfall of a former employee, at the gym with a self-absorbed “queen bee,” being disappointed by the mundane girl with the exotic name.

But these are also intimate poems, offering glimpses into the moments that shimmer in the undertow. “When She Goes Out” gives us a portrait of an unnamed she including details that only time and closeness could know, the she laboring “over how her shirt hugs/her waist, calls herself a sausage.” However, my favorite poem in the chapbook is the deceptively simple “Firefly,” both a nature poem and a meditation on living in the undertow, in a place where one feels anonymous and unsettled:

I flash in the blades of grass

on a low float above the green

in this ongoing quest to be

noticed – to get one answer.

There are hundreds of us here

who crawled out after the deep

sleep and dried our wings in

the stiff breezes. In the dark,

we are a quiet fireworks display.

We are hungry. We are restless.

If you like your poems served straight with a chaser of attitude and a splash of dark realism, then Into the Undertow may be just what you’ve been looking for. You can find it here:

http://www.indigentpress.com/catalog.html

Into the Undertow

Finally. Spring Break. And a chance to read.

When I was first starting to publish, Kendall A. Bell published some of my work at Chantarelle’s Notebook and then also published my second chapbook Ordering the Hours. Today I got to spend some time with Kendall’s newest chapbook, and I thought I would share it with you.

Into the Undertow by Kendall A. Bell

Indigent Press, 2016

Starting with a “desk chair that/ leans on the precipice/of a tumble,” Into the Undertow immediately welcomes the reader into a world that seems at the same time familiar and unsettling. The latest chapbook from Kendall A. Bell, poet and editor of Maverick Duck Press, titles its poems with the names of songs from sludge metal band Jucifer, and it purveys a sense of grinding through daily moments, never quite bright or clear.

The pull of the undertow is strong in these poems, the speaker seeming to swirl in a haze of menace. In “Amplifier, we are told “All I hear no is feedback,/a sour note. I cannot mute a nightmare.” In “Dissolver,” the speaker refuses a companion’s play in the snow, choosing instead to “hide from anything that shines too brightly.” On a day when more sleep beckons, the speaker decides to “peer out the door and watch the town spill at the seams. It is not soft…” As we read through the collection, the speaker moves us toward dreams of drowning in the poem called “Undertow,” dreams where the mere act of waking is a panic: “ Waking is paralysis, is continuation. The hands always haul me back below.”

There are also images in the collection that give the reader new phrasings for ordinary experiences: eyes that “flutter a Morse code of illness” in “Little Fever;” the comfort of a fleece blanket “a warming bastard” in “Lazing.”  With this, the poet slides us easily into the world of these poems, puts us behind the counter with the clerks rejoicing at the downfall of a former employee, at the gym with a self-absorbed “queen bee,” being disappointed by the mundane girl with the exotic name.

But these are also intimate poems, offering glimpses into the moments that shimmer in the undertow. “When She Goes Out” gives us a portrait of an unnamed she including details that only time and closeness could know, the she laboring “over how her shirt hugs/her waist, calls herself a sausage.” However, my favorite poem in the chapbook is the deceptively simple “Firefly,” both a nature poem and a meditation on living in the undertow, in a place where one feels anonymous and unsettled:

I flash in the blades of grass

on a low float above the green

in this ongoing quest to be

noticed – to get one answer.

There are hundreds of us here

who crawled out after the deep

sleep and dried our wings in

the stiff breezes. In the dark,

we are a quiet fireworks display.

We are hungry. We are restless.

If you like your poems served straight with a chaser of attitude and a splash of dark realism, then Into the Undertow may be just what you’ve been looking for. You can find it here:

http://www.indigentpress.com/catalog.html

It’s in the Cards…A Review of Poet Tarot

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Consulting the Poet Tarot

I’m always on the lookout for something that will jumpstart my creative process, so when Two Sylvia’s Press released their Poet Tarot Deck as an app, I was curious as to how it would work. I admit to knowing absolutely nothing about tarot in general – I have never had much of an interest in a deck that started as 15th century playing cards and turned into a fortune-telling device. (This is not to disparage anyone who believes in such readings – everyone believes in something.) So I wasn’t sure what to expect from this version which, according to its press materials, “helps writers, artists, or anyone working on an artistic project (or simply living a creative life) explore the nuances of their creative process.”

Two Sylvia’s Press explains that “The Poet Tarot App features 30 well-known poets. This virtual deck follows the traditional tarot deck with a few variations. The major arcana is made up of poets–Edgar Allan Poe makes a delicious Devil (XV), while Emily Dickinson is an obvious Hermit (IX). The suit cards have been tweaked to represent the stages of the creative process: Muses (Inspiration), Quills (Creation), Mentors (Revision), and Letterpresses (Completion).”  The app is simple – you can choose a card at random and then view its meaning. The intent is that each new card will provide fodder for thinking about your creative life.

I decided to give it a try. Having just released my second book (Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story from Sundress Publications) and being in the midst of the most challenging part of the school year (12-years-olds one week before Spring Break – save me), I haven’t felt much of a creative spark lately. The first card I pulled was The Queen of Muses, Gwendolyn Brooks. This card asked me to consider the women who have inspired and encouraged my creative life. My first thought, of course, is of my mother, who always encouraged me to write, draw, sing, play music, act…all of the things I loved to do as a child. The second is of is my high school English teacher, Sister Angele. She was a taskmaster who demanded that we strive for perfection, and she introduced me to SO many classic books that informed me as a reader/writer. So although it was interesting to consider these influences, I wanted to see what else the card had to offer.

It spoke of Brooks’s devotion to community and outreach, asked me to consider how I mentor other creative people or bring my art to the community. This was, on one level, an easy question to answer – I teach young people, and I often run workshops, direct plays, etc., at my school. I attend many readings/arts events in my community, though I suppose I could do more if I didn’t work full-time. I made a list of things in my journal that I would like to try at some point. These were interesting things to think about, but the card perhaps was not as evocative in terms of helping me get into a creative headspace as I might have liked. But, this was only one card, so I tried again.

The second card I received was Robert Frost. This was more what I was looking for. It spoke of the balance of emotion and intellect in Frost’s work, the calm, conversational tone, and the way he draws the reader in with image and rhythm. It brought up the freedom that restraint (formal or otherwise) can bring to ideas, and it provided an exercise that suggested approaching things from a completely intellectual headspace and then a completely emotional one. This led me back to Frost’s poems, which I have always loved, and also led to both the writing exercise and a lens through which to view some troublesome poems I have been trying to revise.

I haven’t had a chance to use all the cards as of yet, but in a quick flip through several more, it seems that there is a good balance of “thought” cards (like the Brooks one) and cards that stimulate active response (like the Frost one).  Either way, they look to be good companions, especially for those times when my creative mind seems stifled, unimportant, or far away.

To get The Poet Tarot App, you can search for it on your iPhone in Apps (just search “Poet Tarot”) or here’s a link to the iTunes store:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/poet-tarot-creativity-tool/id1086383408?mt=8

On Writing & Having Written

Sunday morning, January 17, on a couch in the lobby of the Seaview Hotel in Galloway, New Jersey, suddenly lines about gorillas and game shows and science made perfect sense together in a poem about love, and I was so overwhelmed by what I had just written, so emotional, that I had to retreat to the restroom to pull myself together. Karen Craigo wrote a post today about the  potentially “sacred” element of how a poem arrives, and I understand what she means. This is why I write, for those moments that my own thoughts come together in a way that stuns me, moves me as if I hadn’t written them myself.

The Winter Poetry and Prose Getaway was, as always, a stimulating and reaffirming way to kick off my new year of writing. In addition to three strong drafts from Peter Murphy’s prompts, time with East Coast friends, and long conversations about writing, teaching, and life in general, on Monday, workshop leader Emari DiGiorgio gave us the charge to create action plans for our writing lives, little contracts with ourselves (realistic or far-reaching) to keep life from getting in the way of our writing goals. I have been following the action plan since I returned home and have been steadfast about drafting (one new draft a week), submitting with discretion (fewer subs to more challenging markets, only when work is ready), and working on promoting/reading from my brand new book Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story.

Yes, my new book is out! It’s a lovely object to behold, and I hope that readers find that the poems inside hold up to the cover art by Brooke Shaden:Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 10.20.54 AM.png

I am starting to look into booking readings to share this new material, and I am excited to put it into the hands of as many readers as possible. I sometimes think that I am not doing enough with my writing, not “achieving” enough, but then my friends from work remind me that I have two books and seven chapbook publications without the benefit of an MFA and with the restraint of working full-time as a middle school teacher. I’m 53 years old, nearing retirement from 30+ years in education, and do not need to make poetry my “career.” Those moments like the one on that couch last month are the reason I continue to write. If I can feel that way writing a poem, hopefully someone someday will be moved by reading it. And that’s a success.

If you are interested in the new book (especially if you would like a signed copy), follow the link below and it will be in the mail before you can say “apocalypse.”

https://squareup.com/market/donna-vorreyer?square_lead=button

 

2016 Reads:ABCs of Women’s Work by Kathleen Kirk

ABCsOfWomensWork

This is about literary community. And laziness. Yes, you read that correctly. Laziness. Since I read a good amount of poetry but really struggle to keep up with an online reading record (like Goodreads- I just can’t ever seem to remember to log things there)- I thought I would do my best to chronicle my reading here. (Since I also do not post here often enough, it will hopefully prod me to do that as well.)

My first delightful read of 2016 was Kathleen Kirk’s newest chapbook from Red Bird entitled The ABCs of Women’s Work, an abecedarian of sorts, with each poem starting with a consecutive letter of the alphabet. These poems address truths about the complex and beautiful ways that women work. Not work as in labor, although there is labor here. Not “women’s work” as in traditional gender roles. But the work of living.

It is difficult for me to choose a favorite, but Kirk has a magical way of weaving the familiar and the strange into song that is perfected in “Doorknob”:

It fell out onto the fiberglass
floor of the shower
right in the middle of my breast
*
self exam, my doorknob
of a heart. Loud, echoey bump
and clatter as when
*
the ritzy shampoo
my daughter uses falls off
the wet ledge.
*
Porcelain itself, and scallop
edged, it didn’t break.
Neither did the floor crack.
*
Everything went on as usual.
Dried my hair, tucked
the doorknob in a top drawer
*
under an embroidered
hankie from my grandmother.
I might have expected
*
emptiness. Or blood. Maybe a scar,
difficulty breathing?
But something keeps
(
opening, opening.
*
There is so much to admire in this poem. Let’s start with the line breaks. We have the line break on breast (making us imagine the worst we can imagine when we hear breast), then the break at doorknob (making us think the actual object has fallen), then the surprise of the metaphor for the heart.  Bump reechoes the panic of breast, and the line break of drawer connects through slant rhyme with scar, before the repetition of the final word. (Oh, that ending. More on that ending later.)
The poem then leads us through a generational lineage using domestic images (a daughter’s shampoo, a grandmother’s hankie). When the heart leaves the body in the poem, we assume some great “emptiness” – a death, a child leaving the home -and these are both possibilities. One would also medically expect damage -“…blood. Maybe a scar,/difficulty breathing.”  But what we have instead is a miraculous opening – and it can mean so many things.
A literal opening in the body where the heart has fallen out. An opening of the drawer where the heart is stored but cannot be held captive. But most importantly, an opening of doors, the purpose of doorknobs, after all; the heart that continues to open itself to change and possibility despite being ripped from the body.
Other highlights for me included the ekphrastic “Repose,” the quiet power of “Meditation in a Room of Women,” and the reflective “Funeral Flag.” Kirk is a talented writer and a tireless supporter of other poets, and her chapbook deserves your support.  You can click on the cover photo above to purchase from Red Bird Chapbooks.