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.

Words & Music

Some of my favorite moments from this year were quiet ones: reading a great book, spending time with family and friends, enjoying yoga class, or just sleeping in on a Saturday morning. But there were some louder highlights, too.

As usual, live music was a big part of my year. In addition to great tours from some of my favorite bands like Death Cab for Cutie and The Decemberists, I got to have some special musical moments that spanned decades. (Photos are all mine – some with my iPhone, but some with my good camera. You’ll be able to tell the difference.)

There’s A Face in the Glass, and It Looks Like Mine

The 80s college kid in me had a blast getting to see Psychedelic Furs play at a local festival – small stage, big fun. I felt the years melt away as I sang along and miraculously remembered most of the words. (I might even have done some little eighties-inspired Molly Ringwald dance moves…poorly.) Highlight: Hearing Richard Butler’s gravelly voice belt out “Heaven,” by far my favorite Furs song.

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I’m the Trouble Starter, Punking Instigator

Fast forward to the industrial 90s. I finally checked a band that I had never seen off my wish list by waiting for a good spot (through Jack Black’s ridiculous Tenacious D schtick, I should add) to see The Prodigy at Riotfest. It was a laser, light, and bass-infused 90 minutes of pure adrenalin wherein this 53-year-old pogoed around like I had lost my damn mind. Seriously. Highlight: The most politically-incorrect song in their repertoire is still a killer industrial dance jam. Sorry, not sorry.IMG_1945.jpg

I Can’t Help But Pull the Earth Around Me to Make My Bed

I have always loved the raw vocal talent of Florence Welch, and I have seen Florence and the Machine once before in a festival setting. But this year, after waiting a few hours for a great spot on the rail, I got to hear and see her up close at Voodoo Festival on Halloween. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful was one of my favorite releases this year, and she is a magnetic stage presence. I would count it among the best concert performances I’ve ever seen. Highlight: “Ship to Wreck” was my favorite song this year, but the pure energy of “Dog Days are Over” was hard to beat.IMG_0964.jpg

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And We’re Definitely Going to Hell, But We’ll Have All the Best Stories to Tell

Without question, the highlight of the whole year was Frank Turner. Let me clarify. I saw Frank Turner several times this year including a small surprise club show at Cobra Lounge. He is, hands down, always the best show in town. His shows are all energy and positivity and adrenalin and sweat and joy. But due to three fantastic people, the show at House of Blues became really special. Fabulous person #1: my son. He arranged for tickets to the show as my birthday gift. Super guy #2: My husband, who emailed Mr. Turner to request a photo pass for me. (In case you can’t tell, taking photos at shows is a big thing for me.) Incredible human #3: Frank Turner, who evidently answers all of his own emails and was kind enough to leave a photo pass for me at the ticket window. So, for four whole songs, I was feet/inches away from one of my musical heroes. I got so swept up in the proximity that I sometimes forgot to shoot, but I did have a wonderful experience. (Bonus – my son went to a meet-and -greet near his home in Nashville this fall and got Frank to sign one of my photos for Christmas.) Highlight: All. Of. It. But “Plain Sailing Weather,” “Photosynthesis” & “Ballad of Me and My Friends” rank up there. IMG_0368.jpgIMG_0388.jpg

The best laid plans…

get up and walk away.  I am up to my ears in 11-12 year olds who think that their winter break started the minute the calendar said December. I am so drowned with school work that I haven’t done much of my own writing lately. And I love the Fill in the Blanks interviews I’ve done here, but the last few sets of blanks I’ve sent out have not received replies.(If anyone out there is interested, please message me or leave a comment. If I haven’t sent you blanks and I thought I did, remind me. )

I resolve to TRY and post more – trying is an achievable goal. Balance has eluded me lately, and I am hoping for more of that in 2016.

But, as a holiday post, I will share the answers I gave when former interviewee Ruth Foley turned the tables on me and sent me a set of blanks to fill in. Enjoy a peaceful and joyous holiday season – and if your best laid plans stand up and run, just wave goodbye to them and make new ones. Better ones.

***

When they make the movie of my life, it will be called  At Least She Tried and J J Abrams will direct it because he will be able to take my quiet, ordinary life and make it seem like an amazing, sci-fi, force-fueled adventure and make me kick ass like Jennifer Garner in Alias. The opening song will be “Eulogy” by Frank Turner, which inspired the movie’s title (I might have to take the f-bomb out of the lyric to get a PG rating if I want my students to see the movie.)

2.     The second best day of my life (so far) was meeting my husband because the best day was just being born – without that day, nothing else would have happened – and without meeting my husband, I wouldn’t have had my best friend for the last 34 years and wouldn’t have had my son, either. They are the greatest joys of my life. 

3.     My rules for the dinner table: don’t talk about  politics (ever) if you can talk about stupid things you did as a child, like the time you stuck a penny up your nose or the time you sat on a bee, instead. And don’t forget to serve the olives, damn it. Lots of olives. Lots and lots of lots of them. All the olives.

4.     (Serious answer) I have always wondered: if everyone just stopped complaining about what they thought they were owed, then what might actually be accomplished? I hear too many people whining about things that are superficial and meaningless. If they took that energy to do something positive for themselves or others, the world would be a much more pleasant place. 

(Not so serious answer) I have always wondered if my dogs could talk, then would my dogs have the same personalities that I have assigned to them/assumed they have, or would the big, dopey one be quoting Shakespeare at me and the smaller, smarter, sneaky one be like, “Wait, what?”

5.     When I am sad or depressed, I like to play the guitar (not very well) or piano (slightly better) and sing (pretty darn good) every sad song I know. I’ve got your “Save Me” by Aimee Mann, your “Love Hurts” by Nazareth, your “I Will Follow You into the Dark” by Death Cab…I could go on.

6.     When I grow up I want to be a person who doesn’t ever completely grow up.

 

Fill in the Blanks with Krista Cox

KMC headshot Sept 2015

had the pleasure of meeting Krista Cox in person this summer at the Small Prestivus Lit Fest in Griffith, Indiana, where I loved hearing her read some of her online dating poems. I hope that we spend time together again soon. (You’ll see why below -and you’ll want to spend time with her, too!)

My hidden talent involves a chair, Madonna, and no qualms about being publicly ridiculous. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-3JGE6C5QE)

As a network television executive, I would decree that all shows on my network must include representations of people of all colors, classes, creeds, orientations, and anything else I’ve missed here with regard to inclusivity, and never resort to generalization or stereotyping. (I get so frustrated with how underrepresented everybody except middle-to-upper-class white dudes is. It puts so much pressure on any minority characters to be “perfect representations” of their group, so they don’t just get to be beautiful, complex, messy human beings.)

I have a booty call relationship with my muse. Most of the time, we’re not in touch, but sometimes it’s just super urgent that we hook up. (I don’t write every day, and I don’t feel the need. But when I do need to write, I drop everything else and make it so. And yeah, sometimes my muse calls me drunk at 2 a.m. and says, “Hey baaaaaaby, you busy??” This explains all the half-finished poems that I don’t remember writing on my nightstand.)

If I could design a required course for college freshmen, it would be Not Being a Dick 101. The syllabus would include the following topics:

  • Consent: Not As Complicated As You’re Making It
  • Privilege: Since You’re In this Class, Yes, Pretty Much All of You Have Varying Degrees of It
  • Mansplaining: No.
  • Being Politically Correct: Super Scary Epidemic of Respect
  • Driving: OH MY GOD NOBODY CAN SEE PAST YOUR STUPID SUV IF YOU PULL OUT THAT FAR TO TURN LEFT

Don’t ever put a luxury tax on my food. Ever. (I couldn’t think of any foods or condiments that I don’t like. I really like food. I couldn’t even think of anything inedible that would make me not eat the food. Gasoline, maybe? I probably wouldn’t eat food with gasoline on it. It depends on the food. And the octane.)

My writing would work perfectly as advertising copy for being single forever. (I have a number of poems – as yet unpublished – that deal with the sociological wonder and faith-in-humanity-destroyer that is online dating. If there were a business that was the opposite of OKCupid – maybe FUCupid? – these poems would be great advertising for that.)

***

Krista Cox can be found in Indiana, where she lives with two precious patience-testers (children) and works with three of them (lawyers). Her poetry has recently appeared in Stirring, Words Dance, cahoodaloodaling, Rogue Agent, and Menacing Hedge, and she was the recipient of the Lester M. Wolfson Student Award in Poetry in 2015. She received her first Best of the Net nomination this year and nearly died of excitement. Someday she’ll probably write a book.

Website: http://kristacox.me

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kcoxwriter

Some pieces (with links):

Fill in the Blanks with Lennart Lundh

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After realizing that only women had been featured so far on Fill in the Blanks, I was happy to get some responses from Lennart Lundh, a generous and vital member of the Chicago area poetry scene who I met two years ago at the launch of my first book. Len’s poems, which you can sample here, are diverse in form and subject, but all touched with a tenderness and palpable sense of longing.  His extensive bio is listed below, and many of his chapbooks are written during National Poetry Month to raise funds for cancer research. Find out more about Len as he fills in the blanks.

If I could have written the inauguration poem for any former US president, I would have chosen Dwight Eisenhower because he’s the first President I remember, taking office when I was four.   
*
The light source that would best describe the impact of my writing is that of the full moon, since it illuminates things we’d miss seeing in the night. 
*
If I could start my own cable network, it would feature readings of works by poets and authors both living and dead, and interviews; the cartoons of Crusader Rabbit, Rocky and Bullwinkle, and The Animaniacs; and the works of Ernie Kovacs, the Marx Brothers, and Robin Williams.
*
When people tell me to grow up, my first inclination is to tell them I’ve already triedand failed several times. 
*
A sense of humor is the best gift I have ever received.
*

Lennart Lundh has been published as a poet, short-fiction writer, photographer, and historian since 1965. He served a blue-water deployment with the Navy’s Amphibious Ready Group Bravo in support of Marine Corps operations in South Vietnam during 1968 and 1969. In late 1970, he was discharged as a conscientious objector. Both events continue to influence his life and writing.

Len and Lin, his wife of forty-seven years, have three grown daughters, six grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter. The space in their northeastern Illinois home that was once filled by the daughters is now given over to dogs, cats, and an awful lot of books, music, and movies.

To find Len’s books of aviation history, search his name at the Web pages of Schiffer Publishing (www.schifferbooks.com) and Squadron/Signal Publications (www.squadronsignalpublications.com), or at http://www.bookfinder.com.

Examples of his short fiction can be found in the archives of the original Liars League (www.liarsleague.com); Arachne Press’ 2013 Weird Lies anthology (www.arachnepress.com); and Issue 6 of Jet Fuel Review (www.jetfuelreview.com). A chapbook of short stories is due from Writing Knights Press in December.

His poetry can be found online in venues such as Poetry Storehouse (www.poetrystorehouse.com), The Lake (http://www.thelakepoetry.co.uk), and Postcard Poems and Prose (postcardpoemsandprose.com). In print, his poetry and photography can both be found in several of the Squire anthologies produced by Writing Knights Press (www.store.writingknights.com). WKP is also the publisher of three of Len’s six chapbook: Four Poems, Pictures of an Other Day, and So Careless of Themselves.

Three self-published chapbooks (Poems Against Cancer 2014, Poems Against Cancer 2015, and Fifth April 1973) are available by contacting Len at lenlundh@aol.com The annual Poems Against Cancer volumes are written during National Poetry Month to raise funds for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which sponsors research into childhood cancers, and all proceeds from sales of them continue to go to the Foundation.

There are readings of several poems, and the full text of an interview done for Arachne Press, on YouTube. And, if that’s not enough, there are scores of other print and online venues that have included his work over a period of fifty years. Perhaps Len’s favorite among the print journals his work has appeared in is The Binnacle, published by the University of Maine at Machias, which has the sensibility, look, and feel of issues of Poetry Magazine from back in the Seventies.

Len keeps promising to create a Web page, but so far has managed not to. Find him as Lennart Lundh on Facebook, or contact him at lenlundh@aol.com.

Fill in the Blanks with Sarah Winn

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I was reading the poems of Sarah Ann Winn before I met her. And now that I’ve met her and had several chances to experience her work, I’m convinced that she is one of the most genuine and original writers I’ve had the pleasure of encountering in recent years.
Let’s see how Sarah filled in the blanks…
*
If I could grow any inanimate object (other than money) in my garden, I would grow blue Bic pens sprouted on vines in clusters like hot peppers because I am constantly losing my pens, and I’m particular about what I like to use. (But also because I suspect they’d make pretty good jam if they were a fruit.)
*
My writing would provide the perfect platitudes for a superhero named The Masked Gerund (He’d have drive a MG. Because puns.) The line he/she/ze would use as a catchphrase would be“Just add -ing!”
*
I have more charging wires than I should, but never enough power (My husband can attest to this. I am constantly running intensive programs simultaneously. Who doesn’t use Pinterest, Pages and Ingress at the same time?!?)
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Rewrite this old folk song for today’s world:  “Oh give me  back roads where the traffic is low, so the poets can safely speed.”
 *
If I could have a narrator for my daily life, I would choose Frank Oz because I can imagine how my retracing my steps, singing along, and flailing hand gestures would be translated in to a Wonder Years-esque back story to how I will one day grow up to become a muppet.
 *
Damn. I forgot to return my library books again. (Ripped from the headlines.)
*
Links:
Blog/About
Facebook
Twitter
Portage (available as a free e-chap!)
Extended bio:

Sarah Ann Winn is Associate Poetry Editor for ELJ Publications. Her poems have appeared or will appear soon in Bayou Magazine, CALYX, Cider Press Review, Entropy, The Good Men Project, Hobart (online), Massachusetts Review, Nashville Review, Quarterly West, Rhino, as well as many other journals and anthologies online and in print. She has been an honorable mention in Shenandoah’s Graybeal-Gowen Poetry Prize, runner up in Tupelo Quarterly’s Prose Annual, finalist in December Magazine’s Jeff Marks Memorial Poetry Prize, and runner up in Conium Review’s Flash Fiction Contest, judged by Ashley Farmer. Her poems have been nominated for Best of the Net and Pushcart Prizes. She won the Virginia Downs Poetry Prize, judged by C. Dale Young, as well as Cobalt Magazine’s Gabriela Mistral Poetry Prize. Porkbelly will be releasing her micro chapbook, Haunting the Last House on Holland Island, in Summer of 2016. Her chapbook, Portage, is available as a free download from Sundress Publications. She holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing Poetry from George Mason University, as well as a Masters in Library Science from Catholic University of America, which she uses to dispense book recommendations as a free-range librarian in Manassas, Virginia, where she lives with her husband, two lovely beagle/lab mixed dogs, and one bad cat.