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.

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.