Interview with Donna Vorreyer, Author of To Everything There Is

Ahead of the 2020 release of her third poetry collection To Everything There Is, Donna Vorreyer spoke with Sundress Publications editorial intern Gokul Prabhu. Here, they discussed articulations of death and grief and how that influences the construction of a literary “I.”

Gokul Prabhu: What was your primary thought process as you put your collection together? Is there a larger narrative you hope to achieve?

Donna Vorreyer: This collection, unlike my last book, wasn’t conceived as a project with a crafted narrative arc. The poems I had been writing from 2016-2018 dealt with aging, doubt, and one’s relationship with the body. Then my life changed overnight when, within the course of a year in 2018, both parents fell ill and passed away. Writing then became a way of trying to both name and tame my emotional upheaval, a way to balance a complicated scale that carried the weight of loss on one side and the beauties and joys of living on the other. When organizing this collection, I knew that I needed to weave the other issues about which I’d been writing with the poems of grief in order to show that balance. I hope I have created a narrative seesaw for readers, one that they could ride as that scale tips from one side to the other.

GP: What is the significance of the juxtaposition of the body with the non-physical existence in your poems, especially in Section I?

DV: When you tend someone who is dying, the physical body screams for attention—not only the bodies of the ill, but the bodies of the caretakers as well. This keen awareness of the physical heightens the desire for explanation, for reasons, and leads to contemplation of the intellectual, psychological, and spiritual realms that make up a whole person. The love poems in the collection use all of these domains as well—being loved so well while being so desperately sad is a visceral experience. These ideas, blended with my existing interest in thinking about aging and the body, were arranged to complement one another, in a way that was shaped by conversations with Jeremy Reed, my Sundress editor for this collection.

GP: Can you speak about the book’s relationship with death and the language used to articulate it?

DV: This is a difficult question, as difficult as it is to try and articulate something as monumental yet as ordinary as death. As I wrote my way into and through the first years of grieving my parents, I found that each poem was unique in the way that each twinge of grief was unique. At times overwhelming, to write only about loss can be just as harmful as it is helpful, so finding different ways to approach these thoughts was important—using the natural world as a springboard helped me to find language for guilt, regret, and sorrow as well as beauty, joy, and love. In the end, the book is not only elegy. It is, to create a portmanteau, a “celebrelegy,” one that recognizes and explores the deep dark that comes with loss but also the light that continues to shine for those who are left behind.

GP: What is the significance of the recurring image of the anxiety of dealing with the everydayness of things, including your own body and the politics around it, especially after experiencing a deep loss, in Section II and III?

DV: It’s a cliché, but the answer to this question is “life goes on.” It has to. And part of my life before the loss was dealing with thoughts about my own aging, my relationship with my own body in space and in the world, my own vacillation between the wonder of being so well loved and the doubt about whether I deserve it. 

GP: How does your form influence the articulation of this grief?

DV: Form for me usually arrives after the first draft, which usually has no form and is spilled out handwritten in a journal. With work, the correct form can eventually arrive and enhance the content. “Refusal,” for instance, with its ghazal form, mimics the cyclical and repetitive ways that “no” permeates your days when someone is dying. In “Self-Administered Rorschach Test,” the short lines and strange intersection of assonance and image mimic the oddness of the test itself. And in some of the prose poems like “Dawn of Grace” and “The First Thing I Wrote On This Retreat Was Not Supposed to Be about My Mother,” the large block keeps the reader in one moment by keeping the aspects of that moment contained in a rectangular space. “Purgatory” is one long sentence that waves down the page in staggered tercets, meant to mimic both the movement in the poem (of the train and the wind and of the speaker’s desire to be free of the space she is in). Using a variety of forms was important to me in order to try and mirror the disorder of mourning. 

GP: How does your poetry speak to the current ongoing conversation around death and body politics in a pandemic?

DV: I think it would be a stretch to try and make these poems fit the current situation we are all living in. However, some readers have pointed out how lines written quite some time ago (some up to four years ago), resonate differently now. For example, in “Ebb Tide,” the line “Terrible/ news blares from the radio, all I love/both at hand and at risk” seems even more specific than when it was written. I think, if anything, that the poems make it clear how important it is to be able to be physically present to love and mourn. They also make me consider how difficult it must be to be separated from family and friends who are experiencing illness or loss, and how important it is to appreciate the joy that love can still bring into the darkest moments.

GP: How does the ‘I’ in this collection figure for you, and what parts of the ‘I’ are borrowed from your persona?

DV: I always answer this question by saying that, since I wrote the poems, I am in them somehow. Many of these poems are obviously autobiographical, particularly the elegy poems. But some of the exploration of the body, age, guilt, regret…the “I” in those poems is more universal, I think, more of a way to dig into a condition of thought rather than one of being.

GP: Do the three sections in the collection suggest a growth in this ‘I’ as a reader goes from the beginning of the first section to the end of the third? If so, what would you say is the most important ‘lesson’ the ‘I’ has learnt at the end of the collection?

DV: The collection shows the speaker straddling a chasm of loss, each bit of beauty and joy weaving a net beneath her. There isn’t a straight line from not knowing to knowing. As soon as we are born, we are working our way toward an inevitable end—it’s the nurturing one receives in that journey, despite the doubts and failures that plague it, that is important in the end. I think the last line of the penultimate poem gives the lesson—“so much of anything is completely out of your hands.” We seek to control so many aspects of our existence and, in the end, we have very little influence over many of the major things that happen to us. This sounds a little bit defeatist, but then the last poem balances that out, I think, explaining how even the strongest of relationships is really a piece of magic, how even love is something that we don’t choose.

GP: Why did you choose the title of a specific poem as the title of the entire collection? 

DV: The title of the collection was in flux for quite some time, and the final decision of To Everything There Is functions in multiple ways for me and hopefully will for the reader. Of course, it is the beginning of a famous Bible verse (and subsequent song by The Byrds) that is meant to illustrate that there is a purpose for everything that happens. Another way of viewing the title is in an epistolary way—as a letter to “everything,” a way of embracing both the good and bad things the world has to offer us. Also, the title poem is a reflection on how we react to death and how we want to be remembered, which was important as this book is a small way to honor my parents. 

GP: Which of the poems was the most difficult for you to write, and why? Also, which is/are the poem(s) closest to your heart?

DV: All of the poems about my mother and father were difficult to write as I had to relive the hardest emotional moments of my life. Both the elegy poems and the love poems to my husband are the closest to my heart, and choosing one of each would be difficult. But, if pressed, I’d say the hardest to write was “Karma,” which imagines a could-have-been scenario that still haunts me. (There’s that idea of no control coming in…). The closest to my heart has two contenders: “I Inherit the Whims of my Mother as I Prepare to Trash This Draft” as it allows me to be in an ongoing conversation with my mother, to think of her every time I see a cardinal or jot down a random thought; or “In the Encyclopedia of Human Gestures” as it combines my obsession with the ordinary, the contemplation of ideas, and the salvation of a great love into one poem.

Order your copy of To Everything There Is today


Donna Vorreyer is the author of To Everything There Is (2020), Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story (2016), and A House of Many Windows (2013), all from Sundress Publications. Her poems, reviews, and essays have appeared in Rhino, Tinderbox Poetry, Poet Lore, Sugar House Review, Waxwing, Whale Road Review, and many other journals. She currently serves as an associate editor for Rhino Poetry. Vorreyer has recently retired from 36 years in public K-12 education and can’t wait to see what happens next.

Gokul Prabhu is a graduate of Ashoka University, India, with a Postgraduate Diploma in English and creative writing. He works as an administrator and teaching assistant for the Writing and Communication facility at 9dot9 Education, and assists in academic planning for communication, writing, and critical thinking courses across several higher-ed institutes in India. Prabhu’s creative and academic work fluctuates between themes of sexuality and silence, and he hopes to be a healthy mix of writer, educator, and journalist in the future. He occasionally scribbles book reviews and interviews authors for Scroll.in, an award-winning Indian digital news publication.

Lyric Essentials: Donna Vorreyer reads Katie Ford

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week, Donna Vorreyer reads us Katie Ford and discusses the tender, reverent nature of her poetry and why she considers Ford one of the greats. Thank you for reading!


Erica Hoffmeister: Why did you choose to read Katie Ford for Lyric Essentials?

Donna Vorreyer: Katie Ford, for me, is simply one of our best poets, a touchstone poet for me. But she works quietly. Although she is well-respected and praised, she isn’t on social media, and she’s not an “it” poet in the sense that you hear people talk about her all the time. Her poems reveal a reverence for the physical and the spiritual worlds, but also a willingness to question and challenge the wisdom of both. Her astute attention to the longings of the heart and her deft use of space and inquiry bring me back to her work again and again.

EH: You chose poems all published in different collections of Ford’s – what drew you to these specifically?

DV: Each of her collections is very different. Deposition, which includes “Last Breath Deposition” is deeply rooted in Christian iconography and story while being incredibly personal. The book begins with a definition of “deposition” that gives the reader a full picture of what is being addressed. Not simply the legal statement of testimony, but the other meanings: the action of putting down, laying aside, or putting away, as of burdens; and the taking down of the body of Christ from the cross, or a representation of such in art. The spiritual and the personal. I never get tired of reading these poems, their long sentences all running together to resemble a voice tumbling headlong into both prayer and confusion. “Last Breath Deposition” is one of many “last breath” titles in the collection, which has as its centerpiece 14 poems that accompany the stations of the cross. This particular poem’s first utterance “Please I am forthright” knocks me off my feet every time I read it. It’s a plea to be believed, to be judged as worthy of believing. Then the declaration in the middle – “I knew then there was knowledge in me” – brings Eve to mind, which is reinforced by the “he” at the poem’s end throwing “what came/from on high far from us.” And whether that he is a beloved, or Adam, or God, the speaker is left with her knowledge, her loneliness, an emptiness like the quarry.

Donna Vorreyer reads “Last Breath Deposition” by Katie Ford

“Song of Sadness” from Blood Lyrics performs a similar seemingly impossible marriage of concerns: the struggle to find peace and faith while caring for a fragile newborn and living in a violent world where in another famous poem from this book “Foreign Song,” she begins “To bomb them, / we mustn’t have heard their music…” These poems are very different in form from Deposition (and the book that came between them, Colosseum). Ford has traded long, unpunctuated lines for shorter ones, most poems only a page in length, some with a sort of postscript on a facing page that serves both the larger body of a poem and stands on its own. Her constant reinvention of form, suiting it to the function of the poem, is admirable and something that I marvel at in all of her work. “Song of Sadness” links despair to the body in its first line, then the body to the water from which it is made, tells the reader to serve only this salt in the body of a beloved, of a child before listing all of the things in the world that kneel in praise of something. To me, this poem seems like an ars poetica – the last lines – “Don’t say it’s the beautiful / I praise. I praise the human, / gutted and rising” describes how I feel when I read all of her poems.

Donna Vorreyer reads “Song of Sadness” by Katie Ford

EH: Both your poetry and Ford’s have an honest and tender quality to approaching topics of truth and grief. Do you find yourself inspired or influenced by Ford’s writing with your own?

DV: I am honored to be mentioned in the same sentence as Katie Ford, honestly. I can say that she has been a big influence on me in two ways. First, I was very lucky to have taken a class with Katie in 2006 while she was writing Colosseum. At the time, I had never published a poem, and I didn’t know whether or not it was something I should continue pursuing. Katie’s gracious teaching gave me confidence, and her openness about her own process gave me an insight into the world of a “real” poet’s mind. I vividly remember hearing her share lines from the poem that would be “Colosseum” with our class, and it inspired me. Second, I admire that she is unafraid to write from a place of tenderness and spirituality and doubt. In a poetry world where people are always looking for the “next thing,” her masterful explorations of both societal and personal tragedy teach me to write what speaks to my heart. 

EH: Lastly, you just released another collection from Sundress in 2020 – To Everything There Is – congratulations! Is there anything else you are currently working on that you’d like to share with readers?

DV: Thank you! I’m pleased that the new book is finding readers, but I am writing new work. It was difficult to be mired in elegy for so long. Though grief doesn’t go away, the need to write it down in order to accept it thankfully diminishes. My newer poems seem to be addressing the different aspects of aging, especially as a woman. Issues of the body, of isolation, of changing relationships, of usefulness are all finding their way in. 


Katie Ford is an American poet and professor of English at University of California, Riverside. She is the author of the collections Deposition (Graywolf Press, 2002), Storm (Marick Press, 2007), Colosseum (Graywolf Press, 2008), Blood Lyrics (Graywolf Press, 2014), and If You Have to Go (Graywold Press, 2018). She received the Lannan Foundation Fellowship in 2008.

Further Reading:

Purchase Ford’s Deposition from Graywolf Press.
Watch Ford read from her collection Blood Lyrics for Public Poetry.
Learn more about Ford on her page at Poets.org.

Donna Vorreyer is the author of To Everything There Is (2020), Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story (2016) and A House of Many Windows (2013), all from Sundress Publications, as well as eight chapbooks. Her work has appeared in Rhino, Tinderbox Poetry, Poet Lore, Sugar House Review, Waxwing, and other journals, and she serves as an associate editor for Rhino Poetry. Recently retired from 36 years in public education, she can’t wait to see what happens next.

Further Reading:

Purchase Vorreyer’s newest collection To Everything There Is from Sundress Publications.
Learn more about Vorreyer in her recent interview with Entropy.
Read three poems by Vorreyer in Split Lip Magazine.

Erica Hoffmeister is originally from Southern California and earned an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in English from Chapman University. Currently in Denver, she teaches college writing and advocates for media literacy and digital citizenship. She is an editor for the Denver-based literary journal South Broadway Ghost Society and the author of two poetry collections: Lived in Bars (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), and the prize-winning chapbook, Roots Grew Wild (Kingdoms in the Wild Press, 2019). A cross-genre writer, she has several works of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, articles and critical essays published in various outlets. Learn more about her at: http://ericahoffmeister.com/

Vintage Sundress with Donna Vorreyer

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Our Vintage Sundress series features authors who have published with Sundress in the past and takes a look at what they’ve been up to since their work was released. In 2013, Donna Vorreyer published her first poetry collection, A House of Many Windows, with Sundress, followed by Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story in 2016. For our latest installment, editorial intern Riley Steiner spoke with Vorreyer about her experience with the publication process, her sources of inspiration, and more.

Riley Steiner: What has changed for you since Every Love Story was published?

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Donna Vorreyer: As a writer, honestly, not much. Of course, it’s a delight and a privilege to have books in the world when so many wonderful poets I know still have not had this happen for them. Publication means someone else thought my work worth sharing, which lends some credence to my label as poet.

Calling myself a poet is always difficult for me as I have an enormous case of impostor syndrome. I often think, “Is my voice necessary in the literary landscape?” and the answer that mostly comes to mind is no. Having poets I admire so greatly write blurbs for the book was a humbling and heart-warming experience, but hearing from readers of all ages about how they connect with the work has been the best part of having that book in the world. Everyone can relate to love and loss, whether it’s in an intimate relationship or some other area of life.

As a person, a lot has changed for me. This past year has been especially difficult, losing both parents within a five-month span among other things. It has me thinking a lot about mortality, about how I am choosing to spend my time. Starting to write through those losses has helped with the healing process, but sometimes it also reopens the wounds. It’s a delicate balance, and it has impacted how much I have written and put into the world in the last eighteen months, how much I am willing to give over the time I have to writing.

RS: Your first book, A House of Many Windows, was published with Sundress in 2013. Did your experience with the publishing process differ between your first and second books? If so, how?

41qjcMu+FXL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_DV: Yes! Mostly because I had gone the traditional route of sending the first manuscript out to multiple publishers and contests. I didn’t really have any knowledge about the publishing of poems or a book except researching on the internet and trying to find books by those presses at the library.

After many rejections, I took a manuscript workshop with Daniel Khalastchi that helped me to solidify the poem order. He also convinced me that the book was worth publishing when I was ready to quit.

Luckily, the connection with Sundress happened organically. I had stopped by their table at AWP Chicago to thank Erin for publishing one of my poems in Stirring, and our conversation led to Sundress reading and accepting that first manuscript. (Authors—THANK YOUR JOURNAL EDITORS! You never know … ) For the second one, Sundress asked for a first look and liked the manuscript enough to publish it, so the anguish of the contest/reading period submission was eliminated.

Once the manuscripts were accepted, I was very lucky to have Erin Elizabeth Smith edit the first manuscript and Sara Henning edit the second. Both of them were thoughtful editors, not just accepting the manuscripts “as-is,” but working with me to hone them. Suggesting line edits, changes in order, haggling over section titles—these are all things I appreciated immensely and would expect from any editor who truly cares about the work they are publishing. The second book even had a completely different title before the editing process, and I’m so glad it changed! 

RS: Has the publication of A House of Many Windows, and then Every Love Story, altered your perspective on the literary community?

DV: Certainly, having a book in the world makes one more keenly aware of all the different aspects of the literary community, both in person and online. As I work full-time outside of academia and do not have an MFA, my lit community has been built person by person, through workshops, appearances in journals and in online groups. (I wasn’t on Twitter when the first book came out and had just started using it when the second one did, and the way things spread on Poetry Twitter is a wonder to behold.) I got more readings and attention for the second book as my community had grown, especially online. This helped me to expand my reach for readings and promotion beyond the Chicago area where I live, and that was very exciting.

As a result of not getting much publicity after the first initial push and swirl of AWP for each book, I realized how important it is for books to remain in the public eye, at least in the literary public eye. As a result, I began to write reviews of poetry books, and I have been steadily publishing reviews since the release of Every Love Story. For me, it is an avenue of literary citizenship that enriches me as a reader and a writer as I learn much from the deep reading that a review requires. Although the literary community CAN be a divisive place, full of contention and one-upmanship, I prefer to settle into it as a middle-aged cheerleader, reviewing and promoting the work of others in a gentle and positive way and hoping that the golden rule comes into play when my own work enters the world.

RS: One of the things that struck me the most while reading the poems in Every Love Story was the vivid natural imagery. Do you often find yourself drawing upon the natural world while you write? What are some other sources of inspiration for you?

DV: The second manuscript actually began as a response to my reading of the journals of Lewis and Clark. Their deep scrutiny of a new wild married with my own affinity for the natural world in many of these poems.

Once the manuscript started to be shaped into its narrative cycle, the natural world became an easy canvas of images with which to paint love, loss, descent into despair, and hope, cycling as the seasons cycle. I return to the natural world often as it is the first and perfect mirror for all human experience and a type of imagery with which all readers can connect. I am also often inspired by sounds, and the sonics of a poem are important to me, so much so that often the topical direction of a poem sometimes changes based on the way I want the language to sound. It’s my job as a poet to notice, to observe, so inspiration is easy to find. It’s finding something to say using that inspiration, something unique, that is the difficult part.

RS: What is something worth noting about being published that you would want unpublished writers to know?

DV: Holding your book in your hand for the first time is an irreplaceable feeling, a feeling that never goes away. It may open doors to new people and new experiences. It may bring you a sense of personal achievement or (if you’re lucky) some level of financial success.

But it is not a magic wand. You will not suddenly be in demand to speak around the country or win big monetary awards or get offers to write in a Tuscan villa for a month.  You could, but it’s not likely. You should be pleased that your hard work has put your words in front of readers, made a connection with someone beyond yourself. Which is the point, right? 

RS: What else have you been up to since Every Love Story?

DV: I am always writing new work, sometimes at a snail’s pace, but always writing. I have been writing a lot of reviews, as I said earlier, but have also been publishing poems. A chapbook of prose poems, The Girl, was published in 2018 by the wonderful Porkbelly Press. 

RS: What are you working on now?

DV: I currently have a third manuscript out in the world, and I have been writing a lot about aging, loss, and about, despite how awful the world can be, how lucky and blessed we are to know love. It seems that these two forces balance one another, and the way they interact is of interest to me.

RS: Looking back from where you are today, is there anything you’d tell your younger self before A House of Many Windows, and then Every Love Story, was published?

DV: Well, since I was 51 when House was published, I was long past my younger self already!  I didn’t return to writing poetry with any sort of serious effort until I was in my early 30s, so I never had any expectations that I would have any sort of “success.” If someone told me I would work at it for twenty years, learning as much as I could through reading and taking workshops before I would do any sort of regular publishing, I probably wouldn’t have believed that I would have had the stamina.

I would tell myself then to remember what one of my mentors, Diana Goetsch, told me early on—to write with fire and complete belief in your work, and then send it into the world with absolutely no expectations. This way, you will always be proud of what you’ve accomplished whether the “poetry world” validates you or not. This is always a struggle—to not equate the value of one’s work with the fickle tastes of the publishing world. I would remind myself why I started writing in the first place—because it helps me to both celebrate and figure out the world.


00100sportrait_00100_burst20190104131835673_cover-01-1.jpegDonna Vorreyer is the author of Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story (Sundress Publications, 2016) and A House of Many Windows (Sundress, 2013) as well as eight chapbooks, most recently The Girl (Porkbelly Press).  Her poems and reviews have appeared in numerous journals including Waxwing, Rhino, Quarterly West, Poet Lore, Diode and Sugar House Review.

 

rileysteinerRiley Steiner is a senior at Miami University, where she studies Creative Writing and Media & Culture. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, she enjoys baking, cheering for the Green Bay Packers, and spending way too much money at Half Price Books. Her creative work is forthcoming in the Oakland Arts Review.

 

 

Interview with Donna Vorreyer

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Donna Vorreyer is the author of Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story (Sundress Publications, 2016) and A House of Many Windows (Sundress Publications, 2013) as well as seven chapbooks, most recently Encantado, a collaboration with artist Matt Kish from Redbird Chapbooks. She is the reviews editor for Stirring: A Literary Collection, and she works as a middle school teacher in the Chicago suburbs.

Sundress: Tell me about your process: Do you plan what you want each poem to accomplish, or does your writing evolve as you are working on it?

Donna Vorreyer: I rarely go into a poem knowing what I want it to accomplish. Each poem starts with some trigger –a piece of language, an idea, an image, a prompt, even –but then takes on a life of its own. I can start free-writing about tomatoes and end up with a long poem about a persona unearthing childhood trauma. I think that, once the poem lives on the page for a while, I can perhaps shape it to my will, but in a draft, the ideas and images of a poem have to be allowed to spread like ripples in a puddle. I believe that intellectualizing the poems too much at the beginning of the process can lead to stilted work. That’s why, during dry spells in my drafting, I don’t force ideas on to the page. The minute I say, “I’m going to write a poem about…” is the minute that I will draft a lousy poem. My initial drafts tend to be pretty rambling and somewhat prose-y in nature. In revision, I tend to hone image with particular attention to sound. And, as you have seen, most of my completed poems end up fairly short. So one could say I am more of a whittler than an architect.

Sundress: What’s on your bookshelf? Who are the main writers who inspire you and inform your work?

Donna Vorreyer: My bookshelves (there are many, all over the house) have a lot of poetry, of course, but also everything from biographies to novels to strange non-fiction topics like deadly plants and museum artifacts. In terms of main writers who inspire me, there are many, but I have a shortlist. Classic favorites, I would say, are Shakespeare, Whitman, Dickens and Melville. The richness of their language and syntax teaches me something new each time I read and re-read. In terms of informing my work, anything that I am reading is an influence. When I was reading the journals of Lewis and Clark, the language of nature was an inspiration. Reading Melville, the long sentences make my brain move differently. Reading Katie Ford or Traci Brimhall makes me consider image, emotional urgency, and surprise. Reading Amorak Huey and Diana Goetsch teaches me about humor and movement from idea to idea. So, I can’t honestly say that one particular writer influences me more than others.

Sundress: You often reference an unnamed “you” in your poems. Do you consider it the same “you” throughout, or does the title imply that these poems are many different “apocalypse stories”?

Donna Vorreyer: It could be read either way. I’d like to leave it to the reader to decide.

Sundress: You use water imagery throughout the book: “of the sea pulling into itself, the science of tides,” “Useless life, wharf/ with no docks” “When we wake, we walk to the river,” etc. Did you intentionally use water as a theme, or is it an image you are drawn to as a writer?

Donna Vorreyer: I do not intentionally return to water as an image, but I am drawn to water in a personal way, so I think it creeps into many poems (hopefully not in a clichéd way). I love the sound of waves and rushing falls, the fact that water can be both transparent and opaque, its colors, its moods…As someone who grew up near enough to Lake Michigan to know water but far enough away to yearn for it, water holds a sense of mystery and grandeur for me. Of course, there is also the human dependence on water –we are, after all, made of those atoms of hydrogen and oxygen, and anytime one is writing about the human condition or relationships, the body looms large. And the body contains oceans.

Sundress: Tell us a little about the title of the book and its significance.

Donna Vorreyer: The book was conceived as a way to explore how society tends to escalate any problem or obstacle to the level of apocalypse. I work with teenagers, and their tendency to inflate the size of a problem is normal. But I’ve also noticed serious issues with scale in all aspects of life today, especially on social media. Everything is either great or a crisis, and that idea needed a story to frame it.

A love story is the most universal of all stories, and love is rife with problems, so in that sense, every love story is an apocalypse story.

Sundress: How were the subheadings chosen, and how do they affect the progression of the book?

Donna Vorreyer: The subheadings are lines from different poems in the book and are meant to guide the reader through the stages of the relationship: a sweet beginning, typical ups and downs, a betrayal, a descent into crazed almost feral mourning for what was lost, and then a reconciliation of sorts. The sections were originally numbered, and my editor Sara Henning suggested section titles, something that had also worked well for me in my first book.

Sundress: What is one thing you wish people knew about you?

Donna Vorreyer: I started writing poems by writing song lyrics when I was in junior high school. I play the piano (pretty well) and the guitar (badly) as well as sing, and I had teenage angsty heartbreak enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool. (Damn you, Mike Dalton!) I stopped writing in college and didn’t start again until I was in my early 30s. It’s never too late to start over when it comes to something you love.

You can purchase Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story at the Sundress store!

Lyric Essentials: Donna Vorreyer Discusses William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116

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Chris: Welcome to Lyric Essentials, where writers and poets share with us a passage or poem which is “essential” to their bookshelf and who they are as a writer. Today Donna Vorreyer reads “Sonnet 116” by the bard of Stratford.

Indeed, a surprising choice. I don’t think I’ve read Shakespeare since high school! Not sure if that’s a thing I should be admitting or not. What is it about the ol’ bard that makes him so essential? Is revisiting Shakespeare something that all contemporary writers would be wise to do?

Donna Vorreyer: When I discovered Shakespeare in sixth grade, through a teacher who brought me Romeo and Juliet, I fell in love with the sound of it. I didn’t understand it all, but it didn’t matter. At that point, I was a goner. I went to the sonnets on my own, and then my father introduced me to his favorite, Twelfth Night, (still my favorite as well) and then high school brought me the usual slate of tragedies to seal the deal.

My ragged Riverside Shakespeare from college is one of my “save it in a fire” books – I have many emotional memories tied up in that copy of the complete works, but Sonnet 116 has always been a standout. The line “O no, it is an ever-fixéd mark” cast a spell on me the first time I read it and inspired me to memorize a poem for the first time. Years later, my husband gifted me with a mobius bracelet that has Sonnet 116 engraved around its curves. I wear it nearly every day.

I would say that everyone would be wise to revisit Shakespeare, but especially writers. His stories, emotions and conflicts are so universal that they still resonate after hundreds of years. This is why theaters around the country continue to reinvent and modernize the stories without changing the language. I’ve seen Macbeth staged with modern mercenary uniforms and weapons, Romeo and Juliet as gritty Matrix-style club kids. Love, class war, secrets, the art of the deal, death, betrayal, violence, gender identity/relations, humor, sex –every writer is essentially rewriting some element of life that Shakespeare has already explored. Most importantly for me, Shakespeare epitomizes the joy of language – the wordplay and the sheer music of it – in a way that no other writer does. And the music of a poem, for me, is not an element you can “leave out,” like nuts from a cookie. It MUST be there, and in Shakespeare it is. Always.

Chris: Do you perceive, and mourn, a loss of well employed meter in contemporary poetry?

Donna Vorreyer: I would say yes to perceive, but no to mourn. Encountering mostly free verse, today’s casual reader could be lulled into thinking that attention to meter does not exist.  But I think there are plenty of writers out there successfully using meter (and even – gasp! – rhyme) well in contemporary poetry. One that comes to mind immediately is Jessica Piazza who, in her book Interrobang!, works exclusively in sonnet form. Other writers like Stacey Lynn Brown and Patricia Smith, have gained recent attention for sonnet crowns. Writers like Kay Ryan work successfully in traditional meter, and the music of the poem is crucial in the work of contemporary writers like Melissa Stein and Katie Ford.

Meter provides the contemporary poet with a framework to use and then break, if desired. It is a part of our spoken language, so it cannot disappear if a poet is writing anything resembling speech. And, although exact end rhymes are out-of-fashion, they still show up subtly in some cases, and internal and slant rhymes are common in free verse. I would never mourn the “loss” of any element of poetry, as trends in publishing come and go. (For example, the ghazal has been EVERYWHERE at poetry readings I have attended over the last year.) So, meter will always be a valuable tool for any poet – no need to write it any elegies quite yet.

Chris: Shakespeare first states what love is not in the opening quatrain, and then segues into offering his own definition. What do you make of his choice to begin with negation?

Donna Vorreyer: Negation is a tool that Shakespeare uses quite a bit in the sonnets, most famously in Sonnet 130 – “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun; Coral is far more red than her lips red.” That poem negates until the last couplet, leaving the volta to the very end. Contemporary poets also use negation to highlight a persuasive position or to point out a disingenuous speaker “coming clean” and telling the real story.

In Sonnet 116, I think Shakespeare uses the negation as a tool of argument. The initial negation follows an imperative opening: “Let me not to the marriage of true minds/admit impediments” – in other words, don’t give me any bullshit about true love having defects or bowing to obstacles. It is natural for a speaker to negate after that kind of pronouncement –You know that bullshit you were just talking? Hell, no, it is NOT that at all –so we get “Love is not love/ which alters when it alteration finds/or bends with the remover to remove.” And then he proceeds to lay out what love is, using the language of ships and storms and stars. He returns to the negation with “Love is not Time’s fool” and immediately rebuts by admitting that love can’t defy time, but won’t be changed by it, either, bearing “it out even to the edge of doom.” Since this is normally where the volta would come in, the negation is softer here than in the beginning, balanced with reason. Then he just drops the mic with the couplet. It’s a beautiful thing.

Chris: In addition to the interesting use of negation and masterful meter, what else made you decide that Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 116” is one of the most essential pieces of writing to your bookshelf?

Donna Vorreyer: For starters, it is bold without being sentimental. And, although at this point some of the images might seem like clichés (a guiding star, etc.), they weren’t in the 1600s! “Whose worth’s unknown although its height be taken” is to me the loveliest of metaphors about the value of what one carries on the inside. I don’t think there are enough love poems in contemporary poetry, and those who write them are often dismissed as sentimental or even amateurish. But what emotion is more universal than love? And the sonnets are models of all sorts of love poems: definitions, abstractions, affairs requited and unrequited, secret love, forbidden love –you name it, Will’s got it. There is much to learn from these poems. It might seem old school or formal to cite Shakespeare as an essential in my writing life, but my love for language and its music, sparked initially by my father reading aloud, was fueled by Shakespeare at a formative stage. And, being in a 35 year relationship with my husband in a world where relationships are often temporary, this particular sonnet speaks a truth to me.

Chris: Earlier you mentioned a lot of contemporary poets that write sonnets. Is the sonnet your favorite form of poetry? What do you make of quasi-form poetry—sonnets that are only sonnets because they’re called so, or are dubbed sonnets because they’re 14 lines?

Donna Vorreyer: I don’t know that I have a “favorite form” of poetry, but I do have a tendency to write and enjoy reading short poems. My early drafts often follow a sonnet-like arc, both in terms of length and where a volta comes in. (There is at least one formal sonnet in each of my books, so I am drawn to the form.) Sometimes, when I have a draft that seems clunky, I will force it into that fourteen line cage to see where the meter/language can be tighter. I don’t mind people calling their poems things like “modern sonnets” as I don’t believe in telling any writer what his/her poem is or isn’t. I’m not a purist, in that sense. But I do appreciate when I see a well-written formal sonnet that doesn’t announce itself as such, and the control and precision of diction that create a sonnet are qualities that I admire in a poem of any length.

Chris: A few months ago a theatre group here in Fairbanks put on Star Verse. I think it was supposed to be a retelling of Stars Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, but with Shakespeare as the author so everything was put into iambic pentameter, bits of free verse, and well-timed R2D2 beeps and blaster noises. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend. What’s your favorite reproduction or adaptation of Shakespeare that you’ve seen? Have you ever seen a production of Shakespeare that was just plain strange?

Donna Vorreyer: I’m a Star Wars fan, so I wonder if that play was based on the Ian Droescher book that reimagined Star Wars in Shakespearean language. I have seen productions at the RST, high school productions, and numerous plays here at Chicago Shakespeare Theater where we attend nearly every show. On film, my favorite is Trevor Nunn’s version of Twelfth Night.

Onstage, two of the most unique and special were CST productions of The Tempest. This year’s version featured magic/production effects designed by Teller (of Penn & Teller) and a Caliban performed by two actors who were gymnastically-entwined through the entire play. We were in the front row, a foot from the actors, and could not figure out the magic happening. It was a truly one-of-a-kind night.

Also, a production from a few years ago only used three human actors. Two were Prospero and Caliban- every other part of the play was performed by the third cast member using marionettes and elaborate wooden masks. Staged in their small upstairs theater, it was a disconcerting and intimate theater experience. I can honestly say I have never seen a performance of Shakespeare’s plays that didn’t move me in some way—perhaps that is why he is an essential for me.
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Donna Vorreyer is the author of Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story (Sundress Publications, 2016) and A House of Many Windows (Sundress Publications, 2013) as well as seven chapbooks, most recently Encantado, a collaboration with artist Matt Kish from Redbird Chapbooks. She works as a middle school teacher in the Chicago suburbs. That’s it. Brevity is, after all, the soul of wit.

Christopher Petruccelli is an associate poetry editor at Stirring: A Literary Collection and is currently trying to survive his first winter in Fairbanks, Alaska. His poetry has appeared in Connotation PressStill: The Journal, Rappahannock Review, and elsewhere. His chapbook, Action at a Distance, is available from UIndy’s Etchings Press. In his free time, Chris enjoys smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey with older women.

SUMMER FLASH SHOWDOWN: GRAND PRIZE WINNER OF THE SEASON!

Photo Courtesy quickenloans.com
Photo Courtesy quickenloans.com

The winner of five free Sundress Publications titles of her choosing and publication is…

Amy Sayre Baptista!!!! Congratulations!!! 

Here’s T.A. Noonan’s two cents on the what helped her bring this competition to a bitter-sweet close:

First of all, thank you to all of the entrants in the Sundress Summer Flash Showdown. This was not an easy decision to make. One might argue that such a thing is easy— “all judges say that”, “it’s just flash”, “how long could it possibly take”, etc.—but it rarely is. Eleven stories, eleven approaches, eleven musics.

Maybe it is just flash. Maybe each story doesn’t take long to read. Maybe judges do say their decisions are difficult more often than not. But how does one choose between the perfect smile inside a syringe or the strange brew of friends and local beer, the sadistic delight of slugs under salt or the algebra of relationships?

I spent a long time struggling between three pieces: Amy Sayre’s “Pike County Consilience,” Sam Slaughter’s “Zymurgy,” and Donna Vorreyer’s “A Life Quadratic.” Ultimately, “Pike County Consilience” won me over. Sayre’s juxtaposition of country wisdom and diabolical empiricism drew me in. Our narrator is as comfortable with survival as the scientific method, keeping “in my toolbox right alongside the wire cutters and the claw hammer.”

I’m not sure how to sum it up without spoiling the whole conceit, not that that matters much—“how long could it possibly take”, etc. But let’s just say that, by the time you see the “Banty Rooster broke-necked under [the narrator’s] windshield wiper,” you’ll need to know what our Kentucky scientist concludes.

Pike Country Consilience

By Amy Sayre Baptista

 “Proof is derived through a convergence of evidence from numerous lines of inquiry–multiple, independent inductions, all of which point to an unmistakable conclusion.” –The Scientific American, 2005

A science man studies the world to say “why,” say how it got made. A Pike County man ciphers the world for what it is, and how to survive it. Me? I got some science in my toolbox right alongside the wire cutters and the claw hammer. Got me a proof, and a theorem, or two, just as useable as my crescent wrench. Let it be known to all: I love Jesus Christ. That said, the Son of Man never broke no barriers on the biological front. Chalk that up to Charles Darwin. Talk about loaves and fishes? Ok, no small feat, Jesus wins. But give Darwin his due.

Don’t believe in evolution? Make the acquaintance of the good damn brain God gave you, please. Humans? We scrambled up outta dark water; fin, fang, and claw. No doubt. Pretty it ain’t, we used to filter our own sewage out our gills, and rip our supper off a breathing bone. Still not convinced? You must be one of them that thinks babies came to life with mother’s love and angel milk. Truth never stands a chance with the feeble minded. But I’ve had to stare a man back on his haunches. Eye to eye, I recognized the abyss we crawled out of throbbing beneath his pupil. Gibb Delbert’s his name. Glared back at him with a blade at the end of my gaze, and knew he was still gonna come for me. Not for a social call neither. That’s evolution, and Gibb’s on the slow track.

Darwin was on to something with his consilience. In plain English, that’s many ways of coming to an unmistakable conclusion. For instance, Bud Rickart says to me at the Rod&Gun on a Wednesday night, “Gibb Delbert means to kill you.” That’s just one line of inquiry as Mr. Darwin was so fond of saying. Gibb comes into said establishment not thirty minutes later with a loaded revolver, puts one in my thigh, and one in my shoulder before he gets tackled. That’s conclusive proof.

Action: Gibb done shot me.

Reaction: He went to jail for two months till next Friday.

But what goes up must come down; that’s Newton not Darwin. I hope I’m not moving too fast. This evidence comes together on the quick. Last night I get a call says, “Will you accept charges from Danville Penitentiary?” Course I decline. This morning, I got a Banty Rooster broke-necked under my windshield wiper.

Proof: Blood feathers mean blood feud.

Times was when a righteous man with a crack shot might claim feud as self-defense. Not so today. Men like me need formularies just like the fellas writing the text books. Solving for the unknown in my neighborhood is a high stakes control set. Trajectory of bullets and repositioning the body? Mishandling those details gets you caught. My numbers got to add up, or I might as well start posing for a county sponsored head shot. Leave Jesus be. Houdini’s my savior. I need a disappearing act.

Hypothesis of an Unlocatable Body

Theorem 1: Deer season, I take the clip outta my rifle to give me two extra slugs. At twenty paces, I can end a man in the time of year no one questions a gun shot, or three, in quick succession. But that ain’t the difficult part. Trajectory of bullets, clip out, and a body? Too obvious and me the likely suspect.

Theorem 2: Solve for zero: where no evidence exists there’s no proof to solve for. That’s Algebra, translation, “the solving of broken parts”. Thank you Wikipedia and Arab people everywhere.

Theorem 3: No proof equals no charges. Add together the bank foreclosure of the abandoned hog operation at Nebo and property in probate. This equals a waste dumping pit both full and idle for a month. That formula births a slurry and stench to end all inquisition. A body in that slop seals the deal. By the time the farm sells, the hog pit will be no softer than concrete.

Theorem 4: A body at rest stays at rest: Gibb Delbert. A body in motion stays in motion: Me. Decomposition meets destiny. Thank you, Sir Isaac Newton.

Observable Conclusion: Done, son.

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Amy Sayre Baptista lives and writes in Chicago, Illinois. She is a co-founder of the community arts program, Plates&Poetry. Her most recent publications can be found in The Butter, Alaska Quarterly Review, Ninth Letter, and Chicago Noir.

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T.A. Noonan is the author of several books and chapbooks, most recently The Midway Iterations (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2015), Fall (Lucky Bastard Press, 2015), and The Ep[is]odes: a reformulation of Horace(Noctuary Press, 2016). Her work has appeared in Reunion: The Dallas Review, Menacing Hedge, LIT, West Wind Review, Ninth Letter, Phoebe, and others. A weightlifter, artist, teacher, priestess, and all-around woman of action, she is the Vice President and Associate Editor of Sundress Publications.

Small Prestivus 2015 Recap: #WishedYouWereThere

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The attendees of the 2015 Festival of Language, a stellar five hours of reading hosted at the second day of Small Prestivus 2015.

Maybe you’re not familiar with Griffith, Indiana, a northwestern, Hoosier town forty minutes south of Chicago. Maybe you’ve never tried the “sproh rootie” at the Grindhouse Cafe downtown, or mosied into the Pokro Brewing Company for a craft beer with the infamous handle, the “Dwarven Assassin.” But worse yet, what if you weren’t in Griffith on August 1st and 2nd, when this interstate oasis hosted Small Prestivus 2015?

Unless you’re Cher and you can “turn back time,” then you missed out. But the good news is Julie Demoff Larson, Small Prestivus coordinator and Blotterature Literary Magazine founder/editor, plans to keep the annual festival alive and well for years to come. With books to buy, talent to hear, workshops to play, and new friendships to forge, Small Prestivus 2015 was a moleskin journal that fits in your back pocket: small enough for every page and every name to mingle and stand-out. Small enough to matter, to take with you wherever you go.

Speaking of books you obsessively carry and crave, last Saturday’s book fair was brimming with cool titles to share and shine, with food, music, and workshops abounding too. Twelve Winters Press, Lit Fest Press, Sundress Publications, and more showed off their writers and catalogs in the sweltering heat. And when I say sweltering, I mean it. Just ask T. A. Noonan’s likely-still-healing sunburns. Yeah, Sundress works hard for the money, and T.A. wasn’t the only author on-hand to sign books and help out at the publication’s tent. Sarah Winn and Donna Vorreyer were also present, giving readings on both days to very appreciative audiences. You can check-out Sarah’s e-chap, Portage, here for free. Donna’s release, A House of Many Windows, is available for purchase at the Sundress store.

The Sundress Publications tent in action!
The Sundress Publications tent in action!

Following a night of counter-intuitive hydration and evening readings at the Pokro Brewing Company, the Small Prestivus crew of writers, editors, friends, and family gathered one last time on Sunday afternoon for the Festival of Language. This was a diverse five hour slam of fiction and poetry. Deliveries ranged from the suave, Cassonova-meets-Bukowski poems of Bill Gainer to the heart-skipping elegance of Sarah Chavez’s reevaluation of the worlds that are borne on turtle backs. Kayla Greenwell took us into her grandmother’s home and, consequently, her own heart. Bud Smith told us a story about tiger blood. Joani Reese sang from her book, Night Chorus. Robert Vaughan introduced us to Addicts & Basements, and other wondrous characters. Krista Cox captured listeners with her verses scaling the walls of online dating, with one poem rightfully shrinking a “Fisher of Women” down a size. The full list of awesome writers and their equally poignant work is formidable to say the least, and other impressive artists staked their claim to the afternoon as well.

Also making sense of internet non-sense, Adam Nicholson was on-site, establishing himself as the “harmonizer of hash tags” with a reading of the internet’s finest dismal posts. Adam was also responsible for bringing Sala to everyone’s attention at Small Prestivus, a fresh organization made by artists for artists, promoting collaboration and support of creative thinkers as far as the internet can reach. But don’t take my word for it: take Adam’s, and support his cause here.

T.A. graciously accepting a love poem from Joani Reese.
T.A. graciously accepting a love poem from Joani Reese, with Sarah Chavez eavesdropping.

In the same reader’s block as Adam, T.A. Noonan later spoke both a “compsognathus” and an “archaeopteryx” back into existence. She read excerpts from Petticoat Government and The Bone Folders, one line of the latter echoing through the weekend, “That kindergarten grin of peel. How your lips glistened like raw eggs.” She even shared fresh material for fans. You can catch her new book, The Midway Iterations, later this year from Hyacinth Girl Press.

After each round of individual readings, Jane L. Carman and Julie Demoff Larson organized a series of reading experiments. These mixed and matched all the readers and their varied works onto the same stage. Voices mingled and read in unison. Fragments collided in midair. Other experiments allowed for call-and-response theatrics as presenters read every other line of their own work as questions instead of statements, as the laughter launched and the beverages threatened to crawl their way up and out of the audience’s helpless noses. After the last experiment and a round of sixty-second reads, the Festival of Language concluded.

With bittersweet farewells, the cast of Small Prestivus 2015 left the mystical heat of Griffith in its assorted rear-view mirrors. Across the country, we attempt in vain to resume normalcy after the high of sharing work and relishing in the words of new friends. We wait for Small Prestivus 2016, where we hope you can join us in our celebration of all things small press.

Sundress Publications thanks all those who participated, as well as Julie Demoff Larson for organizing!

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(All photos courtesy of Small Prestivus 2015 unless otherwise noted.)

For a full list of occurrences, participants, and related news for next year, please view the Small Prestivus Facebook page.

Summer Flash Showdown: Attack of the Picnic Ant Winners!

Courtesy of www.telegraph.co.uk/ Photo by Andrey Pavlov.
Courtesy of http://www.telegraph.co.uk Photo by Andrey Pavlov.

The picnickers have scattered and the victorious hordes of ants have arrived with a message.

Meagan Cass has chosen.

Congratulations to Gordon Buchan for his first prize story, “A Simple Solution.”

Here’s what moved Meagan to her decision:

The strong, original voice and characterization won me over here! I can imagine this narrator protecting his alopecic dog from ants one moment, then exterminating them and listening to his ailing client the next. His obsession with the weight ants carry and his respect for their beauty make him even more interesting. As the story moves forward, images of domestic comfort, anger, violence and longing stoke the tension. When we hit the last, troubling line, we feel like we’ve gotten to know this flawed, imaginative person deeply. “A Simple Solution” is a heart breaker in an unexpected way. Also, you can learn a cool trick for killing ants! 

-Meagan Cass

Gordon is the winner of a Sundress title of his choice from the Sundress store, along with a surprise broadside!

And for the runner-up this week, we congratulate Donna Vorreyer for also catching our honored judge’s eye with her story, “Desperate But Not Serious.”

Both authors will go on to compete in the final grand prize round, where one writer will walk away with five Sundress titles of their choosing and their story immortalized on the blog!  Get cracking on this week’s contest here!

And without further adieu, here are the winning stories.

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A Simple Solution

by Gordon Buchan

I don’t care much for picnics. Mostly because of ants. Like when I was trying to teach my alopecic dog to enjoy the outdoors again, but ants kept biting his chest. Or this other time, beside a moonlight tower in Austin, when I was doing house renovations for a woman named Hannah Liberto. Hannah had an ant infestation and liked to talk to me while I seasoned the woodwork with white sugar and borax. Her eyes were anxious and muscular, no smaller than walnuts, and, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, Hannah believed that I was her husband’s battle buddy in the Korean War. She would talk about him longingly, and then, in the same breath, with an almost convincing hostility, complain that he called her too much, wondering what good a soldier did crammed inside a Chicago phone booth all day. Now, clocking in at roughly 1,600 pounds, I figure it would take 48,000 ants to lift the average phone booth—54,000 if someone was in it, and, by contrast, you would need a little more than 9,000,000,000 ants to carry everyone out of Chicago, leaving Hannah and her husband hand-in hand with the Windy City all to themselves. This is because, while an ant only weighs 3mgs, it can carry 5,000 times its body weight. So, since a sunflower typically weighs about 1 pound, it would take 30 ants to carry it. A stick of butter would be a quarter of this, whereas an Enfield rifle weighs about 10 sunflowers, give or take. I really do think that ants are a beautiful organism, but that doesn’t mean a simple solution of ⅓ borax and ⅔ sugar won’t wipe out an entire colony—kind of like a few grams of oxycodone had chased away my family.

Gordon-profile-pic1-sundressGordon Buchan is Philadelphia based writer. His work has recently appeared in Sugar House Review and BE Literary. He co-edits the online journal, Pretty Owl Poetry.

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Desperate But Not Serious

by Donna Vorreyer

Charlie picked me up at eleven, a mini Weber and a red Igloo cooler in the backseat of his Mazda. We had been out several times, to movies or to watch baseball at the bar, and he was…fine. Nice. Simple. Not exciting. When he had asked to see me again, I suggested a picnic. I needed something, anything, to ignite a spark, or I was out.

The picnic started poorly. The coals were too hot, burning the food, and the seemingly comfortable spot near the cooking pavilion ended up being damp and sandy. But I never anticipated an ant problem until one showed up in his pirate boots and face paint, his bare chest glistening beneath an elaborate military jacket, open to the waist.

“Is that fucking Adam Ant?” Charlie blurted. I just shrugged my shoulders, unable to look away. The man nodded a yes at Charlie and inched closer to me, a tiny beaded braid knocking against his forehead as he whispered in my ear, “There’s whip in my valise,” his tongue just grazing my lobe.

I blushed, and Charlie bellowed, “What did you say to her?” leaping up to point a finger into the intruder’s chiseled face. The stranger spread his arms toward me. “Throw your safety overboard and join my insect nation. Be my queen.” The air swirled with smoke from the grill, creating a fog around us.

“Fucking psycho,” Charlie sputtered. “Get the fuck out of here. Leave my girlfriend alone.” But I wasn’t Charlie’s girlfriend, I didn’t want to be, and I didn’t need protection. I was already on my feet, reaching to trace the white horizon striping the stranger’s face, to loosen the sideburn pin curl from his cheek.

Charlie started to speak, but lifting one finger to his lips, the Ant Man said, “Shhh. Do us all a favor?” He turned toward me, smirking in gold brocade. “If you think it’s all a bit risqué, don’t say a word, I’ll just slip away.” I stripped off my pretty dress, folded it nice and slow, and threw it on the fire.

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Donna Vorreyer is the author of A House of Many Windows (Sundress Publications, 2013) as well as six chapbooks, most recently Encantado, a collaboration with artist Matt Kish (Red Bird Chapbooks). Her fiction has previously appeared in Storychord, Extract(s), Cease, Cows, and Boston Literary Review. She is a poetry editor for Extract(s), and her second collection Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story is forthcoming from Sundress Publications in late 2015. She resides in the Chicago area with two large dogs and a regular-sized husband.

Finding the Sweet Spot: Avoiding Impostor Syndrome

I have never been good at self-promotion. It goes against everything I was taught as a child about being humble. Often at readings, I am happy if the host mentions that I have books available, or I would probably never sell one. And now, in the wake of exploding social media groups like Binders Full of Women Writers, I have been suffering from a bit of impostor syndrome.

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As I read through the posts and consider commenting, I think, “Why the hell would a group of successful writers who make a living with their words, writers like Cheryl Strayed, for God’s sake, give a thought to anything a suburb-dwelling, middle-school teacher has to say?” I also have the good pleasure to know many talented young female writers who have accomplished so much in their twenties and thirties that I wonder sometimes why I bother to do this in my fifties. When people throw around terms like spondee or trochee, I feel dumb, second-guessing my self-obtained knowledge, running to Wikipedia to double-check definitions and questioning whether I should have gotten that MFA degree after all.

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And the worst part of all of this? If I share these doubts publicly, these cracks in my machinery, it can sound like I am fishing for compliments or, at the very least, seeking validation. And if I go the other way, sharing all of my successes and good news? I run the risk of becoming an annoying braggart, or even worse, a humble bragger. So how does a person find the sweet spot between feeling like a fraud and being confident?

In sports, the term sweet spot refers to a place where a combination of factors results in a maximum response for a given amount of effort, i.e., the sweet spot on a tennis racket. In acoustics, it is the focal point between two speakers where an individual is fully capable of hearing the stereo audio mix the way it was intended to be heard by the mixer. It implies a perfection in balance.

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So I considered of one of my creative heroes, Michael Palin, who seems to balance so many talents perfectly: comedian, actor, screenwriter, novelist, adventurer, and travel documentarian. His career has been extraordinarily diverse and its longevity surpasses that of most creative people who have specialized in only one endeavor. Imagine my surprise when, researching, I found this Palin quote:

I look at everything I’ve done and wonder, “Why wasn’t that better?” Part of my motivation is from crippling self-doubt – I have to prove myself wrong.

“Crippling self-doubt?” From this man who is so accomplished? If he feels that way, how am I ever to find this balance?

As writers, we often get down on ourselves. After all, we work in a field where rejection is a daily part of the landscape. We all need to break out of this cycle of “crippling self-doubt” and prove ourselves wrong. I have come up with a list of things I have done (or should do more often) to remind myself that I have a voice in the world of writers, even if it is not a loud one, that what I write is important, at least to me.

1. Make a List Make a list of your accomplishments – publications, prizes, nominations, or even personal roadblocks you have conquered (i.e., reading your work in public, sending out submissions). Don’t be shy. Include them all. I’ll bet your list is rather long. Post it somewhere you can see it regularly.

2. Calculate Your Batting Average If you keep records of your acceptances and rejections, calculate your batting average for a “season” – determine a set amount of time (6 months, a year) and I would bet that your acceptance average is at least as good as Major League Baseball Players who were collectively averaging .248 at the end of April. In writing terms, that would be a 25% acceptance rate. High for many writers? Yes. But you also don’t get paid several million dollars to strike out. Consider anything near 10% an extremely successful average.

3. Cultivate Relationships Yes, social media can feed your feelings of fraud. But it has also opened up the world in a way that makes it possible to communicate with a large group of people that you may never have contacted otherwise. After striking up Twitter and Facebook “friendships” with poets whose work I admire, I have been happy and even comfortable meeting them in person and viewing myself as a peer. Start the conversation. Join social media groups of like-minded writers. Promote the work of others, not only your own. Make an effort to attend readings and literary events in your community. When you are a part of a larger community, confidence becomes easier to access.

4. Believe What You Read If you have never had anyone review your work, please do so. Reading reviews of my books helped me believe in myself more than anything else ever has. The analyses and opinions of readers and writers I respect helped me to believe that my work had value in the world and not just in my head. Even when the reviews weren’t completely positive, they still showed that my work moved readers in some way. And that’s what all writers are trying to do, whether we are NEA fellows publishing in The New Yorker or suburban middle school teachers, scribbling in their journals during twenty minute lunch breaks and saying, “Why not me?”

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Sylvia Plath famously said, “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” Defeat the enemy within the external obstacles are plentiful enough out there.

Donna Vorreyer is the author of three chapbooks: Womb/Seed/Fruit (Finishing Line Press), Come Out, Virginia (Naked Mannekin Press), and Ordering the Hours (Maverick Duck Press). She is a poetry editor for Mixed Fruit, and her work has appeared in many journals, recently in Sweet, Linebreak, Rhino, Cider Press Review, Stirring, and Wicked Alice. Donna lives in the Chicago area where she teaches middle school and therefore often acts like she is twelve years old. Her first full-length collection, A House of Many Windows was published by Sundress Publications in 2013. Her second collection will be released from Sundress Publications in 2016.

Sundress to Publish Three New Titles in 2015-2016

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Sundress Publications is pleased to announce the publication of the following books in the years 2015 and 2016. Ha Ha Ha Thump by Amorak Huey (due for release in 2015), What Will Keep Me Alive by Kristen LaTour (due for release in 2015) and Washed with Hymns and Singing by Donna Vorreyer (due for release in 2016).

Amorak Huey, a former newspaper editor and reporter, teaches writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. His chapbook, The Insomniac Circus, is forthcoming from Hyacinth Girl Press. His poems appear in the anthologies The Best American Poetry 2012, The Poetry of Sex, and Poetry in Michigan/Michigan in Poetry, as well as journals such as Rattle, The Collagist, The Southern Review, Poet Lore, Menacing Hedge, and others. Ha Ha Ha Thump is his first full-length collection.

Kristin LaTour has three chapbooks: Agoraphobia, from Dancing Girl Press (2013), Blood (Naked Mannequin Press 2009) and Town Limits (Pudding House Press 2007). Her poetry has appeared in journals such as Massachusetts Review, Fifth Wednesday, Cider Press Review, Escape into Life, and Atticus Review. Her work appears in the anthology Obsession: Sestinas in the 21st Century. A graduate of the Stonecoast MFA program, she teaches at Joliet Jr. College and lives in Aurora, IL with her writer husband, a lovebird, and two dogitos. What Will Keep Me Alive is her first full-length collection.

Donna Vorreyer is the author of chapbooks: Womb/Seed/Fruit (Finishing Line Press), Come Out, Virginia (Naked Mannekin Press), and Ordering the Hours (Maverick Duck Press). She is a poetry editor for Mixed Fruit, and her work has appeared in many journals, recently in Sweet, Linebreak, Rhino, Cider Press Review, Stirring, and Wicked Alice. Donna lives in the Chicago area where she teaches middle school and therefore often acts like she is twelve years old. Her first full-length collection, A House of Many Windows was published by Sundress Publications in 2013. Washed with Hymns and Singing is her second collection.