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.
“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.
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.
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.
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/