Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Donna Vorreyer

Donna Vorreyer

-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 work has appeared in Penn Review, Tinderbox Poetry, HAD, 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.

The Interview

  1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

I suppose there are three answers to that question. I wrote poems as a kid in elementary school because I had an ear for rhyme, and I was a teacher-pleaser. My poems got praised, so I wrote more poems. As a teen, I received a guitar for my 13th birthday and started writing songs, so that was my second introduction to being a poet, this time for the intrinsic motivation of expressing all of my teen angst about unrequited love and the attention it got me at parties. 

But I started writing poetry again as an adult in my early thirties. I had always kept journals and had written some poems for children that had been published, but when I adopted my son, I found that I had more that I wanted to say. Being a public school teacher, I was far removed from the world of poetry, so in order to learn how to enter it, I started reading all of the contemporary poets I could find in the library (not many, it turned out) and found summer workshops to take during my breaks from teaching. As I began to find my voice, poetry became a way for me to filter and understand the world and my place in it. 

2. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

When I starting writing, my dominating experience with poetry was through Shakespeare (both from my father and my 6th grade teacher) and then in high school, some canon poets like Frost, cummings, and Millay from my AP English teacher, who was a nun with a very specific sense of what it meant to be well-read. I try now to not only read current contemporary writers, but writers I may have “missed.” I have never studied poetry formally and do not have an MFA, so very often a poet that is considered influential has escaped my radar. For instance, although I had read the often-shared Lana Turner poem by Frank O’Hara, I hadn’t read anything else by him until a few years ago when I picked up a Selected anthology in a used bookstore. 

I find it comforting that there are always new poets from which to learn, poets who vary so widely in concerns, in style, and in form. I like to believe that I learn “moves” from other poets that are then used in my own work organically rather than trying to mimic another writer’s tendencies. 

3. What is your daily  routine?

My daily writing routine is not a routine at all. I am not one of those people who writes every day or does morning pages. Although I am recently retired and have as much time as I’d like to write, I find that I still write the way I did when I was working, which is writing in fits and starts. I take a lot of notes, either in a journal or on my phone if I’m out or walking. When I have time to write, I see if those notes can spark a phrase or sentence. I often free write into an idea for a while and then leave it alone. Those freewrites are almost always longhand because, when I draft on a computer, I start to edit myself too quickly. I don’t allow the same type of messy wandering as I do on the physical page, and that wandering is usually where the strongest images come.  Revision is my favorite part of writing, and that is where I spend the bulk of any time that I designate as writing time.

4. What motivates you to write?

Observations. Juxtapositions. Guilt. Fear. Memory. Love. Seeking to understand. Seeking to make connections. Writing is my way of understanding myself and the world I live in. Being able to explore the past, reach into the future, and question the unaswerable on the page is both challenging and soothing to me. If that writing ever finds an audience outside of me, then that connection is a delightful bonus.

5. What is your work ethic?

It depends on how excited I am about what I am writing or how immediate my need If I’m generating material that surprises or interests me, or I’m using my writing to work through something, I can dive into it for hours or days at a time without a break. If I’m in a fallow period where I’m not generating anything that interests me, then my work ethic becomes more of a gathering and thinking time where I read a lot and focus on those notes that may come here and there. When I have a specific task to complete (editorial work or proofing or prepping to teach a workshop), my work ethic is very strong. When others are depending on me, I tend to take care of those responsibilities first.

6. How do the writers you read when you were young influence your work today?

I read mostly classics and popular fiction as a young reader (young to me meaning high school and college) and the only poetry I encountered was whatever poets in the canon were in the literature anthologies we were using as textbooks – Norton’s, mainly – but I was personally drawn to both Shakespeare and Frost. I admire Shakespeare’s scope, his appeal to both “high” language and common emotion, a mix that is hard to pull off successfully. And Frost’s use of form and his ability to tell stories also held great appeal. I don’t know if I can honestly say I’m influenced by either of those writers, but when I find myself playing with meter, or trying to find the language to make something ordinary seem magical, I think of Shakespeare’s sonnets and Frost’s Birches, the girls with their hair thrown over their heads to dry in the sun.

7. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

This is a difficult question, as there are so many writers creating admirable work. I admire any writer who finds a way to make me feel something new that also somehow resonates with my own experience, writers who bring me into a world where I am both visitor and native. One writer I admire is Patricia Smith, as she is never satisfied with what she has already accomplished. She is always moving forward to something new, learning something new. And she is generous with her time and her attention in the literary community in a way that someone who has earned her level of recognition does not have to be. There are so many others for different reasons: Traci Brimhall for her language and gift of dreaming; Amorak Huey for his brilliant turns toward surprising and often poignant endings; Mary Ruefle for her humor and gift for seeing the world. I could go on for days…

8. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

m a competent cook, but not a creative one. I like sports and fitness, but I’m not a great athlete. I sing, play the piano and the guitar, but not well enough to share those skills with anyone else. Writing for me is the best way for me to be creative as I have the strongest kinship with language. Although I love visual art,and enjoy the process of creating it, I have a mental block about sharing it, a judgmental part of my brain that tells me I’m not good at it. With writing, although I have my inner critics, I have learned to tame them through being willing to acknowledge my strengths and weaknesses and work through them. When I write, I can choose easily to share that work or keep it to myself, to privately work through the world with language or cast the words out to others to see if they catch.

9. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

The easy answer is “write,” of course. But nothing is that easy. 

If the question emphasizes “become,” then the answer would be to first be a reader. Fall in love with language, with stories, with descriptions. A person can’t do any of that without being a reader. Be an observer of the world. Notice the things that others walk right by. Also try to retain your child-like delight in creating  – hush the inner critics that come with age and school and grades. Write poems and tell stories to please yourself, as a child does. 

If the question is meant as how to become a published writer, that requires a set of skills that you must learn along the way. Accepting criticism and rejection. Understanding that there is always more to learn. Reading a wide selection of publications to see where your work might fit. But most importantly, having a willingness to take risks, as risk is inherent in any stage of making your work public. It’s a risk to put your thoughts onto a page. It’s a risk to send that work out. It’s also a risk to have it published and available for anyone to read and pass judgment. 

Eugenio Montale: On the Threshold

The High Window

liguria

*****

Eugenio Montale (1896–1981) was one of the most important Italian poets of the 20th century. Amongst his most famous collections are Ossi di Seppia/ Cuttlefish Bones (1925), Gli Occasioni/ The Occasions (1939) and La bufera e altro/The Storm and other things (1956). He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1975. Linked to the rough, bare landscape of his native Liguria, His poetry  expresses a profound feeling of disillusionment and ‘il male di vivere’ (the evil of life). Although his poetry was considered difficult and obscure, by some critics, he contributed greatly to the revival of Italian poetry in terms of both language and prosody and is considered one of the greatest Italian poets after Giacomo Leopardi.

In his later works, Montale’s poetry changed in terms of both prosody and themes; a disenchanted wisdom pervades the lines together with an understated tone. The most famous poems of…

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#WaysofSeeing50 #JohnBerger. Day Seven: Fine Arts and Commerce” TV progamme. In celebration of fifty years since John Berger’s “Ways Of Seeing” was broadcast in January 1972, I welcome writers and artworkers to join and contribute with Sarah Watkinson, Sarah Crowson, Cy Forrest, Yvonne Marjot, Anjum Wasim Dar and me in a week long look at what he had to say, and how we might ekphrastically comment on the artworks he looked at, particularly painting and photography. It would be ideal if you could read the book beforehand, but not necessary. The challenge will run from January 9th-15th, and use the artworks he used as a prompt for each day.

1920px-Edouard_Manet_- Luncheon on the Grass -_Google_Art_ProjectEdouard Manet – Luncheon on the Grass – Google Art Project.jpg

John Berger says the nude in European oil painting is an admirable expression of European humanist spirit

A double golden shovel

Barbara Niven talks about Manet’s Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe, and John
says the nude is an expression of European humanist spirit. He says
the nude, as a result, has to survey everything she is and does, being
essence, a perfumed object to be looked at and envied.
Of being naked, that’s simply to be without clothes, but to be nude is
self-delight. To be nude is to be seen naked by others, and, a/
is to be in disguise (essential), and b/ solitary.
The awareness of being naked is revealed in form:
compulsion to shame, pinning fig leaves, modest hand gestures there-of.
To look at yourself naked in the mirror is to seek reassurance.
Make your own picture for your own pleasure and forget Manet. Make it
contact your own competitive spirit. Your beauty depends
(with what you reveal) on precisely
the way you impose yourself upon
world-ly men (all fully clothed btw). Stay anonymous and do not,
as this painting suggests, do any more over-sharing.
You, the expression of European humanist spirit, your
live pleasures are for you to experience
in private with people of your own choosing. With
it comes a certain amount of nudity and those,
to put it bluntly, moments wondering why and who.
Go-to lovers? Manet paints over them, you know. Envy
out-strips art, though I’m sure he still speaks highly of you.

-Cy Forrest 

 

Bios And Links

-Cy Forrest

is from Manchester but now living in Wiltshire. Poems in The Honest Ulsterman, IceFloe Press and The Wombwell Rainbow. Poems due to appear in Stand in 2022.

#WaysofSeeing50 #JohnBerger. Day Six: Fine Arts and Commerce” Photo Essay. In celebration of fifty years since John Berger’s “Ways Of Seeing” was broadcast in January 1972, I welcome writers and artworkers to join and contribute with Sarah Watkinson, Sarah Crowson, Cy Forrest, Yvonne Marjot, Anjum Wasim Dar and me in a week long look at what he had to say, and how we might ekphrastically comment on the artworks he looked at, particularly painting and photography. It would be ideal if you could read the book beforehand, but not necessary. The challenge will run from January 9th-15th, and use the artworks he used as a prompt for each day.

Anjum day six 1 wosAnjum day six 2 wosAnjum Day Six 3 wos

-Anjum Wasim Dar

The cannon in Magritte’s surreal painting fires

The cannon in Magritte’s surreal painting fires.
An exhausted maid sleeps on the job, ignorant.
She dreams on and on through time and through hellfire.

Nicolaes Maes paints her in sixteen-fifty-five.
René Magritte paints desire in thirty-seven.
The cannon in Magritte’s surreal painting fires.

Magritte’s Threshold of Liberty provokes ire.
Maes’ sleeping maid is nicknamed ‘The Idle Servant’.
She dreams on and on through time and through hellfire.

Her mistress says ‘What more can I do? She tires’.
No one envies the idle maid, a dilettante.
The cannon in Magritte’s surreal painting fires.

The mistress shrugs off her idle maid’s desires.
Her mind’s full of envious dreams of the day when—
She dreams on and on through time and through hellfire.

She dreams of a snow white shift and pleated attire.
The cycle’s reinforced by long working hours.
The cannon in Magritte’s surreal painting fires.
She sleeps on and on through time and through hellfire.

-Cy Forrest

Bios And Links

-Cy Forrest

is from Manchester but now living in Wiltshire. Poems in The Honest Ulsterman, IceFloe Press and The Wombwell Rainbow. Poems due to appear in Stand in 2022.

#WaysofSeeing50 #JohnBerger. Day Five: Painting And Possessions TV programme. My poem The Luxury of Amnesia, in celebration of fifty years since John Berger’s “Ways Of Seeing” was …

Cy Forrest

The third programme is on the use ofoil paintas a means of depicting or reflecting thestatusof the individuals who commissioned the work of art. …

#WaysofSeeing50 #JohnBerger. Day Five: Painting And Possessions TV programme. In celebration of fifty years since John Berger’s “Ways Of Seeing” was …

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In Response to Mr Paul Brookes Challenge~ John Berger’s Way of Seeing ~ People and Their Sartorial Styles ~ The Artist and the Camera~ Day 6 ~

POETIC OCEANS

Frans Hal ‘s Regent of the Old Men’s Alm House
HALS, Frans
(b. 1580, Antwerpen, d. 1666, Haarlem)

There is an old legend that Hals, reduced to poverty in his last years and an inmate of the Alms House, took his revenge on the Regents by depicting them in unflattering fashion. In fact, although he was certainly poor, he was never in the Alms House and the bold, free and animated style of the group is also evident in his other portraits of this period. It has been convincingly argued that the unusual expression on the face of the Regent who is seated on the right is the consequence of partial facial paralysis rather than – as the legend has it – drunkenness. Such candour is characteristic of Hals who felt no need to disguise the Regent’s affliction. The standing figure, without a hat, is the servant of the Regents.These…

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Cardiff Cut by Lloyd Robson (Parthian / Modern)

Tears in the Fence

cardiff cut was originally published in 2000 and this reprint includes a contextual essay by Peter Finch, himself a groundbreaking poet who shifts between what we might still call ‘the mainstream’ and the ‘avant-garde,’ which locates Lloyd Robson’s entry onto the scene as being at ‘the tail end of performance poetry’s rise’. This is fair enough as far as it goes but it does tend to exclude Robson’s interest in ‘the page’ and in books, both in terms of the aesthetic aspect and also via his transference of dialect into print from the spoken variety or vice-versa as the case may be. This is a big subject and one which Finch’s own work explores but it’s not one I intend to get distracted by here.

     My own initial exposure to Robson as reader was when he performed with his mentor Chris Torrance at the Art Centre in Plymouth (sometime in…

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#WaysofSeeing50 #JohnBerger. Day Five: Painting And Possessions TV programme. In celebration of fifty years since John Berger’s “Ways Of Seeing” was broadcast in January 1972, I welcome writers and artworkers to join and contribute with Sarah Watkinson, Sarah Crowson, Cy Forrest, Yvonne Marjot, Anjum Wasim Dar and me in a week long look at what he had to say, and how we might ekphrastically comment on the artworks he looked at, particularly painting and photography. It would be ideal if you could read the book beforehand, but not necessary. The challenge will run from January 9th-15th, and use the artworks he used as a prompt for each day.

The third programme is on the use of oil paint as a means of depicting or reflecting the status of the individuals who commissioned the work of art.

Sarah Watkinson Day 5 Goya self portrait

-Sarah Watkinson

The Luxury of Amnesia
This allows the Art Establishment to project for a little longer its false rationalised image of itself’—John Berger, Ways of Seeing

John Berger completes Ways of Seeing
before Thatcherism brings racism in from
the cold. In Tim Walker’s 2018 photo of
Duckie Thot for the Pirelli Calendar, Alice
in Wonderland threatens to fill the space and
break through the ceiling of the old property.
John Berger notes that society and culture is
obsessed with property. Speaking of old property,
eg the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art, in 2019,
Alberta Whittle floats like one of Bill Traylor’s
duppies haunting the space built by a tobacco
merchant with plantations in the Caribbean—
These hauntings should remind people.
These reminders should heal people.

-Cy Forrest

He says of this poem:

Here are links to the things I’m referring to:

Thatcher’s discourse: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/oct/27/swamped-and-riddled-toxic-phrases-wreck-politics-immigration-michael-fallon

‘Voice has become a new means of introducing themes of memory, history and loss into Alberta Whittle’s films. Moving to the UK from Barbados meant that her understanding of history, which was related to inherited memories of her ancestors and living family, but also from history taught in school was suddenly invalid, erased and invisible in a Western environment. This discomfort with the realization that memory and history do not always intersect motivates her film practice, which aims to encourage a process of decolonization through producing counter narratives, which reveal a state of collective amnesia. Whittle has named this condition, The Luxury of Amnesia, because it describes the ability to forget colonial histories. She considers this viewpoint to emerge from a position of privilege, a luxury.’ – https://www.albertawhittle.com/a-study-in-vocal-intonation.html

Of her installation, A study in vocal intonation, Alberta says: ‘This is a place that happens to be in the centre of Glasgow but is deeply connected to the Caribbean, to different parts of Africa, to the Americas. This is an interlinked history and a reckoning with how we are all situated today.’

Tate Etc. Autumn 2021 – https://www.tate.org.uk/tate-etc/issue-53-autumn-2021/life-between-islands

‘While it is important to emphasise that Henry Tate was not a slave-owner or slave-trader, it is therefore not possible to separate the Tate galleries from the history of colonial slavery from which in part they derive their existence.’ – https://www.tate.org.uk/about-us/history-tate/tate-galleries-and-slavery

‘So I was being invited to be part of a fantasy world that kids of all age and all races grow up with, but so many of them hadn’t seen a likeness of themselves in this kind of story.’ Djimon Hounsou – https://www.elle.com/uk/fashion/news/a39857/pirelli-calendar-2018-black-alice-wonderland/

-Cy Forrest

Anjum day five wosAnjum day 5 Two wos

-Anjum Wasim Dar

Bios And Links

-Cy Forrest

is from Manchester but now living in Wiltshire. Poems in The Honest Ulsterman, IceFloe Press and The Wombwell Rainbow. Poems due to appear in Stand in 2022.