A House of Many Windows by Donna Vorreyer
A House of Many Windows, Donna Vorreyer's first full-length collection (she has previously published four chapbooks), focuses on a variety of topics centered within the feminine and domestic sphere: she tackles death, love, loss, feminism, motherhood, adoption, and the body. All of these topics imply a sense of turbulence and discontent, yet Vorreyer's tight formal constraints -- often utilizing couplets, tercets, and quatrains -- seek to put order in scenes and emotions of disorder and disarray. The result, rich in imagery and vibrant in language, is a deeply moving and relatable body of work.
Several poems in the collection focus on a type of instruction. "How to Start Again," "Instructions for Sleep," and "Floating Lessons" are just a few that use declarative language to guide the reader toward doing something correctly. The irony in this resides in the history of women's development, something that remains deeply imbedded in cultural instruction, though the types of rules for women have changed over time. Using this tactic that has often been used as a method of repression, Vorreyer creates instructions that liberate and illuminate rather than dictate. "Floating Lessons" says:
Revel in your growing
speed, the churning water in your wake. Nothing will
ever equal the first time you let your body go and
something cradled it, a trust you cannot find again.
This lovely image of how one learns to swim, the buoyancy and freedom of the body, and the trust you must attain in order to let yourself float upon water, becomes a moment of epiphany in the poem: nothing can hold you the way nature can, and the trust upon something else to handle you with such care and allow you such bodily freedom and exhilaration will never again be easily attained.
I greatly admire the trust that Vorreyer displays in these images. Many of her images are strange and surreal, and they leave profound and chilling impressions. In "After the Fourth Failure, Home," Vorreyer writes:
In the kitchen, we break bread
seeded with bees. I fill pages with clotted carcasses
of longing, hang them from branches in the yard to
fertilize the tulips we planted last September.
A House of Many Windows has a series of poems interspersed throughout the book documenting "After the xx Failure, _____." The images in this particular poem haunt through their clear sense of decay, loss, and hopelessness. The visceral response provoked by the thought of eating bread seeded with bees is violent and repulsive enough: the relationship lacks nourishment, but it's peppered with plenty of sting. Longing is personified as "clotted carcasses," which, again, signals the grave destitute feeling of the possibility of romance existing between the two characters, and these pages of death are hung to promote growth, fertility, and spring: clearly, a bleak and painful prospect.
But if there's one thing this collection is unafraid of, it's tackling bleakness. A series of poems in the collection deal with femininity and loss, particularly when it comes to the ability to bear a child. The speaker deals with the pain that comes along with being barren, and, later, the joys and difficulties that coincide with adopting a child. In "Misconception," Vorreyer writes:
A lesser man could not
love something broken, but mine sits next to me,
knowing there is no blame, all his lovely sperm
condemned to swim forever in ardent circles,
lost children floundering, finding nowhere to root.
This poem deals with the shame and self-blame that comes along with not being able to fulfill the feminine ideal in all its forms. The speaker exhibits gratitude for a man so generous as to accept her for her faults, but she clearly condemns herself in the imagery regardless -- likening his sperm to children who will soon die due to her inability to conceive. Vorreyer honestly relays the psychological repercussions of suffering with this issue as a woman.
It's simply stunning the amount of terrain Vorreyer covers in this collection. She addresses a plethora of linked topics, making the collection feel cohesive and satisfying in its various parts. Along with her lush imagery, she uses strong and compelling similes and metaphors alongside rich allusions (like her poem alluding to Anne Sexton titled "Another Truth the Dead Know.") Her handling of topics is tender, nurturing even, despite the obvious violence that these topics do to the speaker. In one of her poems addressing death, "The Turning," the speaker states:
I have no quarrel with death. It sways
in the breeze like laundry, leans
at the threshold each morning as I rise
for work. It is not the frightening Death
of childhood, no black-robed menace
of Dickens, Poe. Just a woman
at her window, face tender as the bark
of spring birch, white, unblemished.
With these similes and the personification of death as a woman, the speaker acknowledges that she embodies death in her every action, in her very form; therefore, she carries it with her as a part of her identity. It's a sad, resigned sort of acceptance, but a tender and even beautifully rendered one as well. Much of this book carries that stunning dual capability: pain and beauty, violence and softness, death and life. And this makes the poems feel all the more genuine, resonant, and true.
A House of Many Windows by Donna Vorreyer