Hello everyone, please welcome Duane Vorhees to Sensuous Promos today as he shares with us a little bit about himself and his work.
Duane, thank you for joining us today. I know the readers are eager to get to know you , so let’s get started.
Can you tell us a little bit about where you are from?
It depends on how you define “from.”
At a very early age, they tell me, I was born in Germantown, Ohio. During much of my infancy my grandparents raised me, but sometimes I travelled with my mother, an itinerant stripper, so I have childhood memories of upstate New York and Chicago. I don’t really sound like someone from rural southern Ohio. But through most of elementary school I was in Germantown, until we moved to Farmersville, an even smaller burg 4 miles away. There wasn’t much for adolescents to do there except watch each other grow. (And, in some instances, getting hands-on experience with the results of some of that growth). After I finished high school, I commuted weekly between Farmersville (and then, back to Germantown!) and Columbus (Ohio State) or Bowling Green (as in Bowling Green State University).
So, I was more than ready to get away from the Germantown-Farmersville hub of the universe. I “lived” (or at least resided) in Charleston, South Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida: Nutley, New Jersey; and Montreal. For much of that time I was a door-to-door salesman, so I was on the road a great deal. For instance, I know (or knew, at any rate) all the spots from Louisbourg to Moosonee to Brandon, and I also drove extensively throughout the American South and from coast to coast. This was all mile by mile, behind the wheel of a car.
Eventually, I ended up in Korea (didn’t drive there), where basically I “settled down” for a quarter century, but in a typically rather unsettled way. Periodically, I visited Rio de Janeiro, Copenhagen, Naples, and India and most of the countries in East Asia, and I plan to move permanently to Thailand someday. Right now, however, I reside in Iwakuni, near Hiroshima, Japan.
So, you see, it’s hard to give a simple answer to the “from” question.
Do you write about things similar to your own life experiences?
Personal experience is at the heart of writing, but it’s a multi-chambered heart. Observations of others’ experiences, vicarious experiences via books and movies, and imagining other people’s experiences are also part of the writing anatomy. But, by the time the work gets to the page, in my case very little of the personal remains. Writing has as much to do with concealing as it does with revealing; both aspects are vital to the exploration of truth and passion.
What book would we find you reading right now?
I just finished the Sylvie Simmons life of Leonard Cohen and am midway through the Jon Meacham bio of Thomas Jefferson. Both subjects have long battled for acceptance by my moral intellect, Cohen as bewildered truth-searcher and Jefferson as seer-cum-hypocrite. After reading Simmons, I now find Cohen’s character more accessible than previously, as a triumphant failure if you will, but Jefferson’s paradoxes are still a puzzle to me. Maybe by the time I get to the end of the book they will be more comprehendible.
But we are all enigmas, of course, to others and to ourselves. The only difference is that LC and TH spent decades minding their accounts in very public, and very readable, ways.
Do you see writing as a career?
Writing is the opposite of a career; it is a slow, painful, necessary process, ending eventually in exhaustion rather than accomplishment. At some level, worthwhile writers are plodding masochists and unredeemed liars, certainly not speedsters and honest medalists. But, still, these are useful masochists, prophetic liars. They help us struggle toward self-apprehension.
Can you share a little of your current work with us?
I hope three short selections are not too much of an imposition.
I’ll start with an excerpt from “We Within the Wheels: Dalit”
Now my beauty r e a c h e s o u t in search of your moist and hidden cottage. (Remember the crisp sunflowers asmoke unkempt against the steep/&damp scampismelly dirt path. Recall the rose-of-sharon labyrinth oft-credited – before and since – as the soul’s taoWay, eelslick & serpent straight, into the nirvanic heart of notUnbeing.) Your thatched and pointed little house…. It’s not where last I fingered its locks. The knobs now, I;m told, are handled some other where.
But even so, blind and blind, my beauty reaches out
my blind beauty reaches
out into cold and empty vacuum.
Ah! Nights you were a harem
and I the unmade Bedouin too long in the thirst—
past the black eunuch of the night
I would steal to your tent,
unarmed save a single arrow in my quiver,
would draw back your damascene veil,
and let fly my shaft deep into your bulls-eye arabesque---
Or: you were queen of the hive
and I a drone among the honeys
getting a buzz on and doing my job,
plunging among the dusky clover
trying to pollinate the skies,
to flower the night with stars---
(to lose my only stinger would be to die….)
Or else you were Madonna
awaiting a Jealous Commanding God,
The Spawner Of The Cosmos,
A Beam Of Light Made Flesh to hold you in your place.
(while you waited in rapture for the coming of your lord,
i a small choirboy would steal into your unguarded churchyard
to send a solitary firework into the cathedral’s secret hole
in hopes it explodes high up in the beribbe’d vaults,
surprising celebate fathers from their sleep.)
ALL PROPHECY IS HISTORY
Blind men at dusk predict
the next day will bring light.
No past dies completely.
Its bone cements my wall, and its ash
congregates in these porcelain dolls;
all history is prophecy, and harvest, blight.
And so my tomorrows are today’s mystery. Yes,
“the future looks bright.” But it’s too bright to see
the soonest cloud bringing its silver and its stain.
I’m in Hiroshima, just waiting for the plane.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Balance is hard. I always want the “right” word embedded in the “right” phrase in the context of the “right” poem taken as a whole. I want a structured statement that expresses organic reality. Rhythm, rhyme, assonance, consonance, meter, pattern: these are all important qualities that a lot of contemporary poets neglect, but none of these should become a mechanism of enslavement (of either writer or reader). Concision is a virtue, and over-elaboration can be a vicelike grip on the reader’s engagement, but minimalism lacks affect. By the time I’m done with something, or as finished as I can get at any rate, I want ordinary people and verse junkies alike to both feel and understand what the poem’s message is, not admire its guidebook architecture or throw up their hands in confused despair.
Who are your favorite authors and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I’ve read thousands of books in my lifetime, not a remarkable figure by any means. Most of them are not even distant memories. But some writers manage to take up residence within. Some of them are ill-mannered enough to pound on the doors of consciousness at all hours, and some of them have the decency to be quiescent until you need them.
The best book I never read is James Joyce’s Ulysses; I like the theory of that book but can’t follow its execution. But I like the innocent depravity of e. e. cummings, his enthusiasm for the destruction of propriety that manifests itself visually as well as rhetorically. I like William Faulkner’s non-innocence that manifests itself in the same way but is deeper and darker than in cummings’ case. I like Mark Twain’s late musings, so cleverly wrapped up in hilarity we don’t see their actual import at first blush, they sneak up on us later and pound us in the head; and I thoroughly enjoy his wonderful aphorisms, more cynical and less clinical than Benjamin Franklin’s. I like the early Ernest Hemingway, who somehow manages to be a minimalist while leading readers to know what they need to know without being told and without losing them to ennui. I like Isaiah’s over-the-top imagery in the service of his inhuman righteousness. I can appreciate the Karl Marx of the Manifesto, in its idyllic, dynamic expression of the wonders of industro-capitalism (and I hate the later grind who proceeds to unravel it all). I like the paradoxical absurdity of Joseph Heller and the straightforward clarity of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. I get swept away by the majestic prose and messaging of Herman Melville and the straightforward metaphors of Ray Bradbury. I like the tart verses of Stephen Crane, but also the byzantine labyrinth of Wallace Stevens’ best work. Herbert J. Muller engages my intellect while showing me the uses of the past. Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan manage to puzzle and enlighten simultaneously, while keeping step musically in their lyrical dance with Paul Simon, Eric Andersen, Tom Waits, John Lennon/Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, and pre-celebrity Kris Kristofferson. I’m also a sucker for Philip K. Dick’s elaborate plotting and Emily Dickinson’s cryptic simplicity. Theodore Sturgeon never impressed me as a stylist, but the chutzpah of his subject matter is admirable.
But these are only a few, of the thousands. These are among the ones who have taught me how to write, and what to feel, even if their lessons are contradictory and complex, and even though their teachings never really took.
Do you have any advice to offer other writers?
The only advice I have is: Don’t listen to me. Grow ears for yourself.
Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
All too often, readers are trained to think they don’t like poetry, but when they accidentally encounter the genuine character they can’t escape its grip. It goes into the soul and it lives there. But don’t rush through it. Don’t force it. Let it gestate on its own terms. It’s possible to enjoy the butterfly (or the volcano) with no premonition for metamorphosis. Don’t be afraid of poetry; don’t underestimate its transformative yeast. (Repetitive dosages enhance efficaciousness. )
Where can our readers find you on the world wide web?
I’ve started a blog at poetrybyduane.wordpress.com, but I haven’t really put much work into it yet. I have a facebook page (Duane Vorthees), and I check in every day at firstname.lastname@example.org. My books are available at xoxopublishing.com.
Thanks for joining us today, Duane. It was a pleasure getting to know you! ~ CJ