Donna Vorreyer – Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story
Donna Vorreyer’s Every Love Story Is an Apocalypse Story doesn’t mince its truths. Beginning with a “Preamble,” this poetry volume immediately sets out to disprove the permanence of romantic love—“We all know this is a lie, know/that every paired or melded/thing returns to pieces.”—while maintaining a disquieting undercurrent of displaced hope. A charmingly relatable collection in which love is “no quick misery” and longing is savage, the speaker becomes “no longer human;” “In your absence, I am animal.”
Every Love Story Is an Apocalypse Story‘s haunting thread of romance-as-entropy permeates each poem, leaving the reader to confront the question: why fall in love, when the fall out is everlasting?
RHIANNON THORNE: I know that while the title is usually one of the last things a poet settles on for her book, it’s the first we settle on as a reader. The naming process really sets the tone for how a volume is consumed. How did you come to title this collection? Did Every Love Story Is an Apocalypse Story have other, previous titles?
DONNA VORREYER: This is not a super interesting story, but here it goes. The book had several working titles – the first was Washed With Hymns and Singing, a line from one of the poems. At that point, the book was structured differently and didn’t have the same perspective or narrative arc. It was heavily focused on poems and images that were inspired by the journals of Lewis and Clark and their natural world. (Only a few of those poems survived in the final version.)
After some major revisions, the second title, which stuck for some time, was A Brief History of Disaster. I liked that title very much, but as I lived with the manuscript and realized that the newer poems seemed to resonate as both universal and personal, it seemed too clinical, too much like a textbook title. So I turned to a few close friends who had read the manuscript draft and offered up several titles that included the word apocalypse. The top two vote-getters were the current title and Pretty Little Apocalypse, but the second one seemed to set a demographic expectation based on the television show Pretty Little Liars. So it’s not an exciting story, by any means – titles are always difficult for me, and anytime I hit on one that resonates, I’m pleased.
RT: I love how seamlessly your Lewis and Clark poems fit into the collection. I only realized they were a major inspiration after I had finished reading and glanced back at your acknowledgments. “We Set Sail Under a Gentle Breeze,” I found particularly stirring, and it seems like it would have had a very different tone in a collection with a main theme of traveling instead of love. What moved you to reframe this as a collection about apocalyptical love? What were your other major inspirations for the poems in this collection?
DV: In the Lewis and Clark journals, the dangers and absolutely horrid conditions that the expedition faced were far worse than the hardships most of us endure on a daily basis, and yet the tone remained one of delight, perseverance and discovery. (I highly recommend reading them.) The natural world battered them, left them near death, and still they loved its beauty, its surprise, its power. When I knew that this manuscript needed to be more than a collection of Lewis and Clark poems, that I wanted to address the idea of how fragile we are when faced with setbacks, I knew I needed to broaden the scope. I seem to always write with some sort of relationship at the core of my poems – with another or with the self – and placing the poems in one speaker’s personal eschatological mindset seemed to invoke the idea of apocalypse.
As far as other inspirations, several poems in the book use the language of religion, either in titles or in their content. Litany, matins, compline, the supplication/confessional imagery of “In the Night Cathedral”– nature and loss seemed to lead to this faith language, a grasp at hope, at believing in God/god (both big G and little g versions) when no other options seem available. (Sundress editor T.A. Noonan first pointed out this Latinate language in the original version of the manuscript called Washed with Hymns and Singing.)
I also experimented with form much more in this book. Prose poems, a sonnet, a piece with stage directions, an abecedarian of sorts…the reader needed some breaks from my usual penchant for the lyric, I think, and the newer forms allowed me to explore my ideas in different ways.
RT: In “Curing the Distance” you write:
Give me a language for this
ache. Let the healing begin.
And in “Traveling Draws the Veil,”:
I must change the names for everything:
the sunlight, a length of yellow string;
The act of naming and writing as a vehicle for healing is a strong theme in this collection, and yet, you also seem to be saying that there is not enough language to truly describe and distance yourself from heartache. Can you speak to this conflict?
DV: One of the poems I turn to again and again is Jack Gilbert’s “Forgotten Dialect of the Heart,” which begins “How astonishing it is that language can almost mean, and frightening that it does not quite.” This ambiguity of language itself – how it can describe so well but never fully transcribe experience – is one of the great joys and frustrations of being a writer and a human being.
All writers are observers, but words can never fully encompass or explain experience. When we try to control or censor language, use it to confine or expand thought, we often do so in order to confront emotional situations in a way we can understand. When a relationship is broken, one of the first things to suffer is communication. The speaker in this book uses language and its ambiguity as a coping device – the breathing manual in Portuguese in “Logging the Loss,” the alphabetical index of insults in “The Alphabet of Indecision” are two examples in addition to the ones named above – that continue this conceit. In my life off the page, I use the page to sort through things that I cannot or do not want to express verbally, even to those closest to me. So this longing for language as a healing mechanism, a way of knowing, is both the speaker’s and my own.
RT: There are collections from which a reader could almost build a facial composite of the speaker’s lover, but you seem careful to keep from overtly physically describing the ex-partner. This serves to make these poems feel both ambiguous and universal. To what extent was writing this lover out of the collection, leaving behind just the dregs of heartache, intentional?
DV: With this set of poems, I hoped to explore our personal and societal issues with scale. It seems that, especially with the prevalence of social media, everything is either presented as AMAZING or a CATASTROPHE (shouty caps and all). A relationship is the most relatable context for something that can go through those extremes, and thus became the controlling narrative for the speaker.
In this way, the collection is NOT confessional, although my own ideas and experiences can never be completely divorced from the speaker’s since I created her. Since the experience of love/betrayal/heartbreak/loss/sometimes reconciliation is a common one, too many details about a specific lover would have muddied the waters, I think, prevented a more universal reading of the poems. Also, the aftermath, the “dregs of heartache” as you call it, is purposefully ambiguous.
Some readers have said they find the poems elegiac; others have found personal connection to one particular “event” in a poem. If the “other” or the “lover” was too specific, these readings would not have happened. And my favorite thing to hear from readers is how they perceive the world of the poem.
RT: I wasn’t sure when I was reading this if I should be reading it as one speaker, or as the collective voice of many, but while you haven’t named her, you did just say her. Does she have any sort of back story you drew from as you wrote these poems? Do you still find her voice in your newer work, or was the act of completing this manuscript a way to satisfy that muse’s longing for healing?
DV: I’m sorry if it disappoints, but there is no particular her to speak of. I had to think of the speaker as a singular her in order to keep the voice consistent, but the speaker is not meant to be a specific character, per se. My hope is that each reader will bring his/her own experience into the speaker’s journey. And no, I don’t think that this speaker is inserting herself into newer work in any meaningful way. The work I am exploring now is looking more at the yin/yang of hope and futility, at how there can be utter darkness and blinding love at the same time. These poems are much more personal and require no persona to inhabit.
RT: And I want to circle back a bit, but I’m curious, what are some of the perceived worlds readers have told you about?
DV: I have had several readers talk about the loss in the books as physical, as the death of a beloved, which is interesting as it plays into the escalation of scale that I was attempting to comment on. I have had others think that the text plays with time, that the “return” of the lover at the end is really a flashback or wishful thinking, that things never really turn out okay, as the title suggests. I have had a few readers view the book as a commentary on loss of faith, which I found interesting, and one reader assumed that the whole construct of the relationship was in the speaker’s head, that the book is a descent into madness and delusion after some sort of trauma. This is my favorite part about putting my work into the world – once it is out there, it is no longer mine. It belongs to the reader.
Find a copy of Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story here.
Donna Vorreyer is the author of two full-length collections of poetry: Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story (Sundress Publications, 2016) and A House of Many Windows (Sundress Publications, 2013), as well as seven chapbooks: Tinder, Smolder, Bones and Snow (forthcoming in 2016 from dancing girl press), Encantado (Red Bird Chapbooks), We Build Houses of Our Bodies (dancing girl press), The Imagined Life of A Pioneer Wife (Red Bird Chapbooks), Ordering the Hours (Maverick Duck Press), Come Out, Virginia (Naked Mannequin Press), and Womb/Seed/Fruit (Finishing Line Press).
A 2016 BinderCon L.A. Scholarship recipient, Rhiannon Thorne is the managing editor of cahoodaloodaling, a Sundress Publications journal; an associate interviewer for Up the Staircase Quarterly; and the president of the Tandem Reader Awards, an accessible nonprofit chapbook reader award celebrating the special relationship between writer and editor. Her poetry has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Manchester Review, The Pedestal Magazine, Midwest Quarterly, and The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, among others. This fall, Rhiannon will be moving to Baton Rouge as a MFA candidate in poetry at Louisiana State University.