A Harrowing Feast: A Review of Donna Vorreyer’s A House of Many Windows by Daniel Wallace

Donna Vorreyer’s poetry collection, A House of Many Windows, published by Sundress Publications, is something of a harrowing feast. She’s a great writer; you should read her.

What are the tools available to the contemporary poet? There are quite a few–sound, image, rhythm, argument, line. Poets, however, aren’t satisfied to merely deploy such tools: they have the nearly impossible job of weaving them into a fresh form for each new poem. And it’s remarkable to see Vorreyer do just that, shifting from one emphasis to another, offering corporeal and vivid sounds in “After the Fourth Failure, Home,”
                                In the kitchen, we break bread
seeded with bees. I fill pages with clotted carcasses
then arranging wonderful line-rhythms in “Why I Love You Most When I’m Upset,”
You are a watched pot,
a willow’s easy sway.
More than once, the pleasures of line and beat intentionally ill-prepare the reader for the suffering the poem is working to reveal. “XXIX” offers us a rhythmical list of the qualities of the number twenty-nine. The poem takes us through twenty-nines in mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, alphabets, games, and the Qur’an:
A Pillai prime, an Eisenstein prime with no
imaginary part, the sixth Sophie Germain.
But the final line, we learn that the number is of particular personal significance for the speaker. It is this event, merely referred to here, that seems to animate so much of the collection. The poems building on it, concerned with infertility, children, loss, motherhood, seem to spread forwards and backwards, from this one verse on the twenty-ninth page, throughout the book.

Many of the poems that I liked best feature a particular kind of speaking, an oracular and ageless voice that looks out over the world and claims it. In one poem, Vorreyer tells us, “I once held fortune in my beak,” and in another, she explains that “Grief / is a temporary thing for a tree.” We learn, in the elliptical and immensely moving “Other People’s Children” that such children “Know how to reset your password,” but also “Carry the old world in cupped hands.”

The poems also tell a love story, if not an easy one. “Upon the Second Attempt, Whole Foods,” fails to describe exactly what the second attempt is, and yet builds an intense picture of a couple desperate to contain and nurture something terribly vulnerable, “to cradle it instead of falling, hard / and half-formed”.

I’m not sure why, but I wasn’t as moved by some of the poems in the final section, a sequence that describes the raising of an adopted son. For me, personally, these poems didn’t seem to possess the same vivid specificity as the rest of the collection. “Manhood,” for instance, felt rather general in its images and ideas. But such a complaint is only possible to make because the earlier poems are so exact, so telling, charting with such precision our interactions with other people and the natural world. In “Anatomy of a Day,” Vorreyer tells us:
The sun travels west, and the heart races
to keep time. Darkness emerges like
a mystery bruise.
These are poems worth reading over and over. You should go do that.