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The Many Loves of Duane Vorhees, reviewed by Dustin Pickering



The Many Loves of Duane Vorhees

Duane Vorhees

Hog Press, 2019 (136 pages)

Reviewed by Dustin Pickering

The Many Loves of Duane Vorhees, or Love’s Autobiography: The ends of love demonstrates control of the atavistic impulses of poetic creation in an attempt to portray the essence of love and the sensations of desire. Poetry itself is revealed as a prison of language, something bolder and more musical than prose. For instance, the lines “If prose is just a page running across your face, / poetry is the line lying between your thighs.” This line is from the short poem “Your Body Tells the Highwayman.” 

Yet Vorhees’ language is one of playfulness akin to James Joyce or EE Cummings. It is often a free synthesis of words, unrestrained boldness, conceptual interplay, and pure emotion gracefully set on the page.

For instance, this opening poem demonstrates remarkable wit:


The sun is a gong hung low across the sky.

windswept.earthdirty.sunwhipped: farmers wait inside their bones

for the horizon to rise and beat the daylights out of the sun

and call them from their long dungrows for a night.

 (“Another Spring Night in Farmersville, Ohio”)


Poetry plays a stark role in this collection as a main player in the art of confession. The poem “Confessions”, written in a scheme that imitates Leonard Cohen, speaks of the importance of art and storytelling within the framework of life. Myth, painting, dream: all these things exist to bear confessions of our nature in a most intimate fashion. Our egos blunt the boredom of reality (“And none of us has inhibitions / when it comes to tales to twist”) as we navigate the histories of human yearning.

We learn that the body is a map, that solitude is not a poison but a small prison where poetry is born, and that love cannot be denied even in the most trying personal pain. In the poem “Queen of Denial”, one of Vorhees’ many loves falls into the trap of letting her horrid past upset her future. The poem describes her pain and denial and shows her fugitive attitude toward the lover who wishes to court her in bed. The poet writes, “No intruder can penetrate.” This line adopts her mode of thinking, assuming that any interested party is an intruder and she deliberately practices avoidance. Yet in the end, her thoughts in denial become affirmation as the poet finally writes of her, “So, Duane you are.” The poet’s approach is one of compassion but a compassion that still suffers the cravings of lust. 

In fact, lust is frequently an appetite in these poems. For instance, in “The Beast” Vorhees writes, “And now who’s going to drool at your beauty?” “Even sweets will turn sour if left for overnight” reminds us that waiting to enjoy love’s fruit, that of sexual pleasure, is an arduous task that no man will perform without regret. Metaphysical poets such as Marvell may tease this point as well as he does in “To His Coy Mistress”. Sexuality is also political in pun poems such as “In Order to Form a More Perfect Union”. The poem experiments with marriage as a political and religious institution. Instilled within humor is the serious message that men need women for more than sex. This poem is deeply spiritual in its tonalities—the woman prays for her man who voluntarily commits to war. The pun is double—the original use of “more perfect union” is evoked by the war role, and the implications of the word union are stretched to mean civil union as well. Vorhees sets out to remind us of the importance of enjoying sensual pleasures. He never fails to tell us how important physical beauty is as in the lines: “that what we seek is really Sex / and Love’s just one means to our end.” This serves as a wake-up call to the prudish who seek sexual purity through abstinence. However, the central message of the collection seems deeply serious—that love is a commitment and sacrifice.

The many loves of Duane Vorhees take a paradoxical role in explaining the meaning of love: “The dreamy love that won’t let us sleep, / the active love that leaves us in peace.” This is Vorhees’ final message. Love is a paradox. As the most intimate part of our social nature, it contains all the ambiguity of the social contract. Throughout the collection, paradox is an important literary tool that explores the bounds of concepts central to the author’s purpose. While lust may be the “dreamy love”, its consummation in marriage is the “active love”—somehow the author makes perfect sense even though his thought seems like gibberish. The poems are carefully constructed and suit the purpose. 

These are examples of some of Vorhees’ paradoxical statements:  “muting babies wailing to be born:” (“Another Spring Night in Farmersville, Ohio”); “(So like my Jenny: her any is much; her touch, embrace.) / (There is no middle. A little with her will work long ways.)” (“Her Name is Jenny and Many a Morn Has Worn Her Face”); and, “Love is hawked from every ad, / is sent likes doves from all our arks,” (“Hawked and Doves”).

The poet offers a history of the Word in “Word” and the usual connotative pun on knowledge:


“I converted to parchment and quill,

betook myself to tonsure and cowl,

to abstinence and flagellation,

but manuscript illumination

of my holy writ couldn’t complete.”


The poem is a mystery of its own making. As he proceeds, the poet elaborates: “Word processors came to my rescue / at last! Too late, alas, for my muse.” There is a playful contrast between “at last” and “alas” as well as a definition of poetry in the contemporary world. We have the means at our disposal for a renaissance in literature, but where is the Muse? 

In “The Beast”, the poet offers arduous explanation for love’s mutuality: 


“No music’s only one finger on one string.

The ocean wants a moon to make a tide.

Left foot needs right to create a stride.

And flight requires flow and wing.

It all makes a kind of bawdy sense:

Selfish soliloquy, no audience.”


And in the poem “Volcano”, the poet offers two stunning metaphors intertwined perfectly:


“Nowdawn. When this

 grayed welldone sky

resumes to rare.


And – sudden flare! –

awakes this wife’s

night-dormant kiss.


Paradox and playfulness are exploratory tools. As poets know, poetry is the art of discovery. Vorhees’ careful craftsmanship in paradox demonstrates a remarkable grasp of the inherent possibilities of language. His ability to communicate several layers of meaning in common phrases while employing those phrases in a surreptitious manner make this poetry collection a treasure of thought. 

One merit of the collection is that it is available during the author’s lifetime. “To His Coy Mistress” was discovered posthumously. Some poets are not as brave to share their innermost thoughts. As Immanuel Kant writes, “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity.”

The Many Loves of Duane Vorheesreflects on more than the experience of love; it testifies to its nature. “To His Coy Mistress” pursues a satirical line of argumentation that reflects the lover’s impatience. These poems reveal Time’s eternal and cyclical nature. If something is meant to be, it will be in due time. These devoted love poems also show the evolution of a person’s consciousness through experience and are testimonial to a mature meditation on the fruits of his longing. This collection is poignant, fearless, and brilliantly thoughtful. 


Dustin Pickering is Editor-in-Chief of the literary journal, Harbinger Asylum and founder of Transcendent Zero Press. He is a poet and the author of Knows No End (Hawakal Publishers, 2018).



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