FutureCycle Press, 2018
Includes “Slit Silence,” a Rita Dove Poetry Prize, International Literary Awards, honorable mention
Heather H. Thomas’s Vortex Street is a road through loss, conflict, and change where the shocks of being are personal and global. The street spirals inward and outward in space and shuttles back and forth through time. It leads from the poet’s Pennsylvania riverside home to places and events in Bosnia, Brazil, Egypt, Israel, Syria, Turkey, and Newtown, Connecticut, disregarding boundaries we think we have in place to protect us. Thomas addresses lost others in a process that transforms pain into something larger, a healing, sustainable love. That the scientific phenomenon of the “vortex street” in water and air appears to look like our own genetic code, the double helix, suggests that this is the place where we live. Here, in the space of the poem, language bears, confronts, and reimagines our possibilities.
Praise for Vortex Street
"The title of Heather H. Thomas’s roiling new book of poems, Vortex Street, refers to a continuous stream of vortices, which are swirling, sucking holes of air and water. In this masterful collection, the reader is pitched headfirst into a world that is at once physical and sensual, beginning with the poet’s riverside home and extending across the globe, forcing us to examine our comfortable places within this troubled landscape. Here is an examination of contrasts, of hope in the midst of violence, loss consoled by memory, of the tangled and the smooth, the blending of I, we, and you. It is a place where one is alone yet never alone, a place where letters, postcards, and pleas reach out to an unknown other. With consistent surprise and craft, Thomas engages us in poem after poem of a dark world spun with promise. As she wrestles with the realities of Sarajevo, Aleppo, and more, she acknowledges, “The earth has cracked, shifted, burned,” but we are charged not to despair. As she reminds us in “Bowl of Oranges,” “imagination is a force: occupy.” Here we are challenged to occupy not only our imaginations but also our most difficult moments. Ultimately, Vortex Street is a search for self and acceptance in a world tossed by trauma and change. All who enter these poems will emerge wiser and more grounded."
—BARBARA PRESNELL, author of Piece Work and Blue Star
"Vortex Street is an astonishment of language and image. Heather H. Thomas has created a voice of first-encounter that catches perception before it consolidates into meaning. Each image shimmers as if it has just come into light. Although rooted in life events, the poems are not narrative, not reminiscence, not memoir, but rather a recombinant of memory and immediacy, a many-layered tonal flow. Inventive and daring, theirs is the language of consciousness absorbing the eruptions and disruptions of the world, refusing to turn them away, so that nothing is foreign, not even the shock of a beheading or of love breaking off. Here is brilliance and imaginative power in a compassionate and intimate voice that “does not separate/one with the other, one,” but “trusting the other in myself” opens to you, the reader, inviting you in."
—J. C. TODD, Pew Fellow and author of What Space This Body
"Harold Pinter described the poet as an explorer whose journey never ends. In Heather Thomas’s poems, we journey alongside her as she navigates vortices, shooting the rapids of life as she goes. But her art is the art of still waters, of internal flow, with tumult below, where sudden destructive waves lie in wait to throw her overboard. These poems are gasps for air in a seeming calm where “there is no use in a center,” as she accepts, stoically, the world’s “hollow core as promise.” Vortex Street is a coiled spring ready to explode through its own serene surface with the lesson that emotional chaos is only a conundrum: “If I could write it and also write about it.” If there is an end to her journey, it is the moment she meets herself, often with a damaged heart, returning from a poem as another poem begins. You will wonder, again and again, as Thomas reminds us of the beautiful harmonics in her wake, patterns trailing behind a poet who stands bluntly amid the fluid of life, “A bluff body with the power to part water.”
—LAWRENCE BRIDGES, author of Brownwood and Flip Days
"Drawing on a range of forms, from epistolary prose to brief haiku-like lyrics, the poems in Heather Thomas’s new book explore the fissures between memory and the present moment, private experience and civic engagement, natural, built and digital worlds with precision and delicacy. In physics, “vortex street” describes the double row of vortices that form in the wake on either side of a cylindrical body: the perfect way to think about the pathway of connection and disconnection that swirls through these poems. But here it also maps an address, a front stoop and neighborhood where the phenomenological intersects the quotidian, where language scissors and thrums, mirroring and evoking “the power to part water, to spin parallel wakes."
—LISA SEWELL, author of Impossible Object and The Way Out
"In Vortex Street, Heather H. Thomas offers an incisive examination of the signifier and its relationship to the world around us. With lyricism and grace, Thomas shows us that it is language—with its equivocation and multiplicity—that is capable of making the world strange again. In this sense, Thomas carries on the work of writers like Gertrude Stein and Leslie Scalapino in a way that is entirely her own."