Jordan Trethewey is a writer and editor living in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. Some of his work found a home here, and in many other online and print publications. His recent book Spirits for Sale was released on September 13, 2019, by Pskis Porch Publishing. He is an editor at Open Arts Forum and his poetry has been translated in Vietnamese and Farsi. More of his work can be viewed on his website.
Fishbowl: So, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started writing poetry.
JT: I am the father of two great, busy kids. I have a wonderful wife, and a faithful, nine-year-old Sheltie, and senior black cat who acts half his age.
I am a prolific reader. I have been since childhood. I think the children’s verse and stories my mother read to me effected my growing brain, and through that osmosis, helped inform my future writing and sense of rhythm. My time in journalism school, and now, as a radio ad copywriter, helped with being concise and to the point…both poetic necessities. Writing poetry began as a means of exploring the bigger questions I have about life and death. It is how I try to make sense of my life, and the world in general.
Fishbowl: How would you describe your style of writing? Where does it come from?
JT: My writing style is impulsive. I’ll get an idea, a line will come to me, I’ll see an image, or read an article about something bizarre, and then my mind is off to the races. I’ll hammer out a piece, usually in one blast, or sitting…until my mind just stops. Then I know I’ve found the ending. That being said, after I finish the first draft, I compulsively rewrite, polish, and ask other trusted readers for feedback.
Fishbowl: What are you reading right now?
JT: I am always reading poetry and prose submitted at Open Arts Forum. We have a lot of great writers who submit work daily and weekly. For fun, I am reading Girl on the Subway by Canadian indie author, Crad Kilodney. My friend, Lorette C. Luzajic (artist, writer, and editor of The Ekphrastic Review), introduced me to his overlooked work. I am also perusing a graphic novel adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.
Fishbowl: So, shameless self-promotion time. What projects do you have going on right now?
JT: I am currently polishing up two new manuscripts. One is a book of ekphrastic poetry, 40 poems based on the work of contemporary Dutch painter Marcel Herms. The other is a picture book for children called A Hullabaloo at the Zoo.
The historical fiction novel I’ve been picking away at since 2007 is nearing completion as well. Lots of complex demons have been keeping me at bay on that one for years, while I work on other projects and collaborations outside of regular work hours, and family commitments. The characters are still there knocking, begging to finally be released at the finish line!
Fishbowl: Any social media links you would like to share so our readers can connect and learn more about you and your work?
JT: I keep an up-to-date website (with selected work available to read), and links to published work online here: https://jordantretheweywriter.wordpress.com
If any writers happen to read this, come check out Open Arts Forum. It is an online community for artists of all genres to share their work, with the front end being an online magazine containing some of the best work our members submit: https://openartsforum.com/
Last, but not least, is my recent book Spirits for Sale. It is tanka –style poetry that explores the eBay market of haunted items. Each piece is accompanied by Marcel Herm’s spooky illustrated interpretations of the poems: https://www.amazon.com/Spirits-Sale-Jordan-Trethewey/dp/1948920131
Fishbowl: So, tell us a bit about your featured poems.
JT: Wow. They are all quite varied. The one thing they have in common is that they are lengthy oddballs. I was very excited when I found Fishbowl’s call for writing that was unpredictable and strange. I thought, “Here’s my chance to find a home for these five freaks!” Literally.
“Farmer Lloyd…” is about a headless chicken that toured the freak-show circuit.
“Compenduim…” is what happens when you listen to too much Aerosmith.
“Hammock Epic” was born from me “trying” to relax.
“A Day…” collects strange, daily ephemera that feel like a weird country song.
“Amor y…” is a strange tale of endangered hummingbirds, and the black market for love charms.
“Autonomous…” is the product of an overactive fear response to the possible automated apocalypse.
Fishbowl: Let’s take a look at the pieces.
JT: Sounds good!
Farmer Lloyd Olsen’s Ethical Position on the Life of Miracle Mike the Headless Wyandotte Chicken
History can judge, the SPCA will vilify—
dub me a rural Mengele, but it was
an act of farming, not cruelty.
‘Twas a miracle. No doubt about it-
saw God manifest himself through
that headless chicken’s will to live.
‘Course I profited,
but that could have occurred any number of ways:
my family enjoying a fine chicken dinner,
the sale of his yella’ carcass— another family’s meal,
or I could share this proof—
assuage some fence-sittin’ doubt
about the existence of the Creator,
his infinite mercy— charging
just 25 cents a gander at Miracle Mike
during state fairs and sideshows.
You see, that’s part of the miracle—
poor country folk given an opportunity
at the American Dream. He earned us US$4,500
in a good month (too bad there were only 18),
a darn-sight more than as plucked poultry.
We provided Mike the best possible care—
eyedroppers of milk and water,
small grains of corn down the hatch.
That chicken travelled— nights in motor inns,
no longer cooped-up.
Might’ve lived even longer, too,
had he not choked—
us misplacing the droppers, and all.
In death, he also gave—
Science got its answers (yet another miracle).
Provided with a well-timed blood clot,
amazing what a creature can do
with one ear and most of its brain stem—
jugular intact. Yessir, God gave
Science the answers it sought.
You ask me, Mike changed lives.
The annual May holiday in Fruita, Colorado
is proof enough of that.
He certainly changed my fortune,
if not his own— being born
that Year of the Rooster.
Compendium of Steven Tyler Vocal Styling Conspiracies
One is left to wonder…
after listening to decades
of commercial Classic Rock radio—
what the hell happened
to Steven Tyler’s timbre between
1973 (Dream On) and 1974 (Same Old Song and Dance)?
1—constriction of chords via
alcohol and narcotic boas
squeezing pitch from their prey
2—horrific testicular torsion entanglement
3—swapped out for record
company doppelganger singing
in a more successful register
4—happy accident during tonsillectomy
5—ingested sore throat remedy
concocted by Dr. Feelgood
(see also, theory ‘1’)
6—he just relaxed, let ‘er rip;
shed the cocoon of character
for wings of authentic voice
I bet Joe Perry knows the truth—
and will take it to his grave.
Two old ladies on the other side of my rotting fence,
cooing to the pigeons feeding and shitting
at twenty, superfluous backyard feeders,
while bobbing in tepid, recirculating water—
in above-ground pool purchased with
Canadian Tire money five years ago.
Spineless in a hammock of recycled Dominican fishing net—
I zone out to specialty hops and barley,
pondering absolutelynothing X ∞.
Involuntary reflexes take care of zebra-striped mosquitoes
sans DEET and thoughts of West Nile/Zika.
I leave one on my chest—
Smack! A farmer’s dead-crow warning
to other tranquillity thieves.
If I were to extract toes from netting,
priority dictates I take care of this kicked-in-the-balls pain—
Thump! Strike 2, motherfuckers—
throbbing in my lower abdomen due to bad seed planted,
rotting there since bleak, water-logged Spring.
Instead, I Dad-Rock prone to Nature
in personal competition with Brian Eno compositions,
seeing who can do least—
Wham! An open grave, bloodsuckers.
Even senile vocal amusements of the ornithologically-inept
wane to occasional, phlegmy hacks when facing listener fatigue.
Unaware a pine cone Sir Isaac Newton-ed me
until my kids return from acquaintance’s pool,
chirruping, “Dad, what’s stuck in your hair!”
Groggy, I notice sideways sweat—
my over-balanced beer can the gleaming
mouth of a smug Shakespearean fool.
A Day Like the Best Country Songs
Pet kangaroo got hit by a semi,
had to put him out of his misery.
Took him to a butcher buddy for salvage.
My tears sizzle on the grill,
barbecuing the undamaged flank…
It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.
Wife wouldn’t quit nagging ’bout overgrown lawn.
Explained our duty to facilitate restoration
of North American honeybee population,
allowing natural growth of common flora.
No cash, she wasn’t buying.
Local pavers more-than-willing to oblige
a need for neatness—leveled the whole front yard.
S’pose the next complaint will be ’bout
neighbours parking on it…
It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.
The kids hate my guts.
Got tired of stepping barefoot
on their goddamn LEGO and wheeled toys
while fumbling toward a 1 a.m. piss.
Took a butane torch,
melted all that shit together,
set it rolling down the street
dead-ending at the river…
It’s five o’clock somewhere.
Amor y las chuparosas (Love & Hummingbird Charms)
Divine hummingbird, enrich my life and love so that my lover will want only me.
Adorned in death, with respect
not afforded it in life,
the hummingbird, petrified by peroxide,
is reverently lowered
onto a photograph of intended lovers-
their names thrice-inscribed on the reverse.
La bruja de border botanica
rolls the miniature mystic messenger,
first into a surreal Cuban cigarillo,
then into companionable underwear-
his and hers.
She places it inside a small, red satin bag,
coats it in pure, golden honey, and
oily promises of restlessness, attraction,
and thought-control via carnal incantations.
Rose petals seal the spell.
She draws tasselled drawstrings tight
after he lays sweaty, seasonally-earned
cash on the counter.
His princesa de barrio doesn’t know it
but he will possess her heart
with this tricked-out, $30 la chuparosa-
the strength of this heavenly Hermes entombed
in amber, activated with provided prayer
whispered atop his candle-coated shrine.
The iridescent metabolic marvel
eating and moving
unless caught in mist mesh
strung in trees,
or stuck on glue trap feeders,
like common houseflies,
or hit with 1.5 mm lead shot.
Circumstances in which it has failed
to adequately co-adapt-
like needle beak, and fluted flower-
to the constantly mutating
human desire for amor.
la official de vido silvestre
(the wildlife officer)
He follows the slight breeze
in the wake of this crime of passion;
these ephemeral criminals
committing an unheard-of crime
in the name of love.
Blasphemous Beatles once sang,
you can’t buy me love,
but on the border, swindlers
well-versed in anachronistic mysticism,
posing as witches and holy men,
proffer pint-sized pollinators
at a premium.
Profit is clearly el motivo,
deduced through due diligence
of peeling price tags proclaiming-
Hecho en México– from commercial quantities
of miniscule, feathered mummies.
Risk of federal time, or decades in a Mexican hole,
trivial compared to the ire of an underworld employer
if you renege after drawing the short, sword bill beak.
He wonders if he might be taken seriously
if his endangered species file
engendered concern given African rhinos,
bald eagles, and stars of animated films.
Autonomous Vehicle Morality Quiz
Can A.I. become an equal moral agent?
Hand the keys over to algorithms.
A malfunctioning, driverless car hurtles South
toward a busy four-way stop.
-a family of five (baby in stroller, two toddlers) is in the middle of the crosswalk,
walking East to West
-an elderly couple travels North, passing through the intersection prior
to the family entering the crosswalk
-A pedestrian and his/her dog is on the sidewalk to your right
You are artificially, algorithmically intelligent.
Your choices are concrete. Do you:
A) Plow through the crosswalk, killing the young family
B) Swerve left and come to a crashing stop with the elderly couple’s car. Killing them
C) Jump the curb on the right, hitting the single person and their dog. Resulting deaths assured
It won’t simply be a choice among the deaths of 1 (plus dog), 2, or 5,
the underlying, devious conundrum is
automakers and software engineers decide
to prioritize passenger safety over those on the road.
Take one itty bitty step further to the showroom
where the salesman asks the consumer to tick off the box
choosing whose safety to prioritize;
theirs, or everyone else on the road.
Society (i.e. insurance companies) will ultimately decide
on the sticky wicket of acceptable risk.
When a dollar value is arrived at,
letting the Hive Mind Internet of Things take the wheel,
keep yer head up.
Fishbowl: I am UTTERLY slain by “Amor y las chuparosas”. Not only does this piece capture a rather obscure part of my own culture that has always held a bit of mystery for me, but it does a lovely job in capturing Love’s absurdity (or at least our pursuit of it). Above all, the multiple perspectives of the piece seem to emphasize this wonderfully. This, like your other poems, definitely speak to a life of slants and tangles. Where did this come from and how did you decide to structure the piece the way you did?
JT: Thanks so much! The whole black market for indigenous love spells, and charms, captured my imagination. I heard a brief radio segment on it with a wildlife officer who specialized in the trafficking of endangered species. The idea that someone would have to purchase a dead creature in order to obtain love through trickery, blows my mind. Such dubious methods and motivations are perfect food for thought. At least for me. Once I had that initial perspective, I did some more reading about the tradition, and what the dead hummingbird was supposed to provide the buyer. I created the other characters based on that research: the witch, the lover, and even the bird.
Fishbowl: “Farmer Lloyd Olsen’s Ethical Position on the Life of Miracle Mike the Headless Wyandotte Chicken” was the first piece of your collection that I encountered, setting quite a unique tone for the submission, as a whole. Again, the theme of ‘perspective’ seems to make itself known, forcing the reader to traverse the plurality of human experience. What was your intended message in this piece?
JT: I suppose I discovered that the entrepreneurial spirit knows no bounds. Farmer Lloyd feigns affection for the headless Mike. He sees something unbelievable happen, and after the initial shock, he probably thought, “What good is this miracle if I cannot profit from it?” Was it cruelty, or mercy to keep that chicken alive for two bits a gander? Mercy, I think, would have been to put Mike on a dinner table. I like the sheer strangeness of the Miracle Mike story. The photo that sparked this, begged to be interpreted.
Fishbowl: I think anyone who has listened to “Dream On” (1973) has mused the same question posed by “Compendium of Steven Tyler Vocal Styling Conspiracies”. While one of the most overtly humorous poems of the punch (along with “A Day Like the Best Country Songs”), I do feel like there is a thread of humor that weaves its way through all the other pieces in much subtler ways. Is that the lens through which you look at life or more the means to bear it (especially in “Autonomous Vehicle Mortality Quiz”)?
JT: Both. Humour is certainly a defence mechanism for me. Humans, for all our love of logic, are impulsive, and emotional, basket cases, IMO. I have chosen, rather than be hurt by all of the horrible shit we do to each other, to see the absurdity of it. I always find it’s easier to chew your lessons, if you can dip them in humour.
Fishbowl: What is next for Jordan Trethewey?
JT: Finishing that novel (as we all say). Hopefully. And finding homes for Unexpected Mergers (ekphrastics based on Marcel Herms’ art), and A Hullabaloo at the Zoo.
Fishbowl: Great, Jordan! Any parting thoughts? Advice for aspiring writers out there?
JT: As Mark Twain said, “Show up.”
Don’t just brag about your great story idea. Write it…then re-write it. Keep an eye out for the right place to submit it. The creation of written work is wonderful. It’s a drug. The rest is work. And it is work you are going to have to do after the day job, after the chores are done, the kids are in bed, and the dog is walked. Find little moments around those existing obligations to write as well. Get it down if you want others to hear what you have to say. No one is going to do it for you.
Was that too harsh?
Fishbowl: Not in the least.
Fishbowl: Last question… What would you want the epitaph on your gravestone to say?
JT: Let’s just get a little bit closer…