Goodbye Toothless House

Cover Art: Mannequins by Jill Slaymaker

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Eyelands International Awards, a finalist for poetry, 2020.

Eric Hoffer Category Finalist and da Vinci Eye Finalist, 2020.

Poem 366 Review, January 19, 2020.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed, November 5, 2019.

Grosse Pointe Times Article by K. Michelle Moran:  March 9, 2019.

Keith Taylor’s review on Michigan Public Radio, April 17, 2019.

The Woolfer features a poem from GTH, April 27, 2019.

The Poetry Foundation featured Goodbye Toothless House.

Poems from GTH were adapted by Robin Martin into a play called “On the Street Where We Live,” published by The Kenyon Review Online in September/October 2019.

I would love a Goodreads review if you feel like it! Here’s the link.

  It’s 3 am. I’ve been driving too long and I’ve stopped in an all night diner. My eyes are adjusting to a fluorescent glare that makes everything too bright and too real. At a table across from my booth, some of Kelly Fordon’s characters are talking. They aren’t loud and they aren’t extraordinary and I can’t look away. “Just my chalky fingers/on the window pane,” one is saying. “Just my face pressed/against the glass.” Then silence. Later another speaks of “a skirt secreting bruises, tattered fingers hectic with grime, mind lashed to the mast.” It’s a big table. The stories are as real and dissonant as “a guy’s face…blank as drywall,” as Barbie and Ken aging and breaking up, as a mad friend begging for your trust, claiming that “the ‘medication took.’” Such pathos eschews the string section. The waitress has split for a smoke. After a while another voice confesses, “I have been crying for no particular reason.” Me, too. And I can’t stop.
—Michael Lauchlan, author of the award-winning poetry collection, Trumbull Ave. from Wayne State University Press

  With their close calls and fatal choices, Kelly Fordon’s unsparing poems will make you catch your breath. They’ll take you into neighborhoods of shut doors and pulled shades. “Look at us,” she says and says it in words as effective and as cunningly crafted as newly sharpened knives. With a relentless insistence and stunning wordplay in Goodbye Toothless House, Fordon gives voice to those trapped behind the idyllic facade.
—Gloria Whelan, author of National Book Award winner, Homeless Bird

Award-winning author Kelly Fordon’s latest poetry collection, Goodbye Toothless House, is an unflinching commentary on the toxins of complacency and pretense as they play out in living rooms and relationships in Everytown, USA. There is a subversive, rebellious undertone as wives quietly rail against the false promises of marriage and motherhood, these “Women in houses all around lined up like dummies on shelves.” Even Barbie, the archetypal Stepford Wife, is now divorced from Ken and playing Canasta in the camper she owns as part of the settlement.
Here we also see the trappings of female domesticity weaponized, children “a tiny army braving the tundra,” a “list of truths with torches” tucked under the mattress beneath hospital corners, a neighbor threatened with kitchen shears, demons being beaten back with a broom. The narrator of “Gina II: 22 Ballard Avenue” claims that “Every day, my face started to ooze off the bone like meat that has simmered too long in the crockpot.”
Gardens and playgrounds are sites of twisted wishes and memories, and rivers, trains, ships and even a plane that appears balanced on the tip of an extended finger as it makes its way across the sky offer quiet hope for escape from the entrenched rituals of thankless familial duty. Fordon exposes the fractures and frailties in our marriages, in our parenting, in our friendships and offers them to us, undaunted and unapologetic. This collection is both elegant and raw, composed and howling. There is a beautifully wrought desperation here that calls up the best work of Sylvia Plath or Anne Sexton, but in the end Fordon’s voice is her own, inventive, intelligent, resounding.
Dorene O’Brien, author of What It Might Feel Like to Hope

Goodbye Toothless House reminds us that while we are sustained by illusions of order, justice, and hope, and these illusions often are transmitted through art we admire, the culture at large, and things we make, in fact, it is always already “the morning after” where we face the plain world alone with death a predictable conclusion we are in perpetual denial of. Fordon’s writing is fearless in confronting the details of death, which are interwoven in this collection with the fraying facade of a pleasant, suburban life. In “The Wreck,” an ekphrastic poem after a painting by Eugene Louis Gabriel Isabey, the poet lingers on the disaster at the shore, but then takes us to the towering house above where by a flick of fate the woman setting her table has her own domestic disasters to contend with: “a skirt secreting bruises,” and a “mind lashed to the mast.” How can women remain unmolested, and not preyed upon? Perhaps only in death or total isolation, such as a “supposed saint” described in the poem “Confessional,” where the woman as an exhibit lays preserved in a glass box. Goodbye Toothless House critically represents a domestic oblivion where intellectual, career, and personal development are subsumed to the duties of child rearing, marriage, and homemaking. Women are contingent, operationalized, used, oblivious. The poetry in the volume is stark, sharp, full of deep insight, and is a sustained indictment of a culture that forces women into limited roles where their initiative is devalued and they serve the needs of others at a monumental and unaccounted cost to themselves. Dark humor is used in service of these insights and values, as when a middle-aged Barbie mulls over her divorce from Ken, who has left her for a stripper. “Apparently her bod / was the bottom line.” The poem asks, “Why did she think they would make it / through decrepitude and beyond?” The game for young girls that is Barbie is the doubling of mind, the child’s, the doll’s, and the identification with all of those transient things that Barbie seemed to require for the illusion of contentment. In an ekphrastic poem inspired by Aristide Maillol’s sculpture La Rivière the poet emphasizes the swift turns a woman’s life can take “right before the flood, / the intruder, the runaway, car, the diagnosis.” The sculpture depicts a woman sprawled, having just fallen. “I won’t lie. there were moments when I liked the pedestal.” But, all of the artifices of this world are unstable, on the brink. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and strongly recommend it.
Caroline Maun, author of What Remains