By Greg Bem
Following on the heels of her similarly absurdist conceptual books The Elvis Machine (Clash Books, 2020) and Psychic Privates (White Stag, 2018), Kim Vodicka’s latest collection of poetry is a hyper-focused menagerie of the grotesque and the unsettling. It is a book that examines violence and sexuality directly. It is a book that feels like it belongs in the True Crime section of Barnes and Noble, but could just as easily find a home among the trendiest young poets writing today. Dear Ted is not for everyone.
It is blunt in its descriptions of brutality and sexual extremes, and it is wholly unique in bringing them together through a hardened feminist stance. How far the reader makes it through the realized hell is reflective more on them than on the poet.
Our skeletal structures were too visible
beneath the skin.
Our skin was too tight.
Our bones were too revealing.
Our skulls didn’t smile enough.
(from DSM-69, page 69)
Here the Memphis-based Kim Vodicka writes bitter and witty missives into the void of Ted Bundy. Dear Ted is partially a book of anti-love poems, fueled by a feminist charge to explore and overcome the brutality of Ted Bundy’s serial murders of women. Vodicka brings an everyday approach to describing the murderer, acknowledging Bundy’s appearance of normalcy alongside the reality of his actions.
As described in these short but jabbing poems, the murderer feels like the archetypal foil to the poet, a wretch of masculine violence whose trail has long been forgotten to many. The poet’s mix of sardonic and empathetic responses linger. Vodicka raises questions through her a usual barrage of extremes and extenuations, which find solace and counterpoint through sexual kink and a mild perversion.
What greater torment than happiness?
Or the soothing sounds of a nervous breakdown.
What greater torment than trying too hard to make everyone happy?
Or the soothing sounds of losing to evil.
(from “Courtesy Flush,” page 92)
The book is divided into three “circles” (sections) including Circle of Mania, Circle of Shit, and Circle of Blood. The book opens and closes with additional poems, both titled “How Do You Feel About Love?” which are each sequences of short fragments littered across the pages to form their whole. These clue in the reader, set the stage, and gently open a book that is concertedly powerful and distressing.
Stanzas like “Preciousness howls, / going nuclear” (page 21) in the book’s opening contains multitudes and little does the reader know what awaits them within the trilogy of circles. Similarly, closing lines like Frankenstein’s monster / tossing a little girl into the water, / just like a daisy.” (page 177) summarizes the speaker’s experience exploring relations and commitments with the killer.
Vodicka’s earlier works have been supported by similar feminist initiatives, and in Dear Ted we have a collection that feels complete. But it also feels long. The swelling of emotional difficulty (especially when the poet writes alongside Bundy’s image) is consistent to the point of incessance; and even in some instances the pieces themselves feel tired and repetitive. Still, Vodicka’s design reflects a very particular catharsis and writing through a serial murderer seems to make sense in this book of serialesque letters.
Now, I am a monster too.
A hypothesis proven.
A myth made manifest.
(from “Poetic Justice, “page 160)
If Vodicka’s aim is to overwhelm, to inundate, to bury the reader, she succeeds remarkably. The final section of the book, Circle of Blood, repositions the idea of the murderer, of the owner of violence, onto the speaker. In an act of absolute horror, the poetry describes an inversion that probably will shock and awe almost every reader.
Despite the occasional superfluous language and tones that often work against one another, Circle of Blood forms a stark and depressing yet effective conclusion that breaks the male gaze and the triumph of masculinity in murderer forms. This is poetry that feels unpolished and even sloppy on its surface, yet contains multitudes within. It may be that the reader does not last long enough to witness those multitudes within the book’s near 200 pages.
You can find the book here: https://rlysrslit.bigcartel.com/product/dear-ted-preorder-kim-vodicka
Greg Bem is a poet and librarian living on unceded Duwamish territory, specifically Seattle, Washington. He writes book reviews for Rain Taxi, Yellow Rabbits, and more. His current literary efforts mostly concern water and often include elements of video. Learn more at www.gregbem.com