Review of I am That Woman, by Vanessa Shields (Windsor, On: Black
Moss Press, 2013) 64 pp. paper
Here is title number nine in Books in the First Line Series for her first book of poetry, a compact collection which obliquely reminds the reader of Dorothy Livesay’s The Woman I am with a similarly unflinching vocabulary about our most private acts made public.
Some of these acutely razor-sharpened poems were previously published in literary quarterlies, such as a Cranberry Tree Press anthology; as well as Harvest: A Collection of New Canadian Poetry and Before the Frost: A Collection of New Canadian Poetry (both Polar Expressions Publishing), in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
The first section “Not Without Complaint”, page-numbered from 11-37 and reserved for her children to read only after they are older, relates stories about sex, foreplay, intercourse, an almost empty move theatre; balancing writing with motherhood (“It Doesn’t Stop”), and carpooling (“Twice in one day”)
Her persona appears reduced to writing poetry on bathroom stalls (“Something Lucky”), since “I crave movies like I crave a good cum” (“Tell Me Stories”); of the art of writing,“and I’m a writer so I have to become all I see and hear and feel and touch/and taste and I can’t be afraid” in a prose poem (“If I Get Hungry”).
These variations on a constant theme soon give way to experiential death, dying, accompanied by “morphine bliss” (“The Final Visitation”), although “I’m caught in a poetry zone (“Duct Cleaner Man”); grandfather/granddaughter (“Fruit”), an uncle injured (“Perspective”), emaciation (“Peeling”); cancerous breast (“In the Jar”), still-life of “Fucking artists” (“When Margeaux Paints My Picture”); “brittle bones” (“Casket”), and the surreally ironic (“Using Cancer to Get Out of a Speeding Ticket”).
At some junctures, she expresses nostalgia for the past, a reverie of memories, partner abuse, learning the lessons of family; being in a coma, but “Gratitude”; and even worse case scenario, “If I were to kill a man”, asking “where is the love in this poem?”.
The poem “Not Without Complaint” in which she realizes “maybe I am a poet” serves as a link with part 2 “I Am That Woman”, a domestic engineer, “A woman afraid to be/The woman I am”. Nevertheless, she exposes “swollen passion”, a binary of “I am”, “No”, “We”, “Let me”, “This is”, concluding and converging with “Love.” The motif of a ship at sea becomes an analogy for love lost; its absence reveals “A war is worse still.” A Biblical Sermon on the Mount becomes a secular “Sermon on the Porch” about salvation, palm reading, on an otherwise beautiful night. However, “We stand in her wake shivering tears welling hands still intertwined.”
The author’s resume is extensive, with scripts, poetry in literary journals, short stories, non-fiction magazine and newspaper articles, book reviews, photography, and other professional accomplishments, such as teaching, writing retreats, jury services, festivals, membership affiliations, conferences, and some grants received to date. Shields works as an assistant to the publisher, she self-publishes and, on occasion, produces “Poetry on Demand”, A Beautiful Place Publishing, volume 1 of which is copyrighted with Robert Earl Stewart. She also blogs online as “Mom” for The Windsor Star/Post Media and in Offside–E-Zine for Black Moss Press. One of her other titles is Laughing Through A Second Pregnancy —A Memoir, by Black Moss Press. Surprisingly, she also wrote copy for Windsor Essex Pelee Island Official Visitor Guide.
This is a pleasure and a pleasuring, albeit with an irreverent tone and not for everyone’s taste. However, with sustained reading, there are some rewards from a strong-willed and focused poetic voice, which may mature (but unlikely conform) overtime. Shields has made her home, her family and her work life flourish in Windsor, ON. Her passion for writing was discovered at a very young age through the vein of writing in a journal. Her first book, Laughing Through a Second Pregnancy ‒A Memoir, was published by Black Moss Press in 2011 to rave reviews. I Am That Woman, her first book of poetry, was published in November 2013. Her poetry, short stories and photography has been published is various literary magazines. She is currently working on three Young Adult novels. She mentors, guest speaks and teaches creative writing. She also created Poetry On Demand, on-the-spot poetry that helps make poetry fun and accessible for all.