March Pin-Up Poet Week #2: Feeding Paper Tigers with Vanessa Page

It’s Friday night, time to check back in with our March Pin-Up Poet, Vanessa Page.

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Feeding Paper Tigers opens with the poem Five fifty-three am; a poem in which you gloriously extend the metaphor of happiness to ‘night’s belly button, hung low and pale on the edge of day’. I am interested to know whether you wrote a long list of metaphors for happiness and then whittled the list down to what makes the poem really sing? And while we are talking about your writing process, how does a poem generally make it from first draft to being ready for the world?

Five fifty three am was one of those rare poems that seemed to effortlessly fall out of my thought space onto the page. After I had scribbled out the bones of it, I really only had to tinker with the layout and tighten up the wording here and there to get it to where I wanted it to be.

This poem came to me during my early morning commute which usually gets underway at five fifty-three (ish!) am. At that hour in the beautiful Bremer Valley the sky does amazing things and it feels as though you are hurtling through a kind of alternate reality. The senses are heightened and the smallest details are magnified by the simplicity of the surroundings. In this space, it is easy to become completely lost in thought and when this poem came to me I felt a strong sense of calm and clarity which I think translates quite strongly in the finished piece.

The poem itself is sprinkled with metaphors for happiness and was definitely inspired by that feeling of serenity and the empowerment of casting off negativities ‘like dried earth’, in order to strip things back to a simple and beautiful state.  I think what makes this poem ‘sing’ is the magnification of the detail to create a whole that reads like one giant exhalation.

Much of my writing process follows this ‘formula’. I am a writer who is very inspired by the natural world and by what I see and experience. Poems will very often start from a moment of clarity, an interesting observation or an emotion inspired by visual elements. Once the concepts are down I do like to take a lot of time to perfect each piece with both word selection and the way they balance and sit on the page. I like to revisit older files and will often take a line I love from an older piece and craft something new from it. I am, in that respect, a bit of a recycler of my scribblings and the process of picking over older poems that (for whatever reason) did not quite work before has often led to unexpected new pieces.

It’s hard to say how long a poem takes from the initial concept to the finished product. They are all different. Some of them tumble out sweetly, like five fifty-three am and others, like Chrysalid, will have had numerous incarnations before the combination finally clicks.

I’ll also not only silently read the drafts over and over to check the flow is there but I like to read them aloud to make sure they sound as good as they look on the page. Usually a piece is finished when I’ve gone through this process and there is no line or word or phrase that I keep stumbling over. As soon as the bumps and kinks are ironed out, it is ready to share with the world.

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Five fifty-three am
For Peter

Happiness is this simple.

It’s the morning rubbing the last of a dream from its eyes
as day-broken birds open their throats to the light

It’s a weather beaten shack at a romantic lean, knee-deep
in mist drawn like eiderdown over still-sleeping fields

It’s night’s belly button, hung low and pale on the edge of day
where dawn is kindling, like tiny kisses on your lover’s shoulder

Your car slides along the Amberley road in confessional box
calm, and twenty thoughts fall away from you like dried earth

All the world breathes in, and out

It’s this simple.

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You can read more of Vanessa’s work at: http://vanessapage.wordpress.com

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