Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Look At Her - Vanessa Shields (Black Moss Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Look At Her.  Vanessa Shields.  Black Moss Press.  Windsor, Ontario.  2016.

Two years ago this month Today's book of poetry raved about the bawdy, brawny and bold I Am That Woman (Black Moss Press, 2013) by the incandescent Vanessa Shields.  We are back for round number two.

You can see what Today's book of poetry had to say about I Am That Woman here:

Look At Her, Shields second book of poems, picks up the torch exactly where she left it, scorching.

Only this time Shields is struggling to come to terms with a body that is changing/changed and challenging our notions of what is sensual/sexy.  We find Shields firmly in the school of loving oneself and she does it well.  Not through ego or narcissism but acceptance and a wicked sense of humour.

When Yelling At My Kids While
Bike Riding Could Be Sexual If
I Changed My Voice And Said
The Words To My Husband
While We Were Making Love

Slow down
It's not safe!
Look where you're going!
I'm here
I'm here
Slow down!
It's not a race!
Don't get so close!
Turn right here
Good job!
Okay, you can speed up a bit but stay close to me
Be careful!
You have to listen to me!
Turn here!
Now wait for me
I'm coming!
I'm coming!


Shields works us over with her sense of humour and then works on our reason.  Motherhood to her seems as difficult and surprising as it is rewarding and Shields is candid about it, about motherhood and then about the beating of her carnal heart.

Sure, Vanessa Shields writes about Dionne Brand's hair, reads Sylvia Plath and worries about being a good mother, as many of us do, but the fireworks start loud and concussive with poems like "In My Next Life" which made Today's book of poetry howl with laughter.  Our Foreign Correspondent Luba hasn't read "In My Next Life" yet but we already know it will be one of her favourite poems.

In My Next Life

I will be a slut

A fun-loving
Kinda slut

A by-choice slut because
Sex is fun and feels good
And makes me feel alive
And I want to feel alive with as many
People as I can
As often as I can

I won't be prejudiced or picky
Prudish or proud

I will French kiss until my lips
Bleed and bruise
Because the world needs more kissing

I will bring back foreplay
I will embrace pleasure toys
I will spin in the lace of expensive lingerie

I will be a jazz singer and
Wear long red gowns with no underwear
My vagina will be at my command
As I splay on piano tops in basement bars
Smoky with lust and lies

I will be a jazz singing slut

And I'll wear wigs to match my moods
And heels to match the colour of my soul
And I'll dance every day not on a stage or with a pole
But in the moments before I spread my legs
Over under up and down
Across the slut-studded universe

When my body gets tired
When my heart gets weak
When my vagina gets dry
Because it will
It will

I'll shut down my slut-dom
Look around and find my true love

He'll be old but I'll be old too
And when we hit the sack for afternoon naps
After we put our dentures on the bedside tables
I'll fuck him like the slut I was.


Today's book of poetry thinks that Vanessa Shields is all about empowerment and Look At Her is her latest installment.

A quietish day in the Today's book of poetry offices so far, our morning read was slightly muted by the shovel-weary demeanour of all present.  It snowed all day long yesterday here in Ottawa, that was after snowing all night long the night before.  We shovelled the lane way four times and swept it once yesterday.  But the poetry of Vanessa Shields sure did get our blood flowing.

Shields can sound like she is just celebrating sex, and she is, but only after she champions family, self-awareness and self-empowerment.  This isn't a Kama Sutra but a primer on how women learn, mature, experience and dance with desire.  And so on.

All that and Vanessa Shields even managed to work in a list poem.  Bless her cotton socks.


I vacuum to avoid doing laundry.
I change the bed sheets to avoid vacuuming.
I fold clothes to avoid doing dishes.
I do dishes to avoid putting the folded clothes away.
I visit family to avoid doing groceries.
I do groceries to avoid cleaning the house.
I text to avoid talking on the phone.
I talk on the phone to avoid visiting someone.
I send emails to avoid making a phone call.
I read a novel to avoid writing one.
I write in my journal to avoid writing poetry.
I write poetry to avoid telling the truth.
I tell a lie to avoid feeling scared.
I eat chocolate to avoid feeling sad.
I pretend to sleep to avoid having sex.
I have sex to avoid doing laundry.


Vanessa Shield's Look At Her leaves no doubt about the promises made by I Am That Woman, here is a celebratory poet we can look forward to.  Shields is a realist and pragmatic too and as unafraid of her passion as Eros.  

As Dexter Gordon would have exclaimed, "she can cook."

Vanessa Shields

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. In April 2013, Shields edited Whisky Sour City, an anthology of poetry about and for her hometown city of Windsor. 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 mentors, guest speaks and teaches creative writing, and she also created Poetry On Demand, on-the-spot poetry that helps make poetry fun and accessible for all. She also created and hosts Mouth Piece, a reading series created in an effort to bring people together in story. Her latest work Look At Her was launched by Black Moss Press in the fall 2016.

"With Look At Her, Vanessa Shields rightfully holds her place as a Canadian poet to watch. Fiercely honest, tender, and wrenching, Shields treads into the secrets that so many of us would prefer to keep to ourselves. Unapologetic and unforgettable, Shield's voice can't be ignored."
     - Liz Worth, author of No Work Finshed Here: Rewriting Andy Worhol 

"There is humanity in her work that is genderless. This work is about who we have all been, are, and may someday be. Shields invites you to 'look at her'. Accept the invitation."
     - Christopher Lawrence-Menard, author of Whatever It Was,and The DRAG Trilogy

"Look At Her is not a gentle read. Vanessa Shields' blistering honesty and raw unapologetic use of language marks her readers and leaves them blinking hard against the harsh, brilliant light. She tears down the comforting image of the silent, sexless female, with no opinions, no voice, nor even the desire to speak. Instead, she compels her readers to deal with the love and hate, pain and pleasure, doubt and heroism, the comples, contradictory, unresolvable mystery that is Woman. In short, Shields commands us to Look At Her, and when we do, dares us to try and look away."
     - Penny-Anne Beaudoin, author of holy cards: dead women talking

Vanessa Shields
"I Am That Woman"
Video courtesy:  Black Moss Press



Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

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