Vanessa Shields

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Vanessa Shields
1978
Biography: 

Shields is a poet who witnesses life through the female experience. She writes about love, motherhood, women, feminism, and family. She prefers to write free-form for style, though sometimes she rhymes! She also writes Poetry On Demand — if you give her six words, she'll write you a poem on-the-spot! She has published children's poetry as well. Her poetic voice is vulnerable, comedic, and honest. She has published two books of poetry, one anthology as editor, and one anthology as a main contributor. She teaches poetry classes and workshops in all levels of education (elementary, secondary, post-secondary). She owns Gertrude's Writing Room - A Gathering Place for Writers. Gertrude's Writing Room is a small creative writing school that offers workshops, classes, editing and mentoring opportunities for writers at all stages of their careers. Shields is dedicated to sharing the power of poetry with students of all ages. She is influenced by poets old and new... alive or passed... and truly believes that there is a poet inside of everyone's soul. 

Micro-interview: 
Did you read poetry when you were in high school? Is there a particular poem that you loved when you were a teenager?: 

I was gifted Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet when I was in grade eleven. It changed my life! I had no idea that poetry could exist in such an exquisite voice, melding spirituality, nature, and soul together. It was like Gibran was writing to me — from his soul to my soul. In high school, I wrote so much poetry! Nature poetry, for sure, but also poetry that was an extension of my “self” as I tried to avoid depression and an extremely weak self-esteem. Poetry has always been a safe place I go to when I need to figure things out... that was really where I spent all of high school — trying to figure things out. I would constantly return to Gibran for guidance and peace. 

When did you first start writing poetry? And then when did you start thinking of yourself as a poet?: 

I began writing poetry when I was nine or ten years old. I also started writing in a journal consistently at that time. Having a place to put my thoughts, my worries, my dreams... was necessary as I was trudging through some terrifying trauma at the time. Writing in my journal became a direct line to my soul and the way I was able to move through what was going on around me. Poetry was a natural part of the way I expressed myself in my journal. It felt good... safe and exhilarating to be able to express myself through poetry. I wasn't conscious of whether or not I was doing it “right” or what form I was following, but I knew that it was a form of expression that “fit” what I had to say. Because it felt so natural and freeing to be writing in this form... and most of my poetry at that time was safe within the pages of my journal, I was writing often and writing a lot. I did begin to write poetry for school writing assignments and slowly started sharing my love of poetry with friends, but it was pretty slow going. When I was twelve, I submitted a poem to a local writing contest the newspaper was having. The theme was “Spring.” Of course, the title of my submitted poem was “Spring”! Indeed, I mustered the courage to submit and I won a prize. At that point in my young life, I knew that I was a poet. Being a poet enabled me to have a deep courage that I didn't feel anywhere else in my life. Submitting to a contest was terrifying... so it did feel grand when I found out that I'd placed for an award. But more than winning, the act of writing the poem — that I had a natural desire to write in this way — was what was truly magical. I began to self-identify “out loud” as a poet when I was in university... so many years later, but in my heart and soul, I've been a poet since I was nine! 

What do you think a poet’s “job” is?: 

A poet's job is to witness, respond, and provoke. A poet's job is to pay attention to the world around her. To use all her senses to pay attention and witness with an open heart and an open mind what is happening around her. Poets are essential to our storytelling history because our job is to witness — then write about what's happening. What we witness is fodder for our poems. The beauty of a writer's process is that it includes a time for pause and reflection via editing and revision. In this way, we take more time to truly reflect on what we've witnessed and express our poems with intention and respect. Poetry is meant to provoke — to trigger, to mirror, to shake, to astound, to hold, to gather. Poetry is meant to be read in minds and hearts but oh-so-importantly to be read and shared OUT LOUD because the words have extra life through the mouth and the tongue and the sound and the rhythm. A poet's job is extremely important. A poem can change the world. A poem can help a life. A poem can inspire action — action for positive change. Therefore, there is a responsibility for each poet to write her truth, to witness with dignity, to edit and revise with patience and accuracy, and to be brave enough to share so readers and listeners like can receive and respond. 

If you had to choose one poem to memorize from our anthology, which one would it be?: 

I'd be both excited and scared to recite Gwendolyn MacEwen's “A Breakfast for Barbarians.” (Is this a test?!)

Publications: 
Title: 
I Am That Woman
Publisher: 
Black Moss Press
Editors: 
Marty Gervais
Date: 
2014
Publication type: 
Book
Title: 
Look At Her
Publisher: 
Black Moss Press
Editors: 
Marty Gervais
Date: 
2016
Publication type: 
Book
Title: 
Because We Have All Lived Here
Publisher: 
Black Moss Press
Editors: 
Marty Gervais
Date: 
2017
Publication type: 
Anthology