The magic of poetry is how it easily transports the reader to the writer’s inner musings with comparatively few words.
That type of engaging journey happens in artist, filmmaker and poet Vanessa Smith’s upcoming book of poetry “Room Tone.”
Each of the 20 poems tap into life experiences reflecting on marriage, motherhood, infidelity, love of nature, loss and illness.
“My creative process could start with any experience or event, which then becomes the seed of an idea, one that conceivably makes sense to you,” Smith, a Bedford resident, said of what inspires her and how ideas present themselves that are woven into a poem. “It could be a part of a film, a painting or another poem that becomes something original from you and not something derivative.”
Smith’s poem “He Has Always Been a Bird – A History of Motherhood Finished” is about the all-too-brief span of nurturing motherhood coming to an abrupt end when her son leaves for college “in the land of California fire/Alone/He is a tiny sculpted piece/the best part that came of me/motherhood a passage.”
Geography informs Smith, who has traveled extensively and has lived around the globe including California, Kathmandu, Nepal and Chile.
“I’ve lived in and been to a lot of places,” Smith noted. “Different places and what happens to you when you travel creates place as a metaphor.”
We can feel the extreme heat in “House Fire in Chile” when a scorching, raging fire becomes a living, breathing entity as it “moves like an Olympian/Stroking, engaging large licks in fast time/Moving through in single strong mouthfuls…Then later on, I remembered and thought/especially for my husband and son/Wash your face/Be a poem.”
We chuckle quietly at the last line in “infrequent diaper changes,” a jaunty poem that rides us through a raw urban streetscape, shifts to diapers and baby formula shortages during the pandemic, ending with “that other world of money stays opaque – a sea foam monster/swimming like slippery eel in the dark,” and amusingly ends with “one man passing by said/ I think liquidity is a good idea now.”
The deft shifts in this poem and others are electrifying and are what Smith defines as a “turn,” or a new, contrary idea whose abruptness heightens awareness of how conflicting moments of life make up the rhythm of daily existence.
“The turn in a poem comes to me in the way I think about life,” Smith commented. “You think you are writing about a birthday party or how you make a cake and all a sudden the real idea comes through and it’s really not about the cake. It’s all about not avoiding writing about what’s really happening or what’s going to happen. Writing is a surprise after all.”
“Inventive” swerves the reader to the right and the left as if in a maze of different circumstances: “the key to my friend’s hotel room was still buried at the bottom of my purse/the windows can’t be cleaned/the French fries are left on the street for someone to find.”
Smith is known for her series of 94 short films, “The Art of Impermanence,” exhibited at a 2017 satellite Venice Biennale show. She has also worked on feature length documentaries, shorts, public service announcements and music videos.
The title of her book “Room Tone” speaks to a certain tranquility needed by any creative artist, but actually comes from the film industry practice of recording a moment of silence at the film’s shooting location.
“When it’s all quiet on the set you record the silence of the room,” Smith explained. “It’s used to fill in at certain places in the film during editing.”
As a painter who has shown her work in more than 25 solo and group shows, Smith gives an ekphrastic nod to known artists. In her poem “Five Different Painters’ Lines” she personalizes her imagined relationships by connecting the artist with rich images to extend their personas.
For Jasper Johns, “My neighbor has a bank in him, he is standing nearby/And he carries me, like a sandwich, to an audience/Johns has several likenesses, like intelligence and the flag, like impatience.”
For Keith Haring, “My friend has a generosity in him/he invited me inside his apartment/And his red, blue, and yellow walls carry me, like a key lying next to a rose.”
“Room Tone” is set to be released in February by Finishing Line Press. For more information, visit https://vanessahsmithpictures.com/room-tone-book.
Abby is a local journalist who has reported on breaking news for more than 20 years. She currently covers community issues in The Examiner as a full-time reporter and has written for the paper since its inception in 2007. Read more from Abby’s editor-author bio here. Read Abbys’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/ab-lub2019/