Emma: Thank you Vanessa for taking the time to do this interview! You graduated from AUT with a Bachelor of Visual Arts in 2017, and so you’re both an artist and a writer. How has your writing and art developed? Have they developed intertwined?
Vanessa: It’s such a pleasure! To answer your question, I was always doing both art and poetry: through high school, at uni, and after I graduated. So they’ve both been developing for a while, and I’ve been practicing both forms for some time, slowing down one then picking up another. It’s the life of a Libra who can never choose just one thing to do. It wasn’t until I was studying visual arts at university, and was also writing poems and essays and dabbling in performance, that I was encouraged to see these separate strands of making as parts of an indistinguishably wider creative practice. It was interesting to learn how to write at art school (instead of say, at writing school) because my tutors weren’t necessarily able to help me out with the punctualities of a text, but I was given this freeing sense of language as another medium to toy around with, like a rich and vast playground. Language is a textural medium that layers our realities, it can be added to, treated, or torn apart just like any other fabric. Entire religions are built of scriptures, or sacred writings that still very much hold sway over contemporary discourse. So as a multidisciplinary artist, a lot of my fascination with text is how potent and malleable it is as a medium, and how much its history touches other facets of humanity.
An expectant quiet, punctuated by the movement of feet beneath the trestle table, and the modest audience sits to attention. I’m the first reader at a poetry event my friend organised under the theme “Found Poetry”. It involves a reading by local writers of “found” poems—poems that take words from their original source and reshape them into something new—followed by a blackout poetry workshop encouraging audience participation. Cups of Sharpies and ballpoint pens are scattered around the table; pages from discarded library books in a ring around them. I look down at the poems I’ve brought, still not all to my liking, and begin to speak.
Blackout poetry, also known as erasure poetry, is a fascinating form when thinking about poetry and fragmentation. It describes the process of “blacking out” parts of a text (any text, from a novel to a car manual) and crafting a poem from the remaining words—slashing a text to fragments and then reknitting them into a whole.
About a month before my friend’s event, I sat down with no small amount of trepidation to create my own blackout poems. I took up my chosen texts and started scratching away excess words like a paleontologist scrubbing at a fossil, only my fossil turned out to be a laboured and somewhat subpar excuse for a poem. The questions came unbidden: Was I overthinking things? Did I feel too shackled by the original context of the words to transplant them into my own? Would I ever stop growing dizzy from Sharpie fumes? I wondered, too, how blackout could truly be considered a serious form, instead of a practice reserved for brainstorming or a warmup for school students suffering through the creative writing module. And yet it’s hard to deny it: the liberating energy of breaking down and building up.