Upon reading Vanessa Maki’s “venus, planet of love,” I was immediately reminded of a quote by Tracy K. Smith. “For me, poems, no matter how they behave, are questions. They are places to test our new lines of inquiry,” says Smith. Vanessa’s poem questions escapism and acceptance. A speaker wants to know what space would be like if he or she were to “hop into a spacecraft” and “disappear to Venus.” Vanessa places a couple of large questions in front of us: How do we navigate through a world full of “continuous disorder,” and what does complete acceptance feel like? Vanessa’s poem proves Smith’s claim that poems “are places to test our new lines of inquiry.”
The questions in Vanessa’s poem linger and that is one of its strongest attributes. There were, however, some minor issues with the poem. In the first draft, the opening lines did not move fast enough. I suggested for Vanessa to cut a few lines to make the beginning action of hopping “into a spacecraft” move quicker. I also thought the poem would be stronger if the reader was able to get to the poem’s direct questions a bit faster (“would the aliens be in awe of my brown skin?” / “would they find me stunning or stellar?”). We also broke the poem into three stanzas to reflect the speaker’s journey.
I encouraged Vanessa to think about word choice and she was receptive to changing a few words/phrases to avoid clichés. We also discussed Vanessa’s choices on spacing and lack of punctuation and capitalization. She informed me that her choices were intentional and part of her style. I respected her aesthetic and did not force unnecessary changes.
It was a pleasure working with Vanessa. I love her finished product and I am still trying to find answers to her thoughtful and challenging questions.
Ali McClain Ali McClain is a poet, educator, consultant and youth advocate. She directs one of the city's most successful after school and summer program for girls ages 10-18 at West Side Community House. Ali has been writing and performing poetry for over 15 years. She has taught and performed at Playhouse Square, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Juvenile Detention Center, various schools throughout Cuyahoga County and elsewhere. She is the co-founder of acerbic, which is an arts collective dedicated to providing a safe and resourceful home to artists of color. She is currently working on her first collection of poetry and is a current graduate student for poetry at Cleveland State University's NEOMFA program. Her work has appeared in A Race Anthology: Dispatches and Artifacts From a Segregated City and she is the recipient of the 2016 Academy of American Poets University & College Poetry Prize for her poem “Kinsman.”