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About this poet

Born on May 10, 1968, and raised in the U.S. Army, Vanessa Place received a BA from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, an MFA from Antioch University, and a JD from Boston University.

Her books of poetry and conceptual writing include Dies: A Sentence (Les Figues, 2006), a 50,000-word, one-sentence novel in verse; La Medusa (Fiction Collective 2, 2008); and Statement of Facts (Insert Blanc Press, 2010), the first volume of her trilogy Tragodía, which repurposes legal prosecution and defense documents verbatim; among others.

With Robert Fitterman, she co-wrote Notes on Conceptualisms (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2009), an exploration of contemporary conceptual writers and their work. She is also the author of The Guilt Project: Rape, Morality and Law (Other Press, 2010), an analysis of the prosecution of sexual offenders.

About her texts, she says: "Authorship doesn't matter. Content doesn't matter. Form doesn't matter. Meter doesn't matter. All that matters is the trace of poetry. Put another way, I am a mouthpiece." Susan McCabe describes her poetry as "both humbling and beyond paraphrase, both mythic and contemporary."

In addition to her work as an appellate criminal defense attorney, she serves as co-director of Les Figues Press. Place currently lives in Los Angeles, California.

Miss Scarlett

Vanessa Place, 1968
Miss Scarlett, effen we kain git de doctah
w'en Miss Melly's time come, doan you bodder
Ah kin manage. Ah knows all 'bout birthin.
Ain' mah ma a midwife? Ain' she raise me
ter be a midwife, too? Jes' you leave it
ter me. She warn't dar. Well'm, Dey Cookie say
Miss Meade done got wud early dis mawnin'
dat young Mist' Phil done been shot an' Miss Meade

she tuck de cah'ige an' Ole Talbot an'
Besty an' dey done gone ter fotch him home.
Cookie say he bad hurt an' Miss Meade ain'
gwin ter be studyin' 'bout comin' up
hyah. Dey ain' dar, Miss Scarlett. Ah drapped in
ter pass time of de day wid Mammy on

mah way home.
Dey's doen gone. House all locked up.
Spec dey's at de horsepittle.

Miss Elsing ober at de horsepittle.
Dey Cookie 'lows a whole lot of wounded
sojers come in on de early train. Cookie fixin'
soup ter tek over dar. She say—Yas'm
Gawdlmighty, Miss Scarlett! De Yankees
ain' at Tara, s dey? Gawdlmighty,
Miss Scarlett! Whut'll dey do ter Maw?
Dey's fightin' at Jonesboro, Miss Scarlett!

Dey say our gempumus is gittin' beat.
Oh, Gawd, Miss Scarlett! Whut'll happen ter
Maw an' Poke? Oh, Gawd, Miss Scarlett! Whut'll happen
ter us effen de Yankees gits hyah? Oh,
Gawd—Ah ain' nebber seed him, Miss Scarlett.
No'm, he ain' at de horsepittle.

Miss Merriwether
an' Miss Elsing ain' dar needer.
A man he tole me de doctah down
     by de car shed
     wid the wounded

sojers jes' come in frum Jonesboro, but
Miss Scarlett, Ah wuz sceered ter go down dar ter
de shed—dey's folkses dyin' down dar. Ah's
sceered of daid folkses—Miss Scarlett, fo' Gawd, Ah
couldn' sceercely git one of dem ter read
yo' note. Dey wukin' in de horsepittle
lak dey all done gone crazy. One doctah
he say ter me, "Damn yo' hide! Doan you come

roun' hyah bodderi' me 'bout babies w'en
we got a mess of men dyin'
hyah. Git some woman ter he'p you." An' den
Ah went aroun' an' about an' ask fer news
lak you done tole me an' dey all say "fightin'
at Jonesboro" an' Ah—

Is her time nigh, Miss Scarlett?
Is de doctah come?
Gawd, Miss Scarlett! Miss Melly bad off!

Fo' Gawd, Miss Scarlett—
Fo' Gawd, Miss Scarlett!
We's got ter have a doctah.
Ah—Ah—
Miss Scarlett,
Ah doan know nutin' 'bout bringin' babies.

Note: Taken from Prissy's famous scene in the movie version of Gone with the Wind, Place phonetically transcribes the "unreliable" slave's words, which are then set in Miltonic couplets. Through the simple act of transcription, Place inverts our relationship to Margaret Mitchell's best-selling and beloved American epic by prioritizing the formal aspects of language over Mitchell's famous narrative. With this deconstructive move, Place illuminates the many subtexts embedded in the text concerning plays of power, gender, race, and authorship. By ventriloquizing the slave's voice as well as Mitchell's, Place also sets into motion a nexus of questions regarding authorship, leading one to wonder: who is pulling whose strings?

Copyright © 2011 by Vanessa Place. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © 2011 by Vanessa Place. Used with permission of the author.

Vanessa Place

Vanessa Place

Vanessa Place's books of poetry and conceptual writing include Dies: A Sentence (Les Figues, 2006), a 50,000-word, one-sentence novel in verse.

by this poet

poem
We must ask ourselves                         what purpose is
ultimately served by this                                 suspension of
all the accepted                                              unities
if, in the end, we return to                               the unities
that we pretended to question
poem

Argument

(S) Being a good people, if we were wrong, we would change.

(S) We would not change.


Proverbs

Without passion, no reason.

Without mind, no body.

Without body, your soul.

Without point, our

poem

The maw that rends without tearing, the maggoty claw that serves you, what, my baby buttercup, prunes stewed softly in their own juices or a good slap in the face, there's no accounting for history in any event, even such a one as this one, O, we're knee-deep in this one, you and me, we're practically puppets,