This a series where I interview poets about their process and writing in reference to a single poem. Today we have Pascal Vine, an excellent poet, a captivating performer and part of the team over at Bristol Tonic. He is discussing a poem he has performed for years.
Pride flags at dawn
You don’t want their god;
A god for the gently used,
The Pre-loved, still in packaging,
one channel, tv static god,
but won’t put a good word in god.
A god who won’t hold your hand in public,
A god who “doesn’t do gifts”,
A god who’s not open at weekends,
A god that doesn’t come in your size,
A god who can afford to lose some flock.
None of us are pure.
The paint in his self portrait was tainted
with the birth of colour,
we have a rainbow ass god,
with children on the visible spectrum.
A duct tape,
frayed patch jacket,
chapped lip smiling god;
cut her own bangs,
stuffed her own bra,
band camp having god.
A god who makes those who make themselves;
has a hundred names and as many phases,
and as many faces and it never phased her.
Who watches over surgeries and skipped breakfast.
Who doesn’t need prayer when you’re crying in the bathroom or fucking in there.
Because god makes those who don’t make things easy;
burning seraph wings unfurling from a newborn chest,
muttering cherubs orbiting your head,
Jesus with his arm around your ex,
A holy book you had to write yourself.
God’s read it.
On the first day they made day and night,
but it only gets dark as a pretense;
he hasn’t rested if you haven’t,
she hasn’t known love
if you haven’t named it
like the first animals in Eden,
it better be on all fours for you before it is worthy.
But there are pride flags at sunrise in the heavens
before anyone can raise hell,
ones that haven’t even been invented.
everything on earth is yours.
D: Can you remember your initial starting point for this poem?
P: My starting point was that I wanted to write about how I perceived god. I wanted to let people know how I saw divinity, and how it could be so much more than how we usually interpret the divine. I think it was inspired by the scruffy bathrooms in Crofters Rights in Bristol, I seem to remember someone writing something like ‘god was here’ on the bathroom cubicle and it got me thinking.
D: I love the idea of finding inspiration in the strangest places. So did you have to revise this poem a lot or did you have a clear idea of how you perceived god?
P: My writing process usually happens in one big sneeze where I bash out the poem in ten minutes and then I edit it for months and months after, sometimes years. I believe I first wrote this in a pub in Bristol on a solo day trip, and I remember it being very clunky in the first draft.
I had the ideas but there was a lot of explanation, description of the God ‘Character’ in the poem. I also remember writing a lot more theological references, but I realised I didn’t need them and people might feel turned off by the poem if I included a lot of complicated theological terminology for no reason. (I think I unconsciously put it in there to show off.)
D: Did you ever perform the first draft or did you edit before?
P: Yes, I think there’s a video of that. This is possibly the older version
Regardless, I know I performed the older version beforehand, possibly at Bath Spa’s RAR. I think its the best way of getting to know a poem.
D: Ah that’s really cool to see how it’s changed.
Tell me a bit more about getting to know a poem, how do you use performance to edit a poem?
P: Firstly I take note of how I find saying the poem aloud. It’s important to constantly check how it sounds aloud as you write, especially if you’re angling for a performance poem, and performing for an audience provides extra insight into mistakes you may have glossed over when speaking it to yourself.
I have a stutter, and my lips aren’t great at tongue twisters so I had to change and rearrange some words so that I didn’t stumble on them so much. You can hear in the video I didn’t warm up my voice before I got on stage, so I hitched on a few words.
The second thing I take note of is how the audience reacts; did they laugh at a joke? Did they sigh? Did they click? Are there hums of approval or nods? I like performing poetry because the audience tends to be very expressive. I always find in my poems someone will laugh at something I did intend, and it also allows me to think about my delivery and how best to tell the audience the poem.
So looking back on the poem, I found the best parts were the ones that flowed and added to the rhythm. Anything that took away from the structure, or needless repeated, I took out.
D: Awesome. So with the constant editing of the poem, is there ever a point where you consider it finished? Or are they always evolving?
P: I don’t think there’s a hard line, as experience with what you’re writing about and how you feel about it changes so I can always find something to edit if I want to. It’s whether I find the need to which I think defines it for me.
My ethos with poetry is to convey a specific message as clearly and efficiently as possible within the art of the poem. Once I find a poem gets across exactly what I need it to say, I retire from editing it.
D: Does your process vary if you aren’t writing for performance, for Instagram or magazines for example?
P: Absolutely — if I write for Instagram I write all in one chunk and I only correct for grammar. Which, yes, is sloppy. But it’s also relaxing and fun. I think it’s important to let yourself write without too much pressure at times without hoarding every piece of poetry you write to submit to journals.
For journals, or personal work, I work from a kernel of an idea and develop it over and over. It involves a lot of rearranging and rewriting. I often go through 5 to 10 drafts before I’m happy to publish something.
D: Final question, in all your years of rewriting and performing this poem has your interpretation of it changed?
P: I think at first this poem was a rebellion against what I perceived as Christianity attacking queerness, and now, 2 or 3 years on, I feel like it was my first step back into accepting some Christianity back into my spirituality.
Its not somewhat of a welcome home for me; I have had an audience member or two confirm that it was a new way of seeing God or spirituality for them, and that was really nice to hear that I could give people a different perspective, rather than out right attacking something I didn’t agree with entirely.
D: Thank you so much.
Pascal Vine is a UK performance poet from the Somerset Levels who enjoys describing the world around them in the touchiest-feeliest ways possible. They have been published by Bad Betty, Three Drops, Verve and Eyeflash. They are disabled, nonbinary and tired.