In Conversation: Maggie Nelson with Eliza Rotterman

by Eliza Rotterman

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As a labor doula, I have had the privilege to accompany women through labor and into those first few weeks after. A natural outcome of this is exposure to the language of the delivery room, and though terms like “effacement” and “complete” and “failure to progress” are admittedly flawed, I’ve returned to them recently with a new perspective. How curiously appropriate they are for the psychic landscape ahead. Effacement, for example, occurs when one object obscures the sight of another and describes the transformation of the cervix from thick and tight to thin and jelly-soft. Measured by percent, the pink ring of tissue nearly disappears though it can still be discerned by the nurse’s hand. It is not uncommon to hear a nurse say, “she’s 70% effaced,” meaning only 30% of you is visible. At 100% effaced, you’ve disappeared. Next, a woman is “complete” when she is fully dilated and effaced; complete when she is at her most extreme moment of doubling. And here we find the mystical crux of new motherhood, a completeness predicated on divisibility. 

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Wresting Dailiness from Obscurity: Maureen Owen’s Zombie Notes

by Ashleigh Lambert

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I recently found a scrap of paper in the notebook I kept while I was pregnant. At first glance, it appears to be misplaced, an orphan from some other journal. It’s an excerpt from a Mary Ruefle essay. She writes:

I remember that I did not always know authors were ordinary people living ordinary lives, and that an ordinary life was an obscure life, if we can extend the meaning of obscure to mean covered up by dailiness, glorious dailiness, shameful dailiness, dailiness that is difficult to figure out, that is not always clear until a long time afterward. Obscure: not readily noticed, easily understood, or clearly expressed. Which is a pretty good definition of life.

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Mommy-Daddy

by Paul Lobo Portugés

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When my wife gave birth on the floor as I “caught” him, I, with blood and bone, bonded with my son. In those years of post-partum depression, he kept me up most nights, shat on my sleeve, and when feverish, cried for his mama until dawn lifted the heads of sunflowers. For years, I, mommy-daddy, had to forget poetry because our winter born boy needed his diaper changed, her ancient tit, me house cleaning, singing lullabies like a dove.

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That Abrupt and Truncated Animal

by Mia You

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When A. BRADSTREET interviewed Rachel Zucker and Arielle Greenberg last year, we concluded by talking about motherhood and activism. Zucker observed, “It’s hard, though, because the people that are the best to advocate for women with very young children are women with very young children, but it’s not the right time for them to advocate… I think that, realistically, it’s very hard.”

It’s not just the lack of time or energy that hinders young mothers from acting as advocates—it is also the immense upheaval in expectations, sense of self and confidence that comes with realizing that now you are a mother first and foremost. You may have been a writer. Or you may have been a scholar. But then you have a baby, and everyone, yourself included, forgets for a while that you are and were anything other than the baby’s mother. You know you are not the same, you will never be the same, so you forget that your former strengths, your pre-motherhood strengths, are still there. Even standing up for yourself can make you feel too vulnerable and exposed.

But this is just my preface. Now comes the story.

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A. BRADSTREET interview with RAE ARMANTROUT

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Upon becoming new mothers, we started asking the most brilliant and unconventional scholars and writers we knew what poetry about motherhood we should read. We weren’t necessarily interested in the writing that most directly or faithfully depicts the experience of motherhood—but the kind of writing that reconceives and reinvents motherhood as material, that extracts poetry out of its corners and crevices and makes it both wholly new and wholly affecting. Rae Armantrout, Rae Armantrout, Rae Armantrout, they told us.

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Of Being Lodge(d): A Poetics of Fatherhood

[Editors’ Note: This inaugurates a series of posts on different forms of parenthood. A. BRADSTREET maintains two ideas: 1. motherhood is not determined by biological givens; and 2. a rethinking of the poetics of motherhood must involve a revision of the poetics of parenthood in general, particularly that of fatherhood. Welcome to the new year!]

by Jonathan Stalling

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When Mia asked me if I wanted to send in a piece for A. BRADSTREET earlier in the spring, I was thrilled though a bit nervous. First, it is an honor to be invited into an environment that opens a space within/between the praxis of poetics and the experience of motherhood (and in my case fatherhood). The nervousness comes from the sense I have of the words, as of yet uncut from the stuff of life, that speak (or will fail to speak) of the implications and complications of parenthood as a gendered experience. Also as a father who is also a poet and critic, I feel it is incredibly important to acknowledge the accretion of various kinds of privilege that condition my socially, culturally, and logistically situated experience. 

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In Conversation: LENKA CLAYTON WITH MEGAN PUGH

[Editors’ Note: This interview inaugurates a series of conversations between poets and artists on new languages of motherhood across various media.]

by Megan Pugh

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I learned about the work of Lenka Clayton three weeks before giving birth to my first child, and our interview—conducted over e-mail, in fits and starts on my end—concluded when he was three months old. I felt bad about those long gaps in communication, but I had an understanding correspondent: for the last year or so, Clayton has made the constraints of motherhood a central part of her artistic practice. For Artist Residency in Motherhood, Clayton has created art during her children’s naptimes, while taking them on trips to the park, and—in a performance that makes you think simultaneously of alphabet board books and postmodern poetics—in the grocery store checkout line. For some pieces, Clayton enlists her children as collaborators, taping her son’s experiments with the contents of a magician’s suitcase, holding her squirmy baby for A Nice Family Portrait, and valorizing young curatorial tastes with a collection of objects babies have put in their mouths. She’s also invited contributions from fellow parents around the world, as well as involving people she knows only in glances from antique photographs and postcards. It adds up to a body of work that’s welcoming, tender and smart.

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“What is called / her own life”: An Old(s) Collection Made New

by Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan

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Four and a half months after the birth of my baby girl, I reread Sharon Olds: “Dreading the cry, longing for the cry, / the young mother leads what is called / her own life / while the baby sleeps.” Does anything of my own life remain, I wonder, lying awake at some unearthly hour my baby is used to waking. Is there anything in my life, any moment of time, that is now truly my own? Or does new motherhood simply lay bare the fantasy of self-possession that always undergirds assertions of one’s “own” anything?

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Interior Panic, Anxious Love: Rachel Zucker’s Museum of Accidents

by Michael Schmeltzer

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There is a specific panic a parent can experience after days of sleep deprivation, the distress at two in the morning, three, quarter after four, then again at six in the morning. Then, after half an hour of quiet, a sudden wailing. A pitch that stirs the fight-or-flight response. Sometimes there is no way to react other than to scream back, or bite down on the soft part of your forearm hard. Then harder.

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A. BRADSTREET interview with JULIE CARR

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“I entered ‘the academy’ pregnant,” Julie Carr concluded in her presentation on “The Poet-Scholar” at this year’s MLA conference, a talk that electrified a packed room of poets and scholars, mothers and non-mothers, alike, and inspired comments such as “JCarr also kind of untweetably awesome” by Natalia Cecire, and “J Carr’s bravura conclusion must be read or heard verbatim” by Stephen Burt, both of whom live-tweeted the panel.

Carr brings bravura and awesomeness to everything she does. And she does a lot, whether as an ascendant experimental poet; a scholar of Victorian poetry; a professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder; a publisher and bookstore owner via Counterpath Press; a gun control activist; and, of course, a mother of three.

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A. BRADSTREET interview with RACHEL ZUCKER & ARIELLE GREENBERG

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In Museum of Accidents, her 2009 poetry collection, Rachel Zucker describes the experience of motherhood as “every same day new again. every way is without a way out or/ way to look back, to be back, to bring the fabric into a tight/ pucker or pocket or foxhole hem, some little space to fall into a breath.” Zucker’s poetry always rises to the demands of experience, and her writing about motherhood, especially, has been widely acclaimed for its dynamism, inventiveness and complex honesty. She also has been a forceful advocate for mothers through her work as a labor doula and childbirth educator.

In addition to Museum of Accidents, which was a National Book Critics Circle nominee, Zucker is the author of three other poetry collections and, with Arielle Greenberg, the co-author of Home/Birth: A Poemic. Zucker and Greenberg also co-edited the 2008 anthology Women Poets on Mentorship: Efforts and Affections. When we met with Zucker for this interview at AWP, we were thrilled to find Greenberg with her and jumped at the opportunity to bring Greenberg into the conversation. Greenberg has published several poetry collections and chapbooks, including last year’s extraordinary Shake Her from Ugly Duckling Presse, and is known for her foundational critical and editorial work on Gurlesque poetry.

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Bright Torture

by Craig Santos Perez

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Anthologies from the past decade—such as The Grand Permission: New Writings on Poetics and Motherhood (Wesleyan, 2003), and Not For Mother Only: Contemporary Poems on Child-Getting and Child-Rearing (Fence Books, 2007)—attest to the diversity of poetry about motherhood and resonate with Sylvia Plath’s observation in her poem “Morning Song”: “Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival.” Three recent books, all from 2009, further magnify this vibrant field: Rachel McKibbens’ Pink Elephant, Hoa Nguyen’s Hecate Lochia, and Killing Kanoko: Selected Poems of Hiromi Ito.

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Mashed potatoes and milk are both white, so they rhyme— or, the Languages of Motherhood

by Jane Malcolm

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For Halloween, when I was pregnant, I dressed up as a pregnant pause.  I carefully drew and cut out the pieces of a semi colon and pinned them to my shirt over the widest part of my belly.  I thought that using my body as a grammatical joke was incredibly witty—a sarcastic endorsement of the public gaze to which I had become accustomed as my belly grew.

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