Since Unable Mother came into being, people have asked me what the book is about. In many ways I’ve avoided working out how to respond to any question like this, because ideally (like many writers) I’d like the writing to speak for itself. But after chatting with a dear friend in a coffee shop a few weeks ago, I can see it that it might be both useful and interesting, to offer a little insight – especially for those considering buying the book. And so for you (and also for me) here are some of my own thoughts on Unable Mother in a little more detail.
Unable Mother is essentially about the dual terror-beauty of motherhood. This is something maybe all moms (all parents) can relate to, but never in exactly the same way (I’ll come back to this later). My own complex and binary motherhood experience, revolved around the absolute denial of being pregnant in the first place. But in equal measure, the joy of knowing I was. Linked with this, was this desperate want for a child, coupled also with the fear of it being true. This was a major struggle for me during the first three-quarters of the pregnancy, and one of the most confusing and frustrating periods of my life.
I was entirely disconnected – from my body and from what was happening inside of it. The poem ‘Flesh’, probably apexes this sense of detachment. Here, I describe in the detail the moment of my daughter’s birth, but with no real resolve or follow through to meeting the child at the end. Really all the poem wants to do is focus its energy on how I experienced the moment. Or rather, how the disappointed part of myself – thinks I experienced it:
‘You couldn’t accept the natural
give, the heavy
of your uterus.
Someone had to drug
every knot in your spine
so you could hide
beyond the yellow mask
Hiding ‘beyond the yellow mask of sleep’, was something I felt I’d always done. Unable to hear, or connect with the little person growing inside me. Little did I know, that somewhere deep down, I was hearing and connecting with her all the time. And this realisation comes out in other poems, of which there are maybe three or four. True and absolute love poems to Josephene.
Motherhood, is also as much a universal subject, as it is entirely unique. This is the second central detail I would perhaps give to the book. I get the feeling when we hear the word ‘motherhood’ we think ‘blanket term’. But it isn’t. Motherhood is like a box, and each box for each mother is very different. This book is my own, very unique account of my journey into motherhood – but it’s also I feel, a symbol for this inherent uniqueness. This idea that each and every single motherhood journey is entirely its own, and almost incomparable to any other.
There’s also that theme of loss. Coupled with love of many kinds, and domestic disturbances. Losing the first baby, the ‘twin’, in unusual and confusing circumstances (strong links perhaps found here to the denial and detachment) is something I’ve delicately addressed in this book, with one poem in particular, ‘Dissolving’.
Too, have I attempted to intimately expose the terror-beauty of my personal relationships with men. One man in particular, who is very dear to me and always will be.
Jane Commane beautifully describes the poetry of Unable Mother as ‘ unfolding origami’. This is so true. In fact, I would say the whole collection reads like this – a deft, origami package. And while each poem has it’s own moment, really it needs to be read in full. And so my advice would be to let yourself be open to these un-foldings. Go with it, because things will fall into place in the end. All the emotional urges I explore are separate – but urgently linked. And what I am really saying when I say ‘Unable Mother’, announces one single thing, and many others, all at once.