I was looking around T.E.Ballard's Blog and found this comment which set me to thinking:
No one ever brings up the correlation that two of the greatest female poets were single mothers when they went off the deep end. Somehow this thought does not make me feel better.
Are there any famous women poets who were also successful mothers?
Emily Dickenson. No.
Elizabeth Bishop Doesn't appear so.
Marianne Moore Again, doesn't look promising.
Sylvia had two, but didn't survive their toddlerhood
and Anne Sexton certainly wouldn't win any parenting awards.
Adrienne Rich said this about mothers:
mothers are divided from each other in homes, tied to their children by compassionate bonds; our wildcat strikes have most often taken the form of physical or mental breakdown.
It seems in general that poetry and motherhood are at odds. I am optimistic about it; I'd rather believe Anne Stevenson in her essay Writing As a Woman* who says :
Surely, in the twentieth century, when society allows so much, it ought to be possible to be a fulfilled woman and an independent writer without guilt--or without creating a bell jar vacumn in which it is impossible to breathe.
but even she isn't completely positive:
It is possible that marriage, children, social obligations have always been ways for me of avoiding the hard work of making poems. But even if this were so, I can't now reverse my decision to have a family. I have to be a writer with a handicap.
My kids take up a lot of time and energy. But they go to bed and I can stay up and write in the quiet of the night. I don't feel handicapped by them, but rather feel at times as if they are my muses. Some of the poems I'm the most satisfied with reflect some moment of my life with them. Yes, of course, they make me wild somedays. Yes, they sometimes interupt my writing. But I am dedicated to my writing too. Can women have it all? I certainly hope so. Time, like always, will tell.
For a quick side trip, if you'd like an account that captures the sense of what it is like to be a mother with small children, I recommend: Helen Simpson's Hey Yeah Right Get a Life.
* from Twentieth-Centry American Poetics: Poets on the Art of Poetry. Ed. by Gioia, Mason, & Schoerke.