Welcome from Amy D. Unsworth

Language, Literature, Learning & Life.

Mothering & Poetry

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.


Anonymous said...

Hey Amy, fascinating post! I'm hoping that it was at least partly inspired by my own meditations on poetry, but I'm probably overreaching here.

Not being a mother myself, I can only say that I feel like being single does allow me to focus more on writing. But you are equally right to point out that kids may inspire your writing. I like interesting paradoxes, and I am hoping, as you do, that women can have it all.

Roger Pao said...

Sorry, the previous post was by me. As you can tell, I'm new at this blogging game. :)

- Roger

Amy Unsworth said...

I certainly think that the internet has had a positive impact on mothers' lives. If you look at the number of blogs, message boards, and website for and by women, there are thousands of women "virtually" breaking out of their housebound isolation. As a writer, I can attribute most of my growth to the communities of writers I've found on the 'net. Thanks all.

And Roger, it's a pleasure to meet you.

David Vincenti said...

I don't feel justified weighing in from the other side of the gender fence, but I do empathasize. I write a lot about my kids, but I don't get to do so until after they're asleep!

But it's for sure that some fine poems have come out of the experience of motherhood. There's one by Maria Gillan at http://www.pccc.cc.nj.us/poetry/poems.htm and one by Diane Lockward at http://poetrymagazine.com/archives/2003/Summer2003/lockward.htm.

Sorry for the late comment; I'm an exploring new reader! I'll be back!

Amy Unsworth said...

Hello David,
Thanks for the recommendations. As more and more parents share childraising responsibility, I'm interested in seeing if the issues that we would traditionally attribute to "mothers" won't begin to appear in the work of male poets who fullfil non-traditional family roles.
Thanks for stopping by and commenting.