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  • Mother Delivers Experiment:Poetry of Motherhood: Plath, Derricotte, Zucker, and Holbrook
  • Leah Souffrant (bio)

Time splits, fractures; hours shed minutes. Attention is concentrated. Concentration narrows to the finest details, minutiae blossom. (Money is redirected.) Food changes quality from taste to nutrient, pleasure to purpose. The Child is the Great Interruption, great in all tones of enormity and also enthusiasm: pervasive, powerful, but also great-super-awesome. The life of Mother is a becoming, a changing, and the force is the child interrupting: first with cries, then questions, then silences. The first lesson of the woman's thus-becoming-mother is the maternal moment, its clipped intensity, and this moment is also a lyric moment for the poet-mother.

Like all other things that feel the press of the child's presence, the poetry is pressed, molded by this influence. To continue, the poet can cloister herself from child or from poetry, but increasingly poet-mothers write through—piercing it, that maternal moment—and the poetry must adjust as the life, the home, the parent does. This change forces a newness on the creative act, the poetry of motherhood by mothers expressing their own experience in this is an experiment. Over and over again, the poetry changes when the topic turns to I-am-a-mother, and the changes can be exhilarating. Art as life.

Becoming-Mother gives women unique experiences, of pleasure, of pain, of dislocation, and also—more important and generally—of change. As Rachel Blau DuPlessis writes in her foreword to the excellent 2003 anthology of essays The Grand Permission: New Writings on Poetics and Motherhood, "Motherhood leads to, demands, provokes, and excites innovations in poetry and inventions in poetics" (Dienstfrey and Hillman 2003, ix). In writing about motherhood, narrative and lyric often bleed into each other; intense surges of love and frustration, for example, expose a blurring of emotion, the [End Page 25] relationship between time and the rituals of daily life, and the explosive quality of experience, even in its most mundane. When Susan Winnett argued in PMLA in 1990 that women experience pleasure differently from men, and that this difference has an effect on the reading and even the production of narratives, the well of possibility for the analysis of women's writing seemed newly tapped: Winnett's two examples of pleasures specific to the female body are both functions of mothering—breastfeeding and childbirth. If these women's experiences have the potential to inform innovative narrative practice, then they have the power to influence creative innovation in other forms as well. The body is the ground for writing, and motherhood not only informs the poetics discussed here, but also transforms them.

Women's poetry of motherhood frequently takes into account the relationship between the generative female body and the creative female poet, and much of the poetry by mother-poets about motherhood directly acknowledges the ways in which the life of a mother influences the creative process and the poetic product. The body changes, swells, slackens, slows, and accelerates. If the body is the ground for writing, then pregnancy and childbirth must be intensely transformative. When this awareness infuses poetry, acknowledging maternal experience as Subject, the impact is particularly interesting. The poetry often resists traditional generic expectations and limitations while addressing topics previously un- or mis-represented. Women write about the objects around them, the voices they hear, the physicality that is created (and altered) by the introductions of motherhood into the plan of a life. Beyond the fleshy stuff of pregnancy, the dailiness of Change is a force pressuring creative work. Rather than dwell on the lack of time to write, contemporary women poets often celebrate the ways in which the challenges—often mundane or logistical—of making both mothering and writing fit into one life have an unusually intense effect on their creative work. Kimiko Hahn observes, "Art happens and happens because women are not only creative, but creative with how to be creative. When and where" (Wagner and Wolff 2007, 189).

Further, in work that highlights ambivalence, the poetry of motherhood resists easy categorization, avoids essentialism through its very intricacy. The most interesting poetry by mothers about motherhood attempts to express...


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pp. 25-41
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