On Friday, I was privileged to attend the heartbreaking funeral service of a wonderful teenager,…
Launched yesterday, ‘What We Carry: Poetry on childbearing’ is a new anthology on motherhood.
Edited by Ella Kurz, Simone King and Claire Delahunty, What We Carry features the voices of 60 contemporary Australian poets on motherhood, childbearing and relationships, including many Canberran voices.
Encompassing joy, rage, confusion and sadness, What We Carry doesn’t shy away from the difficult aspects of motherhood, including infertility and pregnancy loss.
We chatted with Ella, Simone and Claire about the depth and diversity of the anthology.
What inspired you to create What We Carry?
Ella Kurz: There were a number of things that inspired us to create What We Carry. We had all had childbearing experiences of our own and realised that while poetry about childbearing really resonated with what we had been through—we couldn’t find much of it.
We found poetry to be the medium that best expressed the mosaic of wonder, fatigue, love, elation, discomfort and tedium experienced during pregnancy, birth and early parenthood; a language that both reflected and helped us make sense of our new experiences.
What We Carry was the book we would have liked to have had on our bedside table when we first started to imagine what it might be like to fall pregnant…
What are some of your favourite works in the anthology and why?
Simone King: There are so many incredible poems in the anthology that it’s hard, if not impossible, for me to single out favourites. But I’ll mention a few poems that really speak to me at the moment.
The opening poem, Charmaine Papertalk Green’s ‘Gambarnmanha—My Maternal Line’, frames the whole anthology beautifully. It explores how experiences of childbearing can unify the women in a maternal line, despite their different life circumstances, and in doing so it reminds us of the motherline that tethers us all.
Charmaine also weaves words from the Wajarri language of Murchison, Western Australia, throughout the poem. This poem locates and grounds the anthology in Australia, and in Australian women’s unique experiences of childbearing.
There are some poets who have several poems published in the anthology, including Canberran poet Melinda Smith, Felicity Plunkett, Esther Ottaway, Rose Lucas, Jo Langdon, Eileen Chong, and Eleanor Jackson.
These poets are masterful writers about women’s experiences and their poems are excellent in terms of poetic craft as well as being beautiful, powerful, insightful and moving.
There are many poems in the anthology that I love for being able to make me laugh while also saying something profound about childbearing and the human condition.
For example, Felicity Plunkett’s ‘Soft Tissue Stretching’ provides a window into prenatal education and preparation; Esther Ottaway’s ‘Headless Portrait of a Pregnant Woman’ reflects on how pregnant women are often treated as a vessel; and Es Foong’s ‘Pregnancy and the Bikini Wax’ explores the decision not to have children.
Kim Cheng Boey’s poem ‘Emigrating’ is incredibly lyrical and beautiful. It captures a couple’s experience of expecting their first child while quite literally crossing another threshold—starting life in a new country.
‘Emigrating’ is one of those epic poems that seems to sweep up a broad array of human experience.
Modern motherhood and parenthood is multi-faceted, how does What We Carry speak to these diverse experiences?
Ella Kurz: Through the collection and placement of the poems in the anthology, we started to notice something really interesting about childbearing: that it provides insight into human existence.
There is such diversity of experience associated with carrying, trying to, or deciding not to, carry and care for a baby. Some of the poems remind us that human existence rests on the processes of childbearing.
Some evoke the possibilities of conception, pregnancy, birth, postpartum, loss and infertility that are unknown and unknowable, until they are being lived.
Many of the poems reveal that rather than any sort of universal, one-size-fits-all experience, childbearing is defined by its social, cultural and historical context.
The experience varies wildly depending on varying factors like gender, ethnicity, age, class, ability and sexuality.
What would you like to say to new parents who feel overwhelmed?
Claire Delahunty: Having been one of those quite recently, I would say: that’s ok, and that’s very normal.
I found advice like “this too shall pass” and “they aren’t babies for long” absolutely useless when I was in the thick of new motherhood (although it is true!) so it’s better to be as kind as possible to yourself.
Acknowledge this IS hard work. This IS one of the most significant adjustments a person will make in their lives. It’s very normal to question who you are, and what your life means now that you are tethered to a new life that relies upon you.
I also think it’s important to note that we tend to ‘do babies’ true to the styles in which we ‘do life’. I am a disorganised person without a good grasp of time or punctuality. This did not change when I had a baby. Do not compare yourself to others, and do not assume that someone who looks to have it all in hand really does.
I hope that What We Carry might bring a little soothing relief to new parents, as you can look inside the pages and realise “Oh, that is the train-wreck feeling I am having …” or “Yes, what I have just achieved truly is the mightiest of all things.”
It gives us permission to celebrate ourselves, as well as see clearly that this whole messy, shared experience is different for everyone.
Who is What We Carry perfect for?
Simone King: The anthology contains such a diverse range of voices, perspectives and experiences that I think it could be read and loved by anyone.
It’s really a book about human experience, and predominantly—although not solely—women’s experience. Women contemplating or going through childbearing experiences may find the anthology particularly relevant and meaningful, especially if they are literature lovers.
As poet Tricia Dearborn wrote about our anthology, “whether you’re female, male, enby, have children or don’t, I encourage you to open yourself to the power of these words.”
Where can people find What We Carry?
Claire Delahunty: You can pick up a copy by ordering online from our publisher, Recent Work Press, and you can find it on most online book retailing sites.
We’re also about to do the rounds of Canberra’s amazing book shops to see if we can pop it on some of the shelves around town, so do keep an eye out for it.
Even better, go up to your local book retailer and say: “I’ve heard there’s this stunning poetry anthology about childbearing just out, and I must have it. Please order in many copies!”
We’d love people to follow the anthology on Facebook too.