KR BlogWriting

Motherhood: A Formal Constraint


What I have become obsessed with over the past year, and occasionally touched on in this blog, is how poets who are newly mothers approach writing again. There are two elements I’ve been looking at: how the poetry itself (in content, length, etc) changes as the poet’s practice, and habits, adapt to a dramatically different environment; and what tools and resources could be useful for poets as they make a home on this new continent.

I was so afraid of what motherhood might do to my writing that for a while I was holding out against having a child until I had a book out. I crammed in a lot of writing in the months before my son was born, and did my last writing residency, and then he was born and amid those first few months of wonder and the strangely physical ache of my heart in my chest: no poetry. I tried reading Best American Poetry with one hand while Henry slept in the other, I tried bringing a notebook into his room when he cried at night, scrawling incoherent lines in the dark while I sang the lullaby, I tried typing with one hand. I got a ride to my old poetry group, which ran long while I sat there panicked, Henry’s mealtime approaching. I became two people: a new mother and a scared poet. The reliable writing habit I’d developed over the prior decade–a weekly or better 2-3 hour block of time, preferably in the late afternoon after reading the paper, in complete silence with my computer and a blank wall to stare at, followed by some social interaction or a meal, and then back to the poem for another few hours late into the night–was gone, maybe for good, and I didn’t know any other way to write a poem. I tried to shoehorn my old voice into a new, kamikaze approach, and the poems were terrible.
Now, looking back, I’m proud of the resources I’ve found in the last year, proud of my new writing habits, the techniques I’ve found to keep from losing my place when I get interrupted, my new ability to write in noisy rooms. Some of that support came from readers responding to this blog when I thought I was working in isolation. Most, though, came from my slow discovery of the literature, and community of other poet/mothers, I needed. And while I think difficult changes are rightly scary, the transition felt too lonely and dramatic to me. I can’t help but worry we writers are each quietly reinventing the wheel after we have a kid. So my goal for 2009 is to help build a community of writers who are new parents, who can help each other make sense of this dramatic shift in their approach to writing, in the interest, if nothing else, of saving each other a little time and despair.

I have big dreams: writing center with daycare, half-day retreats, writing groups, listserves. Rather than try to build it all by myself, I’d like to ask for any input you might have. If any readers have ideas, examples, warnings, or stories to share–or if you know of anyone else doing this already–I’d love to hear. You can reach me via email at if you’d rather not post your reply.