Motherhood & Words

Last week I was reading Elizabeth Alexander’s The Antebellum Dream Book, a stunning collection of poems about race and gender and identity and motherhood. Alexander is really brilliant—she’s brilliant in her poetry, but she’s also clearly brilliant in person, in interviews. (You can visit her website if you’re interested in reading some of them.)

On Friday afternoon, after my book group’s discussion of Alexander’s collection, my mind was buzzing, and in my head I wrote a companion post to my post last week about seeing. If you read Alexander, you’ll know why I wanted to post about her ability to see, about the necessity of seeing clearly.

So I had this post in my head, but I never sat down to type it up because everything—the weekend and the weather and my continued cold—got in the way. And now it’s no use; the post already feels worn, old, and it doesn’t fit in with the thoughts and worries that have been churning in brain for the last few days. I suppose that’s the problem with blogs; in order to provide a true reading of my state of mind, my ponderings, I would have to post every day. Of course, that’s never going happen, which is probably a good thing; you’d get really sick of me.)

But today—after a hard couple of days, the kind of days when tears are near the surface, when it feels as if any moment I’ll crack open, when it seems impossible to put a thought down on paper, impossible to string together words to make a sentence—I went back to the Alexander interview I read on Friday afternoon, and the quote that most interested me then isn’t what caught my attention today. (A good reminder of how much we bring to what we read.)

I didn’t even notice these words on Friday, but today they made me nod my head, and think yes, yes. Alexander says:

I wasn’t able to write prose for several years, right when my children were being born. I found that that took a space that was just too wide, and I couldn’t find it, and it also distracted me for too long. I’m interested in how poets like Lucille Clifton, who had six children, talk about having a room of one’s own. She says, “For me, the ideal circumstances for writing a poem are at the kitchen table. The kids have the measles, and everything is going around.” What I love about that, and what I think is really useful and important is that idea of being porous. How can you stay porous at the same time that you have your bubble, in which things can exist or stay safe?

Maybe I’ve been too porous of late. Maybe I’ve forgotten about the bubble.

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I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. elderflowerpressee on October 15, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    Spot on. Thanks Kate – from another harried working mum of two young daughters 🙂

  2. Once A Mother on October 15, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    as I read this, I nod along with you.

  3. Elizabeth on October 16, 2009 at 1:13 am

    Wonderful — reminds me, too, of an interview I heard once of Carol Shields the novelist who had five children. While she didn't publish her first novel until her early forties, I believe, what struck me in the interview was her unabashed love of her family and how she just didn't see having children as a hindrance. Granted, she was dying of cancer when she was interviewed by Terri Gross, but that has always stuck with me.

  4. Ines on October 19, 2009 at 11:02 am

    I love this post Kate. It is so personal. The last quote about the balance between a state of porousness (sp?) and bubbleness is exactly where the dilemma is. I think it is about being present and keeping a presence, which at times it feels almost impossible (unattainable?). I wonder.