SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: MOTHERHOOD POETRY


"Arab Motherhood" by Georges Sabbagh, c. 1920. Public domain image.

“Arab Motherhood” by Georges Sabbagh, c. 1920. Public domain image.



Editor’s Note: In honor of Mother’s Day, I have gathered together some of my favorite poems that I’ve featured on this series over the years that consider motherhood from a plethora of perspectives, for motherhood is such a multi-faceted experience. From the perspective of the child: memories of mothers, good mothers, bad mothers, absent mothers, mothers we have lost. From the perspective of the mother, of the would-be-mother, of the once-was mother: pregnancy and childbirth, love and fear of and for our children, the kind of mother we are or are not, the kind of mother we want to be, the children we never had, the children we have lost.

Today’s selection is in honor of motherhood itself and its many faces, in honor of that imperative person without whom none of us would exist and who–for better or worse–so deeply affects who we come to be.

Today’s post is dedicated to my own mother, who has always been one of my most dedicated readers and faithful supporters, who has shaped my being from zygote through womanhood, and whose legacy as mother takes on its newest incarnation on this, my first Mother’s Day as a mother.


Mother, I’m trying
to write
a poem to you

which is how most
poems to mothers must
begin—or, What I’ve wanted
to say, Mother
…but we
as children of mothers,
even when mothers ourselves,

cannot bear our poems
to them.

–Erin Belieu,
“Another Poem for Mothers”



MOTHERHOOD POETRY
FROM THE SATURDAY POETRY SERIES ARCHIVES:

“Elegy for a Mother, Still Living” by Elana Bell

“Cultiver Son Potager / Growing Vegetables” by Dara Barnat; translated by Sabine Huynh

“Prayers Like Shoes” by Ruth Forman

“We Speak of August” by Valentina Gnup

State of Grace: The Joshua Elegies by Alexis Rhone Fancher

“A Poem for Women Who Don’t Want Children” by Chanel Brenner

“Baby” by Jaimie Gusman

“Psalm to Be Read While My Daughter Considers Mary” by Nicole Rollender

Hemisphere by Ellen Hagan

“Labor Pantoum” by Leslie Contreras Schwartz

“Depression” by Terri Kirby Erickson

“Dinner for the Dying” by Jen Lambert

Decency by Marcela Sulak

Little Spells by Jennifer K. Sweeney

“The Invention of Amniocentesis” by Jen Karetnick

“The Sadness of Young Mothers” by Richard D’Abate

“Mom’s Cocks” by Jenna Le

“The Balance” by Danusha Laméris

“The Committee Weighs In” by Andrea Cohen

“Mother-In-Law” by Nicole Stellon O’Donnell

“Change of Address” by Ruth Deborah Rey



Want to read more Mother’s Day poems?
Mother’s Day poetry from the Academy of American Poets
Poetry about mothers from the Academy of American Poets

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: VALENTINA GNUP

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WE SPEAK OF AUGUST
By Valentina Gnup

                       Alone in my kitchen, I copy
a chicken salad recipe from a Woman’s Day magazine
and plan tomorrow night’s dinner.

                       We don’t know what will happen
between one raindrop and the next,
yet we speak of August as if it were a contract,
a promise the sky made.

                       When I was twenty-five I married a drummer
and silenced him with disapproval.

                       Now I’m married to a poet—
he reads poems on the porch
and pets my head like a puppy.

                       My daughters grew tall as honeysuckle and left—
they took their soft skin, their buttermilk biscuit smell,
the endless hungers that organized my days.

                       My domain has shrunk to the narrow bone of my ankle.

                       I did what was asked.
I did what I feared.
Like every woman I have ever known,
I became my mother.

                       I stroll through the rows of houses and yards;
above me a skein of geese break in and out of formation—
fluid as laundry on a line.

                       Other women are out walking their dogs,
murmuring to the mothers inside their heads.

                       In the eastern sky the first star is out,
preparing for the long night of wishes.

                       At dusk every flower looks blue.


(Today’s poem originally appeared in Rattle , where it was given a Rattle Poetry Prize Honorable Mention in 2010, and appears here today with permission from the poet.)

Valentina Gnup has her MFA in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. She is the winner of the Joy Harjo Poetry Prize from Cutthroat journal of the Arts and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Prize. In 2005 her chapbook Sparrow Octaves won the North Carolina Writers’ Network Mary Belle Campbell Book Publication Award. Her poems have appeared in the Hiram Poetry Review, Nimrod, Chelsea, Brooklyn Review, Crab Orchard Review and many others. She and her husband live in Portland, Oregon.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem could be about regret or acceptance. It could be about rites of passage or about the inevitability of the cycle of life. The young woman makes mistakes. The experienced woman knows what it is to have made compromises, to have made sacrifices, to bend with the wind, and to become her mother. There is a nostalgia inherent in today’s piece; a longing not for the past, but a bittersweet looking both forward and back. Gnup’s startlingly honest reflection is paired with beautifully-wrought moments of language and imagery that heighten the joy and pain of a lived life.

Want to read more by and about Valentina Gnup?
The Best American Poetry
Nuclear Age Peace Foundation / wagingpeace.org
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