We’re now ten (well, thirty) workshops into the Mothership programme, and I continue to be amazed by the writing coming out of these sessions. Here’s a selection for you to enjoy – unedited, straight from the page of the notebook – along with some background on the work or exercise that inspired the piece. THANK YOU to Rowena, Sarafina, Beth, Rebecca, Sara, Eleanor, and Emily for letting me share your brilliant work here. And remember, readers, these pieces were all written with a baby close to hand: balanced on knees, or hoisted on shoulders, or sleeping in a sling, or playing around ankles, or … any other contortion now so familiar to our Mothership Writers.
In our fourth workshop we free-wrote inspired by a selection of song titles, as suggested by the group (this exercise is now a consistent element of our sessions – we call it Free-writing Jukebox. Hallelujah (club mix), anyone?). Rowena chose A Simple Song. …
A Simple Song
A bird sounds her call
A bird sounds her call
A bird sounds her call
The call answered
You heard me
A bird sounds her call
I hear from the den
The still of night
Our den of silence
As you sleep
Breathing rises you up and down
Soft snuffle of dreams
May your dreams
Always be answered
May you always be safe
Encircled in me
Our simple song.
Often we look at pieces of prose or poetry in our sessions and then use them as starting points for work of our own. In our fourth workshop we also read Helen Dunmore’s Patrick, I (from The Picador Book of Birth Poems, edited by Kate Clanchy, 2015), a poem that shows us a new mother standing in her kitchen cooking breakfast on just another “obstinate, exhausted” morning. I asked the group to think about what their mornings were like now. Dunmore writes “mornings are as plain as the pages/Of books in sedentary schooldays” and so we … filled them! Sarafina wrote a poem to her boy Serafael …
In the twilight zone between awake and asleep we exist, Me and You … You and I.
A space in the bed once saved for your Father
has now become the space saved for you,
Awake, I nourish you with everything I have.
I am yours entirely.
Asleep, I protect you and keep you warm.
Mornings are filled with the purest love,
Thank you for bringing the mornings to me,
for opening my eyes to the wisdom of the sunrise.
Each day brand new.
Your endless possibilities wipe away the troubles of the previous day,
In our sixth workshop we read Esther Morgan’s poem Winter (from Writing Motherhood, Seren Books, 2012). I asked the group to take the first line, “Sometimes when you’re not with me” and free-write on from that point. Beth wrote of going out without her baby …
Sometimes when you are not with me
Sometimes when you are not with me, I can feel happy. I can meander through crowds, or wait in queues, and no one looks at me. Well meaning old ladies don’t try to start up conversations with me on buses that awkwardly fizzle out and end up with me smiling at you because I have nowhere else to look. I appear anonymous, uninteresting and ordinary. No one thinks or cares about my bedtime routine or what I feed myself or the fact that sometimes I go to the bathroom and cry. When you are not with me people do not know I am a mother. They cannot tell just by looking at me that I have silvery trails of stretch marks slithering over my wrinkly belly or that my breasts are swollen with milk. The tired bags under my eyes could be attributed to a night out on the town, or staying up late talking to a lover in Singapore - they could mean something boring and run of the mill. I have both my hands for myself and I can rest them on my lap, or fiddle with my hair as my mind wanders back to a memory and settles in its warm familiarity. If I close my eyes I can hear nothing but the steady flow of water ambling through a small field. It’s warm and I can feel the suns rays on my face and the sweet smell of ripened fruit that has fallen from the tree nearby. When you are not with me, and I am not surrounded by coloured wood and plastic, I can travel back to my memories and sink in to their comforting embrace. It is, however, so easy to look behind and long for the time without you back. Things are so different now. However, when I am with you, I am reminded of how halved I felt, like a cut apple, before you arrived. My world is so much more enjoyable now I look through my eyes as a mother. I pour my overflowing cup of love into your belly, filling you to the brim with all things good and beautiful.You are so good and beautiful. I am grateful, unendingly, to the universe for dropping you in to my life. I will always hold your hand and be your friend, my girl.
In our eighth workshop we discussed the use of unusual narrators in fiction. We read Craig Raine’s poem A Martian Sends a Postcard Home and talked about Tibor Fischer’s ceramic bowl in The Collector Collector. The group then wrote their own pieces from the perspective of a non-human narrator. Rebecca chose a mobile phone …
I love our relationship, you know. It’s really special, this connection Rob and I have. We’re inseparable – of course! We go everywhere together. I know all his friends, we chat all the time. It’s nice, you know. There are no secrets between us. I know how, when his mind drifts and he isn’t really concentrating, he opens a browser and googles his own name. I know, since Stu was diagnosed with prostrate cancer, he’s been looking up symptoms, whenever he feels anxious. It’s a habit really.
He never tells me, but I know he loves me. He can’t help touching me, all the time, stroking my face. Even at night when we lay together, even in his sleep, his hand twitches, reaches out to check I’m there. I’m his light in dark places, and oh goodness, Rob is just awful at finding new places! But, you know, he’s not like most men, he’s got no qualms about letting me lead the way, give him directions. And, well, I love being useful to him. I just wanna make his life better, you know? Well, our life better.
He totally gets my need for downtime too though – I mean, obviously most of the time I am ‘on’, I’m fully charged and ready to go. But sometimes, when we’ve spent days and nights together, endlessly looking at each other, hanging out with friends, taking photos, reading the news, sometimes, I just, well, I just shut down, you know. It’s all wonderful but sometimes, it’s just too much, too much to process I guess.
At that point, Rob is so quick to hook me up to my charger and let me luxuriate in the flow of electricity coursing through me, reviving me. It’s a real moment of self-care for me and I love that he honours my need for it.
In our tenth workshop we read Jamila Wood’s poem Blk Girl Art (from The Breakbeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip Hop, Haymarket Books, 2015). It’s a brilliant manifesto to creativity, and the roles that Woods wants for the words in her life. I asked the group to think about their own relationship with words, and what they desire and need from their writing. Sara wrote of the struggle …
When I write,
My words curdle
In my stomach, sometimes, and
Flow out of my mouth
Like vomit and bile.
They stick to the page in strange shapes that I hadn’t imagined.
They stink, especially when
Turning green and black with rage.
My words come out of my eyes.
Visions to be seen, but not spoken of.
I would rather that
Came from my fingers.
Crafted and moulded into submission.
In our tenth workshop we also drew inspiration from Toni Morrison – not just her incredible legacy of books, but her attitude to motherhood. We talked about how she was a single working mother, getting up at 4am to write; we then talked about how understanding what we want from our writing helps us decide on how much space to give it in our lives. I then read the group an extended quote from Morrison (from Toni Morrison and Motherhood: a Politics of the Heart, by Andrea O’Reilly, State University of New York Press, 2004) which begins with the lines “There was something so valuable that happened when one became a mother. For me it was the most liberating thing that ever happened to me” and goes on “If you listen to (your children), somehow you are able to free yourself from baggage and vanity and all sorts of things, and deliver a better self, one that you like.” I asked the group to write a piece springing from ideas of reinvention and transformation. Eleanor wrote of stitches …
The First Stitch
The first stitch dissolving cat gut in my perineum, bringing neatly cut flesh back to itself.
The second stitch air into broken nipple, skin smoothed with lanolin. I imagine farming ancestors’ cabbage leaves.
The third stitch tears collected in leaking cloth as a needle unseen pierces your spine.
The seventy sixth stitch screams swallowed in the kitchen while you rage above.
The four hundredth stitch, uterus to uterus, skin to skin, hands around my throat as I go to sleep to save choking on my own vomit.
Today, a thousand stitches and yet only a small corner. Apology notes and love notes and screaming wailing sobbing notes and small excavations of my flesh slipped behind fabric and covered with polka dots or Laura Ashley florals or Christmas hats.
A thousand and one stitches, saliva on grazed knees, baby wipes on beetroot stains.
As you can see, our Mothership sessions are productive, industrious, varied affairs. Yes we’re chilled, yes the babies do their thing too, but many words are written. I think it’s incredible that every fortnight fifty-eight (yes, we’re now fifty-eight! All with babies under one) mothers turn out, babes in tow, and sit down and write. There’s no pressure to write between the workshops, but I always set extra exercises in case people do find the time. Emily shared something she’d written spontaneously, while at home …
It feels like yesterday
It feels like yesterday that I was still pregnant, my body hostage, my belly swollen, my mind torn between excitement and petrified. Now I have this small human being in my arms, and people keeping asking how she’s doing, telling me I’m doing well. I nod and smile and repeat something I’ve just heard in order to seem responsive and like I know what I’m doing. I’m never alone, sometimes so much so I can’t breath, but when I am I feel empty and find myself craving the warm body of my baby. I occasionally feel like I’m having an out of body experience, watching myself from a bubble, I discover that I’m crying and I don’t remember why or when it started. I almost feel the hormones raging through me like I can feel the rushing of the milk to my breasts. I am at the mercy of my own body and of this everlasting moment. I blink and suddenly I have a wide eyed child sitting on the floor looking at me and trying to pull herself up on my legs. Was that really six months? My memories are there if I reach for them, but they don’t feel like my own. She seems happy, you could say she’s thriving, and that’s the goal. I’m aware of myself breathing, I have thoughts which are my own, if a little jumbled sometimes due to sleep deprivation. I occasionally find peace in a moment, the warmth of the sun on my face, a kiss from my husband, a sip of wine with a home cooked meal, I’m doing ok. To be continued.
And as Emily says, to be continued …