Blood and Cord brings a multiplicity of voices together to explore and celebrate the diverse experiences of parenthood. From the raw bodily sensations of baby rearing to the immanence of beauty in the everyday, this anthology captures it all, writes Rym Kechacha.
I read the poems and stories of Blood and Cord (The Emma Press) one-handed while feeding my eight-month-old daughter; standing at the stove stirring baked beans for my three year old’s dinner; sitting on the garden step after pegging tiny vests and socks on the washing line; and in stolen moments when they both fell asleep in the pram and I pulled the book out of my bag like a secret. This is how I read everything these days and usually I feel a snag of guilt. How can I possibly be giving the text my full and generous attention like this?
But this book, an anthology of writing about the experiences of early parenthood, does not chastise secret, hushed reading because it is a celebration – and a confession, too – of the very muddle of early parenthood I find myself in. The poems and stories write of the ways a baby’s arrival changes you, the ways it does not, all the things you find distilled about yourself after your children have whirled through you and wrung out every superfluous thing in your life, giving voice to so much that previously remained unsaid and unwritten.
Why does it feel like a new thing to write about this identity-melting time in a life? Is it because it’s seemingly so ordinary, or because it’s usually relegated to the oral culture of women. Or perhaps because if we talk about it we might admit to ambivalence about the whole enterprise and then where does that leave us as a species?
Things are shifting and there is a lot of writing about parenthood at the moment. This basic experience of being human has remained shrouded in secrecy, or perhaps shame, or something for so long that now the gates have cracked open, a trickle of storytelling is gathering strength and beginning to flow, prompting choruses of Yes! This is exactly how it is for me.
Blood and Cord has a multiplicity of voices reflecting all different kinds of experiences; queer parenthood, almost-pregnancy, loss, fatherhood. There are shared experiences here but also singular ones, moments which I recognised as though stepping outside my own life to watch scenes from my day to day existence as well as feelings I have feared, longed for or held tightly in imaginings.
There’s a focus on the bodily sensations of baby rearing; using poetic, beautiful writing from each contributor to move from that realm of touch and sound and image into thought and language and cogent communication. Naomi Booth’s opening piece, ‘What is Tsunami?’, beautifully moves with the reader from that blurry, milky world into the exploration of words and their power. I loved the way Elizabeth Hogarth’s poem ‘Animal Body’ captures that sense of being reduced to ancient mammalian processes you cannot control, and in ‘three tarot cards for the new mother’ by Ruth Charnock I recognised that hallucinatory state of new motherhood, where your new world seems baffling. I was struck by the formal inventiveness of Daisy Hildyard’s story ‘Waste’, telling the tale of a journey to conception through discarded pregnancy tests.
‘Blue Heaven’ by Liz Berry made me think of my mother in law – a practicing Christian, mother of four and grandmother of six – who I knew would connect deeply with the beautiful mixture of words of Christian worship with the humbly sacred light ordinary objects can take on as you stumble through your motherhood, trying to hold your children safe above the mire. Snatching some reading moments during an Easter visit, I pressed this beautiful little book into her hands during a quiet second between preparing lunch and clambering around on the floor with my nephew and my daughter. I read this and I thought of you, I said.
Yes, she said, as she finished the page, tears welling in her eyes. It was exactly like that. Then she asked me if she could keep the book.
I’m sorry, I told her. I need it to write my review. I’ll give it to you when I’m done.
And so now I’m left thinking about that orature of parenthood, all the mumbled stories and well-you-ought-tos and the is-this-normals that pass from grandmother to granddaughter and between mothers at the swings and never made it into the written record until very recently. And I’m thinking about the transfer of those feelings into literature, the mundane physical realities of parenting becoming poetry and the ways we might pass those poems between each other saying, yes. It is exactly like this.
Blood and Cord: Writers on Early Parenthood is edited by Abi Curtiss and published by The Emma Press. It is available to purchase online and in all good bookshops now.