A Friday poem

One of my friends (Heineplath@wordpress.com) advised that I post something regularly, so I’m going to aim to publish something each week. Today it’s a poem that I wrote about a year ago.

Poetry is challenging: I always feel like I’m cutting out a clumsy silhouette, my fingers jammed into too-small scissors. The words feel too big, their positioning awkward. I often go for the sound rather than the accuracy of a word, which reduces the effectiveness of the language.

But I feel it’s important to keep trying. Poetry is a way to practise using language – working your core linguistic muscles. I don’t want to be a poet. I want to write short stories and novels, but many well-known novelists were/are also poets including Thomas Hardy, Jill Dawson, Alice Walker, Margaret Atwood. I think it shows in their writing.

In Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton, a character claims: “You will have only one story… You’ll write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about story. You will have only one.” I think I remember that Strout has said that the author in Lucy Barton is not her, the view is not (necessarily) her own. But I think it is true that writers are often exploring the same subject over and over again, usually in different ways. EM Forster, one of my favourite novelists is, I think, always exploring relationships, particularly how society gets in the way of the ‘truth’ of relationships (I’m thinking about Room With A View, in which Lucy Honeychurch seeks love outside the confines of social expectations).

I think my ‘story’ is about being female. One of the things that obsesses me is how, as a girl, as a woman, you’re not allowed to take your own shape, you’re not allowed to define yourself (at least, not in the same way that a man is allowed to define himself) – you are always the subject of someone’s critical gaze – always asked to take up less space, to give up more time. I won’t write about that here – it’s something that needs proper consideration.

One of the strands of ‘being female’ is the relationship between mother and daughter. Because I’m a daughter. I have a mother.

And I’m a mother to a daughter. It’s a complex relationship. An idealised relationship (see e.g. Gilmore Girls, and any fairy tale in which the beautiful perfect mother dies and the wicked stepmother steps in to wreak havoc on a poor daughter’s life), a maligned relationship (see e.g. every daughter’s mother in Riverdale), that feels fraught with difficulty. I think my daughter is wonderful and amazing and miraculous. She is so different from me. And yet I project so much onto her. Sometimes I feel like she’s me, sometimes my sister (I often call her by my sister’s name). I idealise her. I have unreasonable expectations: I believe she can be perfect, determined she will not repeat my mistakes. Because I grapple with these thoughts daily I hope I can, if not overcome them, at least dampen their effect on my daughter.

I’m also, obviously, a daughter. My understanding of my mum has evolved as I’ve had children, and as the children have grown. I don’t ‘know’ Mum completely – perhaps one can never get past the monolithic idea of ‘mother’ – but I now appreciate the many frustrations and disappointments of motherhood that she frequently expressed. For example, one of Mum’s key irritations was (and is) questions. I still don’t completely get it – perhaps because I LOVE talking about myself – but I can see how irritating the constant questions of one’s offspring can be (although the opposite, tween wordlessness and truculence can be equally disheartening). This poem tries to capture that.

I used to read a lot of Michael Rosen, Ogden Nash and Roger McGough, all of whom were accessible and funny. My Mum bought me ‘Please Mrs Butler‘, a book full of children’s poems about school, when I was in primary school. This poem is in a similar vein.

The cannibalism of children and how to put a stop to it

“I don’t know darling, I really don’t

Why’re you asking me? 

I’ve just sat down, I’m tired out

I want a cup of tea,”

“Go ask your father, he knows it all,

He’s got it figured out,

He’s coming home at eight o’clock

He’ll know, without a doubt,

“He knows my thoughts, he knows my mind

Much better than I do

He’ll pack it up in clever words

Then lay it out for you.”


  1. Really like this poem. It does have a Please Mrs Butler tone (I still have that book!). It’s so hard to write poetry and that’s why I rarely do it – I just feel like I’m not worthy of it or something.


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