The highs and lows of modern parenting are explored in a new collection from Sheffield-based poet Rachel Bower. She spoke to Yvette Huddleston.
There are few events more life-changing than becoming a parent. There is plenty of joy, but as anyone who has experienced it will tell you, there are also plenty of challenges.
It is the seldom talked about side of pregnancy and motherhood that is explored by Bradford-born, Sheffield-based, poet Rachel Bower in her outstanding new collection Moon Milk, published last month by Scarborough’s Valley Press.
A candid and unsentimental journey through pregnancy, birth and early childhood, the collection is arranged in a natural narrative arc that develops chronologically but, explains Bower, it wasn’t planned that way. “I didn’t set out to do that – the poems just accumulated and eventually I thought ‘this is a collection.’ When I started writing them my daughter was about three, so I had a bit of distance from the early stages of parenthood, but then by the time I finished writing I was pregnant again. It was in the editing that I realised that kind of framework would work – and at that point I did some filling in, writing a few more poems for the various stages.”
Bower actually began what was eventually to become the collection by writing poems about miscarriage, drawing on her own personal experience. It was a courageous move to allow herself to be so vulnerable – and the poems on the subject are very moving, powerful and raw.
“I felt it was important to be open and honest,” she says. “I just thought ‘why doesn’t anybody talk about this?’ The more we can share these issues, the more suppported people might feel.”
That empathetic approach also characterises a project founded by Bower in Sheffield in 2015. Verse Matters is a feminist arts collective which brings together a wide range of people through poetry. Those involved include refugees and asylum seekers, homeless people and victims of domestic violence who all benefit from the safe space that Verse Matters provides in which they can share their poetry, spoken word, storytelling, comedy and music.
It was at one of the monthly meetings that Bower first performed one of her poems about miscarriage. “People do share quite personal things at Verse Matters, but I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to go down,” she says. “But people came up to me afterwards crying and saying ‘you must write more’ – I found it a bit overwhelming. That initial encouragement was so helpful.”
It also had an immediate positive effect in that it prompted Bower to continue writing poems that shone a light on the more difficult aspects of pregnancy and parenthood. “I really wanted to include those things that you don’t hear that much about,” she says. “People have very different experiences of motherhood but it is always a bit of a bumpy ride and I think it is important to acknowledge that.” That opinion is shared by one of her readers who knows a thing or two about childbirth. “A midwife got in touch with me recently – she had read the poems and she said ‘I love this – we need more writing like this’, quite a few mums have said the same, so I am glad that the poems are speaking to people.”