In 2018 Rachel Bower’s debut poetry collection Moon Milk was published by Valley Press.
It was a powerful, very personal anthology about pregnancy, childbirth and early childhood which explored those female experiences in an open, authentic, and honest way, giving voice to subjects that are still, even now, considered somewhat taboo in a literary context.
For her follow up collection These Mothers Of Gods, published by Manchester-based independent publisher Fly on the Wall Press later this month, the Bradford-born, Sheffield-based poet goes further in her exploration of motherhood.
“Poetry collections are funny because you accumulate a pile of poems and don’t know quite where it is going,” she says. “In some ways this collection came out of Moon Milk. The final poems in that were moving outwards to encompass something wider. So with this I felt like it is not enough to just look at this from an individual, personal point of view, although I think that hasn’t been done enough, it needs to go beyond that and push out.”
Her aim was to present a much broader view of what mothering means, taking in our collective responsibility for the world around us and the lives of others.
“I was really trying to think about how we connect with other people and with other people’s experiences. I feel that if we could connect with them as if they were our own, we might have a better world. The whole collection came out of that impulse. I want to write poems that connect with people and I felt like Fly on the Wall Press understood that – it feels like the collection has found a good home.”
Founded in 2018, Fly on the Wall is a social enterprise company and a not-for-profit publisher, shortlisted in Small Press of the Year category of the 2020 British Book Awards. “We publish short stories and poetry on the pressing issues of our time, and we are particularly interested in work that can generate change through conversation,” says managing director Isabelle Kenyon. “I love Rachel’s poetry – it is carefully considered and well-researched and at the same time has an emotional, personal connection with the reader. The poems invite you to empathise.”
That sense of empathy is a strong thread running through the collection which includes poems written from the perspective of refugee women, mythological and religious figures, mothers in faraway countries facing flood, drought and war, sea creatures, even bees. “I wanted to go beyond biological familial mothering to include as many people as possible,” says Bower. “In the overall narrative arc there are echoes and repetitions, references to other places and times, and to our responsibilities as custodians of the natural world; I wanted it to be tangled and messy like life, with no easy answers.”
While it tackles difficult issues, ultimately the tone is uplifting. “My hope is to encourage understanding and imaginatively recuperate the human aspect of people’s lives,” says Bower. “I truly believe we can change things for the better when we act together.”
Published by Fly on the Wall Press on July 16. £8.99. flyonthewallpress.co.uk