Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

"This one goes out to all the humans": An Interview with Alice Burdick

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"This one goes out to all the humans": An Interview with Alice Burdick

Here is an interview I conducted via email with poet Alice Burdick. We discuss (among many other things) her latest collection of poetry, Holler, which I recommend highly. For more information on the book, visit the Mansfield Press website (http://mansfieldpress.net/2012...). Enjoy!

Alessandro Porco (AP):
Alice, before we get to discussing your wonderful new collection of poetry, Holler (Mansfield, 2012), I thought you might discuss your formative years as a poet-- that is, the late 1980s and early 1990s of Toronto. (I know, for example, during this period, you developed key literary friendships with folks like Stuart Ross and Daniel f. Bradley, among many others, I am sure.) What was the period like? How did it shape your poetic practice?

Alice Burdick (AB):
That time was really significant to me. I was in my teens when I participated in The Dream Class, which was taught by Victor Coleman. It was an extra-curricular program through the Toronto Public School Board. A group of us, from across the city, maybe around 10 - 15 in total, would gather together for one evening a week of mind-expanding poetry. It was where I first heard of sound poetry, and got to hear Paul Dutton perform it!, and was introduced to the New York School poets (Bean Spasms!), and so many more amazing poets and poetic styles. Stuart Ross was one of the poets who came in to read and talk to us, yes. There were many writing exercises and parties, and we met at The Coach House Press, as well, and got to see how they printed and bound their books. A few friends and I got together and did our own little magazine on newsprint, maybe 3 or 4 issues, wrote stuff, got it printed, and then put it together too-– it was called 21 Down (ha, because the oldest of the group was 21 years old). I found that the exposure to all the amazing writing through The Dream Class opened up poetry in a wonderful way. From this, I felt free to write-– to write and mess up, to have fun with words, to let self-consciousness drain away as words were allowed to do whatever they wanted to do. It was a big deal!

After high school (which I did not excel at), I entered a relationship with Victor, and we partnered The Eternal Network, a press Victor had started years earlier and which had put out chapbooks very occasionally until the early ‘90’s, when we published more frequently. I was at York University for two months, most of which time I was absent and writing at home, or at the central reference library, working on poems that made up Voice of Interpreter, my first book. We used a friend’s computer to do the layout and print out the poems, and then I painted each cover and saddle-stitched the books together. It was very satisfying, and fun at the same time. The early ‘90’s are quite full in my memory. I helped coordinate the Toronto Small Press Book Fair, and knew some really wonderful folks there: Stuart Ross, jwcurry, Daniel f. Bradley, Nicky Drumbolis, John Barlow, Maggie Helwig, Maria Erskine, Clint Burnham, Marshall Hryciuk and on and on. So many folks. I got to hear Robert Creeley read, and met Roy Kiyooka and David Bromige and Barbara Caruso and Nelson Ball. When I moved out to Vancouver and Babyland – near Roberts Creek (the land co-owned by various Western Front artists)-– I got to meet or get to know a whole bunch of extremely engaging writers and artists-- Gerry Gilbert (who wrote my first review!), Peter Culley, and Lisa Robertson just being a few. This frequent interaction with other poets, who weren’t ashamed to write poetry, helped me see that just writing regularly, not waiting for some sort of inspiration, meant the poems would come, and still surprise. I kept a sketchbook around so that I could draw and doodle as well as write-– allow whatever to come to come. I always had jobs where I baked bread or sold cheese, and the rest of the time I’d read a lot, and write, and walk around. One thing I’ve noticed over the years-- it doesn’t matter what time and place you end up in, there are folks creating wonderful work and also decrying various trends. During this time, poets especially seemed to be full of ideas, creating lovely and/or disturbing work, desiring time with other writers and artists but then having whatever solitary beast within crawl out at inopportune moments to bite those around them. Or maybe this is just a general human state. Anyway this occasional appearance helped keep things, ideas, events, lively! And a lot of the angst was a perfectly reasonable reaction to the domination of big box publishing. Community has its difficulties. I sort of dropped the writerly excitement when I returned back home to Toronto after my mother died suddenly. I didn’t write much after an initial reaction to her death (Covered, Letters), and was busy living life without constant immersion in writing.

From my perspective at the time as a woman in her early 20s, the early 1990s in Toronto were pretty exciting. I got to be around a lot of imaginative people, and this was encouraging to me as a writer. I got to experience the best and worst aspects of being the younger woman partner to an older, revered writer, though. I sometimes felt like a novelty act-– and one writer drunkenly told me that he didn’t believe I wrote my own poetry (but that Victor did). I took that as a compliment and an insult at the same time! But this period was extremely valuable and formative to me as a poet.

AP:
That does sound like an amazing period. If you don’t mind, could you say more about The Dream Class-- in particular, the sort of writing practices and experiments you all indulged (to be clear, I mean indulged in the best possible way) as a way of expanding your purview of the poetic. It seems that the lessons learned persist or linger in Holler: for example, I am thinking of the number of poems that playfully interject quotes, questions, or observations taken from your young children! Also, I’m interested in how and why you returned to or refocused on poetry after the death of your mother and, as you put it, all the while being (inevitably) “busy living life”-- was this in the late 1990s? I ask because one of the qualities I so enjoy about your new work in Holler is that the very poems somehow manage to accommodate or welcome that sense of life’s busy-ness.

AB:
The Dream Class was held in an ESL classroom and so there were all these cards pasted on the walls with words and expressions in English. The cards provided an obvious and fun exercise – use a group of 3 or 4, say, to become the basis for a fast piece of writing. The Exquisite Corpse was another fun one. I’d been exposed to that one before because my mother was a visual artist and she either showed me lots of techniques, or had books around that referred to them. But it was a fun exercise to do it with words-– passing a folded sheet of paper with a few lines of text on to the next person, for the work to continue. Sort of like a psychic chain letter. I don’t actually do many of the exercises on a regular basis, though. That busy-ness you refer to means that when I set down to write, I have to get right to it! Who knows when I’ll have to stop to get a child a snack, or break up a fight, or run a bath. But I do think that the class helped open me up to a susceptibility to signs-– to the words all around me, in the air, on the walls, now on computers, the voices of passersby, newspapers. I often don’t really know what’s happening exactly when I write-– it feels a bit like I’m tuning in to radio broadcasts, fiddling the knobs, or translating from source material I’d be hard-pressed to locate. Unless the source material is my children–- I can usually locate them. They often seem to be doing a similar thing as they learn language and communication-– how to translate or transcribe ideas or sights, and in the process they say some pretty wild things. So they’re inspirational!

My mother (Mary Paisley) died in 1994, and I moved back to Toronto in 1995, to be closer to my brother, Brendan. I think that grief took up a lot of room, and almost everything I wrote for quite a while was about my mother, and about this loss, and it was very hard to write. I wanted to feel as alive as possible and so spent 1995 onwards to about 2001 just spending time with friends, cooking and playing and working at various jobs, and writing sporadically. My boyfriend of five years (Gary Côté) died in 1999 as well, so more grief and out-of-body getting-by continued. But I realized that the writing was useful, as something I needed and had to do, to feel like my life was full. It was something I fought, or just didn’t see as useful, that I ended up seeing as an integral skill. With the death of two people I loved deeply, within 5 years, I was numb and recovering for much that time, although Gary’s death seemed to snap me into a super-clarity. I don’t think I’d call my poetry therapeutic, but I’d say it was a tool for transcribing and illuminating pain, death, and life. A flashlight. Simple Master is a collection of poems that ranges in time from the early 1990s to the early 2000s, so there are discrete chunks of poems that address these experiences in there.

I think, since 2001 or so, I’ve been able to incorporate my writing into my life on a more daily basis again, even if I often feel like I’m not writing quite enough. I have to write or else I feel grumpy and am a real bitch to be around. I’m able somehow to write even with shrieking going on in the background, or just outside the window or whatever – this ability I may have picked up from walking on city streets with my ears and eyes open, just absorbing the babble out there. And later, after looking at the poems, I can see that the ones I’m writing now are full of the bodies, breath, and noise of my family.

AP:
Well, I am glad you bring up the “bodies, breath, and noise” of your family, who are everywhere in Holler, especially the first half of the book. As you write in a lovely passage from “Fall Idyll,” “What I have is all around me. / A man who loves and works hard, / two children who play and love hard, / and friends who make the other spheres ring.” The children are especially inspiring, repositories of fresh perceptions, interpretations, and expressions: “Musical notes, sings Hazel, / and Arthur says water / when he sees ducks” (“Voices of the familiar”). Your language, imagery, and prosody when describing family life--or the familiar-- is anything but maudlin, though. For example, you are willing to ask questions like, “What should I feed the wolves / to keep them all at bay?”, or to wonder at a three-year-old’s “steady shrieks / and logic that comes and goes. / Waves of understanding / and intent” (“Banal”). All of this works toward creating something like a domestic surreal, where the familiar/family is a force, equal parts bliss and disturbance, which you tap into.

AB:
My family is everywhere in Holler, yes. They are parts of my body, and so my head and its ideas too. There is much about having small children (well, children of any age? I don’t know yet because they are 2 ½ and 5 years old) that is very disorienting. One has to be alert and present at all times, all hours, and this can lead to a chaos of feeling sometimes. Deep happiness and deep stress. If that isn’t a derangement of the senses (never mind diapers) I don’t know what is. Most time is spent just taking care of these small humans, and ensuring that they’re fed, clean, and physically and intellectually active, through play. Plus all the attendant chores of daily life. Because of this busyness, my thoughts sometimes feel extremely fragmented. But all these lateral threads of thoughts knit together to become a poem, hopefully! It is totally surreal having kids, yes. I mean just in the most explicit way: “Please don’t walk down the stairs backwards with that stud-finder in your mouth”-– that kind of thing. So many times, I’ve asked myself in what world I’d imagine myself saying that to someone else. Despite the fragmenting of my thought processes, though, I’m finding that the recent poems are more cohesive and therefore more accessible (or so I’m told).

AP:
A couple things immediately come to mind. First, one of the running keywords throughout the book is “human,” starting with the best dedicatory note I’ve come across in a while: “This one goes out to all the humans.” “Human” is a word that appears with great frequency in the poems, and it seems to spring from your ethical investigation into how we, as humans, connect (e.g. “the wonders of conversation” or “The news from afar / is just like the news from right here”) versus the impossibility of that very thing (“I’d so like to connect, / whatever the age, but often the looks veer towards / distaste, disdain…”). To borrow from the previous answer, do we “take care,” or are we “First-world superheathens afraid of toxins: / what I say is not what I do”? Did you notice the obsessive presence of the term in Holler? Second, I’m wondering, where does poetry fit into this “human” interest? As your last answer suggests, you are aware of audience and you express a desire to affect others, i.e. readers; but I’ve never felt cohesion or accessibility really mattered for an affective experience, and I don’t think you do either (mercifully!).

AB:
I know that I’m totally batty for humanity-– freaked out and heart warmed by our swarm. We are constantly messing up on various levels, and then consumed by a sense of superiority and defensiveness, which prevents us from addressing the damage we do. Children have an excuse-– they’re learning the world-– but there’s a certain point where we become responsible for our own actions. We do wonderful things-– create marvelous works of art, care for each other, steward the land we live on-– and then we destroy all of this, from anger or neurosis, or for money. At the same time, those superheathens I refer to, I’m referring to folks who spend a lot of time thinking “positive” and thinking that is effecting change, or thinking that their choice to recycle some bottles of organic tomato sauce is healing the earth. It’s absurd and annoying. Self-delusion seems to work hand-in-hand with obliviousness.

But I think there’s hope – I’m a hopeful cynic. That must be one of the reasons I keep writing. Otherwise, why bother? I also think that mystery isn’t a bad thing in writing, or art in general, in fact I think that work that is derided as “elliptical” is often as apt a reflection, or even explanation, of the world we live in as any. Some of my favourite writing leaves a lot of room for various interpretations and connections-– for some reason, this makes sense to me-– I don’t find it frustrating. I have to write, anyway, so I’m not necessarily writing for a specific audience. Although confusion is a pretty common state for lots of people, so maybe I’m writing poetry for other confused people? It’s more like the way I’m writing has changed a little bit, in its mechanics – simply because I don’t have time to meander a lot, I have to sit down and get right to it. I don’t even write that often in a notebook anymore (except when I can!), I just sit right in front of the computer and write directly there. I have noticed that the kids are a common denominator in many of the poems now (but not all), because they’re at the top of my mind all the time. So maybe that’s a cohesive thread. Some readers of Holler have mentioned to me that they find the new poems “accessible”, maybe for that reason-– although a friend, poet Alison Smith, described them as “not more accessible in that icky way, but more accessible as in inviting and satisfying.” I’ll take that! Just as I’m not worried about confusing readers, I’m also not worried about being seen as losing my edge (or whatever).

AP:
For what it’s worth, I concur with Alison Smith.

That said, I’m glad you brought up your composition process. The comments suggest not simply a change from notebook to computer, but a temporal shift, i.e., there is limited amount of time and even different experiences of time and, by extension, language with a notebook versus a computer. This temporal shift definitely has formal consequences, I think. Can you talk more about the material reality of your writing process? Of course, part of the composition process is also editing-- what was the back-and-forth with editor Stuart Ross like on Holler?

In addition, your final comment really moved me, because it is, in equal parts, suspicious of both declarations and/or dismissals of vanguard practices (“Just as I’m not worried about confusing readers, I’m also not worried about being seen as losing my edge”); but it also made me wonder, how do you feel about the avant-garde in Canada, especially since you’re often associated with some version of it (whatever “it” is), for better or worse.

AB:
How I write, these days, is mainly like this: I book some time with Zane-– make sure that he can watch the kids – and then I sit down at my computer, which is presently in our bedroom, and just start typing. Daytime is best for me, brain and energy-wise. I usually write for an hour or two at a time-– and this can often include time revisiting and editing work in progress. Sometimes I write at night, but I’m often too tired for that to last long. I always keep a little notebook around to keep track of ideas or things I hear and see, but I don’t necessarily always get to it in time to write things down. It travels with me on outings, and sleeps next to the bed, like a pet. I have the suspicion that, because my handwriting is so gnarly, that I translate the things I’ve written sometimes, into other words. It is also full of drawings-– mainly mine, but often Hazel and Arthur get theirs in there too-– and various non-writing related notes. If I am able, I’ll leave the house with the notebook and go somewhere to write in it. There aren’t a lot of people right in town, so I don’t have to feel like a goof if I’m sitting somewhere scribbling away! You’re right – it’s a very different process, these two types of writing. When I write in a notebook, I can do a lot of editing and shaping just transcribing and entering the words onto the computer. When I write directly onto the computer, I have to look away from the screen a lot in order to not feel compelled to delete things constantly… it just feels so immediate! Maybe it’s the staring at a lit monitor.

Stuart has been my editor for all three collections, and I very much value his feedback. His suggestions usually make sense to me, even when I don’t agree with them – and I actually quite like when poems are dropped. I feel like he really reads the poems, and can tell when they are ready, or not there yet (or probably won’t ever be there, in their present state). I also feel comfortable defending poems, and he respects this. Pretty early on, he confessed that he often doesn’t like “motherhood poems”, which I understand but was a bit worried by, as my recent work can often be grouped in that description. Luckily I’m a pretty weird mother, so they’re not all martyr/baby’s-fist-the-size-of-a-kumquat poems. The editing mainly was a relaxed game of tennis-– he’d make suggestions (deletions, compressions, re-shaping in some cases) and I’d see if these worked or not (mainly they did) and also make suggestions for alternative re-workings of some of the poems. We went back-and-forth around 4 times all told, I believe.

Alessandro, I really am not sure what the avant-garde is, because there appear to be various strains of it. I certainly don’t know where I’d fit in amongst these strains. I think of the fashionable avant-garde, which seems incredibly self-conscious and often fairly boring. Like there’s such a huge commitment to theory that the writing has to toe the line-– and this results in a lot of sameness (even if it looks freaky to fans of lyric poetry)-– how is this a vanguard? And then there are folks who are really writing strange, engaging, beautiful work, and they are often not part of a group of any kind-– just doing their thing-– but maybe also not really liking most of what’s around them. And they’re often not published hugely anyway/therefore, so their work is not available to a lot of readers. Some people find my work surreal, some find it depressing, some find it funny-– I don’t really feel like I’m part of a particular literary tradition (although I love surrealism, and lyricism, and personism), but it’s something I just have to do. I don’t mind that readers associate me with one sort of writing or another, though. Just don’t call me late for dinner!

AP:
The “fashionable avant-garde,” I would add, naively confuse mastery for technique, alas, thus streamlining the “beautiful” and “strange” along the way. Which is sad. That said, as your answer implies, one can look elsewhere for poetry. Who are the folks you do enjoy reading-- where do you get your “beautiful” and “strange” fix?

Also, I’d like to shift gears here a little bit, if you don’t mind, and ask about poetry and/in politics, especially the poems “Generous to a fart” and “Policy.” I’m especially interested in the former’s mode of address: it mixes a scatological representation of Harper (“hot air from all the sound holes”) with a direct and angry indictment of “you,” the complicit reader or citizen (“You think you don’t participate in the ruling structure, / but it participates in you”). “Policy,” on the other hand, contains less invective (tonally) but ends by pointing to something like the naturalization of “lost liberty and fearsome fear.”

AB:
Wow, that sounded harsh, didn’t it? I mainly find that stuff either totally boring or am amused by the airs of its practitioners. One of the reasons I don’t mind living in a faraway land devoid of poetry cliques! Although there are always other cliques, aren’t there. Anyway, there are a lot of poets I do enjoy reading (including some ‘popular’ ones), and I’m open to more-- I’m often surprised and delighted by writers from the past that I haven’t read till now. Who: James Tate, Edmund Jabès, Lisa Jarnot, Lorine Niedecker, Daniel f. Bradley, Alice Notley, Frank O’Hara, Stuart Ross, Han Shan, Gabriel Gudding, Lisa Robertson, Nelson Ball, Marina Tsvetaeva, Joe Brainard, Ted Berrigan, Judith Copithorne, Frances Kruk, Lance La Rocque, Meredith Quartermain, Gerry Gilbert, Wislawa Szymborska, Peter Culley, Anne Carson, Mark Truscott, Anne Waldman, Ron Padgett. Lots more besides. I always like hearing of poets, so then I can read their work! I often feel I’m not quite sure what all’s going on in the world of poetry, there’s so much out there, hidden and explicit treasures. That you can’t give away!

I can’t say that I’m the most politically active person in the world right now, that’s for sure, but I feel pretty engaged and involved in a response to what’s been going on. Harper’s policies, the policies of the Cons, have been shitty in the extreme, and harmful to all layers of the Canadian populace (oh, except for the wealthy). It’s a mistake to think that one can live without needing to know what’s happening – what policies and laws are being enacted or eroded-– and go unaffected by the actions of the reigning government(s). The line about participation in the ruling structure is about that mistake. I know some folks who (and I understand this feeling) feel helpless to change anything or (this I find annoying) think that the world of politics is impure or beneath them-– or that they’re “healing” the earth by growing their own potatoes. Back to that thing I talked about earlier – the privilege of hobby becoming an ethos. I’m not sure why, but people who self-identify as “alternative”, whether they be writers or farmers or townies or artists, and think that their own “enlightenment” is more important than the lives of others, drive me up the fricking wall. Perhaps a holdover/reaction from and to my upbringing as the child of an actual activist. But I think it matters, this hypocrisy. And that it goes on at the same time as corporations pulling the blankets up to their chins with government. Does it make great poetry? I don’t know if it does, but it’s an element of my poetry and what’s on my mind, and I can’t ignore it.

AP:
Oh, I don’t think that was harsh at all-- you showed great restraint, I’d say. (And I share an affection for so many of the poets you list!) Your lament over the all-too-common disregard for “the lives of others” resonates with the brilliant last lines of “Remembrance Day, 2011”: “We want the dead we know / to count, as we don’t count the dead we don’t.” That poem succeeds as a political poem insofar as it flips the symbolism of Remembrance Day on its head (“plastic ocean of red-- commitment / to proud death”), proposes a way out of the instrumental language of war and nostalgia (“some insensible murmur / noting the way waves feel, nothing more”), and engages our complicity (the pronominal “we” of the final lines). You manage all of that in fourteen-lines!

You mentioned the pleasure and benefits-- aesthetic and social-- of living in that “faraway land” of Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia. Can you speak about that a bit more? Also, what initially compelled the move out East? (I left Canada in 2005, and that’s certainly allowed for a more duty free sensibility, a disaffiliation of sorts. Myths and airs about Canadian poetry put into relief.) I should add, in a poem like “Mahone Bay rhapsody,” you don’t seem to idealize or romanticize the place. In fact, there’s something sinister in your description: for example, “Do not / even think about what lies below the crusting snow.”

AB:
I really love it out here. It wasn’t easy, the first few years, particularly when I moved out of Halifax and further into the rural-- First South, just outside of Lunenburg. How it happened is: I visited some good friends in Halifax in August 2001, who took me on an amazing tour of the province. Then, a few weeks later, it was September 11, 2001. At the time, I was working in a foreign exchange office at the corner of Yonge and Bloor. I decided, though I liked the job (yeah, I was a money changer), that I wasn’t willing to die for it, if someone didn’t like the corporation. Also, within the previous 6 years, my mother and my partner had died, and Toronto was thick with their memory. I just had a manuscript accepted by Beth Follett at Pedlar Press (this became Simple Master) and this further propelled me, into change. I made a fairly quick decision to move to Halifax, and did so in January 2002. Then met the man who became my husband, Zane Murdoch, and I moved out to First South. It was a very quiet existence for a while, which was great and sucked in equal measure-– I had a hard time meeting people, even though I’d go for long long walks. Ha ha – I remember folks peering out at me from behind window curtains! Someone I met later said “Oh, you’re the one who likes to walk.” I started to meet more folks when I had my first child, Hazel. I met a lot of other mothers-– and really liked a lot of them as people (not necessarily a given!) – that was lucky. So socially things are great now – I have a nice range of friends-– people I can eat and drink and shoot the shit with. One thing I’ve found out here is that there is a fairly low tolerance for show-offs, which can translate into – the good thing about living out here is that nobody cares if I’m a poet. And that’s also the bad thing! It’s a very different experience from living in Toronto-– and writers and artists are scattered throughout the province, subtly subverting little communities! There’s no anonymity for anyone in the community, unless you want to be a hermit. It’s a pretty conservative place, in many ways, liberally peppered with flakes, so there are many aspects to life here that are entertaining or annoying in equal measure. Mahone Bay is full of dogs. People walk their dogs in great numbers around town. Dogs outnumber children maybe 2:1. It’s pretty funny, people baby-talking to dogs. But then, secretly, those dog owners aren’t necessarily picking up the dog shit that is deposited on those quiet walks when nobody else is around. That’s usually what is lying beneath the snow. I just love that there are some fancy people out there, house-proud etc., shirking their civic duties!

AP:
Alice, thank you so much for the thoughtful, thorough, and honest answers-- this has been one of the most rewarding and refreshing interview experiences I’ve had. Seriously. And I encourage all Open Book Toronto readers to pick up Holler.

That said, let me end with one final question, totally unrelated to poetry (sort of). One of my favourite passages in the book comes from the poem “Black Box”:

People compare notes on beatitude
through breastfeeding. It’s just something
you do, not an awards show! A halo
won’t appear each time you let your kid
eat a knife or pee onto your leg, sorry.

Well, those lines make me want to ask if you have any thoughts regarding the recent hubbub over Time Magazine’s cover image of Jamie Lynne Grumet breastfeeding her three-year-old? That’s as good a place as any to end an interview about poetry!

Thanks, again.

AB:
Oh, you scamp! That’s one of my favourite poems too. I joke with folks that ever since I turned 40 I just can’t take any more bullshit. Not that I did much before, but I guess I let a lot of stuff slide that now I don’t. Anyway, I have no problem at all with women breastfeeding their children until they and/or their kids want to stop. I nursed Hazel till she stopped, at a year and a half, and I weaned Arthur shortly after he turned two. That cover was ridiculous, mainly because of the juxtaposition of the words “Are You Mom Enough?” with the photo. Not many women I know (or women I’d like to know) would honestly answer “Yes!” I mean, nothing about raising children is written in stone, but love is the base of it all, mixed in with a lot of self-doubt. It should also be pointed out that there’s a difference between how women who nurse their children in public and women who bottle-feed their children in public are treated, on occasion. There is still work to be done to normalize breastfeeding. But I have to say that that particular passage that you quoted came for me from some frustration I have with some folks who ascribe to the “attachment parenting” philosophy (and the word “philosophy” related to raising kids in itself makes me roll my eyes). I understand the impulse and desire to do what one thinks is the right thing, but it ultimately seems to often be related to the desire to be the ultimate parent. Not like one’s own parents, no, they did it all wrong. Not like those other parents who allow their children to eat cookies on occasion (with flour and sugar, can you believe it?) or who put their babies to sleep in cribs (how cold and heartless), or give their babies bottles with formula (poison!). When I hear the term “mommy wars”, again I roll my eyes, but I can’t say that there isn’t a competitiveness in mothering, in being the perfect mom (whatever the hell that is), and presenting ones children as geniuses (due to our own exemplary mothering of course, all that breast milk). So yeah, annoying. Also annoying to be reduced to only “mom”, when that is just one aspect of one’s life. An important aspect, but not the only one!

That cover, and the “hubbub” to me is a great example of the distracting power of stirring up differences between women. Hey, that way we don’t need to think and talk about all the crap going on around us and to us! We can just nurse competitively and discuss the post-partum bodies of Hollywood stars and fight about slings vs. strollers instead! I say, nurse for as long as you want to, but don’t make a big flipping deal about it, or don’t nurse if you don’t want to (and mainly I’ve known women who would like to, but can’t for various reasons), but don’t make a big flipping deal about it. Live and let live. And read some poetry!

Alessandro, thank you so much for these great questions. It was great fun!

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Related item from our archives

Alessandro Porco

Alessandro Porco is the author of two collections of poetry, Augustine in Carthage (2008) and The Jill Kelly Poems (2005), both published by ECW Press, and the editor of Population Me: Essays on David McGimpsey.

Go to Alessandro Porco’s Author Page