This pamphlet, beautifully produced by Mother’s Milk Books, is a delight. I read it in one sitting but will be going back to savour its imagery and crafting in the future. The first poem, ‘Eucharist’ is a hymn to a mother’s love. It neatly subverts the religious element which is so often controlled by men, into an intimate ceremony of women, a mother making porridge for her daughter on mornings she feels well enough to do so.
This poem strikes a note for the whole pamphlet – the reader can see immediately the poems will be about mothers who struggle, hard times in a mother’s journey, let downs and difficulties, but love will triumph when it can. ‘All Princes Were Monsters Once’ focuses on the painful stages of one’s child growing up and beginning to detach, how one looks back at happier times and feels the loss of them. The imagery is uncompromising:
… I am older or uglier than I thought,
twisted up like plaited bread or a corroded school gate
This gives the lie to deluded people who think domestic imagery is cosy – it is anything but. I also like the way Cherriman uses the sofa as a symbol of the relationship. A sofa is where one cuddles up to breastfeed, read and cuddle. Now the sofa is not big enough to hold both of them: the notion captures the boy’s growth but also the space he now requires to detach from the mother’s love.
There are poems of lost love, poems of illness, poems mourning the diagnosis of sterility: all hard things women have to cope with. ‘Lone Parent’ is a poem full of grit and bitterness, but still the mother keeps faith with her child and her dreams. ‘Castrametation’ is written in the voice of a man feeling inadequate as he watches his infertile wife dreaming of her non-existent child. I love the fairy-tale imagery here:
A century passes in which I slash through thorns to kiss those lips. But still I cannot rouse her.
One of the stand-out poems for me in this pamphlet is ‘The Foster Mother’s Blanket’. Apparently foster parents sleep with a blanket to give to the child when he or she moves on to a forever home, so that they have the familiar smell to comfort them when they leave. Cherriman makes it a symbol for memory and futures unknown, for love, for history shared and severed, and for promise.
‘Pamela’ is a story of a woman, not perfect, not always likeable, but who would not give her illegitimate baby up for adoption, that mother-love redeeming her faults. ‘In Bloom’, the closing poem which explores the story of Alice Scatcherd, was commissioned by Morley Literature Festival. Rightly placed at the end, it is a poem of consolation and hope.
The pamphlet is £5 from Mother’s Milk Books, or from Becky Cherriman herself. Five Leaves bookshop stock it also It is highly recommended.
If anyone aspires to be published by Mother’s Milk Books, please note I am judging their pamphlet competition. Details here: http://www.mothersmilkbooks.com/index.php/pamphlet-prize