Reflections/poem biography for Bagging Upline 10 pic 10-001 beach footprints smaller

“You should be grown tall by now.
But I can still hold you: fossilised
fragments from the scan…”

This poem was one chosen by Kate Clanchy for her Guardian Poetry Workshop in 2008. In this now sadly defunct series, poets set a writing exercise or prompt, then chose a selection of the responses for publication.

For me, the poem was initially written as a personal acknowledgement that, with two boys, I was unlikely now to have a girl. Although I was never bothered whether I had girls or boys, for the first few weeks of pregnancy with my elder son, I thought he was girl. I suspect this is because I’d no experience of boys then, and just couldn’t imagine how to talk or react to a boy. (I have no brothers, just a younger sister and knowledge of my elder sister who died only hours after her birth.) In essence, I was probably talking, or writing, to an imagined version of myself as a baby.

Anyway, the ‘you’ in the poem was my baby that I’d imagined as girl and then later found out was a boy. But the poem is also tinged by the early days of my first pregnancy, when I had various scares. This included an incredibly early scan after I was rushed to hospital in France (in a fire engine of all things)! I was diabetic with food poisoning/gastroenteritis, and I couldn’t stop throwing up. Fortunately, my son and I were okay. Just as we finally emerged healthy and (comparatively) undamaged from later precautionary heart-check scans and an emergency c-section. But both pregnancy and early motherhood were particularly anxious times.

All of this put together though is quite a complicated experience to share, and perhaps very personal to me. The workshop feedback made it clear to me that readers were more likely to react to the poem as being one about the loss of one actual baby, something which still sadly affects many people. I’m quite happy for readers to interpret it in that way. If that is how it resonates, then it has a purpose.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

Which is more important – the writer or the reader’s interpretation of a poem? Does it matter if the two readings of one poem are very different?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Imagine you are clearing out and can only keep five things. What would you hold onto, and why? Which would be the hardest thing to get rid of?

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.