The Complaint’ is a series of traditionally lyric poems giving voice to my refusal to have children and the stigma attached to that decision. This project attempts to imitate the style of Denise Riley (my PhD supervisor) specifically the way in which many of her poems reflexively explore a metaphorical/symbolic emotional landscape with un-apologetically lyric excess, with a curiously un-contradictory candidness/guarded-ness. In particular I want to imitate the wryness of that voice, as well as its logical, argumentative, flamboyant, feminine character. The poems I have so far produced don’t strike me as all that similar to Riley’s, though I feel that they've imported something ambivalent and foreign into me. Denise's work has turned out to be inimitable as long as I maintain good faith with it.

One of the most affecting and perhaps dire things I've realised since starting the project is that Denise is well known for the incredible lyric poetry she has written on the death of her son. I chose the topic of 'The Complaint' simply because it is an issue very close to my heart and one that I felt I could treat appropriately in this particular lyric mode, but part way through writing I realised that our connection on the theme of motherhood is very tender - loss vs refusal - and here I am attempting to sing one song with the voice of the other. On the one hand it feels very wrong, morbid and sacrilegious, on the other it feels like adding another part to the nonetheless always incomplete picture of woman as mother. Perhaps an articulation of my refusal must include that encounter with loss (what feels like its opposite) because that encounter hinges on the preciousness of what is spurned in my refusal, the central, most contested, most painful point.

Two poems from 'The Complaint' have appeared in Black Box Manifold and two in Hotel.

 

 

 

Potential for Child-bearing as the Condition for the Worship of Woman-as-goddess

What’s that, She splits to become?

Moon and Waters plough up the cheerless self
that had languished with the weasel in the pennyroyal.

Which is to say, baby drags her Mother out with her,
blinking as though from Hell.

Such shrewd knowledge
drips from the dark
made of meat and fire and value.

A unicorn might weep joyful tears of feverfew -

O virgins, you tight hard buds of somewhere,
I believe in you.

 

 

 

Spell for Unconditional Love

to speak it plainly
makes sympathy die
like any baby bird ever.

modesty, disfigured and badly-dressed
touts a pain, the liar.

or it’s me, girl gone old and bad

going around, writing poems on the rocks
saying:

‘but I too must be adored!’

while the rain rains, smoothing stone bald
going:

never never never
never.

Standard Mortality Poem

 

Considered to be the underworld, cave systems,
for example in Oparara, nullify all things
acknowledged as familiar. To wit light, air currents,
perforations between body/world, any sound
and its progeny. Un-ness with flesh
and boots on, sister. Now there’s a god for ya.
Not new, no, but knowledge about whales
isn’t getting swallowed by one.
So that is where baby is going
as every party gets well and truly over.
All imagined under the great green banner
is shruggable angora and what makes baby cling
so tightly to the brightening fabric of life


 

 

 

 

 

 

Standard Birth Poem

 

This ritual is for anxiety
before the Thursday when
a single word is heard in the billion crashing of the sea.
So that is where baby has come from
should we ever really get down to it.
Meaning: baby is not her mother
and what diminishes one
eventually returns
unrecognisable and impossible to love the same
and everyone is someone’s small sweet babe.

 

[collaborations are] just a scapegoat that incarnates a communitarian burden of guilt about individual action and cleanses the community through its very expulsion via production.

Trisha Low

© 2018 by Cat Woodward