Monthly Archive for August, 2012

An Interview with Fertile Source Guest Poetry Editor Kate Bolton Bonnici

Kate Bolton Bonnici and familyEditor’s Note:

The Fertile Source is proud to announce Kate Bolton Bonnici as our first Guest Poetry Editor for the coming year. We first met Kate in our Poetry of Motherhood class (offered last spring, through our sister site, Mother, Writer, Mentor). Both Jessica and I were moved to hear that the sort of gritty, honest, grappling poems we publish at The Fertile Source had, over time, provided solace and inspiration as Kate faced her own challenges with mothering while writing.

As a result of Kate’s vibrancy, enthusiasm, and level of engagement with poetry (both her own and that of others), we realized we wanted to keep working with her. A graduate of Harvard University and New York University School of Law, Kate writes poetry that speaks for itself (read five of her poems here). Starting September 1, 2012, please send poetry submissions to kate [@] catalystbookpress [dot] com.

Welcome, Kate! –Tania Pryputniewicz (Managing Poetry Editor, focusing now on role as Art Editor; send art submissions to tania [@] catalystbookpress [dot] com.)

Robbery” tenderly charts a fragility between husband and wife, both partners attempting to stay connected while parenting (scrapping for time together, time apart—the need for time apart landing in this poem more squarely with the wife). Can you talk to us about the emotional landscape of the poem and the process of writing it?

“Robbery” was my attempt to explore the complex space between parents after the birth of their children, the ways their relationship to each other has changed, their understanding of self has changed. They are new people now — overwhelmed, physically and emotionally exhausted, in love with their children, tired of their children, frantic for time together and time apart. I think of it as treading water in an impossibly beautiful sea.

Parenting the children you love creates a remarkable place, but you still must keep your head afloat; it’s hard to reach out for your adult partner when you’re so busy flapping and kicking and taking big gulps of air. Sometimes you remember to lie back, float, look up at the turtle-shaped bits of clouds, and it’s a nice time to reach over, hold hands. Of course, that’s usually when the other one is stuck in his own treading-water thing, and he can’t hear you pointing out that your funny turtle-cloud just morphed into a pink dinosaur.

Our children have deepened my relationship to my own husband; we are fused together now in a profound way. That said, it is so easy to miss each other in the clamoring chaos of daily demands — including the demand for separate space and time for the self.

A quiet grace emanates from your poem, “Morning, Los Angeles,” from the opening admission, “Two now reach for me, want to hold / more than I can give,” which sets the stage—adds a simple poignancy to a line halfway through that reads, “My mother went for a run / and didn’t return.” Where in the drafts of writing the poem did the mother of the narrator enter the poem?

The narrator’s mother entered this poem in the first draft, but I’m not entirely sure where she originated from — one of the mysteries of the imagination or the unconscious, I guess. I set out to write about obsession and, as the mother of two young children (the younger being very young at the time this poem was written), what emerged was not autobiographical or historical truth, but two things, really — an emotional truth (the utterly consuming feeling of having “two now reach for me”) and a need to stretch this feeling to its most painful outcome, abandonment. In the poem, the narrator walks through her own mothering experience under the weight of this loss. It lurks, this pain, this temptation.

“Blood lines” picks up the narrative thread of mother haunting, examining in part how in becoming a mother oneself, memories of one’s own mother resurrect, reappear on a cellular level, here along the axis of “torn perineum.” How did you arrive at that amazing final image of that narrator’s mother’s birth-ravaged body, “holding her re-written body like a shaky glass egg that could lope away end- / over-end down the street”?

The narrator’s mother in “Blood Lines” did not appear until significantly far into the revision process. Earlier versions of the poem were purely a communion between mother and child, but somewhere along the way, I knew I needed to get more precise about the pleasure-pain tension one feels after birth, even a peaceful one, but especially if you have experienced tearing or an episiotomy. (I remember first hearing about episiotomies from my mother and being horrified at the notion. How barbaric! Then, contrary to my wishes, I had one with my first birth. During the birth of my second child, I had some tearing, but the dear midwife who sewed me up was so gentle, just as she was throughout the birth. Her soothing voice set me on a different course of healing.)

When I wrote this poem, I had in my mind the image of a quilt, of the literal lines woven by perineal stitches, the way my birth marked my mother’s body in this specific, physical way, the way the birth of my daughters did the same for me. This was the image I kept coming back to, and it led to the memory of new mothers taking their first steps after birth, the timid, ginger putting of one foot in front of the other, after your body has gone through the all-consuming process of birthing a separate being.

More, that fuzzy period just after birth felt like the first time I’d really understood my own mother, an honest glimpse into her experience. She was also there with me during the delivery of my first child, rubbing my calf, and would have been there for the second, except I needed her to do the important work of watching my firstborn.

In “My Former Object of Everything,” you take the risk to bare the push and pull all mothers (who have more than one child) learn to withstand: dual love for the firstborn and intense frustration aimed at that firstborn when the second child comes along and that firstborn does what he/she does best: clamor for attention, etc. How did you arrive at your final draft? Are there other tensions (for mothers or fathers) you have yet to see explored in poetry that either you wish to explore or you’d like to see others exploring in poetry?

In my line of work (work away from writing, that is), I see tremendous pain in family relationships, families that are deeply splintered and broken, often wounded beyond repair. I think this experience underlies some of my writing about family. It sneaks up and darkens the world of the poem I’m creating.

That said, I was blindsided by the difficulty of caring for two children. I was blindsided by how draining the first child’s great need would be and how the strength of my connection with the baby would create unexpected tension. As with the other pieces in this group, I wanted to take my emotional experience and run with it into a poem, moving away from the literal and autobiographical into a new poetic space, one that would, I hoped, illuminate what hides at the fringes of the self.

Of all the poems in this submission, this poem most grew and shrunk over the course of the writing-revising process. With each draft, it expanded and compressed, expanded and compressed, until finding its current state.

I am fascinated by (and a little afraid of) missed connections between people, and the anger and frustration generated when we cannot connect. The theme of missed connections threads through all of these poems, I think, as I struggle to understand the realities of family life. With each poem, I try to write what is hard, what gives me pause, what makes me worry. When I feel myself retreating, questioning, looking over my shoulder, I think, there, there it is, write that! Some days I am brave — I write. Other days, I put down my pen. Fix another cup of coffee. Put away toys or turn up the radio. I don’t listen. When I write, I’m trying to listen, to be willing to explore the fullness of a moment, in all its mystery, glory, fear, dullness, uncertainty. I’m trying to push this further, to be braver, to write it all.

Can you talk to us about your relationship to writing, before and after the birth of your children?

Midway along my pregnancy with my second child, I felt a strong need to start writing poetry, after spending my entire writing life focused on fiction and creative nonfiction. It was quite a shift, but a necessary one for me. I’ve written poetry almost exclusively for the past year and a half. There are days when I write less because of my children. Then, there are days when I connect more intensely than ever to my writing and feel ravenous for it — in part because of my children. Plus, they give me tons of material. Joy and suffering and the gritty beauty of the everyday — it’s all there in the relationship with and experience of children.

How does poetry figure, if it does, in your professional life as a lawyer?

I’ve struggled with answering this question, and I think the answer is that there is a complex relationship between my lawyering and my creative writing. Stripped to their most fundamental cores, words and narrative are central to both fields. I am more precise in my legal writing because of my work as a poet. I edit my legal work on a micro level; words matter desperately in law as in poetry. And good, honest storytelling is just as necessary. Each side in a lawsuit must tell their story their way; the lawyer is there to help facilitate that process.

The tougher, but equally necessary, answer to this question is to consider the way my career as a lawyer influences my poetry. I practice primarily in the areas of criminal defense and family law, two deeply rewarding, deeply important (in the sense of fundamental rights and basic justice and all that good stuff), but deeply difficult fields. Frankly, no one seeks out my help unless their life is falling apart. The substance can get morbidly dark indeed, and I am witness to tremendous sadness and personal anguish as a matter of course. I think the experience of standing near the unfolding of intense, traumatic episodes in the lives of others has challenged and changed my writing.

How do you find time to work, to write, to parent, to tend to a marriage?

Ah, this is the question, isn’t it? In fits and spurts, frantically, often poorly and with bursts of goodness and delirious devotion. Seriously, as we all experience, every day is a struggle. Every day something gets shut out or forgotten or plainly rejected. (Today that thing was a balanced meal. Sometimes cereal will have to do.) I try to write daily or at least most days, and I consider time spent revising to be time spent writing. I often write late at night snuggled up next to a sleeping baby. I also run, reaching a nice, meditative place where I can work on ongoing poems or construct new ones.

I am thankful for my mother, my role model, and I am grateful to my husband, for truly getting it. Some days when my older daughter pretends she’s a grown up, she says she’s a mother and a lawyer and, oh, she must go write a poem! On those days I think I’m doing okay.

Any special poems or writing mentors you wish to share with our readers?

My aunt, Patricia Foster, has been my lifelong writing mentor — patiently reading my stories and poems (going all the way back to elementary school rhyme schemes and princess illustrations), feeding me a steady stream of new books for as long as I can remember, providing a template for the writers’ life, and crafting so many lovely sentences for me to soak in and learn from. Her novel, Girl from Soldier Creek, is forthcoming in October.

There are so many poets whose work I admire deeply — Beth Ann Fennelly, Natasha Trethewey, Mary Oliver, Laura Kasischke, James Galvin, just to name a few.

I just finished reading Elizabeth McCracken’s An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination. Exquisite, haunting, and yet breathing with little gusts of joy.

Five Poems by Kate Bolton Bonnici

ROBBERY

The children sleep, closed
faces warm and lush,
round fruits. I leave them
curled in blankets to curl
around my computer
or The New Yorker.

My husband asks me to sit with him
on the sofa. I see too late

he meant to be kind.

His voice held something
warm and timid, an offering
gone now. He licks
his hurt by saying
I’ve abandoned us.

I didn’t mean to bruise the pear.
My thumb pressed
heavy

into milky green flesh.
We flush with misread wants.

I race to catch the only scrap
of self I can still see.
It shudders away, thin
paper napkin tossed
along the freeway. I run,
breathing too fast to tell him

I’m lost.

MORNING, LOS ANGELES

Two now reach for me, want to hold
more than I can give. We stroll into clusters
of flies. Their hard, green bodies pop
against my face. My older daughter shouts,
“Shoo, fly!” I wave a pocket
of purring wings. The baby in my arms
nudges my chest, wanting. A white truck drives
past, radio loud enough to vibrate
my shoulders. I taste it in my throat,
chew on the squall of voices
and potholes. My mother went for a run
and didn’t return. She wrote a letter
from Phoenix of birds rising black
in the desert. Above us, a gold-throated
hummingbird shivers, suspended
like the dime-store Christmas ornament
on my father’s tree, glitter-sweet angel
spinning.

BLOOD LINES

Daughter, we are floating.

Your fingers whisper. Somewhere my mother jerks awake. On the yellow couch. Beside the kitchen counter. She remembers her name. You sleep with one new hand on my chest, asking for my breath. We have only just met, but you curl into me. Your lips flutter and click, nursing through our sleep.

Beneath us, Los Angeles. Lights shudder like the trilling mouths of birds. In the old place, robins swarmed South, draping an orange net over the yard and yanking berries from the hedge. Our front walk graffitied with their purple-berry shit.

I bled when you were born. Your sweet, bulging body pressed through me with all I’d rejected. An emptying. The sound of my groaning brought you caked-white, mouth searching, blue cord heaving between us: I offered up everything. When it was time for me to stand, I couldn’t, and we waited a little longer in the space of your first being.

Morning emerges now, dust fizzing on the plastic, half-closed blinds. You wake with startled arms, a beetle on her back, belly warm. You need to press your cheek to my cheek, mouth open to my neck. Breath smudged with milk.

I lie with you on the crackling chuck pad, aching where your body opened up mine to be born, sacred space stitched pink. I once wove these lines upon my mother. For days after she shuffled close-legged, torn perineum, holding her re-written body like a shaky glass egg that could lope away end-

over-end down the street.

MY FORMER OBJECT OF EVERYTHING

You tore me as you emerged a formed
person, saying masquerades, gorgeous birds
dissolve, we have strings for our antiquities
.

I forget that you are so young, that you were only
just born, in the scheme of things. I can’t stop saying
what you will remember years later to your daughter,
words frothing like yellow-jackets in the black oak,
their flashing bodies hard pebbles, stinging,
stinging into death.

You are three: Don’t hit me.
I could. I almost do. You know this before me.
Between us, the baby you once were nurses,
her mouth noisy and pleased.

You hold one hand on your hip, a painted tambourine
in the other, purple plastic heels rattling too big on your feet.
My name is Linda, smiling a thin-mouthed secret:
I am a mother too.

The baby mumbles. You play the bright tambourine.
See, I’m laughing! Don’t you see?
The tambourine chatters and skates like branches scraping
the tin roof of the barn where I hid, a sound

large enough to blanket the missing earth beneath us,
loud enough to soften
our fall.

I CAN’T REMEMBER SLEEPING ALONE

From the time you slid out with all that blood and feces,
you began to leave me. I began to leave you.

You clutch my necklace, my thumb, my nipple. A strand
of my hair loops around your ear. Outside, a green truck

heaves past. Our walls shiver. I lay you in the little-used
brown bassinet. Your cry leaps out, a coiled and trembling

deer. I wait too long to answer, air clotted like my grandmother’s
gelatin salads, tender boiled bones, my arms lost, sockets

aching, unable to reach for you again. Under the weight
of your sound I am quiet; I don’t tell everything. Dark words

skulk, broken-eyed, waiting. Some days omission
is the best love I can give.

Kate Bolton Bonnici is a writer, mother, and lawyer living with her family in Los Angeles. Kate is a graduate of Harvard University and New York University School of Law. She is originally from rural Alabama.




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