Tag Archive for 'mother writers'

An Interview with Poet Brittney Corrigan: Second Hearts, Autism, & Mother Writer Retreats

Brittney Corrigan; Photo by Serena Davidson

Guilt Poem: Unplanned” opens with, “You didn’t want another child,” and continues to address the leap of faith mothers make each time they get pregnant—the attendant questions of sustainability: will I now also be able to nurture this new life, in addition to the one I am already nursing, raising. Can you talk to us about this dilemma, as well as the process of writing this poem?

When my sister had her first child, she described the experience of loving that child as “growing a second heart”. I think many mothers wonder, when they get pregnant for a subsequent time, how they will possibly be able to love the new child as much, or as well, as the first. For me, the fear was twofold, as my first child is on the autism spectrum. I was scared of the possibility of having another special needs child, when I was so overwhelmed by caring for the first. And I wondered, darkly, if I had a typical child, would I somehow love my first, challenging child less?

For me, these dark but nonetheless real emotions and fears are the basis for my series of parenting guilt poems. I wanted to address not the commonly discussed guilts of not wanting to play Legos for hours or feeling guilty about taking time for oneself, but rather the deeper issues of guilt that I think many parents have but are afraid or ashamed to voice. These poems are meant to open the discussion of these darker feelings of guilt, to work through them, and to come out hopeful on the other side. I have found that, even when I feel like I’m alone with these feelings, once each guilt poem is offered up to readers, I am suddenly surrounded by scores of parents saying, “Yes! I’ve felt that, too!”

When I read the line “this sibilant galaxy of two” (also from “Guilt Poem”) I knew we had to run your poetry—what a lovely stanza and line in particular. Can you talk about arriving at the star/constellation metaphor? Other metaphors since then you have landed on as crystallizing images regarding pregnancy and motherhood?

I tend to “gravitate” towards celestial metaphors in my work, whether the poems are about motherhood or other subject matter. I’m comfortable with the imagery of stars and constellations, and with the natural world, in general. In this particular poem, I enjoyed “breaking the rules” of not mixing metaphors by combining celestial and oceanic/tidal imagery. I feel that both metaphors capture the experience of motherhood – the regular rhythm of routines, the ebb and flow of emotions, and the concurrent fear and wonder of raising children. In my other poems about pregnancy and motherhood, I use imagery of the natural world throughout.

Here’s a question we never fail to enjoy asking at The Fertile Source: what impact has motherhood had on your writing life?

When I learned I was pregnant with my first child, I immediately decided that I would write one poem each week, from 4 to 40, exploring the experience of pregnancy. I wrote weeks 4 and 5, and then the exhaustion hit. I did very little writing for the rest of my pregnancy and in the first couple years of my son’s life. It was very difficult for me to make the space in my life – both literally and emotionally – to write.

When my son received his autism diagnosis, I began to write again about my experience as his mother. Poetry then became a way for me to work through the complicated issues involved in raising and loving a special needs child.

When I became pregnant with my second child, I was lucky enough to be awarded a week long residency at Soapstone, a writing retreat for women near the Oregon coast. I attended while in my second trimester, and with that renewed energy and the time away from my then 3-year old son, I worked on the autism poems as well as returning enthusiastically to the project of the week-by-week pregnancy poems.

As my children, now nearing four and eight, have grown older, I have found more and more time to return to my writing. I now greatly value any spare moment and have learned to write on demand when I have that time and to fit short writing periods into a busy schedule, since I don’t often have extended periods of time to write.

You mentioned attending the writing retreat, Soapstone. Can you tell us a bit about that retreat (we understand it is no longer running). Any reflections on that experience and words of advice to other mother writers considering escaping to writing retreats while raising children? Any other retreat venues you know of that are “mother friendly” (or what could you see retreats offering to mother writers in the future)?

Soapstone is a non-profit organization based in Portland, Oregon that supports women writers. The organization is no longer offering residencies, but I can tell you that the time I had at the retreat was an absolute gift. I was only in residence for a week during each of my three stays, but to a mother of small children, that seemed like an eternity of time. Having a space to write in a gorgeous natural setting, removed from the routines of the everyday, was invaluable.

Many of the other writing retreats and residency programs that I know about unfortunately do not offer stays of less than two weeks; in fact most are between 1-3 months. As any mother of small children knows, leaving them for even a few days can be a hardship on the family, and nearly impossible for a single mother. I would like to see more residency programs become more “mother friendly” by offering one-week stays. Eventually, I would like to apply for a residency at Hedgebrook, another retreat for women writers, but that won’t be possible until my children are much older, since the minimum stay is two weeks.

I also think it would be wonderful if local writing organizations could offer space in their own offices for “day retreats” – space that could be rented or even offered for free to mothers who are writers to come and write for a day or a few days at a time. I know that for me, it would still be valuable to be able to write for eight dedicated hours and then return to my family in the evening.

Any poetry or writings you could recommend to our readers that you consider pivotal or influential along your own writing trajectory?

The poets I love best are Naomi Shihab Nye, Sharon Olds, Joy Harjo, Deborah Digges, Mary Oliver, Dorianne Laux, Marie Howe, and Maxine Scates. In terms of poetry on the subject of motherhood, I could recommend the writing of Sharon Olds (very raw and honest), Jill Bialosky, and Sharon Kraus.

Any desire to talk about your own editorial role at Hyperlexia? Your most challenging moments/experiences? Your most rewarding?

While knowing or loving an individual with autism is becoming more and more common, it has been my experience that it’s hard to find literary-caliber poetry on the subject. It has been wonderful to be the poetry editor for a literary magazine dedicated to showcasing the best creative writing out there on the subject of autism. I have seen some truly remarkable poetry come across my desk. If your readers are interested in excellent poems about the experience of raising a child with autism, I highly recommend the work of Barbara Crooker and Rebecca Foust, among the many other talented writers published in our journal (Hyperlexia).

What are you currently working on?

As mentioned previously, my main project these days is the series of parenting guilt poems. I am also working on a series of poems about raising a child on the autism spectrum. I have completed the series of pregnancy poems, and I would eventually like to see them published in the form of a pregnancy journal for literary-minded women. I also have a handful of completed children’s picture book manuscripts that are looking for publishers. Finally, I’m working on editing my first full-length collection of poetry, which will be released in the coming year.

Brittney Corrigan’s poems have appeared in The Texas Observer, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Borderlands, The Blue Mesa Review, Oregon Review, Manzanita Quarterly, Hip Mama, Stringtown, and Many Mountains Moving, among others. She is the poetry editor for the online literary journal Hyperlexia and lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two children. To read more of Brittney’s work, visit her website; links to her poetry on-line may be accessed here.




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