In honor of our second annual BLACK BOX POETRY PRIZE, to be judged by Zach Savich, we present a Safety Book interview with last year’s winner, Blueberry Morningsnow, whose collection WHALE IN THE WOODS was selected by Sabrina Orah Mark.
Learn more about the Black Box Poetry Prize here.
BLUEBERRY MORNINGSNOW (Safety Book #21)
1. Could you tell us the name of a book that you love, and why?
I love the book Home/Birth: a poemic by Arielle Greenberg and Rachel Zucker. This book is a birth book, and it’s also a death book. It’s a collaboration, so it’s also a record of a friendship. Which, that’s amazing. The author is actually not one person, but a friendship.
This is a book about birth—about homebirth, and birth in the water, and also the general birth situation, birth culture, in the U.S.
There are a lot of birth stories in here, and I love birth stories. A lot of questions, a lot of songlike lines, and I love those things too.
There are beautiful lyrical fierce passages in between long sections of two women conversing about a subculture in which they’re both involved, the homebirth culture.
I love this book because it is important. It makes me feel fierce things, and feminist things, and real things. And I feel supported, and complicated, and allowed to be complicated, as I read this book. And maybe these were things I already felt, but I am so glad they are here. I feel that Inger Christensen refrain chiming in me reading it: this exists, this exists. These birth stories exist, these questions exist, these paradoxes exist.
And maybe for me the encounter with art that will change me often starts with a sense of relief, a slow spreading sense of relief, much akin to happiness. Partly, again, it might just be the sense of relief that this exists. Like it’s just so much better now, the world, the fucked up birth situation maybe even; it’s made better because of the existence of this book, already.
There are things I wonder, like what does it mean to attend each other’s births? Is this the first book by poets who have attended the births of each other’s children?
The book is a call, sharp and wise.
2. Where were you when you first read, or saw, or heard of this book?
I think I was in Prairie Lights bookstore. I can’t remember actually! I don’t know where I physically was. But in my life, here’s where I was: my son was two. I do know that when I heard or read of this book, I immediately bought it, to sink into it. Because you see: I’d given birth several years earlier, gave birth to an almost ten pound baby boy in the living room, in a birth tub. At home in the water. And the waves of the way I was still re-making and unmaking and making my home in the world since then—ah, it’s unspeakable. It’s so damn complicated. I was completely vulnerable, thrown open. I had so much lucky support, don’t get me wrong. But I was thrown open—this was happening, and my son was two—it’s still happening, and he’s almost four! What is “this”?
Well what I mean is: at this point in my life: I’d given birth, some years now in the past—and I’d been writing! Writing these unfinishable poems; these impossible poems of birth. I’d been writing a birth book, full of the splendor and trouble and depression, full of the unthinkable—
and all the while still the baby was growing and changing, every second, every day. He’d wake up after a nap and his toes would be longer and the look in his eyes would be different. You know, I just felt time disappearing in a spiral down a hole that looked beautiful and terrifying. Looked like the shape of a baby face, full of life. And I couldn’t capture it, couldn’t finish any of my poems. They were long: the poems were wanting to be long, were wanting to be epic. But I didn’t have TIME I reminded the poems.
At any rate, this situation of navigating early motherhood and negotiating with time about how to write my own book of birth poems: that was where I was, when I encountered this book.
3. Did this book influence your own writing, thinking, sense of the world, or work?
Yes. It made me feel possibilities of life. It made me feel the possibilities of friendship, birth, family, and poetry. Those are all my favorite things.
Like I said before, this book immediately gave me a sense of relief. It lessened a pressure.
As I read this book, I decided I should start a discussion group, in which interested women would get together at my house, read the book out loud to each other, and then discuss, tell stories, feel things, etc.—together. This is something I still want to do. Because—the book feels like a circle, like it wants other things to radiate off of it. One of the refrains in the book is “We haven’t even begun to talk about. . .” And then that phrase ends in a topic, for example: We haven’t even begun to talk about our mothers. We haven’t even begun to talk about the hospital. We haven’t even begun to talk about post-partum depression. We haven’t even begun to talk about homebirth. . .
The book is a circle of remarkable conversation. Writing sentences; finishing each other’s stories; reminding, remembering; asking questions; not being able to answer them: that’s the way of this book. It’s not that I agree with everything that’s said absolutely and just love it because I feel validated or something. It’s that it IS a conversation—it’s inviting.
From this book, I gather back a sense of braveness, boldness. I gather ideas, starting points.
It reminds me of ‘zines I used to read, used to trade and order in the mail, ‘zines with herbal potions for natural abortions, witches’ potions, feminist activism, lifelines. It’s almost like listening to a mixtape with Heavens to Betsy and Team Dresch on it. . . It’s honest and raw and necessary. . . It’s a plea and a notion and it’s a palimpsest, but this time it’s bodies written over and out of bodies, it’s phrases and lines written from the front lines—from the backs and the hands and the bellies and the questions and the vulnerabilities of birthing women.
The question I kept asking after birth: what just happened? Who am I now? I felt like a shifted person, ineluctably shifted. Not just because of the fact that another human being had formed in my body and that my body had then opened to let that being out, in an unimaginable yet commonplace way, but also due to the fact that it kept happening: everything kept opening and splitting. The culture I lived in, my job, my friendships, my partnership, my family: everything was shifting and opening and splitting. Everything was different, yet profoundly the same. The images of birth in my body and in my mind kept reoccurring. I kept asking: what happened? A body came out of my body! A person, a human being, a wonderful person! I still want to shout it and talk about it, it’s just so weird. And he is here, out here, still growing and going. I think: I’m back here reeling, still at the start of the Big Bang while everything else radiates out.
One is re-made. Like a poem I suppose. Or a conversation with a friend that is going on and on and on, over years and changes, births and deaths.
What do I want to do? Because of this book?
I want to write poems.
Want to be a witch.
I want to create art with friends.
Particularly with one friend.
Perhaps we can just go out on our branches and sing about it:
4. Give us a line or excerpt from the text that intrigues, engages, mystifies, inspires, disgusts, or transforms you. Discuss…
I love the lyrical poems in between the conversation sections of the book. They are little gatherings of the language and phrases that are in the conversation sections—but they are beautiful often, and they seem like they should be sung out (perhaps it’s the italicized leaning that makes them so songlike)—actually they seem like spells at times:
“Feel grateful like a feminist, like an activist, like a friend and
the truth is when you saw what you could do—
women watching over—
it changed everything and was safer and feminist
all the drawers and doors and windows
at once and the low noise we make
“lotus flower, birth certificate
fast and strong and wild
the celestial nurse, I just know
good witch watching over
shining moment, mostly still
of course it is a sacred grove”
And “Hold the space” is a phrase that’s returned to over and over, it’s probably the line I think about most, when I think of this book. This idea is so strong, this idea of holding the space. Just hold the space, stand there and hold it. Be in it. It’s strong. It reminds me of the choice one has at every moment, not just transformative moments, and it’s a hard choice: the choice to be, to be physically, soulfully, psychologically present.
Here’s some more choice urgent bits:
“I believe in science. I believe in art. Obstetrics fails to honor either.”
“We’ve hardly begun to talk about all the reasons midwifery is a sacred art, a language we must preserve, a nonrenewable resource we’re at risk of losing, and how this could damage humankind.”
“The way we welcome babies, the way women feel (physically and mentally) after and about their births has profound and lasting consequences for our society.”
“People say about homebirth, ‘Wow, I don’t know if I could be that brave,’ but they don’t get it: when I think about being in a weird-smelling room in weird-smelling clothing strapped down with monitors and denied food and water, and with strangers pushing me to make choices I don’t want to make, I think that’s terrifying. I can’t imagine how brave you have to be to birth in a hospital.”
And, lastly, I love this, this record-keeping of the moments that happens:
“The baby just kicked when I typed that.”
5. Who did you send this book to, why?
I keep giving away this book: first, I gave it to my mom, who gave birth to me at home in 1977, and who writes books about the history of midwifery herself. I have given it to three or four friends, and not all of them mothers. I have talked about it with quite a few people.
I have a friend who just wrote to me yesterday telling me the birth story of her second child—I would like to send her this book, and maybe make a care package of amazing birth books and albums for her too: The Mother-Child Papers by Alicia Ostriker; Body Clock by Eleni Sikelianos; Mother’s Spiritual by Laura Nyro. . . (all of which I considered writing about too for this interview). . .
Thanks for holding this space here, Rescue Press!
Blueberry Morningsnow lives, writes, mothers, and teaches in Iowa City, IA. Her first book of poems, Whale in the Woods won the Black Box Poetry Prize in 2011, and just came out on Rescue Press.