Review by Janet McCann
As a crone poet whose childbearing years are decades past and mostly forgotten, I found this collection brought everything back graphically. The physical and metaphysical elements of childbirth became real again—hyper-real. The poems evoke strong body imagery that resounds with soul-deep reverberations. The sensory images pleased me immensely, though they did not make me want to go through that experience again. It is also satisfying to read a sequence of poems that represents a personal narrative that is also a shared women’s story, a myth that is also a truth.
Samantha Kolber received her MFA in creative writing from Goddard College in 2014 and her poetry has received several honors and awards. She coordinates author events and marketing for her Bear Pond Books, and she is also the Poetry Series Editor at Rootstock Publishing. Birth of a Daughter is her first collection.
The excitement of this book lies in its daring exploration of childbirth—how the pregnant mother feels, how her body works or doesn’t work, what it is like to be the bearer of another person. The series begins with first awareness of pregnancy, and the titles recount the sequence of events: “What Nourishes Me: Poems at Ten Weeks Pregnant,” “The Missing Poem: Birth,” “Breastfeeding Dyad,” “My Toddler’s Scrambled Eggs,” “The Girl Is Three,” and so forth. Experiences are encountered in order and there is nothing superfluous. One of my favorites is the birth poem, and I remember thinking about writing a poem myself in the delivery room, between labor pains, but deciding my request for pen and paper would not be welcomed. Her poem, though presumably written later, (hence “missing,”) has the stress and rhythm of the birthing woman. The poem ends:
This style is very different from the reflective couplets of “To my daughter sleeping soundly in the middle of the night,” which concludes:
Indeed these poems have a wide range of patterns, from taut short lines to tercets to sprawling prose poetry. The style fits the content, as giving birth is such a multifaceted event, bringing so many varied emotions to the surface at once. The infant inside is part of the self—then separates, becomes another—and yet still remains part of the self. The separation is a raw wrenching that still leaves a natural bond, felt especially in the act of nursing the baby. From “Breastfeeding Dyad”: “your shoulder is a star/ shooting its way into/ the gravitational pull of me…oh, these worlds we are now/ you and I/ tied together/ like a planet and moon” (25)
The earth-groundedness of childbirth is expressed through these poems as well as the eternal nature of the bond between mother and child. It struck me forcibly that despite the fifty years between my daughter’s birth and her daughter’s, despite all the changes that have taken place in medicine and psychology, the new machines, the new techniques and drugs, the feel of the process and its essential nature have changed very little. This is a collection that will resonate with all women who have or will bear children, and many men should enjoy it too, as it represents the birth sequence in such rich and raw detail that any reader can experience it.
Birth of a Daughter, Poems by Samantha Kolber
Kelsay Books, 2020, $16, paper
Janet McCann taught creative writing at Texas A&M from 1969 until 2015, is now Professor Emerita there. Journals publishing her work include Kansas Quarterly, Parnassus, Nimrod, etc. Her most recent book-length poetry collection is The Crone at the Casino, Lamar Univ. Press, 2015.