The Best Literary Writing About Mothers and Motherhood

Challenging the Quintessential Motherhood Poem

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A folio curated by Jennifer Martelli and Cindy Veach


Motherhood poems have a certain reputation of being overly sentimental and happy. Traditionally, they have not reflected the fact that the motherhood experience is highly complex, involving identity, body image, autonomy, and more.

Jennifer Militello’s excellent article, “From the Maternal to the Mechanical” (APR May/June 2017), explores the “struggle against sentiment in contemporary American motherhood poetry.” The premise is that “America’s contemporary poets are now in a position where they must explore ways of writing about motherhood that can defy sentimentality and resist the cultural pressure to present motherhood mainly as a source of happiness.”

The poems in this folio seek to disrupt the quintessential motherhood poem by defying expectation and viewing the mother or child figure through a new lens.

In Kelli Russell Agodon’s poem, Postpartum Depression in a Volvo, the reader sees new motherhood through the lens of postpartum depression:

For weeks, depression wrote her / letters. Now darkness is so close, / she feels its tongue

And in Maggie Smith’s poem, Overheard, the children are seen as autonomous and separated from the mother:

…I call them / my children, but nothing is mine. // They are part of the shared all / and everything she speaks of.

Ultimately, each of the poems in this folio challenges the traditional motherhood poem in its own unique way. These are brave poems that aren’t afraid to ask: “What enters as mother?” as Stephanie Bryant Anderson does in her poem, My Sons (on dead fathers, the Celestial mother & other mothers):

What enters as mother? Moon as / reverence / ghost as reverence / hearing voices as /
reverence. Sky means body, Creation birth, / & a woman’s body, not a rib but the equal sign.

We hope you will enjoy reading this collection as much as we enjoyed curating it.

Featured poets:

Maggie Smith
Kelli Russell Agodon
Karen Skolfield
Stephanie Bryant Anderson
Erika Meitner
Sarah Browning
Teri Cross Davis
JP Howard


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