enough love / to break your heart / forever

(poetry) mamas

Dear Baby-O—

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, which is a fraught holiday for so many of us. Whether we’re mothers ourselves, or wish to be and aren’t, or never want to be; whether we’ve lost our own mothers or never knew them or have difficult relationships with them; any and all of the above, or something else entirely. I know it’s a difficult day for me. I love my mom, but our relationship isn’t always easy, and I myself am a mama but haven’t been feeling like a very good one, lately. (This pandemic has been difficult in that regard. I’m not the first one to say this, but—check in on your caregiver friends. Whether they’ve been caring for children, sick or elderly relatives, or anyone else, caregiving is never easy but has been made even harder during this whole thing.)

One thing that helps me with these complicated emotions is thinking of people who have ‘mothered’ me in ways not related to birth-giving or care-giving. For the 2019 Mother’s Day issue of Pussy Magic, I wrote an essay about my poetry mamas—Sylvia Plath, Patti Smith, Diane di Prima, Lucille Clifton, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Elise Cowen, and Lynda Hull. You can read the entirety of it here, but I wanted to share an excerpt in this missive. I chose the section about Diane di Prima, as she passed from this realm in October of last year, and, as I wrote in the essay…

Diane di Prima has mothered me to word-birth so many times. She has probably been more mama to me than any of these other mothers. She has given and given and given to me: an untamed, ecstatic spirituality, a joy in experimentation (poetically, sexually, always/all ways), a revolutionary zeal. When I first read Loba it felt like a coming-home to someone who would understand me in blood-deep ways:

It is still news to her that passion 
could steer her wrong 
though she went down, a thousand times 
strung out 
across railroad tracks, off bridges 
under cars, or stiff 
glass bottle still in hand, hair soft 
on greasy pillows, still it is 
news she cannot follow love (his 
burning footsteps in blue crystal 
snow) & still 
come out all right.

I have continued to follow love even when it has steered me passionately wrong, and Diane has welcomed me home every time. I return and return and return to her. Both times I was pregnant (that is; the pregnancies I carried to term) she was there with a “Song for Baby-O, Unborn,” and I sang it to my budding womb fishies:

…I can show you
enough love
to break your heart

I met her, once, when pregnant with my oldest kiddo (though I did not yet know I was pregnant). Gorgeous white-haired goddess she was, mystic and irreverent; she gave the rapt class of us her wisdom on setting out to write poems on particular themes vs. writing the kind of poetry that’s more like channeling—there is a place for both, she told us, and sometimes one poem can have both elements at work.

She has midwifed and mothered me through giving birth to my own poems of wolves and witchcraft, sex and love, motherhood and womxn in revolt. In this way she has grandmothered my poems. And Mama Diane has passed down her battlecries. Because of her I say: THE ONLY WAR THAT MATTERS IS THE WAR AGAINST THE IMAGINATION. Because of her I shout: ALL POWER TO JOY, which will remake the world.


  • I’m nonbinary, yet I relate to being a mother/mama more than I do to any of the other terms for parents, even those made to be less binary. But that’s another essay for another time.

  • I recently read Diane Seuss’ piece in the May/June issue of Poets & Writers. In it, she mentioned Gregory Orr’s essay “Four Temperaments and the Forms of Poetry.” I find the whole concept very interesting, so I tracked down the essay and I’m digging into it now, trying to figure out which of the four temperaments is my main one, and how I can better incorporate the other temperaments into my work. If you’re interested in reading it, too, I Googled “gregory+orr+four+temperaments+and+the+forms+of+poetry", and the top result (the one at washcoll.instructure.com) is where I downloaded the .pdf.

  • My first newly-published poem in a while—“Self-Portrait as the Moon Smoking a Cigarette”—was posted at Punk Noir Magazine a week ago.

  • The next paid-subscribers-only edition of Reckless Chants will be sent out either tomorrow or Wednesday. It has to do with first drafts and sonnets.

  • I’ll leave you with one last short di Prima poem, from The Poetry Deal: