Teika's book 002

Picking up a pen, sitting down at a computer, taking time to write: it’s a discipline. Some might call it a theft. Because it takes. It’s taking time away from all the other things I “should” be doing: the washing, the cooking, the reading of stories to little people on laps, the clapping of hands to nursery rhymes, the wiping of noses and bottoms, the scrubbing of toilets, the preparation of food, the devising of lesson plans for my paid work. Taking the time to write means that something else doesn’t get done.

Nevertheless, writing is top of my to-do list. I schedule it in and don’t allow my eyelids to close, however heavy, until I have put pen to paper… copying out quotations… listing gratitudes… jotting down an account of our day… pouring out my feelings… making lists.

Letting the mind’s ink seep down through my arm, into the hand, out the nib of my pen feels like a quest completed. When I am done, there is a release, a catharsis, the sensation that a necessary deed has been done.

If you came to my house for a meal and offered to set the table, when searching for plates you would find a curled and weathered piece of newsprint blu-tacked to the inside of the cupboard. It’s Carol Ann Duffy’s poem “Stephen Lawrence,” a poem about motherhood and loss and justice, a poem that acknowledges that Doreen Lawrence never gave up her search for justice for her son’s murder. It is a poem to read, to savour, to arrest you when emptying the dishwasher as plate after plate returns to its place on the shelf.

I like poems because they are usually short, intense morsels of thought-provoking goodness. Sometimes that’s all the reading I have time for in a day. But I love the thinking time. I want a poem that demands a re-read, a ponder, another sip of tea. My brain wants something to chew on while hanging socks on the fireguard or wiping the table or stripping sheets off a wetted bed.

Teika Bellamy asked me to review a new book published by her independent press, Mother’s Milk Books. The book is a compilation of the winning and commended prose and poetry pieces from the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize 2013. In terms of poetry and prose to chew on, I got plenty of fodder here. Though I couldn’t read the whole book in one sitting, even though it is a trim and slender volume, there were some phrases that returned to me again and again.

“I look down/and treasure/the wavy parting of her hair,/the wispy plaits/the toes that point as they step/the wistful half-smile/of her secret thoughts.”

— Alison Parkes, The Ballet Lesson


“a cuckoo memory/of him as a baby/sleeping like a Y”

–Jan Dean, Accident


“…though as I surrender to this absorption of myself into “us”, I already morn its passing, and see that he will naturally grow away from this– as I turn in, pouring myself into this dyad, he is taking what he needs from so it so that he can move on.”

–Helen Lloyd, Intimacy

Each time I read a piece I found myself turning to the author bios. Who is this woman? What is her story? How does it end? These mothers, writing these morsels of thought, distilling their mind’s ink onto the back of an envelope or a coffee-stained napkin, have chosen to put writing on the top of their to-do lists too. They have done us a great service. The washing and cooking and cleaning can wait for a few more minutes.

©2014 Lisa Hassan Scott

Disclosure: Teika sent me a free review copy of the book. I received no other payment.


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