Ella Kurz, Simone King and Claire Delahunty (eds) – What We Carry

Recent Work Press, Canberra, Australia, 2021

This superb collection of poetry is about childbearing.  The editors speak in their introduction of ‘the ineffable mosaic of wonder, fatigue, love, elation, discomfort and tedium experienced during pregnancy, birth and early parenthood.’ The works selected also speak of the diversity of experience around the whole notion of childbearing – birth, pain, blood, loneliness, heritage, abortion, IVF, infertility, still birth, rape. But also, joy.

Barbie speaks to Ella Kurz about What We Carry

To some of us it seems that discussions about respect for women, especially of late, have trodden a narrow path – sexual conduct and misconduct, employment, legal rights, financial independence and equal pay are all important, of course (goes without saying!). But there is something more fundamental in acknowledging the birthing experience as epic, something that belongs to the community as well as to women and which deserves recognition and wildly forthright conversation.

There is something essentially important in acknowledging the work of women, the labour and the labour lost. These experiences matter not just to the individuals who have them, or who don’t for whatever reason, but to society as a whole – without this process in all its guises we do not exist and cannot continue as a species. What greater consideration is there?

The poems in this book are many and diverse, from men and women poets,  but all touch our hearts with their powerful brevity and their delicately turned phrases. One of the strengths of poetry as a form is its capacity to say so much so succinctly and so memorably– Melinda Smith’s: ‘nine nights of heaving hell until he crowned’; Jeanine Leane’s: ‘the spotless underwear of white women’; Mark Tredennick’s: ‘ You fell out of the afternoon among us, violent and serene and longed for as rain and lovelier’; Ivy Alvarez’s: ‘I arrived in a twisted way to this realisation.’ Quoting but four is inadequate, but must suffice until you, the reader, can plunge into these words yourself.

What We Carry has given voice to the unspoken, that which has been for so long decreed unspeakable, the secrets of women and their wombs. It is at once a work of great gravitas and great lightness. It is an unburdening. I loved it and hope to see more volumes, for there are volumes more to say.

WHAT WE CARRY is available from the publisher at: https://recentworkpress.com/books/product/what-we-carry-poetry-on-childbearing/ or your local bookshop on request.

Thank you to Recent Work Press for my review copy and to Ella Kurz for speaking with me about the project. It was a joy.