Who Will You Be?
Who Will You Be?

 

I wrote the poem below at about 1am this morning, after re-visiting this old photograph yesterday. I had been thinking about what I could contribute to The Egg, The Womb, The Head and the Moon. I had to get out of bed, even though I was exhausted, and empty the words out of my head before I could sleep. That happens sometimes.

 

Two poets brainstorm names for their unborn twins

 

At least one of them is a girl.

Here are the rules:

they cannot begin with the same letter:

Florence and Francis – fifteen –

reading each other’s mail.

They must not rhyme

(no, not even a half-rhyme).

But the arrangement of vowels must be pleasing

when juxtaposed:

a mildly irregular rise and fall –

not a heartbeat, or footsteps –

more like rolling hills, with the occasional

sharp drop.

No names of exes.

No, not even girls you fancied.

Not the same name as the girl who pulled your pigtails,

or the one with the terrible shoes.

In fact, no name the same as anyone you or I have ever met.

It’s better to start with a blank canvas

(no preconceptions).

No names anyone might ever give to an animal,

especially a horse.

No muppets.

Nothing in the Top 100 Baby Names

or the Bible.

No Kings or Queens

or princesses.

Definitely NO PRINCESSES.

Nothing Greek/mythological.

Definitely NOT PERSEPHONE.

No names invoking alcoholic beverages

(apologies to Jack and Daniel – grandsons

of the woman in the bathroom store),

or shops.

Nothing made-up.

Famous writers

and beautiful islands

are acceptable

provided

we have both read their work/

been there.

 

When we obtained consensus,

I told my dad. He said,

it doesn’t scan.

I said I know, and me a poet too.

Thing is,

when they came to us they came to us whole

and were what they were:

right;

fiercely individual and inextricably linked.

 

I couldn’t change them because I didn’t choose them.

They simply emerged, like the babies did,

and told us they were here.

About Ellen Storm

I am a poet, a trainee paediatrician and the mother of three-year-old twin girls. I dabble in photography.

Read more

Website: http://www.ellenstorm.com

More posts by Ellen Storm

8 Responses to “Who Will You Be?”

  1. Helen Sargeant

    I often wake in the night, like you have described. There is an urgency to creativity. It stirs and wakes us from our sleep like the sounds of a babies cries in the night to be fed, to be comforted to be reassured. Often their is no comfort in the urgency. It simply is something that needs to be completed, attended too. I don’t always think positively upon my need/desire to create. What it demands of me. The breaks in sleep must be about a re-programming of the brain upon becoming a mother, to be constantly vigilant, on-guard, being ready to care and also something to do with time late in the night and early hours when there is space to think, to make, to reflect to have thoughts that run like rivers. I keep a notebook by my bed, I record the ideas that come in the night. I don’t question them.
    The other evening I woke and couldn’t stop thinking about Betsy Scheiders photographs of her children. I reached to my phone and looked. I probably will get eye strain researching in the dark at night, its not good but counting sheep wasn’t really working either. I love her “Sweet is the swamp” series. Must of been something that Eti posted that made me think to look at her work again. I’m mulling over something to respond to her latest post about artists/mothers representing their children’s bodies in their work.
    I love all that planning and thought that went into choosing your children’s names. I wish I could make out what the names say on all those sticky notes placed on the wall in the photograph. I had a list of names and then made a choice when my children were born as I wanted to see which name fitted the face. Sydney didn’t have a name for a week, he was simply my baby boy, I experimented till one stuck. Naoise the same though I think it was day three when he got his name. Sydney decided it had to be Naoise not Oisin. He wanted to be able to tell his friends at school what his new baby brother was called.

    Reply
  2. Ellen Storm

    On my browser if you click on the photo to enlarge it, you can read all the names. I did intend for people to do that, to interact with it through their responses to the words. We had some quite conventional names and also some quite odd ones, looking back. I’m not sure how we came up with this long-list, but it was tortuous. Names carry so much meaning as single words. Some names that I really loved my partner had a very visceral, negative reaction to, and vice versa, because the names brought with them all kinds of memories and associations.

    Reply
  3. Ellen Storm

    On a different note, I wonder how many mother-writers and mother-artists frequently work by moonlight, when all those they care for are fast asleep? Because caring for young children is so all encompassing, in the end it often comes down to choosing between art and sleep. Sometimes art wins. Sometimes sleep wins. It depends.

    Reply
  4. Helen Sargeant

    Apologies Ellen, I think I am a bit tired this week, I simply forgot about clicking on the image to enlarge it. Somedays I am so exhausted by life that I muddle up the children’s names, they have even been known to be called Frida, that’s our cat ! I’m sure that much creativity goes on as children sleep, though I have become more interested in attempting to make the work together with my children, trying not to separate one from the other. Not sure how successfully I have achieved this yet and I still need to make work in isolation without interruption. But I guess I am interested in how those interruptions, the dialogues with our children can inform my practice. How about you, how do you make work, how do you begin to formulate and write your poems ? How does being a mother, caring for your children effect and affect your creativity ?

    Reply
  5. Ellen Storm

    What has become clear to me is that there is no clear correlation between the amount of time I have free for writing poems, and the number of poems I write. Paradoxically, I have written most of my best pieces since becoming a mother, and being almost constantly sleep deprived and exhausted, with so many competing pressures on my time. I have written poems on bus tickets and loo roll – whatever I can grab when they come to me – although I do find workshops and writing classes helpful too. I’m not very disciplined about regular writing practice, but I think that just isn’t really possible for me at the moment. Poetry works for me as a form because it fits in between the gaps – like the sand that fills all the empty space in a jar full of stones. It turns out that there is quite a lot of space for sand.

    Reply
  6. Helen Sargeant

    I’d like to see your loo roll and bus ticket poems…….the urgency of the poems to be written. Could you scan some in and post them on this site ? I was reading an article by the photographer Katherina Bosse in Feature Shoot magazine http://www.featureshoot.com/2013/03/self-portraits-of-an-artist-transitioning-into-motherhood/ There is a question that asks How do you logistically balance art making and motherhood ? Answering the question she states “I needed to make work I could do at home while the children were sleeping…..The work you do when the children are sleeping, it could be an art category all to itself”. Would make a great title for a book.
    Drawing is the medium that has worked for me. It can be fitted between the gaps, it can be quick, intuitive and its transportable. Small marks can make the most profound statements. I think that you become more determined to create when your become a mother. You see the preciousness of time. Rather than time expanding you see it falling away and disintegrating and there is a need to grasp a hold of it, make the most of the moments of creativity that are found.

    Reply
  7. Ellen Storm

    Determined – definitely! It has been suggested to me that my children may not be pleased to read my poems about them or their arrival into this world, when they become old enough to do so. My poems are not generally rose-tinted: I do not allow myself to write about flowers or sunsets – but that made me feel sad, because until then, on some level I believed I was writing for them. Their story and history. Now I am not so sure. Perhaps I should protect them from those realities, at least until they are adults. Perhaps they will never read them, and that may be for the best. Looking at Katherina Bosse’s photographs, I wonder how the children in them will feel to look back at those images in five or ten or twenty years’ time? What is our responsibility to our children, and what is our responsibility to art, and the telling of truth??

    Reply
  8. Helen Sargeant

    It is an unknown as to what your children will think about your poems when they are old enough to read them. I am sure that they will be thrilled to read your poems when they can read and comprehend their meaning. Perhaps you are writing for them (they are the inspiration) yourself and a wider audience ?

    I can only go on my own children’s responses to my own practice. Naoise calls himself an artist and loves to make work together with me that he calls collaboration. Sydney is more reluctant to make work together with me these days but that is more to do with his age, feeling self conscious and his anxieties of being a teenager. I am a constant form of embarrassment to him, but we have some great conversations about what images he is and is not happy with me sharing with others. I think that you have to work with what you think to be right for yourself and your children in terms of arts practice and telling the truth. You have to be clear with yourself about what information you place in a public setting. In terms of making work, I have often thought that those things that make me feel uncomfortable, fearful, disconcerting about my own practice are often the strongest artistic statements…I am interested in communicating human vulnerability. I try to convey fragility through how a line is drawn, how it traces the lines of the body as if touching it.

    Eti Wade made a really interesting point regarding the utilisation of our own children’s bodies in our arts practice in her last post see : http://www.eggwombheadmoon.com/israel-museum-bathroom/ She states; “The two images made me think about the contrast between how over used the female figure is in representation and art in contrast with the figure of the child and how potentially vilified a mother might be when using the bodies of her children in her art. How come something that is so much part of life, particularly women’s life is disallowed to us as artists? A prohibition operating through two distinct registers, one of fear and blame, when a representation of a child is immediately associated with sexual deviance of the worst kind and the other through trivialisation and a kind of devaluation, in the words of a female acquaintance who is a respected photographic curator and gallery owner explaining why she didn’t like the recent Home Truths exhibition, she said “too many babies”.”

    Reply

Leave a Reply