EDITORIAL Emily Blewitt

NWR Issue 120

Jumping Frogs

I write this twenty-eight weeks into pregnancy. I write while sitting in my living room, surrounded by the detritus of baby preparations and poetry submissions. There is our second-hand Moses basket on a rocker; a book of Welsh baby names; some inherited knitted blankets that my grandmother made; here are the poetry submissions for issue number 120, printed and spread out upon the carpet. The baby moves – it’s like what Leontia Flynn called the turning whale in the smoky bay – and I shift into a wide-legged stretch, legs a V, toes pointed to the sky, with the bump at my centre of gravity, as I survey the pile spread before me. Every now and again, I feel a kick. Approval, perhaps, of what I’m reading; or just sensation. The baby is flexing its muscles, testing its strength, exploring and experiencing its uterine environment. I read and type, occasionally adjusting position, stroking my belly. I frown in concentration.

When I was asked to guest-edit this issue of New Welsh Reader, I did not know that its publication date would coincide with my due date. Which means that, roughly three months from the now of writing this, both baby and magazine will be delivered into the world. I know, from academic research and embodied experience, that babies and books are not the same thing, that I walk dangerously close to essentialism by comparing the two as creative acts. But still; but still. For me, as for many other poets who are also mothers, they are linked.

It is no accident, then, that in editing this issue I have been drawn to work that mirrors – or perhaps predicts – my own experience. Or that a significant proportion of submissions came from women poets writing about maternal experience. Has word got out that I am, as we euphemistically say, ‘expecting’? A couple of submissions letters apologise for this; to which I reply, internally, fiercely, never apologise for representing yourselves, yourlives, the domestic and bodily realities of parenthood. It has always been an interest of mine.

My academic life has been built upon reading poetic pregnancy. I have found the theoretical idea of what Iris Marion Young called the ‘split subjectivity’ of pregnancy – that simultaneous focus on the ‘I’ of personhood and the awareness of the growing pregnant abdomen and its mysterious occupant – as well as its possible impact on the lyric ‘I’ of poetry, fascinating. I have sought out poems about pregnancy by authors such as Flynn, Kate Clanchy, Sharon Olds, Kathleen Jamie, Pat Borthwick, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Carolyn Jess-Cooke and Helen Dunmore, to name but a few, as well as more recent collections by Clare Pollard and Liz Berry. I have written critically on some of these poets’ representations of pregnant experience, from conception to labour. Moreover, since becoming pregnant, I have reread their work and looked for work by other, less established voices with a visceral intensity that comes from the knowledge of experience. I now know how quickening actually feels (for me, not bubbles or butterflies as it’s sometimes described, but little jumps as though I carried a frog). I have witnessed the unexpected motion of a foetus on a screen.

Several poets who appear in this issue moved me with their account of maternal experience. Helen Mort, whose ‘Advent’ recounts the early, fraught yet gifted days of motherhood; Tracey Rhys, whose ‘Straw Dolly’ shows us in technicolor the dreaded postnatal stitch; KS Moore’s loving, fierce poem about breastfeeding. Most readers will be unaware that this is my second pregnancy; my first ended, as approximately one in four do, in miscarriage. Rebecca Parfitt’s ‘Mothering Song’ takes the reader through the aftermath of pregnancy loss, combining a pastoral setting with the longing of her bereft speaker in a devastatingly beautiful lyric. Other poets such as Amy Wack and Rhys Milsom write about daughters; in both ‘My Welsh Wool Coat’ and ‘Ivy’, these poets consider what legacy means – something also taken up by Siriol McAvoy in her essay on ‘forgotten’ twentieth-century Welsh poets Lynette Roberts, Margiad Evans and Brenda Chamberlain, and their traceable influence on contemporary Welsh women poets.

Striking too, were the poems that dealt with art and its representation of the body. I trust that our contributing poets and readers alike will find Zoë Brigley’s account of the visual imagery and life of Georgia O’Keeffe, which provided inspiration for her forthcoming Bloodaxe collection Hand & Skull, illuminating. What are the politics of a photograph, visual representation, a work of art? What might the relationship between the artist and subject, mediated by the gaze, entail? When my baby refused to show the technician its brain, slipping the auditory eye of the ultrasound transducer with what seemed to be both flair and wilfulness, I knew with sardonic certainty that this was my child. In this issue of NWR, women negotiate the tricky space between art and life, writing themselves back into ekphrasis, not content to play the role of silent muse or sexual object. Rachel Carney and Maria Apichella continue this with their poetry, which depicts the process of portraiture from both an artist’s and a poet’s perspective.

If in reading submissions, I often chose poems in which I recognised my own truth, I also looked for work to challenge my point of view. As a white Welsh woman with working-class roots – but who in this role had become a gatekeeper, an editor as well as a poet – I wanted to know about experiences other than my own, even if it raised some uncomfortable truths about what that search for experience might mean – might I be in danger of tokenising or exoticising certain kinds of experience? If I want to know more about certain issues, I should be educating myself rather than placing the responsibility on those who are directly affected by these issues. But those who are affected are those whose voices are the most compelling but least represented; it is they who have the real expertise. And so I invited contributors to write about what was important to them, attempting to walk the line between editorial steer and contributor freedom. I asked Polly Atkin to write about disability and/or ecopoetry (she wrote about ecocrip poetry); Tracey Rhys to write about her experiences of helping her autistic son to write poetry as a coping strategy and form of expression; Durre Shahwar to write (in an essay to be published in an upcoming edition) on setting up Where I’m Coming From, the first BAME-centred regular spoken word event in Cardiff. As Durre writes in her essay, ‘I have found that I’m becoming increasingly aware of language and of words… such as ‘‘enable’’, ‘‘represent’’, ‘‘give voice’’, ‘‘allow’’.’ I could add ‘commission’ and ‘edit’ to such a list; I suppose this must be the double bind that comes with editorial work. I sought out contributors whom I hoped would diversify our reading experience, who would broaden and lead us to question what it means to write and read poetry in Wales in 2019. I looked for poetry and prose that would surprise, delight, and occasionally unsettle us. It has been my privilege and my joy to edit this issue. I hope you enjoy it too. Diolch yn fawr.


Emily Blewitt is the author of This Is Not A Rescue (Seren Books, 2017) and the poetry submissions editor for New Welsh Reader. She has published poetry in The Rialto, Poetry Wales, Ambit and The North, among others, and was Highly Commended in the 2016 Forward Prizes. Emily has appeared at Hay Festival, on Radio 4, and has collaborated with other writers and artists on the Weird and Wonderful Wales project. She is the recipient of a Literature Wales bursary, and is currently working on her second collection of poetry. She has a PhD in English Literature from Cardiff University, where she specialised in poetic representations of pregnancy in contemporary and nineteenth-century women’s writing. Emily lives in Bridgend with her husband, Greg, and their fat black-and-white cat, Ozymandias (Ozzie).


       


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