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Newborn by Kate Clanchy (Picador, 2004)

Kate Clanchy's book Newborn charts her pregnancy and the beginning of her son's life. The Poetry Book Society chose this book as one of their Recommendations in 2004. Here's what their selectors said about Newborn:


"For her third collection Kate Clanchy has documented the experience of becoming a mother. The book unfolds from a time when 'you ... are perhaps ten cells old', and travels through the following 18 months or so, until 'I sit my child on the jut / of my hip ... like lovers leaning out of a waltz.'
Because the book takes us on this journey, through all the stages and changes, it is almost like a diary. Unlike a diary though, each of the moments Clanchy has halted have been highly crafted and transformed, giving us both poetry, and an account immediately recognisable to any mother.

Clanchy captures well the peculiar paradoxes of the time, when the deeply private becomes public, (an ultrasound image becomes a weather front) and when the mundane becomes heightened. Birth is a commonplace, but is also the most exciting and dramatic event.  It's a realistic account - much more accurate than any Hollywood melodrama of a birth is her description of the first pangs - an '... over-familiar / uncle-ish hard tweak at my waist'. Then in 'Not Art', she documents the 'close work' of 'intricate wiping and wrapping'. There are some lovely tender images of the baby himself: 

  'At night, in your shift, fine hair upright
   you are my tiny Bedlamite,
   admonishing the laughing crowd...'
The 'newborn' times pass quickly, but seem to be filled with ages spent 'waiting for our babies to get an hour older'. By the last poem, Clanchy is meeting a friend, (or is it her old self?), in a bar. The book shows that, through becoming a mother 'nothing has been lost' neither of the whole transforming experience, nor of the poet's talent."


Discussion points:

If you are a parent, aunt or uncle, how did you document and celebrate the birth of a child? Is it important to chart the growth of a baby?

Is the experience Kate Clanchy describes universal? Can you relate to her feelings about motherhood, or were your experiences different?


You can read about Kate Clanchy on the Scottish Poetry Library website here.

You can read poems by Kate Clanchy on the Poetry Magazines website here.

You can read and listen to poems on birth here.

Other books on mothers and motherhood that can be found in the Poetry Library collection are:

All the poems you need to say hello -- London: Picador: Picador, (Book) - Adult Anthology 

An anthology of poetry by women: tracing the tradition -- London: Cassell: Cassell, (Book) - Adult Anthology 

Baby: poems on pregnancy, birth and babies / FERGUSON, GILLIAN -- Edinburgh: Canongate: Canongate, (Book) - Adult Collect 

The Bloomsbury book of mother and daughter poems -- London: Bloomsbury: Bloomsbury, (Book) - Adult Anthology 

Cradle and all: women writers on pregnancy and birth -- Boston & London: Faber and Faber: Faber and Faber, (Book) - Adult Anthology 
Abstract: Poetry, short stories, and extracts from novels. 

Creation fire: a CAFRA anthology of Caribbean women's poetry -- Toronto: Sister Vision: Sister Vision, (Book) - Adult Anthology 

Crossing point: poems / SCHNEIDER, MYRA -- Todmorden, Lancashire: Littlewood: Littlewood, (Book) - Adult Collect 

Double stitch: black women write about mothers and daughters / Bell-Scott, Patricia (introduction); Guy-Sheftall, Beverly (introduction); Giddings, Paula (afterword) -- Boston: Beacon Press: Beacon Press, (Book) - Adult Anthology 

Haven't you grown! poems about families -- London: Kingfisher: Kingfisher Books, (Book) - Child anthology 

I love my mum -- London: Macmillan Children's Books, (Book) - Child anthology 

In the gold of flesh: poems of birth and motherhood -- London: The Women's Press: The Women's Press, (Book) - Adult Anthology 

Mother love: poems / DOVE, RITA -- New York: W.W. Norton: W.W. Norton, (Book) - Adult Collect 

Mother please!: one hundred poems for every mother / Brooks-Davies, Douglas (introduction) -- London: Orion: Orion Press, (Book) - Adult Anthology 

Night feed: poems / BOLAND, EAVAN -- Dublin: Arlen House: Arlen House, (Book) - Adult Collect 

Satan says / OLDS, SHARON -- Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press: University of Pittsburgh Press, (Book) - Adult Collect 

A time to be born: poems of childbirth / COUZYN, JENI -- London: Firelizard: Firelizard, (Book) - Adult Collect 
Abstract: Poems broadcast on BBC Radio 4, 1988 

Violet / HILL, SELIMA -- Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books: Bloodaxe Books, (Book) - Adult Collect 

1 comment has been made on this book. Click here to read it and then add your own!

What did your group think of this book? Add your comment and you could win a prize from the Poetry Book Society.


Havent read Clanchy's work yet; but her quote about sitting her infant 'on the just ... of her lap, like lovers leaning out of a wattz' is stunning. As a mother who danced this way with her child, I understand and feel that sharing this physical/magical intimacy with others takes a gift to do so well and is a gift for her hearers to receive. Clanchy
knows what she is talking about. I love her ability and willingness to share it. Her way of making my imagination physical and divine at the same time. Now I want to read her work properly.
Mary Moran

About Mary Moran's reading group:
Sorry. Guess I didnt follow the rules:
I dont have a group, just a thank yu
to Clanchy for her magical poety.

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