Fothermather, Gail McConnellThe cover is sea blue with a photo of a seahorse (looking a little skeletal) taking up most of the space. Light on the sea-horse is white. The pamphlet title is white lowercase about an inch from the bottom, with the name of the author somewhat smaller below it, both centred. There is a puff quote from Vahni Capildeo top left, just in front of the seahorse's nose.

Ink Sweat & Tears Press, 2019   £7.50

Mapping parenting through marine imagery

I found these poems a complex, fascinating and enlightening insight into a gay woman’s experience of becoming a non-biological parent.

The poems explore the journey towards a relationship with the prospective offspring through the IVF process, pregnancy and birth. His name, Finn, extends the marine theme.

Marine animal imagery generated by the biological reproductive systems of the seahorse, cuttlefish and octopus is put to effective use by the narrator to navigate the concept of non-gendered parenthood.

In ‘light the seahorse’ the narrator grapples with her claim to this identity. This is accompanied by a sense of estrangement in response to the scanned images of her son’s embryo in concrete form — the head of horse, belly of kangaroo and tail of monkey — concluding that:

I am neither the female Seahorse who lays the eggs,
nor   the male Seahorse who carries them.

I am not quite either and a little of both.

As the poem develops, the narrator engages emotionally with the ‘creature with a spine’. She celebrates the seahorse ‘bobbing / darkling / deep’. The poem then pursues the growing delight in the potential of unchartered parenthood:

O fish! O fish
with spine and neck. Born of choice and chance,
born of the male […]
You’re a question mark reversed and beautifully embellished.

‘Cuttlefish’ energetically explores the image of the ‘not a fish’ and the sexual relationship between the male and female of that species:

The queen of -ish
The queen
of blending in / The king
of bending rules
colour, shape and partnership.

The poem ‘Now’ centres on the birth: ‘the room was suddenly you’ and the marine imagery recurs in these lines. A child ‘came whippling back / beyond the spawning factory you started in / your mother plump with eggs that counted out’.

‘Paper gowns and paper hats and silver shining scales’ describe the sensations in the birth room while the new-born’s heart is charted ‘inside the shell’. And the sound ‘whawha whawha whawha’ plays on the cry of a marine creature — as this new human life is celebrated. 

Maggie Mackay