Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press


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

The poetry of parental love

This pamphlet contains some arresting use of concrete forms and erasure as well as a more general, highly inventive wordplay, but particularly noticeable is the way these techniques are harnessed to express the power of the poet’s parental love, which is what in turn unifies and strengthens the work as a whole.

The pamphlet addresses non-biological parenthood in a queer partnership, specifically the poet’s parenthood of Finn, to whom her partner gave birth. The poems chart the ‘unanticipated’ IVF experience of considering sperm as a gift, and also the development of the poet’s parental feelings as she carries the child in ‘the texture of [her] notes’ (‘In The Argonautica’) and in her ‘imagination and in the bodies of poems’ (‘Introduction’). She chats and recites rhymes ‘through the wall’ of her partner’s womb (‘Talk Through the Wall’), and she uses the imagery of seahorses and cephalopods like cuttlefish, with their particular, external fertilization processes, to illuminate and claim her own parental role — she is not the female seahorse who lays the eggs, nor the male who carries them: rather she is ‘not quite either and a little of both’ (in the poem ‘light the seahorse’).

After Finn’s difficult birth, the room is ‘suddenly [him]’ (‘Now’), and holding her child is ‘the best feeling’ the poet has ever known (‘In The Argonautica’).

what is the and between you and I?
and is the what between you and I
     [‘Captain Calimari’]

Words and letters allow parenthood to be reimagined in an ungendered way — ‘mother father fother mather matherfother fothermather’ (‘Untitled / Villanelle’) — with ‘fothermather’ being both ‘a nonsense word that tells the truth’ (‘Introduction’), and an alphabet that emphasizes sound and the reciprocity of language (‘ha ha ma ma / hee hee fo fo’, for example, in ‘me : : he’).

The poet deploys her craft to confirm how the power of loving parenthood is not context-dependent, and that its diverse types undermine (as is done explicitly in ‘I cannot think’ and ‘I cannot think’) the Freudian adage that the strongest childhood need is for a father’s protection. What children need is love, and this poetry expresses movingly how the author’s ‘brilliantist’ son, Finn,is ‘twice loved’.

Tim Murphy



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