Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

The Republic of Motherhood, Liz BerryThe jacket is deep dark blue. The graphic and print on it are I think gold. The image in the centre is a nest containing three eggs. Below this the author's name on one line in sans serif caps, fairly large. The same type and size of caps are used for the title which is written in two curving lines arching above the nest.

Chatto & Windus, 2018   £5.00

The wildness of motherhood

Liz Berry’s reputation is well established, and The Republic of Motherhood demonstrates why.

Her writing is assured, displaying a playful confidence of astonishing mastery. Her poems manage to be powerful and startlingly original, as well as deeply affecting. Each poem is fresh and fascinating, in terms of both technical skill and imagination.

She is not afraid to lay bare her subject matter. She writes with open-heartedness and raw honesty. To achieve this without becoming self-indulgent — pushing right to the edge of feeling — takes tremendous control.

She conveys the animal baseness of birthing, of feeding, and caring for a newborn, alongside the soaring profundity and grace that rises, as in ‘So tenderly it wounds them’:

I hear the bones of the new mothers           singing […]

Sweet ghosts                who’ve been awake
with their babies through the dark
kneeling to the filth and holy rags of the body.

In ‘Horse Heart’, Berry describes ‘the sodden hay of broken waters / each of us private and lowing in our stalls’, splicing her metaphors with compelling originality:

Oh these horse nights,
darkless nights, the endless running
of the herd, fear a hoof
upon my chest.
I lie in my sweats and beckon you up.
Little horse heart, foal.

I was staggered and deeply moved reading these poems. If I could, I would quote them all. It will be a gift I buy for many friends, especially new mothers as they navigate new territory with all ‘its sorrow, its unbearable skinless beauty’.

Zannah Kearns