Having Jamaican American poet Shara McCallum as a guest speaker got me to thinking about a lot of things. These thoughts lead me to a reflective place; I wondered, how do people change as time goes on? And does time change the type of people we are? There is no certain answer for these questions, I know, but in works like that of Shara McCallum we can see the stages and changes that individuals go through. In a personal blog post McCallum says, “In retelling stories (personal, communal, and national), we are often searching for the thread between events of the past and ideas of who we are in the present and who we might become in future.” This quote developed a sort of project for me, and I chose to go back through the books of poetry that McCallum has published and find a thread like she mentioned in her blog.
In her first collection of poems entitled “The Water Between Us”, McCallum draws from the experiences of her childhood, specifically, her relationship with her parents and feelings of displacement after leaving Jamaica. One of her poems called “Jamaica, October 18, 1972” reads:
Jamaica, October 18, 1972
You tell me about the rickety truck:
your ride in back among goats or cows–
some animal I can’t name now–
the water coming down your legs,
my father beside you, strumming
a slow melody of darkened skies
and winter trees he only dreamed
on his guitar. The night was cool.
That detail you rely on each time
the story is told: the one story
your memory serves us better
than my own. I doubt even that night
you considered me, as I lay inside you,
preparing to be born. So many nights
after it would be the same.
You do not rememer anything,
you say, so clearly as that trip:
animal smells, guitar straining for sound,
the water between us becoming a river.
(referenced from link on ANGEL page)
In her third collection of poetry, McCallum revisits the idea of motherhood and parental relationships; however this time, she writes from the opposite perspective: that of a mother. An excerpt from “The Book of Mothers” reads,
“I did not hear or could not listen, I barely knew you when you called.
Now when it’s too late I want to tell you I am a mother
and think I understand something more of grief’s depths.
I am a mother like but also not like you.
My friend (may I call you this in death?) my child’s throat I lean toward to kiss.”
From both of these poems, the reader gets a sense of dissatisfaction from McCallum when it comes to her own mother. In “Jamaica” she implies that her mother does not consider her, and makes the point by referencing the first day the neglect began: her birth. Years later, in her poem about motherhood, McCallum makes another reference to her own mother by saying she is “like but also not like” her, and chooses to kiss her child’s throat instead of what her mother might have done in her childhood. It is this idea that represents the ‘thread’ that McCallum mentioned in her blog. The relationship that she had with her mother, whether it be dysfunctional or not, had an impact on her development and her future role as a mother. The psychology behind mother-daughter relationships and their affect on individuals is another interesting topic that I’d like to explore future. There is so much information on this topic to choose from, but I found this video by psychotherapist, Rosjke Hasseldine discussing the importance of mother-daughter relationships. (Try to ignore the unpside-down book slip up haha!).
It might be a minor detail, but I found this visible transition from child to mother through writing really interesting.I also really enjoyed getting to talk to a real, life author about their poetry in class; we should do that more often when possible!