'I crossed the border into the Republic of Motherhood
and found it a queendom, a wild queendom.'
The Republic of Motherhood
by Liz Berry
A FRIEND TO ANA SAMPSON
In this episode, Ana Sampson talks with us about the poem that has been a friend to her – 'The Republic of Motherhood' by Liz Berry.
Ana Sampson is a highly accomplished poetry editor. She has edited 8 poetry anthologies including 'Night Feeds and Morning Songs: Honest, fierce and beautiful poems about motherhood', as well as 'She is Fierce' and 'She Will Soar' - two bold and brilliant anthologies of women's verse throughout history. Ana's books have sold over 240,000 copies and she writes and speaks often about books and poetry in the media. She has also spoken about the hidden history of women’s writing at bookshops, festivals, libraries, schools and literary events.
We are hugely grateful to Liz Berry and Chatto & Windus for allowing us to share Liz's extraordinary poem in this way. You can buy Liz's entire pamphlet - The Republic of Motherhood - here: https://www.poetrybooks.co.uk/products/republic-of-motherhood-liz-berry
Ana is in conversation with Poetry Exchange team members, Andrea Witzke Slot and John Prebble.
The Republic of Motherhood
By Liz Berry
I crossed the border into the Republic of Motherhood
and found it a queendom, a wild queendom.
I handed over my clothes and took its uniform,
its dressing gown and undergarments, a cardigan
soft as a creature, smelling of birth and milk,
and I lay down in Motherhood’s bed, the bed I had made
but could not sleep in, for I was called at once to work
in the factory of Motherhood. The owl shift,
the graveyard shift. Feedingcleaninglovingfeeding.
I walked home, heartsore, through pale streets,
the coins of Motherhood singing in my pockets.
Then I soaked my spindled bones
in the chill municipal baths of Motherhood,
watching strands of my hair float from my fingers.
Each day I pushed my pram through freeze and blossom
down the wide boulevards of Motherhood
where poplars bent their branches to stroke my brow.
I stood with my sisters in the queues of Motherhood—
the weighing clinic, the supermarket—waiting
for Motherhood’s bureaucracies to open their doors.
As required, I stood beneath the flag of Motherhood
and opened my mouth although I did not know the anthem.
When darkness fell I pushed my pram home again,
and by lamplight wrote urgent letters of complaint
to the Department of Motherhood but received no response.
I grew sick and was healed in the hospitals of Motherhood
with their long-closed isolation wards
and narrow beds watched over by a fat moon.
The doctors were slender and efficient
and when I was well they gave me my pram again
so I could stare at the daffodils in the parks of Motherhood
while winds pierced my breasts like silver arrows.
In snowfall, I haunted Motherhood’s cemeteries,
the sweet fallen beneath my feet—
Our Lady of the Birth Trauma, Our Lady of Psychosis.
I wanted to speak to them, tell them I understood,
but the words came out scrambled, so I knelt instead
and prayed in the chapel of Motherhood, prayed
for that whole wild fucking queendom,
its sorrow, its unbearable skinless beauty,
and all the souls that were in it. I prayed and prayed
until my voice was a nightcry
and sunlight pixelated my face like a kaleidoscope.
© Liz Berry. From 'The Republic of Motherhood' by Liz Berry (Chatto & Windus 2018).
ABOUT THE POETRY EXCHANGE
We talk to people about the poem that has been a friend to them.
In exchange we create a gift for them, a bespoke reading of their chosen poem inspired by the conversation. Our award-winning podcast shares these unique and powerful stories of connection with people across the world.
We set up an intimate environment for these conversations at festivals, in arts, cultural and public spaces across the country. We also hold exchanges ‘long distance’. Our visitors come from all walks of life and we also feature well-known personalities such as Andrew Scott, Maxine Peake, Roy McFarlane and Paterson Joseph.