Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Ellen Feld is talking with Samantha Kolber, author of Birth of a Daughter.
FQ: Tell our readers a little about yourself. Your background, your interests, and how this led to writing a book?
KOLBER: I have been writing poetry since I was eleven years old. I still remember my first poem I wrote in sixth grade; a loon haiku:
Crisp, cold air
Chilling the bones of
Old, bare trees.
Perhaps I've always been an old soul. Since then, I kept a journal and was what I call a "closet poet," until I went to college and discovered that poetry was something I could study, and I kept reading and writing poetry. I went on to grad school for my MFA at Goddard College, where I studied both poetry and fiction. I continue to write poetry and fiction--I've been shopping around two novels and am working on a third.
As far as how my background led to writing my book, Birth of a Daughter, you could say poetry for me is how I breathe, how I live. I process my life in poetry. I am always writing. So writing poems about pregnancy, birth and motherhood was inevitable. Putting them together for a book, and finding a publisher, is the real work.
FQ: Tell us a little about your book – a brief synopsis and what makes your book unique.
KOLBER: Birth of a Daughter is a chapbook (small book) of poems that documents my experiences of the physical and emotional transformations of motherhood. I explore and expose the disappearing, artistic self among the chaos and anxiety of pregnancy and pregnancy complications, giving birth, wakeful nights & breastfeeding, postpartum depression, and parenting, while also exploring the complex relationship of being a motherless daughter.
My chapbook is unique in that it includes poems of all different forms and shapes, plus a lyrical essay. And the poems are arranged in chronological order, so they tell the story of a whole journey of the first three years of motherhood.
FQ: Please give our readers a little insight into your writing process. Do you set aside a certain time each day to write, only write when the desire to write surfaces, or ?
KOLBER: The poems in this book were written over three years, and some I wrote as prompts, while others started out as journal entries, to capture moments in time, because for me, poetry is like sketching a person or a landscape (or both) to remember them.
For example, I wrote the poem "Breastfeeding Dyad" as I was nursing my newborn: I looked down and noticed the way her star-covered onesie was snuggled against my body, and I grabbed my journal and wrote:
"Your shoulder is a star /
shooting its way into /
the gravitational pull of me"
The rest of this poem in the book has a specific shape that visualizes the symbiotic nature of the breastfeeding relationship, hence the title.
And I wrote the poem "I Am Marked" for a poetry contest with CV2 Magazine--I didn't win, but I liked the poem enough to include it in my book.
So poems either come to me in the moment, and I must remember to grab my journal and write them down, or I sit down to write one specifically for a literary journal or other contest. Either way, there is a lot of work involved to shape it, find the right form, meter, line breaks, etc.
FQ: Do you have any plans to try writing a book in a different genre? If so, which genre and why?
KOLBER: Yes, as mentioned earlier, I also write fiction. I wrote a novel in grad school and recently completed a dystopian Young Adult novel, both of which have made the rounds with some agents but did not get picked up (yet). I am also working on a new, adult fiction novel about marriage.
I initially started to write fiction because I love to read fiction. There is nothing I love more than sinking into a good novel. While I like to read poetry as well, and have fallen in love with many poems, I end up reading far more fiction than poetry, and so writing in that genre seemed like a natural move for me.
FQ: Is there a genre you have not yet delved into that you would like to attempt in the future?
KOLBER: Yes, I plan to write a memoir about motherhood, so I will be branching out to nonfiction prose one day. I think I have a unique perspective on motherhood, with unique experiences that will interest readers: my kids are 14 years apart; I had one at age 25 and one at age 39, and the experiences of each are complete opposite. With my first, I had a home birth, and no complications, I was a single mother raising my son all on my own, but I loved motherhood and had a lot of energy to keep up. Then with my daughter, there were a lot of pregnancy complications, including preeclampsia, and she was born with a birth defect that landed her in the NICU for a few weeks, and our first year monitoring this was extremely hard and traumatic. I ended up with postpartum depression, and though I was married with an active partner this time, it was still very hard, especially to be so sleep deprived as a 40-year-old mom. I think a memoir talking about these two experiences can come to some amazing revelations of the enormous breadth of the reproducing and mothering identities. I often feel like two completely different mothers to my two different kids. I'd like to see this experience shared more so we can feel less alone.
FQ: Who are your favorite authors?
KOLBER: Some favorite poets: Sylvia Plath, Amiri Baraka, Marge Piercy, Jane Shore, Maggie Smith, Diane Swan. Some of these poets shaped my early years, while others are newer poets, but I have lines of all these poets in my head that inform and inspire me.
Some favorite fiction writers: Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, Emily St. John Mandel, Justin Torres, James R. Gapinski, Linda Urban, Peng Shepherd. I will read anything these authors write (or have written), they are all masters of creating beautiful yet dark worlds full of lyricism and metaphor.
FQ: If you were to teach a class on the art of writing, what is the one item you would be sure to share with your students and how would you inspire them to get started?
KOLBER: I have taught writing classes, both in poetry and fiction, and the one thing student writers should know is to read a lot. The second thing is to use all your senses when you write - don't just describe what something looks like, write about what is smells, tastes, sounds and feels like. For inspiration, I say go for a walk outside. Nothing stimulates all your sense like the outdoors. I have led students on "poem walks" where we take paper and pen and walk and write what we notice around us. It's a fun activity and great way to get inspired. You never know what you will write about on a walk!
FQ: What made you/Why did you decide to write this book? Did you see a need?
KOLBER: As I said earlier, I wrote this book as a way to process my life in poems, but I think there is definitely a need for more discourse about motherhood in literature, especially some of the harder aspects of it we don't usually talk about. Plus, I think the literary world needs to do a better job at accepting poems and literature about motherhood; that poems and writing about motherhood are as much art as poems and writing about war, or politics, or love.
FQ: What makes your book unique in the field of poetry books? Why should readers pick up your book over others in the field?
KOLBER: My book is unique because I expose truths and a side of motherhood we don't normally expose. How women feel when they are home all day with an infant or small child, both the monotony and pride of it all. How a woman feels seeing traits and characteristics of her dead mother in her daughter, both nostalgic and sad. How a woman feels pregnant with an enormous belly, being stared at in public. How a woman feels breastfeeding all hours of the night, both the awe and miracle of it, and the exhaustion and deprived sex life. There is a lot of duality in this book. If readers are interested in a true personal narrative of the totality of the mothering experience, this accessible chapbook of poems is a good fit. Plus, you can read it in an hour! (There are only 17 poems.) So this is a good fit for the busy mom, too.
FQ: What was the most difficult part of writing this book?
KOLBER: The most difficult part of writing this book was finding its shape. I did not sit down and say, "Now I am going to write a book of poetry about motherhood." Though some poets operate this way, planning out a book by theme, I was not so organized. But I knew I had a lot of poems about motherhood, and after my full-length poetry manuscript was rejected by a number of publishers, I decided to break up my poems from that collection into this smaller collection, for a chapbook. Once I realized the poems would work together in chronological order, I sent it to just one publisher before it was accepted. It's always nice to find the right home for a book, and this one worked out perfectly with my publisher, Kelsay Books.
To learn more about Birth of a Daughter, please visit the author's website at: samanthakolber.com