{poetry friday: the P7 and a non-mothering pantoum}

the poetry seven

It’s always Liz. Seriously.

She’s the one who pokes and prods us from our dailiness, who whispers, “Poetry!” in our routine-deafened ears, and we six follow the piping of her seventh, back into a poetry challenge. Seven Dancing Poetry Princesses have now worn a crown of sonnets, we’ve wrestled the brooding villanelle, and we learned together that the rondeau redoublé is really harder than it looks, as was Andi’s clever renku game. This time, we thought we’d start with something easy – the pantoum.

Yes, let’s do take a moment and laugh – derisively and loudly – at that notion. You’re very welcome.

I messed around with the pantoum last year during another one (of, not-surpisingly, Liz’s) National Poetry Month challenges, and if you remember the rules of the form, it varies lines like a villanelle, and repeats everything twice in a pattern. Of course, every pattern has variations and every original has an exception…


As when we did the villanelles, we agreed to a repeating phrase. “I’ve got better things to do than survive,” from Ani DiFranco’s song “Swandive,” was ours this time, which, when all was said and done, half of us hated, and half of us changed, adding the word “just” before survive. It never fails – we start off thinking we can work with what we’ve got, and then – we don’t. For me, the feet and the meter in the phrase itself didn’t work, and using a contraction made it too casual. Who knew I needed formality? Also, I think without the context of DiFranco’s song, survival seems to be a negative, which isn’t what she intended. Those of us who added “just” were inadvertently trying to rescue survival – to redefine it as “more than merely hanging on by our fingernails.” We’ll see how successful we all are!

Our poetry topics, as usual, range from the silly to the sublime. My poem is a little ragged, and a little personal. It’s about motherhood — and no, I’m not announcing anything. As a matter of fact, the poem is about the fact that the announcement is never going to come.

A lot of people don’t make a choice about kids – they don’t know, they think, “I guess, maybe someday, it’s what people do,” and they go on and live their lives, and one way or another, their time to choose runs out, either in the form of a surprise package from the stork, or realizing one day that they’d be fifty-five with a first grader. I’m not one of those people – I chose. People have poked and prodded and asked and assumed about that choice, but I did make it. People have disrespected, cajoled, complained – and have had the nerve to complain on my mother’s behalf, when she doesn’t care. (If I never hear, “When are you going to give that mother of yours grandchildren?” ever, ever again, it will be too soon.) And I have had to live with my choice – with time to change my mind. But, the years are winding down – or up, is it? – and within ten years, that choice will no longer easily or safely be made. And, every day that goes by, time takes that equation further out of our hands.

It shouldn’t matter. The choice is made. But, it’s funny – when you’ve chosen something, made a stand, drawn that line in the sand… sometimes…Sometimes you still find yourself wrangling through it it, if with no one but yourself, telling some imaginary person, It’s not you, it’s me… Thus, today’s pantoum.

Oh – you may notice that others pantoums are longer. I worked through a longer version of this, but I like the traditional three stanza version better. It’s punchier – it makes its point, then retreats. I still think it needs some work – but it is what it is.

mother load
I’d be a lousy mother, start to end
I lack maternal patience, wit, and drive.
Won’t feed this heart on wishes: facts, my friend:
I’ve better things to do than “just survive.”

I lack maternal patience, wit, and drive
My natural state is fraught anxiety
I’ve better things to do than just survive
I’ve stumbled on this truth belatedly

My natural state is fraught. Anxiety
Won’t feed this heart. Oh, wishes? Facts, the friend
I’ve stumbled on. This? Truth. Belatedly –
I’d be a lousy mother. Let this end.


One of the most amazing things about working together with this group is how we respond to each other. While we respond critically to each other in minor ways, for the most part the response is sheer appreciation. Phrases like, “Your poems are like a black velvet jeweler’s cloth that is buried under the weight of beautiful images” and “I feel like this could be cross-stitched on a million pillows across the U.S.!” are common. Poetry feeds us – but the Poetry Seven also feed each other, which is why we remain tuned to a vision of villanelles, a round of rondeaus, and a soupçon of sonnets in our daily lives. May it always be so.

Today, Laura Purdie Salas is hosting both Poetry Friday, and the whole of our Poetry Seven passel of pantoums. You’ll find poems by the intrepid Kelly Ramsdell, by Sara Lewis Holmes, by our very own pied piper, Liz Garton Scanlon, by Tricia Stohr-Hunt, and Andromeda Jazom. Thank you for supporting the madness, and stopping by to read today.

13 Replies to “{poetry friday: the P7 and a non-mothering pantoum}”

  1. Your pantoum and story behind it kind of startle me, Tanita–maybe because I was NOT a girl who grew up dreaming of her wedding and babies. I’m one of four daughters, and I planned not to have kids. I ended up changing my mind. I have two daughters, and one of my sisters has one. My other two sisters are childfree by choice. It astonishes me that people belittle your decision. I mean, honest conversations about whether you hope to have kids are one thing. Implying there’s a right or wrong answer to that question is another thing altogether. Parenting is ridiculously hard, and my opinion is that it’s not something you do because everyone else does it or you’ll just see if it happens! So much better to MAKE a choice, and either choice is completely right and valid for that person or couple. OK, rant over. Sorry. Anyway, your poem. It’s fantabulous, and I like the short form, too. THe lines Won’t feed this heart on wishes: facts, my friend: I’ve better things to do than “just survive.” are still my favorites. They totally lived in me, because for many years, my life felt like just struggling to survive because of medical issues within the family. The other thing I really love about this is that it validates your choice while respecting others’–acknowledging the hard work and terror that is motherhood:>)

    1. Laur, it’s still funny to me that I did NOT want to marry or have children – I was SO against the whole thing. I’ve managed to be married – but I had to really be a lot quieter with my thoughts on having a child, because I was so outspoken at eleven and twelve about never marrying… no one believed me, and everyone said, “Oh, you’ll feel differently when ___.” Everyone had a point in time where this was supposed to end, and it hasn’t. And the sort of shocked recriminations startled me, too. And the sort of insidious, turn-every-conversation-around-to-what-you’re-missing thing was hard. I don’t dislike children! I just know for myself – no. It looks hard from the outside, parenting does. I see people work. SO. HARD. And I know how lazy I am, and it scares me.

      Having walked nearby while you were on your parenting path, I think you are incredibly brave. Motherhood is both hard and terrifying, and while you didn’t make it look easy, you made it look doable – even when you may have felt like you looked the worst. I totally raise my glass to you. ♥

  2. First this: “It never fails – we start off thinking we can work with what we’ve got, and then – we don’t.” Yes, yes, yes.

    And this: I, too, made the same decision about motherhood. I’m far enough past the point of mind-changing that no one bothers me with unbidden questions and cajoling anymore, but I feel your pain.

    Last of all: Your poem speaks to my heart. I miss your voice, Cuz. Especially on Poetry Fridays.

  3. Oh, gosh. Is it REALLY always me???? What a pest!!!
    But I am so so glad you said yes.
    And, this poem — Tanita — it is perfect. As is the narrative surrounding it.
    I’ve got a lump in my throat — the exquisite openness — the bold assertions — the utter tenderness…
    Love you and love your words… xxxxoooo

  4. Glad Liz the ring leader whipped you guys into shape again for another Poetry 7 round. We’ve waited a long time for another installment . . . 😛

    Your poem resonated with me, as did all your remarks about choosing to be child free. I know everything you’ve been through and are still going through all too well. My choice was never understood or respected and to this day I am thought of as being less because of it.

    Not everyone is suited to be a parent. This doesn’t make said person less loving or somehow freakish or selfish or a child hater. Know thyself, and make your life choices accordingly.

    As Tricia said, I don’t think you’d be a “lousy mother.” For now, continue to be a good daughter, sister, wife, and friend.

    1. My choice was never understood or respected and to this day I am thought of as being less because of it.

      Sometimes you find yourself having to try REALLY, really hard not to be bitter about that.

      But, I respect so much your choice, Jama-james. You can parent many things without giving birth to them, and I so value your mothering of those of us in the kidlitosphere. You bring forth our best, champion it, and cheer it on, which is all of what a Mom does. So there. ♥

  5. I’m so glad you chose the shorter pantoum. I think it packs quite an emotional punch.

    And on a personal note, I think you’d be an amazing mother (I’d pick you if I could), but everyone should have the right to make that choice without judgment. I’m sorry that you get harangued about this. At 48 I sometimes find myself wondering if I was mistaken in choosing to have only 1. I wanted him to have everything (he’s spoiled and he does!) without worrying about paying the bills. And honestly, the little environmentalist in me feels like having one child is my way of recognizing the impact so many humans are having on this world of ours.

    Thanks for sharing such an honest poem.

    1. Ach, thanks Trica. I know I have it in me to be a good mother, but I think it’s a matter of choosing to explore what else I have within me. For me, it’s also in part an environmental choice. My sister has three kids – one adopted, but two born. I told her she’d had mine, and I’d help out. 🙂

      But, it’s still a decision that remains fraught, to this day, and the thought that eventually the decision can no longer be a choice – that made me cry. I think maybe that’s important, too. It should maybe be a choice that hurts, so you know it’s a serious one. Ah, I dunno. This is why I love poetry, though; you can keep thinking a thing through…

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