The Republic of Motherhood is a subtly beautiful pamphlet of 15 poems by inimitable Black Country poet Liz Berry. Dealing with entry into motherhood, this pocket-sized treasure trove offers a raw and guttural image of birth – and its jarring, at times isolating, psychological effects.
The titular poem just last month won the prestigious Forward Prize for Best Single Poem, and rightly so. It is both a battle cry and a lament, a stunning portrayal of both exhaustion and fight. It is a national anthem for the post-apocalyptic reality of motherhood. My favourite poems are ones that take me on a journey, that spill me into another place or time or life or feeling, and this poem did exactly that. It’s one of those that you can read and reread again and again, and feel it fresh as a kiss or a slap every time. You can read it in full here.
Another highlight is ‘Lullaby’, the second-to-last poem in the pamphlet. It acts as a bittersweet caress to counterbalance the refreshing brutality that is otherwise stitched throughout the pamphlet. As its title suggests, it is lilting and lyrical. You just want to wrap yourself up inside of it and rest. It is a quilt of a poem.
What I truly, deeply love about The Republic of Motherhood is the way that Berry talks about other women. The way she writes of her fellow new mothers as though in awe of their strength, and her focus on the sheer power of supportive female relationships. I mean, just read the first two lines of the opening poem, ‘The Republic of Motherhood’: “I crossed the border into the Republic of Motherhood / and found it a queendom, a wild queendom.” Although I am not a mother, I found this pamphlet to be wildly feminine and fiercely empowering. It should be recommended reading for every woman.
Berry is an undoubtedly masterful poet. She whittles enchantment out of every word, the placement of which feels so effortlessly perfect that you know it has to be deliberate. Her imagery – usually relating to nature – is stark and vivid; for example, “I opened too soon, a foxglove, on that papered bed”. Indeed, nature is a theme woven throughout the 15 poems of the pamphlet, perhaps even moreso than that of birth. Berry’s poetic voice is unique, at times flitting to charming Black Country dialect, both whimsical and powerful.
When I first picked up The Republic of Motherhood, I was afraid that, as a lot of new-mother things are, it was going to be twee. Or overly saccharine. It is neither of those things. It is real. It is galling and lifting. It is a glorious wild queendom over which Berry’s words reign supreme.
Favourite quote: “Darlin, the night is a randan o’ dreams” – Lullaby