Kate Baer Is Speaking Truth. From Her Minivan.


And yet for a long time, said the poet Robin Morgan, whose 1972 book, “Monster,” was dubbed an “anthem of the women’s movement,” women who wrote about their inner lives were considered “confessional,” while men were simply “literary.”

“If a woman would use the term ‘dishcloth,’ ‘diaper,’ anything like that, it was considered disgusting,” Morgan said. (She noted that the first poem she ever published, in a literary journal, addressed her as “Mr. Robin Morgan” in her acceptance letter. She didn’t correct them.)

That has changed, slowly but surely, thanks in part to the internet. Popa noted that the 2019 viral poem by Kim Addonizio, “To the Woman Crying Uncontrollably in the Next Stall,” “spoke unflinchingly” to an experience many women could relate to, as did as Maggie Smith’s “Good Bones,” about trying to gather the enthusiasm to sell your children on the world despite its horrors.

Those horrors have only metastasized in a pandemic. “I have talked to so many people, even in publishing, who have said right now, like, ‘I just can’t read a book,’” said Mary Gaule, Baer’s editor at HarperCollins. “And I think poetry feels like a medicine, for whatever reason.”

For many of Baer’s readers, it is a balm as much as a scream they mustn’t voice out loud (lest the children overhear it).

“Having to deal with zoom schedules and lunch and snacks and also move forward on your own goals, and dealing with your marriage, and the strain that having kids in the house all the time, the exhaustion of it all — it’s a lot,” said Payne, the mother from San Francisco. “She has captured that frustration so beautifully.”

The frustration, and the anger.

In the poem “Motherload,” Baer writes:

She keeps an office in her sternum, the flat
bone in the center of her chest with all its
urgent papers, vast appointments, lists of
minor things. In her vertebrae she holds more
carnal tasks: milk jugs, rotten plants, heavy-
bottomed toddlers in all their mortal rage.

In “Interview with Self,” she asks:

Can I have it all?
No.
Can I have it all?
No.
Can I have it all?
No.

In “Transfiguration,” she says she dreamed herself into a mother, but when she became her, “I had to / dream her back into a woman.”



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