Welcome to our newest blog series: Where Are They Now?
In this series, our editors interview past Literary Mama contributors to see what they’ve accomplished since publishing in LM, and talk about their writing journeys.
This month, Senior Editor and Literary Reflections Editor Libby Maxey sat down with Barbara Rockman to talk about teaching workshops, her recent publications, and how the events of the past year have affected her work. Enjoy!
Libby Maxey: Literary Mama published your essay Motherpoet: Boon of the Parallel Journey in May 2016. You already had a collection in print then and were busy as a teacher. How has your life as a writer changed in the years since?
Barbara Rockman: The past five years have been fraught with one shocking turn of events after another. I have been unsettled, fearful, sleepless. I have been angry and shocked. But teaching workshops has sustained me: “Women Write Their Lives,” “Poetry as Prayer,” “Writing Joy in July,” “Excavating Home,” “The Letter Poem,” “Poetry from Art” and “Just Write.” My classes met at the community college and around my dining room table, at conferences, in museums, galleries and writing centers, and at our local shelter for victims of domestic violence. Their themes chronicled my concerns and passions.
Teaching and writing, mothering and marriage, are inseparable; one engages and inspires the other. It is always about listening and love, supporting each other’s unique path to its expression—what I hope for every woman, every mother, every daughter.
While I was at a 2016 residency at Playa at Summer Lake, Oregon, my second collection was accepted. to cleave was published in 2019, by University of New Mexico Press. It was a wonderful and rigorous collaboration. I shared those poems at dozens of readings. And then the pandemic curtailed being public. At first, I was relieved; after 30 readings, I was exhausted. I had no idea how much I would miss the numerous cancelled conversations and hugs.
Sheltered at home, I have had long nights to doubt the value of poems, long days to realize poetry’s essential role as succor, hope and truth telling. For months I wrote daily and then it grew harder.
LM: In “Motherpoet,” looking back on the days of parenting young children, you said, “I needed tension to write. I still do.” Is that true for you now?
BR: The explosion of COVID-19 cases, the election and aftermath, shattered my ability to put words on paper. I watched too much news. I studied Facebook imagining hope might reside there. I walked and walked and walked. I started a conversation with a tree I love. My daughters came and became my daily bread. We baked and walked and baked again. They were my poems. My journal was hatch marked with sketches, smatterings of dreams, renderings of prayers for kindness between humans—everything was at stake. What can a poem do, I wondered? I am more hopeful now.
LM: Do you still draw inspiration from experiences as a mother?
I circle pages spread on my daughter’s bed. Sun pours into that south facing room. I shuffle poems like cards, fan them in clusters. My mother’s story is there. Her resistance to a religious God. In my first book, Sting and Nest, I wrote about my daughters, my own childhood. to cleave is much about marriage, its shadow, its light. My daughters weave through that book as young adults, as memory and myth. The next manuscript approaches my Jewish heritage, what my mother turned away from, resistance and mystery I have inherited. A different mother-daughter story.
LM: What are you looking forward to in the future?
BR: I look forward to teaching again, students delighting in images and rhythms others have shared that inspire their own. Laughter and tears. Coffee, tea, scarves and coats thrown on the backs of chairs.
And to a long overdue culmination of a collaboration of art and poetry with a beloved mother artist. For years, she, in Barcelona, I in Santa Fe, have dreamt women’s bodies, trees, dresses made from found objects. Texture of earth, tactile, sensuous. Breathing life into roots and foliage, breasts and hands—unmasked voices!
I have missed New Mexico’s vibrant writing community. I was raised into poetry here over the past twenty years. I have organized readings, benefits, and workshops, participated in numerous collaborations with artists and everywhere are friends, teachers, students who I have not seen for over a year. It will be a delicious reunion for us all when the world becomes a safer place. I can never take this amazing good fortune for granted.
And, of course, I look forward to the continued discovery of the next book’s shape, its final drafts shared with trusted readers, the editing and revisions, and eventual publication. By then, let’s hope, we can read and listen and respond in the flesh. Hugs, handshakes and chairs pulled close once again!
Maybe every family is a kind of poem, every sisterhood of women a lyric of love. Teachers of poetry say, leave room for the reader, allow white space, room to breathe. Isolated from women I love and daughters in faraway cities, we converse in texts, recipes, dresses, dogs and links to films. We make a new form: fractured stanzas illustrated with emojis, Zoomed faces leaning room to room. Meanwhile, as my email address attests, I remain motherpoet.