CLAIRE HARRIS's Drawing Down a Daughter
and Di Brandt's Mother, Not Mother
both give birth, through words, to the realities of the lives of women.
Harris's book, which combines poetry and prose passages, is a unique contribution to writing on identity and consciousness. Its conception is one of an intertwined history where colonization and the reflections on this process produce new poetic forms; its tabour that of coming to a consciousness in which the umbilical cord with the mother continent of Africa is tied, its knots recalling the ties of its lies. Harris's words pulsate and ignite the forgotten truths of histories past and present; she excels at the wording of identity, of its mix of memory, dreams that speak the depths of time, and sounds that echo the intensity of the birthing of words:
Daughter to live is to dream the self
to make a fiction
this telling i begin
you return in landscape of your time
will refine shedding my tales
to grow your own
as i have lost our ancestors your
daughters will lose me
remembering only a gesture a few words
'what you don't want in your kitchen
will sit in your drawing room'
and a few recipes
history in a pinch of salt
Reflections of the mind-set of a woman giving birth to a daughter, the poems in Drawing Down a Daughter are joyous and vibrant, full of both pain and glory. The prose passages tell of the lives of those who came before Harris: those who make her presence known and those with whom she shares her knowledge of being, of being present in words.
Child all i have is to give
is English which hates/fears your
dance sing to
sunlight on the Caribbean
Di Brandt's Mother Not Mother probes the reality of a life filled with dualities and uncertainties. The poems diarize the various roles imposed upon women as mothers and as daughters of mothers, and evoke a past filled with trepidation, a past intensely clear in its expression of pain. Brandt confronts this pain with words that tell of her desire to make it heard, known, and remembered:
n the middle of the night,
there he is again,
my dark haired
dark eyed bogey man,
no use shutting the door...
Peter's hands on my throat,
death hands, full of hate,
his penis a hammer
in my mouth
These poems hammer home the truth of Brandt's life: of her home with her mother and with the "mother country" of her Mennonite ancestry. The relationships that emerge are complex and burdened by silences of abandonment and alienation. Brandt explores these silences in a way that challenges the extent to which they have shaped her life; her words trace a path of wisdom and strength gained through the process of writing the body, the mother, the child:
Little one, black angel,
wild, spirit child
you wouldn't die
you wouldn't take
the family lie
into your mouth,
the nasty secret,
wouldn't keep it.
This birthing of consciousness, of her self as Mother, Not Mother stands as testimony to the remarkable range of poetic devices Brandt uses in expressing her worded truths.