Why don’t poets write about pregnancy?

I’m expecting a baby. And, at first glance, this statement may seem irrelevant to poetry. But, what I feel as a woman with a little body growing inside mine, makes me ask this question again and again. What are poems about pregnant women like?

When we agreed to dedicate the second issue to the body, it immediately struck me that the poem of my choice should be about pregnancy, the most common and the most incredible miracle in the world. Your mind and your body become an inseparable unity. Million years of evolution start the life cycle inside a human being. It does not matter, if I play the piano, do math equations or perform an aria. It goes beyond any personal landmarks of my existence.
New life gives a new feeling of belonging. I belong to matter of the universe. I’m a part of eternity. Every discrepancy and contradiction is dissolved in it. No antinomies, or philosophical deadlocks. And I wonder if there is a poetic way to express it.

First thing I realized was that such poems should be gender-categorized. I did not do any special research on this topic in Russian literature, but my speculative guess was that well-educated men would not touch such a delicate subject, because either it was a taboo, or looked aesthetically unacceptable from the outside. I could not come up with any ideas about who would turn to pregnancy in Russian poetry, before Russian women became relatively emancipated and began to take an active part in the artistic life at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. And there they were – Anna Akhmatova, Marina Tsvetaeva – the names every Russian schoolkid knows about. However, looking into their milieu did not lead me to any bright findings. Although Tsvetaeva wrote poems about her daughter Ariadna, she did not happen to do so about bearing a child. Yes, these were trying times, and poets were more preoccupied with the world falling apart in wars, revolutions and other social cataclysms than birth. Probably, pregnancy could not be thought as an exciting or inspirational event either. Insecurities about the future and the horrifying present killed the topic.

So, I continued my search scanning through the Russian poetry of the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s (obviously, more peaceful periods), also some contemporary verse, but my attempts were futile. I haven’t found anything, except a couple of amateur poems floated up while Googling.

I asked my peers and professors, I used my chance to put that question at the conferences I presented this year, I bothered graduate students from other language departments. The only positive answer I received was about the American website Literary Mama. It unites women who write poems about motherhood. And, yes, that is all I have.

I’m aware of how shallow this quest is. I hope that there are gems I somehow missed. But getting all those responses helped me understand that there are no axioms in this case. Scholars I talked to would experience the same difficulties as me, and made some guesses I want to share with you.

There is a certain scarcity of poems about pregnancy because:

  • It will sound tacky in the poetic language. Too idyllic and then clichéd.

I would object here that this topic is not necessarily high-elevated. After all, it’s the body that provokes ironic/parodic imagery, especially if one describes their own experience.

  • Poetry often expresses somebody’s sadness. It is mourning for loss, which is why it’s hard to write about pregnancy, where the event has not happened yet and mostly considered blissful.

I’d rather disagree, because not all poems can be qualified as elegiac, and there is unrevealed philosophical content in the childbirth theme, potentially likely to be rendered with poetic means.

  • Its physicality is not possible to verbalize in poetic language.

Well, we have lots of poems about physical decay and death, why not change the train of thought and describe the nature of birth?

  • Women, who are poets, do not normally have children. Or, if they do, their sense of lyrical self does not relate this experience to their personal one. The baby is an alien invading their privacy, who endangers their poetical ego.

I did not have a chance to support the argument with some statistics, but I believe, there may be some grain of truth in it.

To cut the story short, I ended up picking Tsvetaeva’s poem about mother’s kiss. My search was not successful, but it clearly showed that the question is eligible to ask. I did not give up hope to find a Russian poem about pregnancy as well as the reason, why the theme appears to slip through poetic attention in the twentieth century. I realize that my assumptions may be wrong and would much appreciate your opinion and suggestions.

Natalia Vygovskaia

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Hi Natalia, this is a very interesting topic that I also thought about. I don’t think that women poets usually don’t have children, though; I can think of many who do (Tsvetaeva and Akhmatova, whom you mention; Jorie Graham; Alda Merini; Kathleen Jamie, to name but a few belonging to different national literatures ). It’s true that all the poems I can think of — I haven’t done any research though — are about motherhood but not about pregnancy. Definitely a question worth asking! Wish I could say more on the topic…