MOM Art Annex: Exhibition & Education Center

Hannah Brockbank

I am a mother, writer, and Ph.D. student from England. My creative Ph.D at the University of Chichester involves the creation of a new book-length collection of matrifocal poems exploring my experience of mothering. Whilst at the Museum of Motherhood (M.O.M.), I’ve been able to research matrifocal narratives, but also use M.O.M’s excellently curated collection of books, exhibits, art, and photographs (including Procreate Project’s Photozine Archive) as inspiration for my writing. Having time to write without the interruption of family life, has meant I have been very productive, and I look forward to spending my last days at M.O.M. focussing on my creative writing.

One of the first poems I wrote was inspired by an exhibit of a breast and uterus offering. The card by the exhibit read, ‘Uterus and breast offering from Fatima, Portugal to be offered to the Virgin Mary.’ I found this to be a very powerful image and I immediately began to consider my experiences of fertility and wanting to conceive.

It took 6 months to become pregnant with my first daughter and during part of that time, my husband and I visited Japan. We saw many temples and shrines, including the Site of Enazuka – a placenta mound which contained the afterbirth of Tokugawa Ienobu (1662-1712) the Sixth Shogun of Japan. There were many white and vivid pink azaleas, elegant buildings, and copper coloured carp in the ponds. Everything was blooming and coming alive. I also remember the many women who walked along the paths between the azaleas, towards a thick plume of incense where they cupped the smoke with their hands and drew it to their bellies and prayed.

I’ve carried this image with me for six years knowing it was a significant one, but wanted to find the right moment, and inspiration to use it. It was wonderful to commit it to paper. For me, most poems begin as a strong image. I then unpick images on the page. This can sometimes take the form of a sketch, a mind-map or sometimes, as in this case, in note form:

As you can see, I pay no attention to neatness, grammar, or punctuation at this stage. It’s really about getting the image committed to paper. I then include as many of the senses as possible, sight, smell, touch etc. Once I’m satisfied with that, I may add research. For example, the phytotomy of an azalea flower. Interestingly, at this point I start to find connections, or what I like to call ‘serendipitous moments’, where relationships between words, images, and idioms make happy alliances. Truthfully, this doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it feels rather special.

I then start to free-write, beginning to shape sentences into lines, carefully considering the placement of line ends, internal rhyme, and structure. As the poem is continually redrafted and workshopped, it becomes tighter and stronger.

Below is my first draft which has been given the work in progress title of ‘Nezu Shrine’. I will let it ‘compost’ for a week before redrafting. After that, the poem will be emailed to my workshop group in England, where I will receive feedback. I will make any amendments necessary and then send it to a publisher for their consideration.

NEZU SHRINE (Work in Progress)

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Hanna Brockbank

You pinch a lace bug

from the underside

of a white azalea.

Pearls of pollen

drop from its stamen

and fill the creases

of your busy hands.

And later,

you take my hand

and lead me

passed a pond

of copper carp,

(their swollen bellies

visible from the surface),

to a shrine.

You clap

your hands twice

then cup and guide

the blue smoke

from smouldering

incense

to my empty belly.

By Hannah Brockbank

Happy writing!

 

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