Mother, May I?
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Advance praise for Mother, May I?
‘Mother, May I?’ is a chilling poetry anthology that evokes, in its author’s note, an Institution of Motherhood. Imagine, dear reader, a constructed social expectation that motherhood is “martyrdom done right”. Shades of red cloaks and white bonnets pass through our minds, and to be presented with motherhood as any kind of institution immediately sends alarm bells ringing. Thoughts of faceless figures, rules and horrific punishments for stepping out of line creep uncomfortably to the fore.
Juliette van der Molen is a truth-teller. “These are my truths,” she says, for, like all of us, she is not multitudes. She is poet. One person. And yet… she can feel the weight of the Institution bearing down on her as she tries to forge her own path, acknowledging the child she once was and the mother she now is.
Mother, may i
explain to you
how i learned things
were my fault,
that i should know better
The opening poem sends chills running down the spine, and immediately sets the tone and spirit of the harsh lessons we all need to learn if we can give the mothers and children of past, present and future the room to breathe and be themselves, not just faceless figures following and fearing the commands of an invisible puppet master.
“Mother, May I” is such a charming phrase – on the surface, at least. So Downton Abbey; so Mary Poppins. There’s no harm in it, surely? It’s a simple cue of politeness that children may be taught in order to fit in. But, as the child requests permission of their mother to tell their own truth, each stanza reveals a new horror, a new link in the restrictive chain that parents and children feel tightening around their neck whenever they have an impulse to rail against the social institution that binds us all.
Mothers can harm children, and harmed children can grow up uncertain about how to bloom through damage done to them. Harmed children can grow up into mothers that harm children. The cycle repeats. The institution has won.
But the institution of motherhood must not win. It must be seen, and seen clearly, through the eyes of brave, bold, beautiful poets like Juliette van der Molen who yearn to rip society’s chains from their neck so they can breathe again. Juliette van der Molen’s anthology is a gift – the gift of clarity, and wisdom, and understanding, and freedom. It offers us a chance to see beyond the cloaks and bonnets to the faces beneath. The Institution of Motherhood depends on us not being able to see that it exists. It depends on us believing in it without question. Juliette’s voice is a roar, a beacon of light, that shows us the tattered state and cobwebbed corners of the Institution, and shatters its effigies into a million tiny pieces.
This book is important. You do not need to be a mother to read this book. It is enough that you have once been a child. Follow your heart, walk your own path, and smash the Institution. It is brittle, and its time is done. You must have your freedom to grow.
I shall leave the final words to Juliette van der Molen:
“The narrative of the institution of motherhood can never be changed until we start telling the truth.”
Magda Knight, Founding Editor of Mookychick
In the expertly explored territory of abuse and survival, Juliette van der Molen’s Mother May, I?, most certainly gives us something to cry about, but not in the way intended in the refrain that rolls through her work—instead we gather up the words of many desperately wounded children and women and weep with them. There is an extraordinary bravery in van der Molen’s work, voices already in the midst of distress addressing newborn children, mothers who are no longer able to mother and become murderers. This is not a book for the faint of heart, but it is a book for those who know the constructs of motherhood have not served us well—and most certainly have not served our children. Though each poem is a deftly constructed wound, watch carefully for the tender detail, the brutally beautiful images that transport us from tragedy to a world of possibility.
Jen Rouse, author of Riding with Anne Sexton
Juliette van der Molen’s Mother, May I? unveils a sense of recognition through experiencing motherhood while simultaneously mothering oneself. The pieces within this haunting collection speak to one another on being a mother, on being a daughter, on being. As readers, we witness a deconstructing of the patriarchy and, through this visceral reliving, can physically feel how painful looking back can be. We see assault and healing, we see a seeking of truth; we see the relearning of love—a correction of muscle memory. The language within dissects and reassigns meaning throughout. Above all else, there is an examination of the complexities of humans in the evolution of the roles we exist within. Nature meets nurture, humans vs. creatures—how they’re one and the same. The plain incorruptibility and wildness that is childhood melding with the dissolving of traditional femininity. It is political in its questioning—an always-expanding resistance that rises and falls with the breath of each piece’s speaker and paradigm. Mother, May I? is rich in pop culture and feminism, while holding tight to an honesty that strikes deep. It is a treasure of a collection that left me feeling both hungover and regenerated.
Savannah Slone, author of Hearing the Underwater