When I read ‘Morning Song’ by Sylvia Plath, I thought I would never again read a poem that so vividly and movingly captures motherhood. That was until I read Zoë Siobhan Howarth-Lowe’s second pamphlet, ‘I Have Grown Two Hearts’ from Hedgehog Poetry Press. There are so many poems here to match Plath’s classic.
In her collection Howarth-Lowe reflects upon her experiences of motherhood and parenting. She explores both the joys and the difficulties. In ‘Ultrasound’ we share with her the sense of wonder at new life: in ‘Hearing the Unheard’ and ‘Guilt and Longing’ the irresistibility of the maternal instinct; and in ‘Going Back’ and the title poem, ‘I have Grown Two Hearts’, the fulfilment of parenting. Readers will be struck by the honesty of Howarth’s writing: whilst she captures these positives, she also deals with the daily challenges: such as the problems of allowing children their independence (‘Plaiting Rapunzel’s hair’) and of coming to terms with a sense of inadequacy when dealing with a tantrum (‘You don’t Fit the Way you Used to’). At times this view can be both uncompromising and unflinching: in ‘The American Museum’ she reflects on the brutal reality of labour in previous times, and in ‘Children Who Come and Go’ the portrayal of grief following miscarriage is almost unbearable.
There is a wide emotional and tonal range here: Howarth-Lowe can be witty and funny, but at other times she is deeply moving. There is also a vividness to her writing that enables us to share with her the experiences she describes. We’re roused by the cries of her child and experience her sense of frustration; we feel the tangle of an overcrowded bed; and we walk up and down the corridor with her, as she tries to lull her new-born baby into a lasting sleep. This is the work of a highly accomplished writer, able to produce lines and images that will live long in the memory. The metaphor of the foetus ‘kicking its way out’ of the ultra-scan photograph will stay with me, as will the lines ‘blood and bones,/spun…into life’.
‘I Have Grown Two Hearts’ should be compulsory reading for all prospective mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, children….I could go on but I think you get my point.
Zoë Siobhan Howarth-Lowe is a poet and mum from Dunkinfield with an MA in poetry from Bath Spa University. Her first pamphlet ‘Love is the Way Bark Grows’ was published by Half Moon Books in June 2019. She is currently touring the UK Spoken Word scene and has headlined at various venues.
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