Unable Mother

“This work challenges our abstract and cosy notions of motherhood with a brutal and vulnerable delve into the psyche. Calcutt grapples, sometimes violently, sometimes with aching tenderness, each hard-won line ‘like squeezing / flesh and fruit from the bone, / this terrible love’. Yet these poems reach even further, into the rent world, and the remarkable kinds of beauty to which poetry alone can allude. This is an intimate book, the kind that comes in close to your ear to whisper dark secrets and unavoidable truths. These poems are spare, careful, insistent--and devastatingly good.” Robert Peake

“Helen Calcutt’s poems are full of surprising and intricate moments - they unfold like origami, deftly packing and unpacking themselves into new forms and presenting the reader with confidences, secrets and insight, the tender words for the things that are hard to say. In their explorations of motherhood, loss and discovery, Calcutt’s poetry is steeled with precise language, always finding clarity forged in the heart of experience.  These are intimate poems which are felt in the body, and written with a keen physicality – ‘love is meant to live on in the body’ writes Calcutt, ‘My flesh making heaven of it.’ In their makings and re-makings, each poem here reveals this to be a remarkable and potent debut.” Jane Commane

Unable Mother is very revelatory and very achingly poised.

ISBN 978-1-9998444-0-0
60 pages
R.R.P. £9.99

A sample poem from the collection can be enjoyed below.

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Unable Mother (including P&P)
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The listening tree

I don’t know when this began. I have an ear
for the beautiful/terrible 
sounds, soaked with rain.
With my hearing in such leaves,
I can bear the worst of human music.
I’ve gone so very far, listening 
without moving. My roots are bound 
by ribbons in the earth
which lengthen into my back
and I sway, as it happens 
in these roots from my back. I listen,
and sleep between the dark 
and the dark
where my hearing is suspended.
And between this and my skull, 
it’s all dark matter, 
where earth and her sweetness
have darkened to gather each
bone to a bone, 
every coil to a chord.
I sing, though you wouldn’t know it.
My mouth is sunk in a pool
of old life,
it glitters and tries
to sing of its light,
and cries owl-cries
for a secret way out. Still, I bend
my thick spine 
to bare my neck, and touch you. 
You could almost be a stranger 
who's found me by a road,
you hold out your arms
as if you hold the great world,
you place your hands 
on my body and hair. Your tears 
catch on the quiet in the air,
and shake and glitter with the shakings 
of your hair;
something in your shape 
is like a tree, like me. I barely brush you
and your mouth comes alive on my light, 
I barely sigh I am a temple, I am 
soaking you with light.
If I could birth myself a second time,
I’d have your soul.  
You rock and sigh ‘oh I’m done, Mother,
I’m done.’  But the young, my love,
are free, or didn’t you know? There’s no 
god in this world. 
The closest thing to prayer is 
a child who says she hurts.


Audio versions of Helen reading The Listening Tree, Naked and Teeth may be enjoyed below, along with a poetry dance film of Naked.


"It is getting a little predictable to say that V Press clearly know what they are doing when it comes to producing beautiful and important poetry books, but the debut collection from Helen Calcutt is something special even by their standards...

"These are poems that are fractured and continually full of pain, but such is her skill that they are in no way terrifying as there is a leavening of joy there too...

"On the cover of the book, Robert Peake talks about a 'terrible and terrifying love' and that is perfectly put. He also says that Helen's poems are 'devastatingly good', and that just about sums it up for me too."

Mark DavidsonA Restricted View From Under The Hedge, full review and an interview with Helen in issue 2

“The language is precise and allows the poems to build layers of insight...

“The poems are intimate in their offerings of insights and draw from considered experience using precise, spare language to explore vulnerability and to seek clarity. It’s good to see the less-explored side of motherhood expressed with compassion and intelligence.”

Emma Lee, full review here

'Reviewing Helen Calcutt’s glorious collection, Unable Mother, feels a little like reading the diary of a close friend, a letter to myself, or the delicate and kaleidoscopic thoughts of the many women I’ve walked, talked and cried with since we were bonded by one single, cataclysmic event – birth…

'The imagery is rich and complex throughout, filled with its own totems: birds crash-land, lotus flowers bloom in the shadows, grief burns bright and painful as the sun. Boats rock, unsteady. Horses are either stabled or walk on “like women through fire”…'

Victoria RichardsA Restricted View From Under The Hedge

Unable Mother's cover image ‘Retreat’ by Katherine Sheers (http://www.katherinesheers.com/)

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