Suspended in Midair: Infants, Graduate School, and Wild Swans with Rebecca Kinzie Bastian

Rebecca Kinzie Bastian’s poems, I Fell into My Baby’s Eyes and pro-di-gy, celebrating early motherhood, can be read here at The Fertile Source:

These two poems strike me as songs of praise—take for example the lovely opening line from I Fell Into My Baby’s Eyes: “I know it sounds ridiculous, but the sun/was shining through their marine.” Can you talk about the process of writing the rest of that poem, as well as “prodigy”? How many drafts did it take? Is that usual for your writing process?

These poems were written when my son Tucker, now 14, was an infant. I was in the first year of my graduate studies when I discovered that I was pregnant. I was not pleased but both my husband and my older son had been talking about another child. I found myself trying to bring together two different-feeling worlds. I think, in the end, being pregnant and writing my thesis while nursing a newborn actually benefited my studies and my work. That was not instantly clear to me though. I often felt suspended in midair somewhere between the bliss of pregnancy and total, helpless fear.

Tucker was not a beautiful baby. He emerged purple, lumpy, and colicky. I loved him right away, of course, but we were not necessarily comfortable with each other all the time. I continued working on my thesis while I nursed him, books scattered all over the bed, the laptop teetering on one knee when suddenly a bar of sunlight pushed under the blind and right into his eyes. That was the moment of the poem and the moment I fell absolutely and madly in love.

prod•i•gy was written just a few days later.

Both poems have gone through so many drafts and revisions – I couldn’t tell you how many. I usually seem to have three or four first drafts and then, through the years, as I work on manuscripts as a whole, individual poems are reshaped and revised.

How has the experience of motherhood found its way into your writing, or changed your relationship to your writing? What themes were characteristic of your work before? After motherhood?

I became a mother at 22 when my first son Kristian was born. I guess I have been writing about motherhood or it has found its way into my poems ever since – most of my writing life. Motherhood has informed my writing mostly in the sense that it is part of my identity. I can’t separate who I am from my motherhood anymore than I can separate who I am from my drive as a writer.

Being a mother also means that I have been an often-interrupted writer. I have not been able to sequester myself from my children or divide out time for writing that does not include the presence of my children. It wasn’t always easy but it has trained me to keep working and to maintain some focus in chaos… or at least to try.

If your mother had written a poem for you, what do you wish it had described?

I often look at a photograph I have of my lovely mother holding me as a newborn. She appears radiant and filled with joy but I’m sure it wasn’t that simple. She was a very independent woman who didn’t marry until she was in her 30s. That wasn’t common at that time. She also had very difficult pregnancies and she lost her first child at birth and almost lost me as well. I would have liked to know if she felt afraid or conflicted looking at me in her arms after so much struggle and sacrifice to have me.

When did you begin writing poetry?

I have always loved poetry but began writing it seriously in high school. I had thought I wanted to be an obstetrician, but when I bombed Chemistry, I realized medical school was not for me. So, I turned to the thing I had always been drawn to anyway. I would have been much richer if I had just had some math skills!

Where is your favorite place to write? Do you have any specific writing rituals?

I write wherever and whenever I can. It’s something that writing around children has taught me to do. For a while, I tried to make writing rituals but realized that I write best without them.

What are you currently working on?

I have two completed manuscripts – the first contains these poems – and am working on a third. It is a collection of “fairy tale” poems. Only a few of them have anything to do with actual fairy tales but they seem to come from that place of mystery. One of my dearest friends, poet Miranda Field and I discovered that we had a favorite childhood book in common – The Wild Swans. It was a Golden Books edition illustrated by Kihachiro Kawamoto. We both pored over that book peering through the trees on the holographic cover. The very night we discovered our mutual love for it, we ordered a used copy and when it arrived, we opened it together feeling that maybe we had been communicating to each other as children through that book. The discovery, and that swooping and swirling feeling of recognition, has turned us both a little in the direction of fairy tale in our writing.

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