Rebecca Goss’ second collection, Her Birth, carefully considers the process of grieving the loss of a child. In isolation, each poem can be read as an individual portrait of a sincere maternal sentiment; however, considered as a whole, the collection presents a chronological account of the trauma and subsequent acceptance by a mother who has lost her first born. The title is somewhat ambiguous as “Her Birth” not only refers to the birth of the persona’s first child but also to that of her second. Thus the narrative can be said to imitate the cyclical nature of life and death itself – that is to say, as one dies, another is born. The titles of each section also skilfully depict the stages within such a cycle. For example, the opening section, entitled “Echo”, makes reference to a mother’s desperate attempts to cling to the waning memories of her departed daughter whilst, subsequently, “Mining” represents a maternal confrontation with and acceptance of grief, thereby preparing the persona to “Welcome” the new in the concluding section.
Her Birth considers an array of thematic issues contained within the collection’s central concern. In “You’re Lucky You Can Dream About Her”, the poet contemplates depression and its effects:
who longs to see the early shape
she held for only hours, I reject
the narratives that come at night.
Wrought with emotion, this poem credibly conveys a mother’s response to the perpetual reminders of her loss.
Later, the inevitable confrontation and then gradual acceptance of such a loss is perhaps best expressed by the poem “Grief Goes Jogging”. Written in the second person, this distancing effect aids the creation of the image of a fractured mind in conversation, and in conflict, with itself:
You fight me with furious ankles,
but I force on trainers, make you
bounce on the spot. At the door,
I send you with a shove, shouting
‘Bear left! Head for the river!’
See the promenade you’ve made
Me walk plenty enough,
Sometimes at dawn, in tears.
Such an image provides the reader with hope – hope that this wounded and broken mind-set can heal. However, later in the same poem, the persona reveals that such a conflict may not be so easily overcome:
I know you will come back in,
slip your arms around me,
but for now I leave you there.
Such prudence allows the reader to identify with and follow the protagonist in her pursuit of acceptance and closure.
In “As Owls Do”, the poet alludes to the work of Sylvia Plath. This is particularly fitting considering that Goss’ employment of poetic devices provides her collection with a narrative style somewhat reminiscent of that of Plath. In keeping, too, with Plath, by honing both joyful and woeful images, this collection abounds with sincerity and beauty.
Her Birth is a highly acclaimed collection, and sections of it have already appeared in esteemed magazines such as Mslexia and The Reader. Furthermore, Goss’ poetry has justly been nominated for, and awarded, an array of literary prizes – including the Troubadour International Poetry Prize 2012 and the New Writer Prose and Poetry Prizes 2009. Undoubtedly, such a proficient poet will earn many more nominations and awards hereafter.
It uncurled, unfolded
into four but was clover
with an unlucky lobe,
the rarest of anomalies
that would flourish
to defeat her.
Tracey M. Smith