Poetry News

NPR Introduces Poetry of Infancy

By Harriet Staff

NPR's in-house poetry critic David Orr has written a short piece noting the paucity of poetry about infancy and pregnancy. Without dwelling too much on why this might be, Orr defends "poetry of parenthood" as a genre:

Yes, there are a few great poems about infancy — William Blake's "Infant Joy" and "Infant Sorrow," for instance. But until relatively recently, the poetry of birth tended to glide past the whole "birth" part, usually skipping the newborn bits as well and sometimes giving childhood a miss for good measure. Perhaps the most famous example is William Butler Yeats' "A Prayer for my Daughter," a lovely poem that focuses on what the poet hopes his infant daughter might be like in 18 years (courteous, kind and "not entirely beautiful"), rather than what she surely was at the time (a voracious poop machine). Recent parents may also note with amusement Yeats' proud announcement that he "walked and prayed" an hour for his newborn during a powerful storm while his child slept on. Yes, a whole hour. While she slept.

This avoidance of actual babies can seem a bit disappointing if, like me, you are a poetry critic with a newborn daughter. Fortunately, the past few decades have seen a reversal of sorts. And it is a reversal that coincides, not at all coincidentally, with changes in society — most notably the greater presence of women in fields that, like poetry, have not always wished to dwell upon the uterus.

Happily, Orr goes on to highlight several young poets who have started to write on this topic. Learn more here.

Originally Published: July 23rd, 2012