I wrote in earnest after my mother died — numerous pitiful poems. I have since shredded all of them. Those early months of doing without her were particularly soggy. I cried without knowing. Back then, I remembered every little detail of her being. The sound of her voice was still clear in my head. Her laugh, her frustrations. I wrote all about the rigors of my grief, how it had taken hold and hunched over me. It showed me how to spend my days. The general response to my mourning was, “you must have been close to your mother.”
Once I got through the muscle and pluck of immediate grief, I started writing poems that appeased my sense of loss but had more complexity to them. Of course, they were still ripe with what I was missing, but the emotion had shifted to something more interesting. I even got a little wacky, writing my mother into surreal prose poems and dream poems, and a poem that included the 1970s TV bombshell, Charo. Why not? Years after Mom died, I finally decided to try to figure out our mother-daughter relationship through a poem. I was shaking the first time I read “How I’d Explain What Kind of Mother She Was” (which is in my book, The Dailiness) to an audience. I hadn’t offered either of us up in the kindest light, nor had I exactly come to a conclusion about our bond. I had been purely honest. I’ve read that poem several times now to audiences, and people always react. They gasp; they clap. It feels good that they are responding to what is real and vulnerable, instead of perfection. On this Mother’s Day, as on the 15 others in which my mother hasn’t been around, I am convinced that writing starts with not knowing what I need to say. The searching takes time, and often, multiple attempts. Meanwhile, I still miss her, still wish she could somehow come back.
—Lauren Camp is a visual artist best known for her series, “The Fabric of Jazz,” which traveled to museums in ten cities. She is the author of two collections of poetry, This Business of Wisdom and, most recently, The Dailiness.