A Mother’s Love in Words

At the English Reading Series, poets Sunni Wilkinson and Laura Stott read their poetry and explored the inspiration for writing they find from motherhood.

PROVO, Utah (Jan. 27, 2017)—Sunni Wilkinson and Laura Stott, both poets and instructors at Weber State, read poetry as part of BYU’s weekly English Reading Series. They read poems – theirs and those of others – from the anthology, All We Can Hold: Poems of Motherhood, as well as some of their own more recent work. Both women draw heavily from their personal lives, especially their experiences with their children, as inspiration for their writing.

The first of her poems Sunni Wilkinson read, “Little Owl in a Dark Room,” though only a few lines, conveyed a complete, tender story of a quiet morning with her toddler son. “Mine’s probably the shortest one in [the anthology],” she commented, “but I had an instructor in graduate school that said, ‘A short poem need not be small.’” Certainly, none of Wilkinson’s poems are small in depth or meaning. Her collection, Reach Out and Touch Someone, won second place in poetry in the Utah Original Writing Competition. 

Wilkinson’s work challenges the assumption that quiet, domestic scenes are monotonous and unremarkable. One of her poems titled “Mary Cassatt” is a tribute to the famous artist, who often focused her brush on scenes of domesticity. Wilkinson asks in her poem, “And for all the art about Paris and the sea, why not more about laundry? / The heart is harnessed in a thimble and every day is the morning of creation.”

Wilkinson is able to evoke compelling emotion and thought in her poems through her experiences as a mother. In “Fall in a Tryptic,” she creates haunting images with lines such as “his hands are frantic birds tearing at our shirts,” and “Fear carves our limits and we stroke them in the dark hole of ourselves / letting our fingers drift and drift over the terrible edges.” She connects the audience to a parent’s powerful love through the biblical story of Jacob and Isaac in the lines, “His father’s hands shook and lingered over his body / And the angel showed up in the nick of time.” She brings together that parental fear and love in the last lines of the poem, “I fold myself around my son / There is nothing that is not changeable / Even the ram became a bright fire.”

Laura Stott’s poems are dense, using fragmented descriptions to help the audience feel as if they were stealing quick glances into her stories. She joked, “Before we had a real baby, we kind of joked that we had plant babies and we got teased about that quite a bit.” She weaves the growth of plants in a garden and the growth of the child inside her together in her poem “Garden Before Isaac.” She writes, “I move with my body bent. I want to bring the unborn baby closer and closer to the earth each day I go to it.” She, too, connects through a long line of motherhood to Sarah and Isaac from the Bible, as the poem suggests. She asks, “When Sarah and Abraham were promised a child in the desert, did she gather sand just to feel the weight of the grains in her fingers?”

Stott uses fragmented thoughts to create a dream-like feeling in her poems. In one about feeding her newborn in the middle of the night, she says, “At the 3AM feeding I can hear the milk from my body hitting your stomach. It’s entering like rain into rain. / The water of your body swallowing the echo of the moon in this dark room.” Her references to water continue to make this ordinary moment surreal. She says in the poem, “There’s only a pane of glass between us and this ocean. / I pull the curtain back, to see if the aquarium holds any light. . . the trees are covered in a fine sheen of looking-glass.”

Olivia Madsen (B.A. French language, ’18)

Olivia covers events for the English Department for the College of Humanities. She is a senior majoring in French language and minoring in international development.