Featured Anthology: Staying Alive – Anne Stevenson

Anne Stevenson, a critic of Sylvia Plath and Elizabeth Bishop and a poet herself, was born in Cambridge in 1933 but grew up in America. She settled back in Britain in 1964 and has published widely and successfully in a creative career that spans over fifty years. Embedded in close observation of the world and sensitive pschological insight, her poetry questions how we see and what we think about our external and internal world.

‘Poem for a Daughter’ demonstrates Stevenson’s ability to amalgamate acute perception, personal feeling and sharp wit in her poetry. Heartfelt and sincere, yet entertaining and accessible, she brings out the humanity from our often complex and incomprehensible lives through the landscape of her intelligent, natural and sometimes angry words.

Poem for a Daughter

‘I think I’m going to have it,’
I said, joking between pains.
The midwife rolled competent
sleeves over corpulent milky arms.
‘Dear, you never have it,
we deliver it.’
A judgement years proved true.
Certainly I’ve never had you

as you still have me, Caroline.
Why does a mother need a daughter?
Heart’s needle, hostage to fortune,
freedom’s end. Yet nothing’s more perfect
than that bleating, razor-sharped cry
that delivers a mother to her baby.
The bloodcord snaps that held
their sphere together. The child,
tiny and alone, creates the mother.

A woman’s life is her own
until it is taken away
by a first particular cry.
Then she is not alone
but part of the premises
of everything there is:
a time, a tribe, a war.
When we belong to the world
we become what we are.

(This poem is reproduced with permission from Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times (2002, Bloodaxe Books), edited by Neil Astley.)