Contributor Spotlight:
Interview with Meghan Sterling

Bio photo of Meghan Sterling

Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: In “Motherhood Divides a Woman in Half,” we love the way the poem is split between the fantastical and the real. How did you approach balancing those images and how that reflects the internal conflict the speaker feels?

Meghan Sterling: As a working mother of a young daughter, I constantly feel tugged in multiple directions. I had never felt quite this way before—motherhood offered me a new path, one with nearly constant companionship, one that doesn’t allow me the total freedom I had before. As a poet, I often feel myself pulled towards wild and natural spaces, but as a mother, I find myself inside the realm of the home. Some days I am living in a liminal space between worlds—a little bit here, a little bit there—torn.

While being a mother is the tenderest, most powerful experience of my life, the longing for solitude and wilderness can become overwhelming. This poem was me navigating the two worlds, the one of motherhood which I fully inhabit, and the one of wildness, which I can never go fully into. I wanted to explore in my mind the places I don’t get to—the swamps, the deep forests, the solitary hermit’s hut, and contrast it with the daily work of being a body that keeps my young daughter alive. For me, a loon chick riding the back of her mother was the perfect metaphor.

RR: We’re drawn into the poem through its couplets and cascading enjambment. How do you approach form and structure in your poetry?

MS: I find that in a poem that is image-heavy, I often lean towards couplets or tercets. I like the space that it allows between images and the way the enjambment can lead the reader on through that space to the next stanza. Also this poem is about two paths, so the couplet form felt right—there is the first way, the imagined way, the way of the wild and solitary witch-poet, and then there is the way of the mother, sitting vigil at home, the way of carrying the child on her body, paddling the water to keep them afloat. 

The duality lent itself to a series of couplets. Enjambment is always something I am working to improve, but in this poem, I made sure to end on words that created a strong image, one that carried us over into the next line (to work with the watery imagery), and I feel it worked. It took many drafts to get it there!

RR: How do your own experiences with motherhood influence your poetry? 

MS: Being a parent has changed my life, my awareness, my memory, my concerns—my entire existence. In my collection, These Few Seeds, I am working through this sea change—exploring memory, love, death, fear, ancestry, trauma—mostly within the context of raising a child. My daughter is my greatest inspiration and teacher. I have discovered the best of myself in being her mother. But I also feel the pull towards the wild. How to reconcile these dualities? I write poems to work my way through finding out. I don’t know that there is an answer, but writing itself feels like leaning into the wildness without sacrificing all that I offer as comfort and stability and love to my daughter. In other words, writing poems allows me to dwell in wild spaces and still do all I must.

RR: This poem feels deeply grounded in the imagery of nature. How do you see your work fitting into the long history of poetry of the natural world?

MS: I am a city-dweller but long for the natural world. I seek it within the city limits, the busy dailyness of a working parent’s life. Sometimes, the small patch of woods at the end of our street is the only woods I get to walk in during the course of a week. Sometimes, it’s my weekly runs through a large, wooded cemetery. I write a lot about how we as humans interfere with nature, how our planet is warming, how I can feel afraid. I suppose many poems I write are “climate” poems, in that I mourn the loss of natural habitats, worry about the hummingbirds and other creatures. I am definitely of the Romantic school of poetry.

RR: Do you have any favorite pieces that discuss similar themes to your work?

MS: I love poems by Sharon Olds, Joan Kwon Glass, Sonia Greenfield and John Sibley Williams that explore the fraught tenderness of parenthood. I think Williams (in his book Scale Model of a Country at Dawn) in particular is similarly fearful of the future of his children’s earth without being totally focused on the climate crisis. But all poets that explore parenthood, nature, ancestry, trauma, war, identity, love, loss, grief—these are my poets.

Meghan Sterling’s work appears in Issue 9.2 here.