Posted by: jeannineatkins | July 31, 2009

Mother Poems: Hope Anita Smith

This collection of mother-daughter poems (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt) is the newest work from Hope Anita Smith, whose other books,The Way a Door Closes and Keeping the Night Watch, also tell family stories through poems. The first third or so of Mother Poems seem to emphasize rhythm more than the later ones, using it to lull us into the ease of love between a small girl and her mother. They ring as confidently as the voice of a young girl who is certain she is treasured. They describe episodes that are ordinary, but they take away your breath because you know what’s coming. A girl tries on her mother’s shoes, echoes her hand-on-hips stance: and we know that soon she’ll have to figure out what a woman can be without a mother to guide her.

Then the safety breaks, and the narrator wakes to a changed world. We’re kept snug within her point of view, not getting many answers, just as the girl didn’t, but tried to read expressions on the faces of adults. Perhaps this was the beginning of a poet.

The rest of the poems are about the unnamed girl putting together pieces of old stories and her broken self, trying to make a complicated world whole. There are encounters with other mothers and daughters that include envy, desire, and a sense of danger. Couldn’t she be the good and grateful daughter? No. Getting through Mother’s Day alone. Replaying the last words. The deals made, like trying to be perfect. The hazards of and necessity of memory. Wondering it it’s disloyal to enjoy another woman’s cooking. And finally a new mother whose words she examines with suspicion, but the woman brushes past, opening her arms, looking with eyes that “say it all –/Stop searching for evidence to convict me./I did it./I love you.”

Hope Anita Smith created the torn-paper collages that illustrate the poems. The ripped edges echo the often-torn, rough-at-the-edges feeling of the narrator, but the way the pictures of mother and daughter often overlap, not letting you tell one arm or torso from another, beautifully shows their bond in brave, true, and bold strokes. The book ends with “Constructing Trees,” as the girl remembers how she and her mother put together a Christmas Tree. This poem sends us back to the first poems, just as the narrator returns to memories, savoring, examining, and using them to make something brilliant and new.

To read about other poems, please visit Sylvia Vardell’s blog



  1. Wow, this is a gorgeous review! Shall have to look for this collection. 🙂

  2. Hope’s other books have great illustrations, too, but there’s a special warmth, I think, about her doing both the poems and illustrations. I think you’ll be happy to get this in your hands, Jama!

  3. You’ve made me want to look for it, too. Though it sounds like I’ll need to read it on a day when I feel strong.

  4. Yes, it’s not light subject matter. But the book really shows how a strong girl rises from a strong early bond, taking small-ish moments that enrich her life forever.

  5. PoetryForChildren
    Thanks for joining the Poetry Friday gathering this week and for your thoughtful review of Hope Anita Smith’s MOTHER POEMS– which I also loved. Hope our paths cross again soon–

  6. Re: PoetryForChildren
    Thanks for your kind words, Sylvia! It was your review of Mother Poems and a friend’s recommendation that made me want to read it.
    Best wishes,

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