Kate Baer on the burden of motherhood: ‘My book is like an angry friend’
When her no-holds-barred collection of poetry came out, Kate Baer was inundated with grateful messages. Why had it hit a chord with ordinary mothers struggling to be heard?
Kate Baer wrote her first book of poetry, What Kind of Woman, from a booth at a chain café in the Philadelphia suburbs. She couldn’t work at home – that’s where the children were. “We were living in this 1,200sq ft place in town,” she says, over Zoom. “With four kids.” It was the beginning of 2019. Baer was writing in pockets of time snatched from busy days, hoping to escape the attention of staff. “I kept thinking, ‘They’re going to kick me out.’ And I tried to keep ordering stuff, but you can only take so much of that kind of food.” When the book was published, last November, and became an immediate bestseller, the café was temporarily closed, pandemic-style. So she parked her car nearby, close enough to pick up the café’s wifi, and took interviews out there in the quiet and the cold.
What Kind of Woman brings to verse the state that leads to these kinds of scenarios: modern motherhood, the burden and sacrifice, the rituals, the fleeting happiness. Many of the poems in Baer’s collection justly brim with anger at the weight mothers carry, the frustrating unfairness of being forced to live a subordinate life squeezed around and in service to the family. Throughout the book, her voice is self-revealing and relateably wearied. “She keeps an office in her sternum,” she writes, in the poem Motherload, “the flat / bone in the centre of her chest, with all its / urgent papers, vast appointments, list of / minor things. In her vertebrae she holds more / carnal tasks: milk jugs, rotten plants, heavy- / bottomed toddlers in all their mortal rage.”