Discussion: Waiting to Unfold by Rachel Barenblat

Welcome to the Summer Readalong 2013! Our May book is Waiting to Unfold by Rachel Barenblat. Rachel is a rabbi and a blogger at Velveteen Rabbi. She is an infertility survivor and a mother.

I haven't been in a discussion about poetry since 10th grade, so forgive me if I'm missing some key poetry discussion features!

Waiting to Unfold consists of two cycles. One cycle is poems written during her pregnancy, and the second is poems written during her son's first year.

I chose this book because I loved how intimate and raw her poems are. I feel like Rachel is able to capture the very specific and make it universal. She's a poet, and I'm not, but this stanza from the poem "Introduction (Three)" in the first cycle was so deep and true for me:

Asked to introduce myself
in seven words
I come up with
"growing a new poem
line by line."

The idea of the dailyness, the building, the creating something beautiful of being pregnant made me remember being pregnant with a fondness I know I didn't allow myself to feel while I was in it.

She makes the intimate epic, and the epic intimate. I started crying again reading these lines from "Night Feeding" in the second cycle:

as a hind longs for water
my soul longs for sleep

but I pace the round carpet
until I can crawl into bed

praying that I get a whole hour
before you summon me with your cries

which call in equal measure
my milk and my tears

Her use of the scriptural language connects us as mothers with the Divine, with nature, with all animals, and with all other mothers at the same time. It makes us both little and big, everything and nothing as we do what we have to do to nourish our young even when we think it's breaking us. How many of us have cried through feedings? I wonder if anyone hasn't.

The second cycle brings us through Rachel's fight with post-partum depression and her recovery, along with weaning and her coming to terms with infertility and how dislocating pregnancy was for her after that infertility.

I feel like this is the book I would give to someone who said to me, "No, TRY to tell me what motherhood is like," because even though Rachel has had some experiences not all of us have had, the way she captures the emotion of those experiences is the translation of what it's like in that first year of being someone new that you didn't know you would be.

Questions for discussion:

 1. Did the poems in Waiting to Unfold make you think differently about your own experiences, or did they feel like a window into someone else's world?

2.Were there any of the poems in the second cycle that seemed to be the direct inspiration for the title Waiting to Unfold?

3. Were you at all struck by the poem "Grandparents' House"? What emotions did it make you feel, if any?

Anything else you'd like to say about the book as a whole or individual poems?


Next book: Tulips, Water, Ash by Lisa Gluskin Stonestreet. Discussion post goes up June 26.