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A New Mother’s Prayers
ISBN: 0829417699

Dancing with my Daughter
ISBN: 0829417680
By Jayne Jaudon Ferrer
Review by: Zénó Vernyik


Properly speaking, A New Mother’s Prayers is a book of prayers not poems, just as its title suggests -- personal prayers that I cannot imagine anyone actively using as such, even when we get past the author's lyric voice.

While it seems evident that great emotions are the originators of the works in question, I would argue that, as T.S. Eliot said: “it is not the ‘greatness,’ the intensity, of the emotions, the components, but the intensity of the artistic process […] that counts.” (Eliot 1992a, 311) Since Eliot, we know that “it is not in his personal emotions […] that the poet is in any way remarkable or interesting,” (op.cit, 312) quite the contrary: the work of art has to be composed of a proper combination of a “set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts […] are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.” (Eliot 1992b, 313) That is, without coming up with effective objective correlatives, the work of art is unable to evoke the aimed effect, regardless of the effort, the intentions, and so on. These prayers, however, fail to meet these standards to become poems.

Age old, Romanticist, everyday clichés and commonplaces come up repeatedly. Ferrer gives us: “angel […] from heaven,” (4) “purity personified,” “heart-melting hug,” (10) “my flesh and blood,” (26) “pink and porcelain velvet skin,” (33) “this creature / created from our love,” (60) or the comparison of life to a puzzle (34-5). What is even worse, the “poems” are highly repetitive as to their use of expressions and imagery, primarily in connection with the use of “innocent” and “angel,” even though, it is particularly easy to find other similar examples. But some lines do not stop at bordering on the line that separates art from kitsch, such as the following:

Those lashes long and feather-soft
against pink and porcelain velvet skin,
those deep easy breaths
so completely devoid of any
sadness or stress or sin.

It is not easy to say anything positive about this volume, even if I leave behind what I, along with Eliot, consider the highly debatable matter of “artistic value.” Unfortunately, whereas Ferrar's lyric voice considers the child as “a spirit so naïve,” (38) it is rather said voice that is informed by a naïve understanding and Romanticist idealization of childhood. Ferrar's narrator considers children as pure, innocent, as “emissary of peace,” (4) whereas I would argue that, since Freud, the child's primarily “self-seeking instincts that dominate,” (Freud 1991, 378) and, like it or not, “at first, the self loves the self” (Mitchell 1990, 33). But egoism is not everything in this respect, as Freud rightly notes, “one feature of the popular view of the sexual instinct is that it is absent in childhood and only awakens in the period of life described as puberty” (Freud 1995, 259). Based on his findings, however, he noted more than eighty years ago that “there seems no doubt that germs of sexual impulses are already present in the new-born child” (261).

The volume's poetic voice remains ignorant that, even though that is beyond doubt that it is the mother’s “obsession with social graces” that “develops his [the child’s] manners” (Ferrer 37), said “purity” or rather conformity to the requirements of different ideological apparati, such as the church (!) is also partly established by the same practice: education, while the other part is also the result of learning and compromise(Althusser 2001, 294-304). Conformity and civilized behavior are the result of “mental forces which are later to impede the course of the sexual instinct and, like dams restrict its flow – disgust, feelings of shame and the claims of aesthetic and moral ideals.” (Freud 1995, 261) Even though notions that children are pure in heart might be in harmony with Matthew 18:1-6, Mark 9:36-37, Luke 9:47-48, and several other passages from the Bible, in the light of modern and even turn-of-the-century psychological works (such as Freud) they are simply naïve. Similarly, asking the question “how can a grown man be jealous / of a tiny baby?” (Ferrer 2004a, 60) is simply funny, as “at a time at which the first beginnings of sexual satisfaction are still linked with the taking of nourishment, the sexual instinct has a sexual object […] in the shape of his [the child’s] mother’s breast.” (Freud 1995, 288) Even in general, “a child’s intercourse with anyone responsible for his care affords him an unending source of sexual excitation and satisfaction,” (ibid) and without knowing, the “mother, herself regards him [or her] with feelings that are derived from her own sexual life.” (op.cit, 288-9)

And besides psychoanalysis, there are gender studies issues with this volume of poems. Take a look at the following lines:

Thus, when daylight arrived at six,
I wasn’t especially thrilled to see it.
The baby was still crying,
my husband had no clean shirts,
there were dishes to be washed,
six thank-you notes to write,
my mother-in-law dropped by for a visit,
the dog threw up on the carpet,

I have only one question: where was the husband then and what did he do? Likewise:

And not even Bill Gates
has come up with a machine to handle
bill-paying, menu-planning,
job-keeping, house-cleaning,
story-reading, eyebrow-tweezing
shirt ironing, dog-walking,
and libido-satisfying
all at once.

Here they are: women trying to conform to the Beauty Myth, working almost 24 hours a day as an unpaid household slave and sexual object, a cooking- washing- ironing- childbearing machine combo on two legs. And all that the lyric voice has to say is:

Stay with me, God, while I learn the ropes
of this new job, and help me know that
all things happen according to your plan.

I think, there is no reason to cite dozens of articles by feminist authors here, to see how unbelievably Victorian, or rather stubbornly and dogmatically Catholic the whole artistic universe of this book is.

Dancing with my Daughter, however, is quite enjoyable and definitely is an achievement in poetry. The most important thing is that Ms. Ferrer found her voice and her real topics. In its retrospective manner, these poems employ a much more clear, personal and clear-cut imagery. While one or two of them, such as “The Dream Weaver” still border on being kitschy, most of them are really valuable and beautiful.

The majority of them are philosophical, reflective or even self-reflexive, and they are really personal instead of general in their sources. The most beautiful ones are those dealing with the lyric voice’s mother, their relationship and memories. Heavy and unnatural similes have turned into vivid and colorful metaphors, while the introduction of colloquial, everyday topics and language made the whole effort, much more fluid, and less outdated.

Unfortunately, some problematic assumptions from A New Mother’s Prayers are still behind the poems of this volume, for example, it still considers children as innocent and pure. However, the image of the woman as submissive object and household appliance, fortunately, disappeared, whether consciously, or by chance does not matter.

All in all, Dancing with my Daughter is an honest and beautiful volume of poems on motherhood, and probably an excellent choice for a present, but A New Mother’s Prayers would be a naïve and poor effort even for a first book.

Works Cited

Primary Sources

Ferrer, Jayne Jaudon. 2004a. A New Mother’s Prayers. Chicago: Loyola Press.

Ferrer, Jayne Jaudon. 2004b. Dancing with my Daughter. Chicago: Loyola Press.

Secondary Sources

Althusser, Louis. 2001. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.” In Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan eds. Literary Theory. An Anthology. Oxford: Blackwell. 294-304.

Eliot, T. S. 1992a. “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” In Raman Selden ed. The Theory of Criticism. From Plato to the Present. London: Longman. 310-313.

Eliot, T. S. 1992b. “Hamlet.” In Raman Selden ed. The Theory of Criticism. From Plato to the Present. London: Longman. 313-314.

Freud, Sigmund. 1991. “On the Sexual Theories of Children.” Trans. James Strachey. In Anna Freud ed. The Essentials of Psycho-Analysis. Harmondsworth: Penguin. 376-389.

Freud, Sigmund. 1995. “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality.” Trans. James Strachey. In Peter Gay ed. The Freud Reader. London: Vintage. 239-293.

Mitchell, Juliet. 1990. Psychoanalysis and Feminism. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

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