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  • Writer's pictureAshley Dickson-Ellison

Kate J. Baer's WHAT KIND OF WOMAN - A Beautiful Poetry Collection about Being a Woman and a Mother

I originally shared this book review over on our Unabridged Podcast site, where we share bookish faves, pub day shout-outs, our episode posts, and book reviews. I absolutely loved this poetry collection, and I love her work. Check out the original post here.

The first time I read a Kate J. Baer poem, my youngest child was still an infant. I was new to Instagram and still learning how stories worked on there; the poem had been shared by a beloved friend. (Don't all our best discoveries come from friends?) I remember feeling like the world rocked a little bit when I read those words—poetry can do that to you. Sometimes, it's like the poet, whom you have never met, can somehow see all the way inside to the things you cannot (or do not) say aloud. That's how this felt. So when I learned that her first poetry collection, What Kind of Woman, was coming out, I immediately pre-ordered it.

I'm not sure if it was the first poem I read of hers, but one of the early ones I remember so vividly from my first discovery of her work is called "Mother's Mind" (on page 80 in What Kind of Woman), and in it the speaker describes all of the catastrophic scenarios that cross her mind in a day of caring for her children. The speaker states, "I am one step ahead of howling, / one breath shy of grief" (5-6). I'm not sure I've ever felt so seen. It is a comfort to know that you are not alone—that others also have horrible visions of potential catastrophes that they can barely manage.

The poem ends,

...At night I tuck my dread into covers,
check its pulse before the dawn.

You ask: how can I keep up this tired practice? I ask:
how I can leave this haunting place?

Baer's poems strike at the essence of what it means to be a woman and a mother. She explores motherhood, sexuality, marriage, desire, women's bodies, and many other topics with a fearlessness I admire so much. She examines what relationships are like for partners with children, and she explores the expectations heaped upon women and mothers by society.

In her poem "Little Miracles," which is on page 56 in the collection, the speaker ends by saying,

To find the ones who say, I am not

afraid of sitting in the dark with you.

These are the kind of poems that can keep you company in the dark. Kate J. Baer knows how to sit in the dark, how to settle into it, and how to still find something to celebrate.

I cannot say enough about this collection or Baer's poems in general. My copy is already worn from reading and rereading it in this past month since its publication, and it is a collection I will revisit countless times. It would make an excellent gift for a special person in your life.

One more passage to close. (I could quote her poems all day.) This one, from "For the Advice Cards at Baby Showers," seems timely in this season.

For now just remember: birds sing, babies cry,

and no matter the weather, every morning is new.

Want to know more about Kate J. Baer? Check out this amazing article in Vogue, and see her Instagram page and her website.

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