“Imagined Sons” Carrie Etter (Seren) – poetry review

Carrie Etter Imagined Sons book cover

This is a sequence of prose poems interspersed with a series of catechisms that makes a coherent response to handing over a baby for adoption after becoming pregnant when still a teenager. This is set out in the first “A Birthmother’s Catechism”:

How did you let him go?

With black ink and legalese

How did you let him go?

It’d be another year before I could vote

How did you let him go?

With altruism, tears and self-loathing

How did you let him go?

A nurse brought pills for drying up breast milk

How did you let him go?

Who hangs a birdhouse from a sapling?”

That final image perfectly catches how young and unprepared the teenaged mother was. How can someone who is still not yet recognised as an adult in society (“It’d be another year before I could vote”) competently take on the responsibility for a child. It’s a non-judgemental, mature response. The prose poems see the narrator imagining her son reaching maturity and their paths perhaps crossing. In “Imagined Sons 4: Black and Velvet” the narrator sees a group of teenaged goths, one reminding the poet of her previous self, and then she sees the boyfriend,

“But as I turn, our eyes meet, and his flashing glare says he saw an unintended look of revulsion. And it occurs to me, as I head into the shop, that he is about my height, that he has my large, dark eyes, and that to glance back would evoke a sneer.

I remember The Sisters of Mercy, a band I listened to in those black and velvet days, and start browsing my way towards them from the beginning of the alphabet, thinking to avoid him, thinking to meet.”

It captures the dilemma: how would she recognise the maturing man she last saw as a newborn and would meeting be a positive or negative experience? Wisely, the narrator doesn’t initiate contact. But thoughts of her son intrude on everyday situations. In “Imagined Sons 25: The Train Home”, a fellow passenger wakes her from a doze on a train.

“I rub my eyes and slowly gather my bags. The train pulls into the station, and I rise, wondering how the man knew my stop, knew me. I glance about and see he’s just a few steps away. He’s not much taller than I am, and his eyes are as large and dark as my own.

He smiles, coming closer. ‘This is my stop too.’”

Each imagined meeting contains a note of hope and a sign of mutual recognition: that the maternal bond can survive separation. Her son is imagined in a variety of occupations and situations. He is not loaded with expectation. In a later, “A Birthmother’s Catechism” (the author was born in Normal, Illinois):

Where have you been?

Pressed against the nursery glass

Where have you been?

I slept the sleep of the dead.

Where have you been?

Normal’s midway between St Louis and Chicago

Where have you been?

My four sisters have twelve children among them

Where have you been?

Right here, at the hospital entrance, as though waiting for a swallow”

Using the form of a catechism allows the poet to explore different answers to the same question, which might be relevant at different times. The poet was also adopted and although she avoids putting words into her imagined son’s mouth (other than polite conversational openings), she does acknowledge adoption from the viewpoint of the adopted son as well as the birthmother.

“Imagined Sons” successfully reflects on the experience of the separation of adoption, offering insight and hope despite the very pertinent questions asked. The poems open up interior experiences and hopes.

Imagined Sons available at Inpress Books http://www.inpressbooks.co.uk/imagined-sons/

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One Response to ““Imagined Sons” Carrie Etter (Seren) – poetry review”

  1. London Books | Iambic Cafe Says:

    […] quieter event was Carrie Etter’s launch of Imagined Sons. Most pubs in England have function rooms, mostly above the main tavern. The Yorkshire Grey in […]


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