Review: Borderlands and Crossroads: Writing the Motherland edited by Jane Sattefield and Laurie Kruk (reviewed by Katherine Cottle)

Borderlands and Crossroads: Writing the Motherland

Edited by Jane Satterfield and Laurie Kruk

Demeter Press, 2016

282 pages, $34.95


While there have been a variety of published and quality anthologies about motherhood, borderlands, and crossroads, no other collection has placed these intersections in quite the same cohesive and thoughtful sequencing and analytical mapping as Borderlands and Crossroads: Writing the Motherland, edited by Jane Satterfield and Laurie Kruk.

The care and intensity of this collection is immediately evident from Jane Satterfield’s Introduction, which bridges personal and public frameworks with historical and literary knowledge, broad societal connections, and an experiential confidence which confirms the vast breadth of the work, as well as the need for a new mapping of this particular geography.

The collection is divided into two sections: poetry and prose–which is deceiving in its simplicity and unification. The entries included within the categories, while companions by genre, as as complex as their origins, landscapes, and conditions of their births. The opening poem, “Latching On, Falling Off,” by Beth Ann Fennelly, is so accurate in its documentation of nursing and the full range of physical, psychological, emotional, and familial nursing stages that readers of all genders and ages are able to experience the territory formerly only inhabited by lactating individuals. The range of forms in the poetry section enhances the textural force of the theme and the collection, complementing the depth and residual impact of each piece, as interdependent and dependent elements within a larger, contributory setting.

Ghazals, sonnets, villanelles, and found poems mesh with other formal, free-verse, and experimental structures, highlighting the range of lives, perspectives, and poetic options needed to fully encompass the verse of the motherland. Whether formal or informal, highly-published or beginner, the poems in Borderlands and Crossroads pay tribute to the individual mother, validating her isolation as “she writes through the taste of fear and rage and fury” (Dunlop). Each poem further develops the mapping of a country that transcends traditional coordinates, history, roles, and perceptions. The “answers are ‘almost’ or ‘about'” (Pence), the markers so intangible that only poetry can do it justice, creating the tangible reality of motherhood that most “would not have believed” (McGookey).

The effect of the poetry/prose genre grouping is surprisingly refreshing. While readers may initially see the collection as being composed of two parts, the choice to begin the composition of the motherland with poetry grants the reader a focused and imaginative lens to pinpoint singular moments and “cities” within the broader geography of the subsequent prose works. Stories, discussions, and conversations intertwine with war, religion, race, class, community, and family as the narratives push the definition and scope of the motherland further and further into global, non-linear, temporal, and historical directions.

Amina Gautier’s “A Cup of My Time” graciously admits the hidden conversations about difficult births and the exhaustive and unfathomable spectrum of the responsibility of motherhood. “A Brief History of Near and Actual Losses” by Camille Dungy stings with the juxtaposition of 21st century parenting worries against the horrific setting of the Cape Coast Castle while Paul Sutherland’s “In the Back Room with Mom” explores the spaces and voices fostered and left by both mothers and children. The definition and reach of the motherland continues to expand as each piece in the collection both unravels and tangles the recognition and understanding of “mother.” Readers may be surprised to find themselves unconcerned over the identification of fiction or essay, truth or tale, poem or prose, as the collection progresses. Each piece becomes a voice–a painful, unfiltered, and honest gift to others, a contribution of “love . . . possibility . . . our most intimate speech” (Dobbs).

It is the translation of the untranslatable that holds of the pieces within Borderlands and Crossroads together. Laurie Kruk’s conclusion notes how the included authors “struggle with the naming and narrating of mothers” across a vast world. Yet, no matter the country, time, space, or circumstance, each author gives witness to the motherland with fearless conviction, precision, and literary grace, documenting the uncharted discoveries of a land aging and evolving, often right in front of our eyes.

Katherine Cottle, Ph.D.

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