"This genre—the writing process itself—has freed me at last."
Cosmographia Books is very proud to announce the publication of The Umbilical Universe
by Sharon Whitehill. Through the prism of personal crises, Whitehill’s poems mirror the flawed human search for connection. At the core of this collection are poems about a mother, her daughters, and the clash of competing realities—obligation to children versus the impulse to self-actualization.
A retired professor of English at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, Sharon Whitehill now lives and writes in Port Charlotte, Florida. Her publications include two scholarly biographies, The Life and Work of Mary O’Hara, Author of My Friend Flicka (Edwin Mellen Press, 1995) and Frances Gillmor, Aztec and Navajo Folklorist (Edwin Mellen Press, 2005). Whitehill has also published a children’s book, The Lizard Wizard (Xlibris, 2003) and two memoirs: On the Trail of Flicka’s Friend (Fithian Press, 1995) and Sweet.Bitter.Sweet (BookBroker Publishers of Florida, 2016). She lives with her husband of twenty-one years, Jim Meloy, a former beekeeper and jet engine mechanic. (He took the photo above.)
This is a major moment for me, the release of my first book of poems. A lifelong writer of prose, I never imagined myself as a poet. True, I spent several years writing cleverly rhyming picture-book texts—satisfying to compose, but no acceptances. Then, a few years ago, I signed up for a class of “real” poetry-writing—my private Explorer I satellite launch—with poet/teacher Dorothy Brooks.
As I mined my past for meaningful moments, poems began to accumulate, arranged here in roughly chronological order. My father, the generous yet practical man of “The Fox Farm,” was also the rigid and critical parent of “Papa Only Made Omelets:”
[who, I felt,
chopped me in pieces,
minced me under [his] knife,
crumbled me into [his] skillet
like bacon, whipped me up
to a froth.]
My mother, too, was inconsistent: as “brainy” yet “forlorn,” as “empathic” yet “cruel” as she appears in “All About Mama.” Like so many women of her generation, she was trapped in what Betty Friedan, in The Feminine Mystique, termed “the problem that has no name.” That book, my mother believed, came too late to save her—but it changed my own life.
That life-change led to the events and emotions that dominated my post-graduate, post-divorce world. The death of a lover [—“my good/Calvinist lover, so certain/of being among the Elect,”] sent me spinning down ever-more-difficult paths, due in part to the hyper-religious, conservative region I lived in. “We’re scared of you/burning in Hell for not being baptized,” my oldest daughter was told by her friends in “Lake Michigan Blessing,” while the misogynist neighbor in “Walking the Dogs” lashed out at me, in part, for my unmarried state. Other poems from this era lay bare the pain of being uncoupled (“the shame of alone”) in that conventional setting.
But mothers and daughters: I see them everywhere, even today, always especially drawn to girl children and babies. They’re at the heart of these poems—at the heart of my own heart, too. “The Way I See Her,” which really just poured out, emerged first. Then I thought, Well, now I want to write something parallel for my other two girls; thus, “Youngest” and “Firstborn.”
I began to see, as I wrote, how the most enduring, most poignant moments arose from my intense but sporadic maternal devotion—and how, as years passed, academic demands on my time, a personal life to maintain, and a trio of rebellious adolescents combined to wrench me first one way, then another. It pains me to have to admit that I managed only the first two with any success.
My grown girls now insist that I wasn’t a failure, that I was a good mother, doing my best. But a perception rooted in guilt is hard to shake off. Not until I worked on these poems have I felt the relief that comes with self-acceptance. This genre—the writing process itself—has freed me at last.