DURA's StAnza 2021 reviews: All My Mad Mothers

Friday 5 March 2021

As its title suggests, Jacqueline Saphra’s latest collection, All My Mad Mothers, is about women and family. Saphra’s poems examine the multifaceted nature of  femininity, individual and universal, moving within, between and beyond the roles designated to women. This applies particularly to familial roles she inhabits – mother, daughter, stepdaughter –  but also examined is the woman as guardian, friend, witch and – the other half of the title – madwoman.

The collection grabs us from the beginning with the short and intense “In the Winter of 1962 My Mother…”. This is written in free verse – a paragraph made up of a single, sparsely punctuated sentence that carries with it a sense of panic and lack of control – as the persona’s mother appears tries to run from her life:

until she found herself on Hyde Park Corner
traveling round and round in shrinking circles
not sure how to execute the move outwards
into another lane never having been
properly taught how to make an exit.

Here we have a woman trying to escape not the role of motherhood (she carries her infant daughter as she flees), but rather seeking “another lane”, another life as it were, for her and her child. All throughout the collection, the bond between parent and child is emphasised. Though the first poem is raw and gripping, other poems address this relationship more tenderly, like “When I think of you”, a mantra dedicated to Saphra’s son, reminiscing his childhood. It is a simple list poem which is nevertheless imbued with a feeling of intimacy and longing, with its references to old arguments about the practicality of shoes  that no doubt recall for us similar, past discussions with our own mothers (or children)...


This is an excerpt of a review by Kai Durkin of Jacqueline Saphra’s All My Mad Mothers. Saphra will be giving the StAnza lecture; for more information on Saphra at StAnza21, please click HERE. To read the whole review, go to the DURA webpage.