For Gabriel, 22nd November 2018. (After 'Crowning' by Kevin Young)

The following poem is a response to the experience of listening to this episode of the New Yorker Poetry Podcast, while Silje was 8 months pregnant. The episode features Tracy K. Smith reading a beautiful and raw poem by Kevin Young called 'Crowning', then a wonderfully enveloping poem of hers called 'Alternative Take: Levon Helm'. I love both of these poets, and both of these poems have become particularly special to me. 

Levon Helm, 1976.

Smith's poem is inspired by the voice and rhythms of Levon Helm, someone who has been a big inspiration to me since, as a young teenager in my best mates conservatory, I first watched The Last Waltz. However, it was Kevin Young's poem of a loving father and husband's experience of childbirth, that brought me to tears the morning of the 22nd of November 2018, as I walked to work.  

It was one month before Gabriel's due date. Throughout the pregnancy we had already experienced so many trials, growing so much closer through them, but we both knew that nothing could prepare us for the birth. Now, having experienced it a year ago, if I hadn't read Kevin Young's poem, I would still say that it would be impossible to capture this event in a poem. With 'Crowning' he does more than capture it, he frees it in an expression of so many images and feelings that are usually left in the birthing room.

There are not many poems about the actual moments of physical birth, and even less from the perspective of the father. One of the reasons that I connected with the poem is that it's written from the father's perspective, but it's not about the father! The poem is very clearly about 'mother' and the baby being born. I love how the poem marvels at the miracle of life, and the overwhelming physical and spiritual capacity of the mother, while the father can't do much more than encourage and marvel! Kevin Young expresses all of this with such precision that each image is filled with mystery yet still manages to be so grounded in the awesome and terrifying reality of birth. There is so much depth in hearing Tracy K. Smith's mellow voice reading this poem, especially as she had recently given birth when she had chosen to read it for the podcast. For a poem about the experience of birth written by a man, to impact a woman who had just given birth goes a long way to demonstrate the power and truth of the poem. 

Kevin Young is a wonderful poet, professor at 
Emory University and the director of the 
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture 
at the New York Public Library. Since this episode  
he has also become the Poetry editor of the
New Yorker, meaning he now hosts the podcast
on which I first discovered this poem.

Tracy K. Smith is an amazing poet and professor at 
Princeton University. Her 2011 brilliant book 'Life on Mars' 
won the Pulitzer Prize, and she served as the 22nd 
Poet Laureate of the United States from 2017-2019.

For us, the birth was a complicated one, and Silje's recovery was very long and painful, yet filled with such joy because we had welcomed our wonderful boy Gabriel. Now he's just turned one, and is filled with so much laughter, dynamism and pure being.  But, when I first heard the poem, all of that was before me, it was all an unknown. A thick tempest of adventure whose winds I could feel but whose beautiful ferocity I could barely imagine. This poem bowled me over by letting me into that experience a month early. 

After listening to the podcast twice, I penned the following poem. It's a response to the transformative experience of hearing this poem during the routine of walking to work. I found myself seeing the beauty in the mundane while waiting for the least mundane of moments. I share this post and poem by way of celebrating Kevin Young's poem, as well as him and Tracy K. Smith as poets, the courage of my incredible wife, and the life of our magnificent little boy. 

Read Kevin Youngs poem 'Crowning' here.

Read Tracy K. Smith's Poem 'Alternative Take: Levon Helm' here.

And listen to both poems and the rest of the podcast episode here.

For Gabriel, 22nd November 2018. (After 'Crowning' by Kevin Young).

This morning, I cried.
No one noticed.
The sun was brighter than autumn,
The air was colder than spring.

A heron took off from the river
Leaving a diminuendo ellipses
Of expanding concentric circles
Rippling the reflected horizon.

In the bright of the morning,
Where the public are rare,
And fixated by the varying
Greys of paving slabs,

No one noticed.

Mother was at home,
Struggling to put on her socks.
She is ready to agonise,
Ready to stain a new page
With the final paragraph
Of your mysterious first chapter.
Ready in anticipation,

Tracy K. Smith's warm voice
Reading Kevin Young's scorching words
Of an unique and individual experience,
Universal and indelible.
His poem prophisies so much
That I cannot

I listen a second time.


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