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Transom:
In one reading, this is a sequence of dark poems about motherhood. On the other hand, lines like “Wait—that’s me I’m smelling” open the door to humor. Is mother humor also black humor?

Haldeman:
Great question! I love the idea of “mother humor” – you’ve coined a phrase I think. And yes, I think “mother humor” is so often black humor, mostly because black humor is a basic survival technique. It is something that comes from an experience of extreme stress and trauma and unknowing and it changes the perspective of the experience, makes it funny. It re-routes the power. And the comedy in so many of the poems in Calenday came out of that same mode of survival. Like: if I don’t make this funny, then the weight of it is going to sink me. So yes, black humor.

But “mother humor” also comes out of a deep need to communicate. When I first had my daughter, there was this silence (at least it seemed to me, at first) in the public discussion about what becoming a mother really meant. There was this way that everyone used symbols and metaphors which completely glassed over the experience. I don’t know if this is to protect the idea or motherhood as sacred, or something else, but the silence was, for me, very damaging. I wasn’t experiencing motherhood the way that the cards and the commercials said I would. So I felt wrong. I felt flawed. And so when I tried to articulate this to other people, I often used humor to buffer the blow of what I was saying. Like, instead of saying “I am afraid I’m not going to survive this,” or “I am afraid I am intrinsically a bad mother” I would instead talk about how smelly I was. At first. But now I am much more honest with people about how hard motherhood is, how animalistic it is at first – about how odd and confusing one’s feelings can be after the baby is born. Why am I more honest now? Well, mostly because I started to find (through continually talking/joking to people about it, for four years now) that almost every mother – almost every parent – feels this way, at some point or another. Lost. Scared. Lonely. Failing. These aren’t abnormal feelings; these aren’t even rare. And it shouldn’t be shameful to talk about them. And you know what? Talking honestly about them began to save me. The honesty actually made me a better mother. More confident, more empathetic, more kind.

Transom:
In your poem, “5/16,” the slippage of “motherhood” to “mortar” and “wood” suggests to us a corresponding slippage of identity. Do you think such linguistic play reflects the “real-time” experience of motherhood?

Haldeman:
There is a loss of identity in becoming a parent, yes, but there is also a loss of humanness too, especially for the mother. You are forced back into really base elements of nature, of animal: hence, “mortar” “wood.” I really just felt like an animal during that first year. It wasn’t a bad thing, per se, but it was shocking. I would be laying in my bed, early in the morning, feeding my daughter, surrounded by just wetness. And I remember thinking, “I don’t even know what kind of bodily fluid this wetness is.” It was a big mess. There was milk (coming from my body, by the way), and my daughter was drooling and peeing and pooping, like a newborn does. And her pee and poop would leak out of her diaper and get in all the awful places. And there was sweat, because we were bodies doing real live work. There were tears so often too. There was all this … just … liquid. It was so animal. And no matter how much we tried to civilize the experience (washing the linens, vacuuming, laundering, bathing, cleaning) it just kept coming back: milk, sweat, urine, tears, saliva, poop. So, in writing about it, I liked the linguistic play, the slippage, because there was this similarly slippery play between being human and being animal in our house, between civilization and nature. The lines were blurry.

Transom:
“08/08” reminds us of poems in the pastoral tradition – there is a sheep, and clover, and other elements of the natural landscape. But your pastoral has a decidedly digital edge: “a rain/of silver numbers wafts across the sea.” Is the digital landscape the new pastoral?

Haldeman:
I have always loved the collision of man-made and nature. When I was a kid, my brother tried to saw down a tree with a hubcap. It didn’t work and he actually badly cut his finger in the process, but the image of the hubcap, stuck halfway into the tree, really stayed with me. Over time the tree actually grew around the hubcap. It incorporated it. I feel like we do that too, with technology. I mean, think about it: technology itself is pretty limited. A computer is essentially just a bunch of electronic switches that are either on (1) or off (0). At its most basic fundamental level, computer programming – the binary 1s and 0s – is not human. It is math. It is cold and rigid and strict. But the very next thing we do with it is make a language for it. We translate. And then all the magic happens. We do this because we are human. We humanize the digital. The digital doesn’t start out that way. We add to it. And I like that. That’s cool.

Transom:
These poems are from your new book, Calenday, and almost all of these titles are dates. Are these poems artifacts of a daily writing practice?

Haldeman:
They are! So, after I had Ellie, I basically freaked out. I thought “My writing life is over. My artistic life is over.” But then I remembered what John McPhee said about his process: he wrote for a set amount of time each day. It was a short amount of time, really, but that over the months it added up. And I thought I could try something like that. So I bought this set of tiny Moleskin notebooks that were supposed to be used as little daily planners. I decided to write in them every day. The pages were so small. They were only big enough for about 4-5 sentences. So I wasn’t writing very much each day. Hardly anything at all, actually. But they eventually added up.

It is funny, because at the end of that year I had 365 of these tiny pages, but so many of the pages were total crap. One page was basically me writing the word “Angry” over and over. On other pages, I wrote about mundane things: going to the store, having acne, cleaning the house, being tired. But, once and while, there would suddenly be this whole page of poetry! And that happened enough times to make a book.